NEW YORK ( MainStreet) -- The Occupy Wall Street protest has evolved from a ragtag group of activists with no clear message and minimal media exposure to a multicity movement with more than a thousand participants in New York alone, plenty of coverage on the major networks and newspapers and ... still no clear message.When the protestors first moved into downtown New York, the group posted a message to its "unofficial de facto" Web site, OccupyWallSt.org, declaring its goal to not "let corporate greed and corrupt politics set the policies if
|As the Occupy Wall Street protest gains momentum, the movement still lacks a single cause to focus on.|
It's been three years exactly since President George W. Bush signed the Troubled Asset Relief Program into law, essentially providing a round of bailouts to the nation's largest financial institutions. So what better time to stage a protest on Wall Street to remind legislators that bailing out financial firms anytime in the future with taxpayer money will not be tolerated. To their credit, the Dodd-Frank financial reform package and a recent set of FDIC rules will require banks to outline how to unwind their businesses should they go bankrupt, thereby establishing a pathway around the "too big to fail" principle, but there is still nothing on the books technically preventing government from bailing out a financial firm should they deem it necessary.
The Glass-Steagall Act was passed in the aftermath of the Great Depression to prevent commercial banks from offering investment services, thereby limiting the size and scope of America's banks and preventing institutions that handle the savings and loans of millions of households from engaging in riskier activities such as underwriting securities. This regulation was undone in the late '90s during President Bill Clinton's tenure in the White House, helping Wall Street boost profits. But some such as Citigroup ( C) became too big for their own good and, when they wound up on the brink of collapse, countless Americans found their nest eggs at risk. Pushing Wall Street and Washington to re-establish the division between commercial and investment banks would be a worthy cause for the protesters. Push for a stronger CFPB
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was one of the few good things (for consumers) to came out of the financial crisis. The entire function of the new government agency is to act on behalf of Americans over important issues ranging from credit card reform to military members struggling to keep their homes. Unfortunately, many in Congress made it their mission to weaken the CFPB to the point where it would operate within the Federal Reserve -- rather than as its own entity -- and be subject to veto authority from an outside group of 10 regulators. In fact, some in Washington would like to see the bureau's power limited even further, which is why the protesters should take it upon themselves to urge Washington to continue working to make the CFPB more autonomous rather than less. Executive compensation
During the peak of the financial crisis, executive compensation was one of the few issues that could unite the country in outrage, most notably the bonuses paid to bosses at AIG ( AIG) or Goldman Sachs ( GS). At the time, the main issue was that these institutions had -- directly or indirectly -- received taxpayer funds to help them remain in business, only to then turn around and pay out lavish bonuses to their managers. In 2009, Washington put in place significant limits on what executives of companies who had received TARP money could earn in bonuses until those funds were paid back. Since then, the only other regulation came from the Dodd-Frank financial reform package, which gives shareholders more authority to make sure CEO pay is closely tied to performance. Given that CEO pay increased by 12% last year while the unemployment rate remained stagnant, perhaps it's time to ask if executive pay should be more closely tied to the performance of the economy rather than just the performance of the company. More reasonably, legislators could consider limiting the amount of stock options executives get, restricting bonus payouts to a certain percentage of each person's salary or perhaps adding an extra "unemployment tax" to the salaries of any financial executive earning more than $5 million a year, adding a symbolic tax of whatever the annual unemployment rate is and have the government devote that added revenue to help pay for the cost of unemployment benefits and food stamps. Foreclosure relief
We understand that many of those protesting are students frustrated by the awful combination of high loans and low employment prospects -- as they should be -- but we hope the protesters don't forget about the many Americans whose bigger concern is paying off their mortgage, often on property that is worth less than the outstanding loan amount. The government has struggled to get banks to modify mortgage loan agreements and temporarily show leniency to homeowners who have come upon tough times and are struggling to keep their homes. If Occupy Wall Street is looking for a cause to get people riled up about, the group should march through New York's Financial District calling attention to the many homeowners who have been kicked off their property and call for banks to show more generosity in their lending agreements. >To submit a news tip, email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow TheStreet.com on Twitter and become a fan on Facebook.