Matt Taibbi, the man who memorably dubbed Goldman Sachs "a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity," is unsurprisingly sympathetic to the Occupy Wall Street protesters. "But the time is rapidly approaching when the movement is going to have to offer concrete solutions to the problems posed by Wall Street," he says. "To do that, it will need a short but powerful list of demands." Here's an abridged version of his five suggestions:
- Break up the monopolies....There are about 20 such firms in America, and they need to be dismantled.
- Pay for your own bailouts. A tax of 0.1 percent on all trades of stocks and bonds and a 0.01 percent tax on all trades of derivatives would generate enough revenue to pay us back for the bailouts, and still have plenty left over to fight the deficits the banks claim to be so worried about.
- No public money for private lobbying. A company that receives a public bailout should not be allowed to use the taxpayer's own money to lobby against him.
- Tax hedge-fund gamblers. For starters, we need an immediate repeal of the preposterous and indefensible carried-interest tax break.
- Change the way bankers get paid. We need new laws preventing Wall Street executives from getting bonuses upfront for deals that might blow up in all of our faces later.
I think Taibbi is probably right that the OWS protest can't stay chaotic and inchoate forever. The anarchist types in the crowd are apparently opposed to anything that suggests they merely want to reform the existing system instead of tearing it down completely, but let's face it: that's a path to irrelevancy before too much longer.
Taibbi's list is pretty good — and surprisingly measured — and makes a workable starting place. I think #3 probably isn't practical for a variety of reasons, and #5 would be a little tricky, but doable. The others all sound great. If it were up to me I'd slot in some kind of leverage requirement in place of the lobbying item, but I recognize that this wouldn't exactly be a populist crowd pleaser. So if that doesn't work, how about banning credit default swaps? Despite the best efforts of several people to convince me otherwise, I remain skeptical that they're a net positive for the financial system. I don't know how practical an outright ban would be unless we got the rest of the world to go along, but it's probably a little bit better as a rallying cry than "Hey hey, ho ho, risk-based capital has got to go, and it should be replaced by a simple leverage ratio of at least 10%." On the other hand, free silver at 16:1 caught on big a century ago, so who knows?