What to Make of Occupy Wall Street

I am trying to wrap my head around the Occupy Wall Street protests that have been going on lately and popping up in several other cities. The people I follow on Twitter have generally belittled the rallies and the message (whatever it might be) behind them.

There are no doubt a million different stories of why these people are engaged in the protests but it would not surprise me if many of the stories sound like this one from the WSJ:

“From 2006-2009 I owned a business with 12 employees,” reads one, superimposed over a photo of a man and his young son, both smiling. “I closed my doors in 2009. I lost my home in 2010. I lived in my truck for six months. Now I rent a tiny room. I have no health insurance.”

The last ten years have adversely affected many people, this is not news. There has been a lot of hard luck stories that have occurred (seems like more than normal) combined with events (failures) that we have not experienced before. Against that backdrop, the idea of asking some questions about what we believe is reasonable.

This is not to support their “Declaration” as there are things that would seem to not apply to Wall Street, the general leaning is much further to the left than where I land on just about any issue and I have also not been adversely affected by the financial crisis. As a quick timeout I am acutely aware of how lucky I am that the biggest hassle in my life is that my Saturday at the fire station where I volunteer was too long.

There is no way to know how many that have been disaffected were so because of their own actions or because they were somehow duped although human nature being what it is we can be sure that many people blame others. If my opinions about the economic fundamentals in the US and prospects for US market returns turn out to be anywhere close to correct then the group that perceives themselves as being disaffected will increase.

Josh Brown pointed out that the “protesters are winning.” Some of the bigger financial stocks are down a lot since the protests started. Obviously they have generally been going down for years now but that does not change the fact that they are down a lot since the protest started.

Is there a social consciousness awakening because of the last ten years with Occupy Wall Street simply being the latest manifestation? If so, what are the ramifications for the rest of society? Will other demographic segments take to the streets, metaphorically or otherwise, to protest the unfair treatment they have endured?

I tend to believe that asking difficult questions is productive as is exploring other ideologies as a means for reaffirming your beliefs or as a catalyst to do things differently.

My own way of thinking might seem a little harsh but no one cares more about your own welfare than you do. Personally I have taken a couple of financial risks over the years with no expectation of a safety net provided by someone else.

When I was in college I had what I thought was a pretty sweet bicycle. I rode it to do an errand one day and it got stolen. Man, was I pissed off because it was my own fault. I was at a small store and thought it would be safe and I was wrong. A couple of days later I told my mother about it and she offered to pay for a replacement. This was my fault so I said no. Being brutally honest, the way I was raised, I should have taken the money for the bike, and while I do not know where this came from, the idea of taking the money was unacceptable. Family helped out with things when I was younger, but with something that was so clearly my screw up; I wouldn’t have it.

While that was a long personal anecdote it sums up my belief that generally (there are always exceptions at both ends) we are accountable for our successes and failures which entitles us to enjoy the rewards or suffer the consequences. Trying to project one set of beliefs onto a group of people with a different set of beliefs tends to be useless as opposed to letting people draw their own conclusions. If we concede all the injustices cited by Occupy Wall Street (not my base case), there is not enough money to giveaway to fix it all–they would like all debt to be forgiven.

Sorry, I have no answers for society, only answers for myself.

About Roger Nusbaum 169 Articles

Roger Nusbaum is an Arizona-based financial advisor who builds and manages client portfolios using a mix of individual stocks and ETFs. Roger writes a popular blog, which focuses on risk management, foreign stocks, exchange traded funds, options etc.

Roger has been recognized by many in the investment management industry for his expertise in portfolio management. Roger has been regularly interviewed by the financial press, trade journals, and television news shows. He has also had numerous technical articles published and has been quoted in a number of professional trade journals, newspapers, and consumer finance magazines. He appears frequently on CNBC Asia as a market commentator.

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