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article imageWall Street Bankers call protesters unsophisticated and gullible

By Joan Firstenberg     Oct 15, 2011 in Business
New York - Privately, Wall Street Bankers are disdainful of the Occupy protesters and say they feel misunderstood. But publicly they give voice to the idea that they understand their anger. But that doesn't stop the bankers from seething themselves.
Unsophisticated; that's what Wall Street Bankers are calling the Occupy Wall Street protesters camped outside their offices. The New York Times quotes one hedge fund manager who says,
“Most people view it as a ragtag group looking for sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll."
And another bank executive says,
"It’s not a middle-class uprising. It’s fringe groups. It’s people who have the time to do this.”
But as the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations have fanned out around the world, the basic question is do the bankers get it? Do they understand what the protesters are saying? Obviously, there are two different opinions here. And the evidence is the wide chasm that has developed over who's to blame for the continuing economic mess in this country and others.
One perhaps more valid point on the side of the bankers is that they really don't know what they're supposed to do to solve the economic morass. A few bankers though feel personally attacked by the protests, and say the Occupy Wall Street group, which has been camped out in Manhattan's Zuccotti Park for weeks consists of young and old people who are simply bitter about their own economic situations and looking for a target to display their anger on. They advise people to show some gratitude instead.
A long-time money manager asks,
“Who do you think pays the taxes? Financial services are one of the last things we do in this country and do it well. Let’s embrace it. If you want to keep having jobs outsourced, keep attacking financial services. This is just disgruntled people.”
Most bankers dismiss the protesters, but few are willing to say this out loud, for fear of drawing public ire, or the masses to their doorsteps. A hedge fund manager warns,
“Anybody who dismisses them publicly is putting a bull’s-eye on their back."
But bankers who the protesters see as being the cause of the economic downturn are feeling the heat. John Paulson is the hedge fund titan who gathered billions before the financial crisis by betting against the subprime mortgage market and his Upper East Side home was picketed by demonstrators earlier this week, but Mr. Paulson later issued this statement.
“The top 1 percent of New Yorkers pay over 40 percent of all income taxes, providing huge benefits to everyone in our city and state. Paulson & Company and its employees have paid hundreds of millions in New York City and New York State taxes in recent years and have created over 100 high-paying jobs in New York City since its formation.”
The message from the protesters is not unified. They talk of many grievances, although most do see Wall Street as a powerful symbol of the income inequality and “economic injustice” they are railing against. They are unhappy that the banks were bailed out while their customers were foreclosed upon, and the fact that banks doled out hefty bonuses and severance packages to departing executives even after the crisis began.
But it's no consolation that bank executives continue to get generous payments when they leave. Last week, Bank of America revealed it was paying a total of $11 million in severance to two executives forced out in a management reshuffle, even as the company announced it would begin laying off roughly 30,000 employees over the next few years.
Douglas J. Elliott, a former investment banker now a fellow at the Brookings Institution says,
“Wall Street continues to underestimate the degree of anger among citizens and voters.”
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