Swat Alums Face Police Brutality During “Occupy Wall Street”

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

Louis Jargow ’10 was arrested last Saturday, September 24, after filming protesters at Occupy Wall Street, a spontaneous movement protesting the failures of capitalism.

Jargow’s confrontation with the police began when he witnessed a young man speaking emotionally to onlookers about the foreclosure of his parents’ home. “And then there was a person taking video footage. And when she got arrested, I took her camera and I started filming.  I ran around for two to three hours documenting the police brutality,” recounted Jargow.

“There were at least five cops [beating] three kids in front of me. I was asking their names, dates of birth, and why they were going to jail,” said Jargow. Then, he said, two policemen, whom he describes as “gorilla-like,” grabbed him, threw his head against a car and pushed him to the ground. “The cops started … hitting me … with batons, which burst open my shin and it started bleeding,” said Jargow.

Jargow was detained in a riot van, designed to hold twelve, with eighteen other people for several hours where, according to Jargow, it was nearly impossible to breathe and they were given no water to drink.  He repeatedly asked for medical attention for his wound, but to no avail. Jargow and others were treated hours later by the medics at the protest site.

A photo of Jargow’s arrest was featured in the New York Daily News‘ coverage of the protests. They report that approximately fifty were  arrested; Jargow reports that he saw over ninety. Jargow’s account fits into a narrative of what many have seen as the NYPD’s overreaction to the Occupy Wall Street protest.  Video of two women being pepper-sprayed at the protest went viral on the internet and was featured on MSNBC’s The Last Word” with Lawrence O’Donnell, and on Comedy Central’s The Daily Show.

Blane O’Neill ’11 has also been protesting at Occupy Wall Street. He has seen a shift in the character of the movement since it began almost two weeks ago, on September 17. More people have been camping at the site. He has witnessed a new wave of people arriving, and with that, the demographic getting more diverse. “Older people are joining in; and there are more people of color than were originally here. Now, there is a queer constituency,” O’Neill reported. The so-called general assembly of the protest holds consensus meetings two times a day. “At these meetings we use direct democracy to discuss various issues and try to reach consensus about many of the decisions we have to make in forwarding our objectives, like dealing with police,” Jargow explained.

However, Jargow sees a downside to the evolving organization at the protest. “It’s difficult for everyone to be represented. “It was way more radical when we began this.  It’s now being run by unchecked privilege. There’s now a performance agenda.” Of the general assembly meetings, O’Neill said, “sometimes it’s hard for everyone to be represented and it is very male dominated.”

When asked why the Occupy Wall Street protest began, O’Neill explained that the movement “organically started as a direct response to this infinitely complex problem that tends to boil down in some ways to radical economic disparity and a failing economy. Capitalism isn’t working and is only benefiting a few. People are working two and three jobs, being kicked out of their homes, and can’t feed their children.” O’Neill emphasizes that the movement does not have one message or a specific list of demands. “What is happening is that people are so helpless and completely distrustful of this so-called democratic process, that they need to reassert their agency and physically occupy a space to reclaim their voices,” he said.

Will Lawrence ’13, an experienced activist, is highly supportive of the Occupy Wall Street initiative, because it “relates to a groundswell of frustration with how the government is representing the populace.” “And,” he explained, “it’s not going to be solved through an election, through another politician, through legislative reform, because the system doesn’t work anymore. Corporate influence in politics is out of control to the extent that traditional methods of making change are no longer, frankly, available to us.” Lawrence is also encouraged by the related protests that have cropped up in cities across the country, and is encouraged that these events will bring these important issues to the “forefront of the public consciousness.”

Jargow offered some advice for Swatties who feel as he does about the financial disequilibrium in the United States and how to become an agent for social change. He advised “just show up, place yourself in the right public space, bring a sleeping bag and just start talking to people.”

Jargow remains encamped in lower Manhattan along with other protesters.


On Saturday, October 1st, the NYPD arrested about 700 people, members of the Occupy Wall Street movement, along with Blaine O’Neill ’11, Jesse Marshall ’11 and Selmaan Chettih ’10 and other Swat alums. O’Neill was working on a project with Grassroots Mapping, a non-profit, open-source mapping project, documenting the Occupy Wall Street protest, when he broke away from the mapping group and joined a march approaching the Brooklyn Bridge. “We didn’t realize at first. There were no cops anywhere; no one telling the protestors it was illegal and no one giving any warning. And then about 100 cops in a line showed up behind us with big orange nets, not letting us leave, and there were 100 cops on the other side of us, too,” recounted O’Neill. The police proceeded to arrest the marchers and placed them in holding cells at nearby precincts. All were charged with disorderly conduct and served with summons to appear in court.

O’Neill said that the police had not warned them or given them an opportunity to leave the premises. “The 700 arrests were so unexpected, so I fear it might scare people who are on the fence of participating, from joining the movement.” However, he said that he was not mistreated. “We’re not shaken up emotionally, physically… just a little tired.” O’Neill reported recognizing about twenty Swatties in the group that day.


  1. I have no specific knowledge of this individual Swattie’s experience with the NYPD, but I find this news-story generally one-sided and unsettling. The “Occupy Wall Street protests” are discomforting in their un-democratic attitude and the absence of general economic understanding. What’s more, the firms that they are protesting aren’t even very good examples of bread and butter capitalism. It’s more like corporatism since CitiBank, Goldman Sachs and the like are very well connected. Public Choice theory in a nutshell.

    The down-with-capitalism rhetoric is cyclical thinking. The economy is faltering because of terrible policy decisions, burdensome regulation, looming healthcare costs, and general cronyism–essentially the antithesis of what any true laissez faire advocate wants. But then we see the effects of all this and blame the unfettered market. Hmmm.

    I’d like to see the system of government these protestors are actually promoting.

    • i would just like to point out that people might take you more seriously if it seemed as though you actually read the article you are responding to.

      please explain to me, beyond a new york times article from last week with a headline similarly describing the occupiers as anti-democratic, how the occupation is anything but democratic??

