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“Occupy Wall Street” Protests Leave Me Dazed and Confused…

October 21, 2011
I have mixed feelings about the “Occupy Wall Street” (OWS) protests that have been taking place in New York and other cities around the country over the past few weeks.  I’m a big fan of the First Amendment, and I support the protestors' right to express their opinions.  It just seems to me that the views being espoused by the protestors sound dangerously naïve – if not outright dangerous.  From what I can gather, they’re angry because the gap between what Wall Street investment bankers (the so-called “1%s”) make and what the rest of the people (the “99%s”) make is wide and getting wider.  OK, nothing new there.  History shows us that such divides have spurred revolutions.  They’re also angry because they don’t have jobs and have no faith that they’ll be able to get them anytime soon.  The lack of faith in a brighter future is troubling – for them and for the nation. The “fairness” factor… What’s even more frightening to me is the protestors’ view that wealth should be redistributed simply on the basis that some have more than others and that this disparity just isn’t “fair.”  My personal politics lean more center-left than center-right, and God strike me dead for sounding a bit like Barry Goldwater, but that’s starting to feel like socialism and I’m just not willing to go there.  America was built on opportunity, innovation, and hard work.  Yes, sometimes the results aren’t “fair.”  But there is always the chance to pick yourself up and try again.  That’s what I learned from my parents and grandparents, that’s what I sincerely believe, and that’s what I hope I passed on to my children.  The Oracle at Delphi… Several years ago – before the financial meltdown and recession – a friend of mine from Athens told us that the Greek economy and society was heading for a cliff.  “Many of the young people here have been raised without a work ethic,” she said.  “They want the government to provide for them from the moment they are born to the moment they die.  Our nation is living beyond its means trying to pay for these social services.  It is a disaster waiting to happen.”  How true those words ring today.  There’s still hope… My faith in the ability of the nation to recover from its financial woes was boosted a bit earlier this month by the cabbie who drove me home from the airport on the way back from the Alliance Annual Meeting.  He was an engaging young man from Romania who had come to the U.S. six years ago.  He reeled off the list of jobs he’d had during that time (none of them glamorous) and proudly said that he was close to completing a degree in accounting from DePaul University.  I asked why he came to the U.S.  The answer was simple: “To have the chance to do better.”  Undoubtedly, the same answer my grandparents would have given when they stepped off the boats in New York and California just over a century ago. The pain is real… I share some of the protestors anger.  You can’t read “Too Big to Fail” and “The Big Short” without being sickened by the unmitigated greed that exists within certain segments of the financial services industry.  Maybe if I was convinced that these individuals were paying their fair share of taxes on this income I’d feel better.  But like a lot of Americans, I’m not.  I support laws that protect the majority from the greed and avarice of the minority.  I enjoy it when I see liars and cheaters sent to prison.  But I don’t expect the government to tuck me into bed and promise to protect me from all evil.  I understand that capitalism involves some risk. The fraternal alternative… So what’s this mean to fraternals?  The feelings of the OWS protest run deep and are shared by many more Americans than the few hundred folks camped out in downtown parks.  Most of them may not be willing to participate in these rallies, but their contempt for financial services excesses and the ever-widening gap between the super-wealthy and the middle class is palpable.  Fraternals offer those folks an alternative way to invest in their families’ financial security, deliver benefits to their fellow members of their societies, and – most importantly – improve the lives of people in their local communities.  It’s a terrific concept and one whose time has come – again.  How are you and the individuals that are selling your society’s products and services demonstrating your value – and values – to members and prospective members?  How are you tapping into people’s pent up anger and distrust of the financial services industry and showing them that they have options and choices that will help them sleep better at night?  Please share your thoughts by posting a comment here…