ONE PERSPECTIVE: Can someone explain the Wall Street protests?

By David Ziemer

The Daily Record Newswire

I'm afraid that I lack imagination. For the life of me, I cannot figure out what the protests on Wall Street are all about.

I first heard of them a few weeks back. I was hanging out in the hallway of the sixth floor at the Milwaukee County Courthouse with a client, just waiting to see if our case would be going to trial that day. My client informed me that there were big protests coming to Wall Street. I said, "Wall Street? I don't get it? Why would anyone protest Wall Street?"

Consider what they actually do on Wall Street. One person thinks the value of a given corporation is going to go up and another person thinks it's going to go down. So, they meet at Wall Street and the former buys stock from the latter.

I put money into a retirement plan, the plan buys mutual funds and the mutual funds go to Wall Street to buy stock for me to hold indirectly. So, I guess I'm not totally indifferent to what goes on there. But if I didn't like what was going on, I could sew my money up in a mattress instead. Or I could speculate on the price of oranges and pork bellies. Or I could hoard copper.

But why would I go protest? The transfer of stock in Company A from Person B to Person C is, ultimately, none of my concern. I probably don't even use the products Company A makes and obviously I'm not Person B or C. I'm David Ziemer.

To protest Wall Street makes less sense to me than protesting a Whole Foods grocery store. The iniquity that goes on there, I understand. The owner of valuable arable land has made a conscious decision to produce food in an efficient manner, even though there are many hungry people in the world. Another person elects to spend four times more for food than he needs to spend. They meet at the Whole Foods store to consummate the sale of overpriced food.

The farmer is a sinner and the consumer a fool, but it's no business of mine. I don't own the land and I'm not going to eat the food. And I don't go down to Whole Foods to protest the transaction. I have better things to do with my time.

The same is true of cafes that sell "fair trade" coffee. Powerful cooperatives buy poor quality coffee from poor farmers who agree to use production methods that guarantee they will forever be subsistence-level vassals of the cooperative. At the fair trade cafe, the coffee is sold at inflated prices to unthinking individuals.

The people who run the cooperatives are evil men and the consumers are fools, but again, it's no business of mine. I will protest by buying high quality coffee from middlemen who buy the best quality beans they can find at the best price from free farmers, not by marching around in front of the fair trade cafe.

But to return to Wall Street: I took Securities during my second year in law school, so I realize as well as anyone that the trading of securities in this country is excessively overregulated. Even if I did wish to march around and protest because of the overregulation, however, I wouldn't go to Wall Street to do so. That would be like going to a convenience store to protest that my cigarette taxes are too high.

Instead, I would go to Washington, D.C. After all, that's where Congress and the SEC -- who are responsible for the overregulation -- are situated.

But like I said in the beginning, I lack imagination.

Thankfully, the 99 percent of the population that is out protesting does not.

Published: Fri, Oct 14, 2011