      “At these meetings we use direct democracy to discuss various issues and try to reach consensus about many of the decisions we have to make in forwarding our objectives, like dealing with police,” Jargow explained.

      just because the protesters are exploring new, non-institutionalized channels for democracy after having felt disenfranchised by the very corporatism you seem to acknowledge, doesn’t mean they are un-democratic.

  2. Meanwhile, one Swarthmore student spent this summer researching profit potential of for-profit prisons for investment banks.

  3. You’re right, Alex, I didn’t say much about the details of the article and that’s a fair criticism. But this news piece seems to generally embrace the statement “Capitalism isn’t working” without offering any real foil.

    As I’ve been following the protests, I’ve noticed a disturbing trend, with some activists promoting levels of violence in the name of enacting “economic justice”. Now, I don’t want to cast aspersions of former Swatties and my sense is that they condemn calls for violence, based on their qualms about NYPD’s performance.

    Yes, I see they’re operating outside of the normal democratic system. Are you condemning U.S. styled democracy? Is socialism really a just system? What is the ultimate goal of this protest? To confiscate profits? To take down firms? To redistribute? Are activists protesting Obama? Congress? This is a mass movement with some concerning undertones and a level of economic illiteracy. I think that’s at least worthy of comment.

    • “This is a mass movement with some concerning undertones and a level of economic illiteracy.”

      For a second there I thought you were talking about the Tea Party…

  4. “As I was leaving, having spoken to scores of protesters, I noticed two of them walking over to the A.T.M. at Bank of America. As much as this group may want to get away from Wall Street and corporate America, it may be trapped by it. In the eyes of these young protesters, until they can unshackle themselves from the system — or perhaps make the system work for them — the sense of unrest is unlikely to go away anytime soon.”

  5. Millions are out of work and home, can’t afford healthcare or to put food on the table. It seems to me that they have a pretty good “general economic understanding” and “economic literacy” of an economic system that’s structurally and fundamentally flawed. Read Smith and Public Choice theory all you’d like, but theory won’t pay the bills for someone who’s $40,000 in debt from student loans and trying to feed 2 kids on their own with the faint hope that maybe *they* won’t be in the same situation 20 years down the line (See: http://wearethe99percent.tumblr.com/post/11008169137/afraid-to-show-my-face-due-to-protective-order. While you’re at it, look at all of them and get a picture for what some other folks are going through. Oh, and watch this too:

    Please take the time to consider that people are suffering. They aren’t lazy. They aren’t misinformed. They’re angry and they’re coming together and using nonviolent protest to do something about it.

  6. I know they’re angry and frustrated–they have a LOT to be angry and frustrated about. But will that frustration subside by calling for more statism? I don’t believe so. I probably hate more crony capitalism more than you do.

  7. This is a movement that has reason to be upset, but has no feasible alternative. People have not figured out that this is all a game, the people that are “occupying Wall Street” are pawns while those who are intelligent enough to work on Wall Street and run corporations are the true players. Either you can be a pawn and run around like fools or you can strive for greatness, and earn a healthy living in finance. Economic disparity is a good thing, its modern day darwinism. If you don’t like it, you can get out.

  8. Something interesting to note here: the protesters’ general message is dissatisfaction with the current economic situation. They are, therefore, protesting Wall Street.

    Not Washington. Think about that for a second.

    From the protesters’ perspective, it seems, shady goings-on at Wall Street and general corporatism is to blame and not current federal policy (which many now see as subject to Wall Street).

    Personally, I think increased federal regulation in the economy is actually a good thing, because it curbs the economic power of corporations. While the government, in the end, after everything else, has the public in mind, this is not the case with corporations: in the end, for them, it’s money. Yes, that’s simplifying it, I know, but I still think it’s true. And therefore, a certain level of regulation is a good idea, and a totally free market system will eventually leave us anything but free.

    If you need further proof, look back at the late 19th Century. America was newly industrialized and there was an enormous level of economic disparity. Then, increased government control and restrictions over corporations were instituted, keeping robber barons from, say, bringing in the National Guard to shoot protesters and locking workers on the second floor of buildings so that they can’t escape when there’s a fire, etc. (Both of those examples are taken from real life.) The quality of life drastically improved as a result of such reform, and America was saved from the grip of monopolies.

    Now, the hard-won rights of workers are being taken away (as we have seen in Wisconsin), economic disparity is rising sharply (while Republicans call for ‘broadening the tax base’ to the poor, aged, and unemployed rather than removing Bush-era tax cuts to rich companies and individuals), and corporations are being granted power over government (Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission). People have every right to express dissatisfaction, and that is what these protesters are doing.

  9. The following is a brief list of reasons that explain why this movement is pointless and/or misguided:

    1) There is no clear message behind the movement. Political and economic climate? Social inequality? Corporate greed?

    It really sounds like the protesters represent the 9% instead of the 99%. That is, the 9% of Americans who currently make up our inordinately high unemployment rate. You want to change your socioeconomic situation? Get off the street and get a job. Get two jobs for that matter and help our economy avoid the double dip recession that we’re headed for. Can’t find a job? Well take advantage of the blessing of being born into a capitalist democracy and create something for yourself. Last time I checked, the American Way was striving to establish oneself through hard work and perseverance. Born without natural talent or gumption? Move to North Dakota (3.5% unemployment); plenty of jobs there.

    And also, let me get this straight, protesters are using a democratic form of protest to protest our current (democratic) political situation? Well there is some irony for you, folks. YOU VOTED FOR THESE REPRESENTATIVES. YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR THE CURRENT POLITICAL CLIMATE.

    2) Do the protesters want to put an end to the corrupt and risky financial strategies that led to the economic downturn in 2008?

    Two Words: DODD-FRANK. Also, the legal crusades against these financial institutions over the past three years that have targeted their past corruption has and will continue to cost them billions of dollars. Pick up the WSJ.

    3) Do the protesters want to “End the Financial Industry” or “End the Fed”?

