This is part 1 of a three part piece from occasional guest writer (and good friend) Jerry Gettinger. The next two parts of the series will go up this weekend...
I recently attended a rally a group named "Occupy Wall Street" sponsored. For the most part, the gathering was calm and peaceful. It was an experience totally unlike the scene I remember in the late 60's and 70's when it was a pitched battle between the participants and the police. Every speaker spoke of Wall Street as uncaring and corrupt. Speaker after speaker forcefully called for executives and hedge fund managers to give up their earnings in higher taxes. There were also accusations that our elected officials were bought with "Wall Street Money."
The subject of the gathering raised questions about why attitudes have changed from young people seeing Wall Street as a career goal to it being a source of anger and frustration. Having worked on Wall Street, I can view both periods in such a way as to render what I consider a unique perspective.
There is no doubt that Wall Street is not the same as when I worked there.
As a matter of fact, if one goes back to the late 1800's, one will discover that the product of Wall Street firms today bears no resemblance to the past. Like many of our institutions, Wall Street is broken. When I was in sales, I went home in the evenings with some pride and a sense of accomplishment. Those feelings came from knowing that my efforts served a purpose. That was that I sold bonds (or stock) for a company so the company had money to expand, which led to hiring additional workers who bought goods that resulted in profits used by owners to buy bonds etc. The product of Wall Street was not money; Wall Street functioned as a conduit that funneled value into production of goods and services. Not so in this age. The only thing Wall Street produces is money... to make money. That is where Wall Street is broken. Money in itself does not serve any purpose. In a capitalistic economy, money must be used to help business, not generate more money. Even the Robber Barons of the 1800's recognized the fact that unless their money was put to good use, it served no purpose. Even though the J.P. Morgans, Carnegie and Rockefeller amassed great wealth (even compared to today's wealthy), they invested their wealth in areas that benefited their country. Railroads, Oil and Steel Mills provided the products that fed growth and allowed a middle class to enjoy a lifestyle second to none.
Sadly, today's economic atmosphere is chasing the middle class into oblivion. The major source of wealth, their house, has become a burden rather that a unique investment. The ability to succeed through one's job and/or education has become unattainable to all but the very wealthy or talented. Pensions and self-contributed saving accounts are structured in favor of the rich. The worst part is that there is nothing in the foreseeable future that provides hope. While it is true that manufacturing jobs have all but disapered, careers in the IT industry offer both advancement and premium incomes. However, the mood and myopic view of governments in distressed areas add to the despondent feeling of futility.