It's easy to hate Wall Street. In movies, bankers are portrayed as heartless, greed-driven jerks. Some people blame the recent financial crisis and the recession that followed on Wall Street duping Americans into signing up for predatory mortgages. Others say that these rich bankers, traders, and investors don't pay enough money in taxes. These and other anti-Wall Street attitudes have led to a protest in Lower Manhattan that continues to grow. But for a variety of reasons, it isn't likely to accomplish anything.
Its Goals Are Unclear
Any protest that hopes to accomplish some goal needs, well, a goal. If a demonstration like this lacks concrete objectives, then its purpose will be limited at best and nonexistent at worst. At this time, all the protest really appears to stand for is a general dislike of Wall Street. But what does that mean?
Wall Street Doesn't Care
There's a key difference between the Occupy Wall Street movement and the Tea Party movement. The Tea Partiers' anger is directed squarely at the U.S. government. It began due to dismay at the bailouts and the massive Obama stimulus package. The Tea Party wanted less government interference in the economy.
But the Occupy Wall Street movement's anger is directed at bankers. Here's the problem: they really don't care. These protesters are not Wall Street's customers. In many cases they aren't even their customers' customers.
Over the weekend, I saw a YouTube video of some Wall Streeters sipping champagne as they watched the protests from a balcony above. This is an extreme example, but such bankers who fit the stereotype that the protesters hate obviously aren't moved by the demonstration. In reality, the vast, vast majority of bankers, traders, and investors aren't out to rob the poor to feed caviar to the rich. They are doing honest work that holds together the global financial industry. That large majority of Wall Streeters will walk by the protesters and shake their heads at the crowds' misunderstanding of what they do.
The Protesters Can't Sway Congress
The Tea Party accomplished something very key: it helped to significantly alter the makeup of Congress through the 2010 election. It had a goal -- to put out of power the big government candidates -- and it accomplished that goal. The Occupy Wall Street cannot hope for any result as significant.
As mentioned, it doesn't have a clear set of objectives. But let's say, for argument's sake, that it has some general fringe-left goals. Some that have been suggested include new taxes on Wall Street and much stronger financial regulation. The problem is that these views aren't likely to catch on in Congress: even when the mix was much further to the left in 2009 through 2010, a relatively mild financial regulation bill was passed and even the Bush tax cuts remained intact.