    These sort of absurd claims are barely worth acknowledgement, but good luck getting a loan and have fun with chronic economic instability. It’s sad to see that the majority of these protesters are so poorly educated about what it is that they’re protesting against in the first place.

    4) Most importantly, stop distracting the good policemen of NYC from doing their jobs and protecting the men, women, and children of this great city. These men and women who risk their lives day-in and day-out have much more important problems to confront than the unfounded protests on Wall St.

    • “The good policemen” of NYC have been targeting folks of color and trans people at these rallies.

      Also, have you seen the job market? Start-up businesses weren’t working in 2009; they sure as hell aren’t working now.

      Head out of ass, plz.

  10. No, Danielle, you don’t hate capitalism more than me. “Crony capitalism” sounds nice and alliterative, but it places the blame of a structurally flawed system onto a few wayward individuals. As long as there’s capitalism there will be “cronies.” OWS protestors and countless others are realizing that the system itself is flawed, not a few bad seeds. No, the frustration won’t and shouldn’t subside in calling for more statism. That’s what they don’t want–a few individuals at the top–in Wall Street OR Washington–deciding what makes economic sense. A lot of criticism has been directed towards the protestors’ lack of demands, but the Occupation itself–for now–is the demand; to provide a collaborative and productive outlet for frustration. Nightly General Assemblies open to all participants are going through the messy, difficult process of formulating what they want the alternative to look like. How democratic would it have been for a few organizers to say “We want X” and expect EVERYONE who’s dissatisfied with the system to fall into line? People are coming together because they acknowledge they that there’s a problem to be solved and that it can only be solved via collective input. OWS isn’t perfect and doesn’t claim to be. Protestors’ acknowledge its flaws and are working to confront them together.

  11. Re: “Logic and Facts” . You’re argument is neither logical nor factual, and most of all is completely lacking in any understanding of the social fabric of the United States. It would sure be nice if, through mere hard work and perseverance, someone living on the street who has struggled to find a job for three years could “create something for themselves”. However, that requires capital, which they don’t have in the first place. Beyond that, it has very little to do with “gumption” and much more to do with one’s social and economic position in the first place. I applaud those who can lift themselves up by their bootstraps, but not everyone can do that. So while you sit in your dorm room at Swarthmore College worrying about the A- you got yesterday, don’t you dare blow off the huge amount of suffering that is happening in this country to people who weren’t as lucky as you. It’s entirely callous and disrespectful to people who bust their asses to scrape by.

    Finally, and more pertinent to the occupation itself, the whole point is that WE DON’T LIVE IN A DEMOCRACY. We vote for the best option of a given selection of people, who may more may not follow through. In this case, those voted for are under huge amounts of pressure from people with huge amounts of money to create policy that is not in the best interest of the working and middle classes. Hence, and if you read the article you should have gotten this, we must make our voices heard through other means, because our so-called democracy is not cutting it. In that sense, the occupation isn’t ironic at all.

  12. Economic disparity arises due to many factors. Those factors include intelligence level, personal motivation, work ethic, social skills, and networking ability. Finance professionals come from the best schools, Swarthmore included, have great GPAs, excellent extracurriculars, and are go-getters. Yet we feel the need to attack these individuals. Why? Because those people “Occupying Wall Street” do not possess those talents. Sure, the leaders of OWS are smart, clearly they are motivated, albeit in the wrong direction, but they lack the crucial trait that Finance professionals possess: the primal instinct to succeed, to be the best. This trait is what motivated our ancestors to survive and kept the human race going. In modern evolutionary terms, the individuals succeeding on Wall Street are the fittest of our race. They often have their pick of women to choose from, further supporting my argument. I will conclude with the words of Maino, “Hi Haters!”

  13. O hai there Wayne. I’m not sure if your comment was serious, but I’m going to assume that it was, because I’ve heard some similar sentiments out there. Let’s start at the back an work forward.

    First of all, “They often have their pick of women to choose from, further supporting my argument.” So I’m guessing the implication here is that your conceiving of these evolutionary champions as straight males (unless your conceiving of them as lesbians who enthusiastically objectify other women, which I doubt).

    Next, “…the individuals succeeding on Wall Street are the fittest of our race.” Wow, the ‘survival of the fittest’. That’s straight from Darwin, right? Or wait…I’m pretty sure it actually comes from Herbert Spencer, the pseudo-economic biologist who coined to term to justify economic imperialism. In particular, the British ‘race’ dominating and thoroughly screwing up the rest of the world. Interesting choice of words.

    Finally, “Economic disparity arises due to many factors. Those factors include intelligence level, personal motivation, work ethic, social skills, and networking ability.” Interesting how you didn’t mention race, gender, or educational attainment (which has elements of class) as factoring into income level, although there are FAR more quantitative studies supporting those arguments.

    Basically, your choice of words betrays the fallacies of your argument, and highlights the key discontent of capitalism. Unrestrained capitalism reinforces and rarefies the existing societal power structure, favoring rich, white, straight, men. This is why we’ve seen increasing income inequality since the 1970s, when Reagan began the rise of deregulated economic policies.

    I don’t oppose capitalism in general. I think it contributes to an increased standard of living, and frankly I love a competitive workplace. But I think capitalism needs checks and restraints, so that the rest of the world isn’t rocked by insane financial crises, brought on when the upper-upper class decides to gamble with the financial system. I say it’s time to bring back the labor policies of the 1950s, when the NLRB was more than an obstructionist bureaucracy.

    • The existing power struggle mentioned above which supposedly reinforces the existing power struggle isn’t as simple as Chris W. makes it out to be. The white, straight, and male generalization may still be true but it is not because of policy.

      Wall Street firms, or any other wealth management financial institutions draw from the academic elite because those are the graduates that people trust, especially when it comes to managing their money. Just as someone may have chosen Swarthmore for a variety of reasons, one of the most common would definitely be its academic prestige. Your degree upon graduation should carry with it a certain amount of credibility to back your abilities. If you don’t believe that, you have no business going to school here and would be better served getting an online degree. After all, you’ll still get a Diploma (it’s just a piece of paper) when you graduate.

      Wall Street recruiting practices have experienced progressive change. A friend of mine working at a bulge bracket informed me that specifics department were putting a strong focus on looking for minority or female interns this summer. By definition, this certainly fits the mold of reverse discrimination. If this is the case, then why are there so few women in the upper echelons of management? And its because of the banking lifestyle. Like it or not, the work place is currently male dominated and is not the most female friendly environment. And it’s not as if smart successful female bankers are lacking options when it comes to career mobility. Why stay at these banks when you can take your resume with “Goldman Sachs” (I’m only using Goldman as an example because its the one the media and in turn people have been hating on the most) and get a job with better work-life balance. For whatever reason, probably because of the lack of societal stigma of being single at 35 as a male or the fact that we do not have to give birth and take time away from work, a lot of guys that work in banking or finance do it for life. These are the guys that make it and becoming Managing Directors or partners at the firms.

  14. Why does everybody hate on capitalism so much? Can anybody name another system of economics that has produced so much for a society for such an extended amount of time? We saw the failings of command economies under the Soviet Union and its republics. We see the failing of welfare states in the European Union. Our own problems with corruption, regulation, de-regulation, and impossible fiscal feats (Medicare, Social Security, unions, etc.) have led America to the mess it is in today. People got greedy, regulators and authorities looked the other way, shit happened; now we have to deal with the mess. The truth is no better system than free market capitalism exists; it sure as hell isn’t perfect, but it is the best we can do. Disparity exists in every kind of economic system in the world because human beings are imperfect, not necessarily because of the systems themselves. Adding more taxes to an already flawed tax code isn’t the answer; neither is demolishing necessary social safety net programs. Reforms are needed, this is true, but blaming the whole of our problems on capitalism is absurd. Working through the system is the only way to change it; tearing it down would be even worse (and is probably the most unlikely thing to occur any time soon). Everybody is talking a big game in this forum, but in reality nobody has any other viable system that works, that has done as much, produced the amount of innovation and wealth, medical advances and technological breakthroughs than the capitalist system has.

    • “Now we have to deal with the mess” “shit happens” Am I really reading these phrases when it comes to people’s livelihoods? Privilege is a dangerous thing and it appears unchecked here on this message board

      • shit happened* not happens…and by shit I was referring to the current economical disaster this country is in, which by the way is a mess we have to deal with…sorry I hurt your feelings? The only way to improve people’s livelihoods is to first deal with the problems facing our country as a whole, then moving forward hopefully fix the system to ensure some equity

  15. @ Chris W. “Interesting how you didn’t mention race, gender, or educational attainment (which has elements of class) as factoring into income level, although there are FAR more quantitative studies supporting those arguments.”
    What you fail to realize is that Wall Street firms have affirmative action programs that specifically hire women and minorities. Diversity on Wall Street is higher than its ever been, and it is because of the opportunities being afforded minorities and women. In the process, it makes it that much harder for intelligent, white males to succeed, reversely discriminating all in the name of diversity.

    And I’m pretty sure the Brits didn’t screw up the world. If it wasn’t for them, America wouldn’t be here so I guess they did a decent job. You really seem to have a problem with dominant people, corporations, etc, but what you fail to see is that we are genetically created to impose our wills on others. If you are too weak to realize that, or too scared to compete in a world where you will fail, go enjoy Vietnam with your socialist buddies.

    Occupy Wall Street is what’s wrong with this country.

    • Dear Wayne,

      I think what you don’t understand here is that genetic factors make up such a small influence in who succeeds and who doesn’t. What I mean is that people who go to top rate finance institutions and are the “go getters” you reference almost always come from privileged backgrounds. They grew up with compounded advantages in the schooling they received, the parental support they were given, and isolation from violence and poverty that so many face. The few token low class, minority individuals who end up succeeding in this unbalanced environment often benefit from unique advantages as well. Perhaps they had one teacher that took notice or they were helped by an external institution that mitigated some of their disadvantage. The point is, citing the few people put into high power situations by affirmative action in no way makes up for the rest of the oppressed proletariat.

      The belief that rich people are rich simply because they are inherently more talented and work harder than everyone else is bringing our country to its knees. A more progressive worldview is the notion that, yes, each of us is different and uniquely talented, but our situations in life are less defined by our individual effort as by the structures and social conditions of the world around us. I hope you do not believe that a world in which your grotesque Social Darwinism reigns is one you would like to live in.

      Your allegation that somehow the advantages granted to corporate America bestow the right to influence elections, gamble with the nation’s finances, and contribute less in taxes than the working class is ignorant and frankly quite disgusting.

      By the way, the existence of America does not preclude the idea that the imperial British empire could have “messed up” the world. You must recognize that British colonization and occupation directly cause the suffering and hardship of millions of people, including but not limited to native Africans, Indians, and the indigenous South Pacific.

      • I’d like to see the statistics regarding whether people who make money really are already “privileged”. People always harp on the same ideas, that the system is keeping poor people down, money and capitalism is the root of all evil, etc. My father came from nothing, had no affirmative action to help him, lived in his parents apartment with my mother and had her help pay for his schooling. He was the son of a correction officer and a secretary (typist). He made something of himself despite the situation he was handed because he was driven and determined to give his wife and children a better life than he had. There were no structural restraints to his success or an evil economic model trampling his ideas; he busted his ass day and night, working during the day, schooling at night, just to pay the bills until he finally made it. Cling to the notion that your social conditions are what keeps you down and you hide behind the fact that you just don’t have what it takes to succeed or you just aren’t willing to throw that effort down. Oppressed proletariat? The American standard of living is in the top 20 in the world (13th in quality of life). Our per capita income is also high and median income is about 45000. The American proletariat is hardly “oppressed”. And to say that the top income earners “contribute less in taxes” than the working class is ignorant. The top 1% pays 50% of this nations taxes. Yeah, Warren Buffet says he pays less of a rate than his secretary; if he feels bad about it he should stop asking for higher taxes and ask for a reformed tax code. I agree that our current tax code allows for too many loopholes for the rich, but raising taxes doesn’t address that problem, fixing the system does. Capitalism isn’t evil; humans are.

    • As high paying as Wall Street is, the hours and commitment towards the occupation are not for the feeble minded (in terms of intelligence or of willpower). It is one of the most volatile job markets and job security is often times laughably unstable. The corporate ladder that one climbs in Wall Street is littered with stressful deadlines and an “accepted” policy of verbal abuse if one fails to meet expectations, even if the demands at times seem unreasonable.

      Brody is spot on when he talks about the elite making it to Wall Street consisting of many of the most intelligent and especially driven from the Ivy League and peer institutions. If protesting the hard work of these men and women and the dedication they have put into their profession is a goal of #occupywallstreet, it frankly makes me sick.

  16. Though we only observe a limited sample of Swarthmore alumni squatting in the financial district (meaning that those mentioned might be the most ardent supporters and thus leave us with some selection bias), it’s probably worth observing that all of the alumni who are mentioned are those who didn’t study economics! As the interviewed note, the protests aren’t just about ‘radical’ economic inequalities and unemployment. Nevertheless, these ‘observers’ of the study of economics (especially those in the Barry Schwartz / Practical Wisdom camp) tend to misunderstand / misinterpret (either on purpose or by naiveness) the discipline’s major axioms. Sensibly, this leads those who misunderstand to distrust the discipline. But since the facts upon which they make their conclusions tend not to be true, we shouldn’t be surprised to find that their conclusions about it are extreme. So since Callen R, for instance, pretends that profit-maximizing firms don’t behave strategically, ze feels cool about saying ‘American firms gambled the nation’s finances.’

    To make things worse, since the crisis, everyone seems to be an expert on macroeconomics. Accordingly, in conversation these days it’s commonplace to hear Krugmanites pontificate on MORE GOV’T SPENDING and WSJ readers to preach austerity as the answer. Most honest macroeconomists, however, wouldn’t dream of making the kind of bold and unqualified claims that many of these protesters around the country seem to make, especially given the complexity of macroeconomic dynamics and long list of requisite identifying assumptions to say anything interesting in macro.

    Also, these protesters seem to have oversimplified the issue of corporate political spending. They seem to claim that all corporate political spending is intrinsically bad, by which they probably mean all corporate political spending to promote agendas with which they do not agree is bad. But even that viewpoint is misguided. This is because the issue is complex and corporate spending may actually benefit Americans in ways difficult to observe. For instance, it may turn out that a firm’s efforts to free itself from regulation costly to its balance sheet but beneficial to those otherwise subject to the firm’s negative externalities have a net positive effect on the well-being of some for whom the personal pecuniary boost of the firm’s sidestepping of regulation (for instance) overcomes the drop in well-being resulting from the loss of protection from the firm’s negative externalities. Any firm that exploits political influence for increased revenues uses these revenues to pay dividends or buy new capital –– both of which have positive outcomes for investors or capital vendors and the macroeconomy that is affected as a whole from this savings.

    Re: Brody’s comments, I’d not be surprised to find that some of the movement’s anger results from perceptions of unfairness of the randomness of genetic endowments (where endowments include intellect and predisposed drive and interests). While it may not be that bankers are smarter or more driven, it maybe, however, be that they’re genetically predisposed to like and excel at banking, while others are genetically predisposed to like and excel at art. One pays six figures; the other doesn’t. So if you *choose* to major in English lit and elect not to go to Law School or enter strategic consulting, it shouldn’t surprise you to have a tough time in the job market.

    • “While it may not be that bankers are smarter or more driven, it maybe, however, be that they’re genetically predisposed to like and excel at banking, while others are genetically predisposed to like and excel at art. One pays six figures; the other doesn’t. So if you *choose* to major in English lit and elect not to go to Law School or enter strategic consulting, it shouldn’t surprise you to have a tough time in the job market.”

      Mostly agree with the dose of reality. Bankers are only paid what their company and other peer companies deem is their value. That is their market value as an employee. Just as a student who decides to major in art but who can’t sell his paintings or convince kids to take art lessons from him should probably tone down their cost of living.

      But, I honestly don’t think anyone is genetically predisposed to like and excel at banking. Excel here being the key word, as in you’re sitting in a desk 16 hours a day or more getting fat looking at Microsoft Excel documents performing due diligence on a deal so the numbers check in a way that will make your clients happy. You do it because it is “a job” and that is how you make your living. People that make it into banking are some of the smartest people in our society. Many of them are very artistic and excelled at many hobbies or crafts before they excelled at banking. They just simply chose that profession because it paid well and afforded themselves and their families a comfortable lifestyle.

      If you wanna major in something artsy in a down economy, that’s your choice. Just don’t go looking for a handout when your local public school’s art program gets cut and you can’t send your kids to private school.

  17. I would just like to draw attention to the above statement that genetics determine our majors and career paths.

    Some people might not understand economics, but you clearly know absolutely nothing about genetics.

  18. Here is some reading about privilege

    A brief story about the cost of living in the US:

    Privilege is real. I think it is telling that the comments complaining about diversity use the language of eugenics.

  19. Something I always find interesting is that for all this class warfare silliness, many Swatties don’t object to academic privilege. People from ALL backgrounds become financially successful (just look at the CEOs of the Forbes 500), but some Swatties dismiss financial property as illegitimate and fueled by class, gender, geography, race, etc. Yet what would one say if a high school teacher told you you’d have to slice your GPA in half because you’d already had enough smarts. Maybe polemics could assert you’d had an academically privileged upbringing–your grandma took you to the library, you had internet access in the 90’s, you’d visited an art museum. Is it societally unfair that your mom made sure you knew how to read while your neighbors lagged behind? All of us are from radically different upbringings, but somewhere along the lines we were allowed to intellectually prosper. Why is this different from monetary success? In fact, an appreciation for education can be passed down from generation to generation. The government can’t establish an estate tax on the mind. Would the progressive mindset tell put a cap on how much one can learn and dream?

    • Hey, I’m going to make a really long false analogy really smugly.

      There’s absolutely such a thing as educational privilege. Slicing my GPA isn’t going to fix it. Putting more money into under-privileged schools, knocking off this crap standardized testing and addressing other realms of inequality (race and class divides, for example) will go towards making the educational gap shrink.

      In my experience, many Swatties are aware of their educational privilege and are often invested in fixing that problem.

    • when one becomes well educated, it does not in anyway detract from the education or intelligence of others. knowledge and understanding are not finite, one does not receive. however, when one becomes exorbitantly wealthy that does prevent other people from financial success

  20. @T

    Really? What kind of analogy is that? The nice thing about knowledge is that when you give some to someone else, you don’t have less than you started with. I think Swarthmore is very much about spreading knowledge as it is about spreading other types of equality . The unfortunate thing about money, though, is that when I pay my taxes, I have less money left over. Therefore, I expect the government to actually have my back because everyone is expected to chip in so society can actually work. I’m entitled to complain if it is being wasted on things like frivolous wars. Very differently, your philosophy professor or whoever tried to teach you how to write persuasively may have attempted to give you the tools to make reasoned arguments, and yet the professor would have the same amount of knowledge left over no matter whether you were actually paying attention or not. Isn’t that neat?

    • Errr this isn’t hard to understand… wealth itself is infinite and non-zero sum (I can have more and you can also have more if we only put our heads together and be productive… etc.), but relative wealth isn’t. Relative wealth is inherently zero sum because you can’t move up a percentile without forcing someone to move one down. When people complain about inequality, they are complaining about inequality of relative wealth. Consider that someone living at the poverty line in America today is: 1) better off than the vast majority of people living around the world, and 2) better off than the vast majority of Americans who lived a mere 50 years ago. Therefore our society is very successful and has made extraordinary material gains and capitalism has improved the well being of society’s poorest and most marginalized. Yet everyone is still MAD MAD MAD because some people (the “rich”) are MORE better off than other people (the “poor”), who are merely… better off.

      Apply this concept to intelligence and it’s easy to see that while knowledge is infinite, in any given society there are always going to be the smartest and there are always going to be the dumbest. Even if the intelligence of everyone in the country can be improved drastically from what it is now, the top 1% will still get whatever reward that society allows to accrue for the top 1%. Hence we shouldn’t allow that to happen; it’s unfair. Society’s more intelligent members should not get more (sometimes vastly more) in terms of wealth, social status, or opportunities. And I would take it even one step further. Since intelligence and knowledge are their own rewards (I think any swattie would agree), we should cap not only the income and status of the most intelligent, but also the intelligence of the most intelligent, as well as how much knowledge they are allowed “to know.” As someone who really values knowledge and can’t stand that some people have vastly disproportionate amounts of it than I do, I want this to happen ASAP. Let’s make it happen.

      • “Therefore our society is very successful and has made extraordinary material gains and capitalism has improved the well being of society’s poorest and most marginalized.”

        So then what’s the issue? You want to make society’s strongest (most productive, most intelligent, however you want to categorize) weaker? How does that aid society? I liked everything you said up until “hence”. I do agree the amount of inequality is far too great and the gap between the top and bottom is far too vast. But capping income and intelligence? Because somebody has more than you? That is unfair. You talk about fairness like it only works in one direction. Taking something away that somebody for the sole reason of you not having it is unfair.

      • Err… I wasn’t talking about wealth as an infinite sum. Yes, you can make relativistic statements about everything. Congratulations. This does not mean that the amount of resources society has at its disposal is infinite. To use econ terms, knowledge and education are positive externalities. Where your silly argument breaks down is when you pinpoint that wealth is zero-sum and then say that you can easily apply this to intelligence. Step back and think about that. Do you really think that I can only learn at the cost of the knowledge of others? Really?

        Can we please be humans and acknowledge that we have a responsibility to help each other out? Why is this controversial all of a sudden? We tried the whole social darwinism thing in the US already. It sucked. Let’s move beyond that and I promise you the world will be a better place.

        • Dude-

          He doesn’t think that you can only learn at the cost of others, and he never said that. Put down your emotions, and YOU think about it.

          Suppose America consists of you and me and suppose I become smarter than you. Then I’ve PUSHED YOU DOWN in the distribution because I’m smarter than you. So though I’ve not cost you any knowledge, I’m now smarter and you’re relatively worse off. […. and so if we suppose income is *only* a strictly increasing function of IQ (an obviously extreme assumption) then you’ve become worse off than me because I now have more wealth.] The logic for the America with 300 million people easily follows.

          • OK Blum, thanks for the clarification of the analogy. But the fact that you need to make an extreme assumption to make it relevant to the conversation is telling. This is not how the real world works, and it is not the general position of the self-proclaimed “99%” that everyone should be equal in every way. It’s just that once you have your $250 million, good for you, but you have a responsibility now. Who is talking about capping wealth of any kind anyway?

            My position would be the same for intelligence. If there were some really accurate way to measure intelligence and we saw a gap similar to the one we see in terms of economic resources in the US, I would think we as a society should work to help those people out who are lower in the distribution (which is probably true in the real world too!). And even if you need to think of it relativistically and say that’s bringing everyone else down in intelligence by comparison, I would say that’s worth it because I think that you being smarter than you were before is always going to be a good thing for everybody.

          • Alfred-

            I don’t **NEED** to make that extreme assumption. [If you thought about it, you would have seen this.] I make it for simplicity, and the results would still hold under any utility function where utility is strictly increasing in wealth.

            Why $250 million? Why not $250.5? What about $10 million? I think it’s only fair once they reach $11 million.

            Yes, wouldn’t it be nice if we could just ‘help’ those lower in the distribution… unfortunately, while allowing me to state the obvious, while it’s TRIVIAL that, holding all else constant, spending more on less educated people would make the world a better place, but it’s an entirely different (and very much more complicated) claim to say that (not holding all else constant) redistributing wealth from those of incomes over $250M, for instance, to the less educated would actually make everyone better off.

            Of course, in your evaluation of social welfare, you choose to weight the least well-off the most, it’s possible that such a redistribution could net positive welfare (depending on your weights), but your *choice* of weights is subjective, and would likely only appreciate philosophical support. If you were to weight everyone in a society equally, you’d have a much harder time convincing anyone that net welfare would increase following the implementation of a redistributive scheme.

            The point to take home is that you CANNOT assume that current economic dynamics stay constant over any redistributive scheme.

            If you don’t assume that, fine, but you’ve got to present a better case than, “well, I have a lot of feelings and redistribution makes me feel good.”

          • Thanks, Blum. That made a lot of sense. I do still believe you have to make extreme assumptions to connect the idea of an “intelligence cap” to a progressive tax code. If we’re talking about economics, yeah, I’m not an economics major, and I certainly haven’t graduated from Swat yet. All I was objecting to was (what I perceived as) the intellectual masturbation of making the leap to redistributing people’s GPAs. I saw this as intellectually disingenuous, and I respect your opinion that maybe if I saw the nuances of the model this would potentially make more sense. It really seemed to me, however, that this was more of a classic slippery slope straw-man than an actual argument, and that pissed me off because you can make anything sound like a slippery slope, but this isn’t productive.
            I’d much rather you explain to me the specifics of why a huge increase in the income gap is not something we should be worrying about than to spend all that energy on analogies.

          • Empirical analysis seems like the answer to your question.

            In fact, some guys at the World Bank (maybe, I can’t recall) put out a policy paper on the effect of income inequality on length of ‘growth spurts’ in developing countries. Though their methodology was bunk (the regressions they used were biased) they found that countries with higher levels of inequality also had shorter growth spurts, suggesting that income disparity actually negatively affects the macroeconomy. [Their work is biased because their model isn’t well-specified.]

            I’d probably analyze it similarly, but instead look at ‘developed’ countries, and compare a set of indicators for strong functioning of society/economy as a function of income inequality (and a set of controls) across countries across time. This is problematic, actually, because it turns out that Americans have very different outlooks on social norms / role of government than do Europeans, so perhaps we’d want to implement a similar study over distinct regions in the US across time where we have variation in income disparity. Getting anything causal here, however, would be very difficult, and probably require some Freakonomics ‘magic.’

          • You could probably construct an inequality measure using median HH income measures over counties (assuming that county lines are sufficiently similar over time). Not sure if anyone puts it out, but I imagine state governments maintain something like that. If not, you might be able to noisily impute it from IRS tax revenues data. I’d want to think about it a bit more if I were seriously pursuing this.

  21. Does anyone want to join me tomorrow for “Occupy Kroger!” I think they just gave me the wrong change back, I’m not 100% sure though… I’m taking off work for 3 weeks to make my voice heard!

  22. Seriously you guys this is the most boring DG flame war ever. You’re losing your touch.

    And honestly, as much as I hate to say it, a lot of the commenters here — basically, everyone who feels they’re owed something, because they self-identify (whether accurately or not) as part of this 99% — sound suspiciously like characters in an Ayn Rand book. Characters who are not the protagonists.

    In the immortal words of Zoidberg-Jesus: “I help those who help themselves!”

    Bob Dole

  23. I would like a clarification for how actions that seem to be about things like systemic disadvantages and privilege, and about the increasing gap between the very wealthy and everyone else, have been construed as entirely anti-capitalist.

    It’s my understanding that the general goal is not to punish people who have enjoyed lots of success or to entirely dismantle capitalism in the US (though I’m sure there are a few people involved who might have these views), but to address how despite working hard and doing their best, systemic disadvantages (class, race, gender, etc.) have kept many people from improving their lives, while others continue to reap the benefits of privilege (access to education, access to capital, etc.).

    I think it’s disingenuous to argue against an argument that no one (or at the very least, no on on this thread) is even making, and to feel victorious, when you’ve failed to address what has actually been said (or at least, have failed to do so without resorting to eugenics-tinged arguments).

  24. @ Sara

    I’m glad you’re not looking to dismantle capitalism, but I’m concerned you’ve underestimated the number of “Occupiers” who believe in precisely that. It’s unnerving how many of these protestors are wandering around with posters advertising recycled bits of Marxism. I’ve spotted that angry fist sprouting up on countless leaflets.

    All this systemic injustice jargon may be great in an academic setting but can we please treat people equally as individuals and stop using identity politics to justify undermining success? I’m sure he’s not too popular with the Swarthmore crowd, but Herman Cain is a case in point. Racism is not what drives this country. Hard work is. You’ve got people like Al Sharpton chatting on about distributing the wealth. Meanwhile, I know parents and neighbors of all backgrounds who give thousands away in charity each year. The reason that’s awesome is that it’s CHARITY. It was voluntarily given away in the spirit of kindness and obligation to community. It wasn’t snatched up by Michael Moore and his elk.

    The economy is not a zero sum game where some make it and others don’t. If protestors are angry about the bailouts, blame the President, who received the most campaign cash from Wall Street in U.S. history. That’s a fact. If they’re angry about college loans, maybe they should think about the absurd government student loan policies that have allowed tuition to spike four times the rate of inflation. At least the 60’s sign wavers loved freedom. These folks are essentially calling for more statism.

    I’ll end on a Reagan-esque antidote: A poor British kid on the side of the road watches a Rolls Royce drive by and mumbles, “Oneday I’ll get that guy out of that car.” Meanwhile, a poor American kid sees the Rolls Royce drive by and says, “Oneday I’ll buy that car.”

    This is one Swattie who actually believes in the American dream.

    • @Thatcher:

      “I’m glad you’re not looking to dismantle capitalism, but I’m concerned you’ve underestimated the number of “Occupiers” who believe in precisely that. It’s unnerving how many of these protestors are wandering around with posters advertising recycled bits of Marxism. I’ve spotted that angry fist sprouting up on countless leaflets.”

      I’m surprised that “recycled bits of Marxism” are so terrifying. It’s interesting that people with different economic ideologies holding signs are enough of a threat to worry about. Furthermore, these people do not have the power to rework an entire economic system–but they might get people, including policy-makers, thinking about what they can do, within capitalism, to address the kinds of concerns these Marxist-wielding occupiers might believe only Marxism can solve. And I think that these issues might be worth calling attention to.

      “All this systemic injustice jargon may be great in an academic setting but can we please treat people equally as individuals and stop using identity politics to justify undermining success? I’m sure he’s not too popular with the Swarthmore crowd, but Herman Cain is a case in point. Racism is not what drives this country. Hard work is. ”

      I agree that hard work is the best way to succeed and is a necessary component of success. However, I find it odd that “systemic injustice jargon” apparently only has a place in an academic setting for you. Sometimes, it doesn’t matter how hard you work–the fact of the matter is that being part of a marginalized group leads to just that: marginalization. All the hard work in the world, having proof of ability to pay, and presenting a respectable family did nothing when my parents were turned away from housing on a flimsy, thrown-together excuse, as soon as the complex representative saw my family’s multiracial make-up. And then he never returned their calls. What individual failings can you attribute to this failure to secure housing? Systemic disadvantages are not just theoretical: they have significant consequences in people’s every day lives and on their ability to achieve material success.

      • “Sometimes, it doesn’t matter how hard you work–the fact of the matter is that being part of a marginalized group leads to just that: marginalization.”

        Please clarify this. Do you believe that being part of a marginalized group *causes* hard work to be less effective for achieving success than it is for those not a part of a marginalized group? Are you sure that what you’re observing isn’t endogenous, and just happens to be a characteristic of the marginalized? As you probably recognize, the issues that pertain to the needy are complicated, and it’s not as simple as


        That might explain some of the observed less success, but it’s important to recognize that the lower levels of success that the marginalized experience might also stem from hard-to-observe intrinsic characteristics.

        • I think the example I used is pretty illustrative of what I mean.

          And what I mean is that hard work is not always enough when factors independent of a person’s skills or dedication, etc., close doors to them, either directly (No, we don’t want you to live here.) or indirectly (Well, I’d just rather hire a man.).

          I do not think that it is a necessary outcome. Of course people who belong to marginalized groups can be successful, and many are. But that does not mean that marginalization is an irrelevant factor or that people who do work hard find themselves running up against it such that they cannot improve their lives, through no fault of their own.

          I do not think that “wah, I’m marginalized!” is a catch-all excuse for being unsuccessful, but I do think that taking into account how marginalization actually works on people’s lives is important to not taking the easy way out (It’s obviously their fault.) and instead thinking more complexly (Despite being qualified and a demonstrably hard working, responsible person, they were turned away from a job.).

          Nowhere have I said that all failures to succeed must be because of marginalization. Only that marginalization can contribute to efforts to succeed, no matter how dedicated or prudent, failing.

  25. I do find Marxism worrying. I’m not going to backtrack on that front. It’s the height of irony that some Swat students take human rights and justice to heart but are then willing to turn a blind eye to the vast evil and death communism fostered in the 20th century. I equate that Marxist fist with a lot of historical baggage. You are allowed to wave any sign you like in this country, which is a beautiful thing, but I don’t read that iron claw as adding nuance to economic discussion.

    • However, we’re talking about the US, I’m assuming. I find the red scare carries more relevant historical baggage than does communism, especially in light of how moderate policies such as ending the bush tax cuts for the wealthy was characterized by many in the government and media using the scary language of “redistribution of wealth” and “communist/socialist/Idon’tknowthedifference”

  26. You’re right, I’m assuming we’re talking about the U.S. too.

    I’m sure there are a lot of dopey red scare slogans floating out there, but that’s not what’s I’m getting at. I’m not arguing that USSR-sympathizers have infiltrated the government, I’m saying Marxist POLICY is bad. An an emotional level, yeah, that Marxist fist scares me and is reminiscent of a lot of awful history. That aside, If someone makes an argument for redistribution of wealth and I debate why that’s probably not a good move in terms of economics and political philosophy, I don’t think that should be dismissed because I might somehow sound like Joseph McCarthy.

    And Wallace, to say that some political hoopla about the Bush tax cuts is more relevant than the mass suffering induced by communism is a little dubious. The suffering in the USSR, China, Latin America, African colonies, and elsewhere is not a side note. I believe it is the general result of a planned economy and the blunt sacrifice of liberty.

    Perhaps all this communist talk is hyperbolic, but I’m not calling the Communist Manifesto my platform, while some protestors, are….

    • I agree with thatcher. The oppressive regime of the USSR is completely relevant to the protests by those hippies down on Wall St!


  27. the “communist manifesto” does not contain specific policy indications -in fact, one of the major criticisms of Marx is the fact that he did relatively little to go beyond critical analysis/theory in his writings. the self-proclaimed communist governments of the 21st century attempted to construct their own policies based on their own interpretations of marxism (as well as their own messed-up ideas of what the “justifiable” limits of state action are). what i’m trying to say is that simplistic accusations of “marxism” gloss over all these *details*, and sorry, do in fact seem eerily McCarthy-esque (as inaccurate, politically charged notions of history).

    people inspired by marxism range from stalin to a number of professors at swarthmore. like all other theories, marxism can and is used and misused differently by different people with different ideas of economics, politics, etc etc. you get the point.

    so let’s stop talking in terms of capitalism vs communism and comparing the USSR to current-day USA. we need to be more creative than that when thinking about what alternatives others and ourselves are envisioning, more imaginative as well as more in touch with the needs of our communities here, now and in the upcoming future (climate change anyone? strangely missing from this conversation).

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