Jackson, Mississippi - In August, clean water stopped flowing from residents’ taps in Jackson, Mississippi. The crisis lasted more than six weeks, leaving 150,000 people without a consistent source of safe water. The catastrophe can be traced back to a decision by a credit ratings agency four years ago that massively inflated the city’s borrowing costs for infrastructure improvements, most notably for its water and sewer system. In 2018, ratings analysts at Moody’s Investor Service — a credit rating agency with a legacy of misconduct — downgraded Jackson’s bond rating to a junk status, citing in part the “low wealth and income indicators of residents.” The decision happened even though Jackson has never defaulted on its debt.
Burned out employees are allegedly ‘quiet quitting’ their jobs by doing the bare minimum at work and Corporate America wants you to know that this is a bad thing. They don’t want you to notice that quiet quitting isn’t quitting at all. It’s still collecting the checks so that you can afford your rent, and your dinners out at that Indian food place, and your new shoes you like and – if there’s a little left over – an education for your children. Collect the check, show up on time, and just do enough that your dumb boss can’t justify firing you.
Ukrainian President and part-time celebrity endorsement-provider Volodymyr Zelensky rang the bell at the opening ceremony for the New York Stock Exchange on September 6. Zelensky’s virtual arrival to Wall Street was intended as an opportunity to pitch his government’s newly-launched #AdvantageUkraine campaign to investors. The appeal represents a collaboration between the Ukrainian government and WPP, the largest advertising firm in the world. The president’s Wall Street event coincided with an impending economic collapse in Western Europe, where the European Investment Bank has admitted the Ukraine proxy war could “push many into poverty.”
Demanding a new political discourse in which the poor are no longer blamed for their poverty in the wealthiest nation in history, hundreds of impoverished and low-income activists on Monday rallied in New York City and marched on Wall Street to take their demands directly to the center of U.S. wealth.
Powerful Wall Street lobbyists have succeeded in blocking Section 956 of the Dodd-Frank legislation, which prohibits large financial institutions from awarding pay packages that encourage “inappropriate risks.” Regulators were supposed to implement this new rule within nine months of the law’s passage but have dragged their feet — despite widespread recognition that these bonuses encouraged the high-risk behaviors that led to the 2008 financial crisis, costing millions of Americans their homes and livelihoods. In contrast to the Wall Street lobbyists, advocates for the working poor have seen their efforts to raise the federal minimum wage and secure other important worker benefits stalled in Congress. Due to Washington inaction, millions of essential workers continue to earn poverty wages, while the reckless bonus culture is alive and well on Wall Street.
A month before the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (known as COP26) kicked off in Scotland, a new asset class was launched by the New York Stock Exchange that will “open up a new feeding ground for predatory Wall Street banks and financial institutions that will allow them to dominate not just the human economy, but the entire natural world.” So writes Whitney Webb in an article titled “Wall Street’s Takeover of Nature Advances with Launch of New Asset Class”: Called a natural asset company, or NAC, the vehicle will allow for the formation of specialized corporations “that hold the rights to the ecosystem services produced on a given chunk of land, services like carbon sequestration or clean water.” These NACs will then maintain, manage and grow the natural assets they commodify, with the end goal of maximizing the aspects of that natural asset that are deemed by the company to be profitable.
About 14 striking Alabama mine workers have taken their case to Wall Street this morning. Chanting “no contract, no coal,” the miners today launched the latest step in a strike that began April 1 for a new contract with Warrior Met Coal. United Mine Workers of America President Cecil Roberts and union members plan to protest in front of the Manhattan offices of several hedge funds the union says are the reason the contract negotiations are stalled. “These are the ones that can be responsible in seeing that we get a decent contract,” UMWA Legislative Director Phil Smith said by phone this morning. The miners, along with other supporters, plan to protest in front of BlackRock Fund Advisors, State Street Global Advisors, and Renaissance Technologies.
Chicago Public Schools (CPS) is in a deep and enduring fiscal crisis. After decades of budget cuts, Chicago’s public K–12 schools have been hollowed out, magnifying the hardships of stagnant wages, rising housing prices, and more faced by the city’s working class. Pundits have predictably blamed CPS’s fiscal crisis on either the greedy teachers’ union (Republicans’ and a few austerity-minded Democrats’ scapegoat) or on conservative suburban and rural “downstate” politicians in Illinois hostile to urban children’s plight (most Democrats’ scapegoat). But Chicago is a one-party city, controlled by the Democrats, in a solidly blue state, where Democrats usually control the state government.
For most Americans, what threatens health also threatens wealth. The COVID-19 pandemic triggered the worst economic crisis in nearly a century, with millions suddenly facing hunger, unemployment, or eviction. But Wall Street doesn’t represent most Americans. In the parallel universe of the financial industry, stock indices soared to historic peaks as Americans wished good riddance to the deadliest year in our history. Detached from the daily lives of most Americans, the stock market surge almost exclusively benefited the disproportionately wealthy, and the pandemic once again lived up to its distinction as “the great clarifier.” For years, Wall Street has been increasingly out of touch with the underlying economy of workers, jobs, and wages, and the fortunes reaped by hedge funds and billionaires have not helped the millions of Americans in dire need.
The U.S. ruling class deploys the military for three main reasons: (1) to forcibly open up countries to foreign investment, (2) to ensure the free flow of natural resources from the global south into the hands of multinational corporations, and (3) because war is profitable. The third of these reasons, the profitability of war, is often lacking detail in analyses of U.S. imperialism: The financial industry, including investment banks and private equity firms, is an insatiable force seeking profit via military activity. The war industry is composed of corporations that sell goods and services to the U.S. government and allied capitalist regimes around the world.
A short squeeze frenzy driven by a new generation of gamers captured financial headlines in recent weeks, centered on a struggling strip mall video game store called GameStop. The Internet and a year off in this shut down to study up have given a younger generation of investors the tools to compete in the market. Gerald Celente calls it the “Youth Revolution.” A group of New York Young Republicans who protested in the snow on January 31 called it “Re-occupy Wall Street.” Others have called it Occupy Wall Street 2.0. The populist uprising against Wall Street goes back farther, however, than to the 2010 Occupy movement. In the late 19th century, the country was suffering from a depression nearly as severe as the Great Depression of the 1930s.
This past week a video game company in trouble, Gamestop, became the center of media attention. Day traders had driven up the company’s stock price by thousands of percent in just one day. The mainstream media narrative was the ‘small guy’ investor challenged the big boys of finance who had bet Gamestop stock price would contract, not rise sharply. The little investor, so the story goes, initially won big but Gamestop’s stock price escalation was stopped in its tracks by coordinated forces of Wall St., as trading was abruptly halted later in the day in the midst of the run-up. But that narrative, that media spin, has it wrong. The real meaning of what has happened is quite different.
The New York Stock Exchange suffered a poor day on Wednesday, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average sinking by more than 600 points. However, for a select few companies, stock values have gone through the roof. It was thanks, in large part, to a group of amateur stock traders with a vendetta against veteran corporate insider short-sellers betting on a company’s failure, with the video game store GameStop taking center stage. Before the drama was over, the company’s value had jumped by more than 1,700%, an investment firm had lost billions, and some small-time investors who gambled it all were able to afford some of life’s costlier necessities with their windfall.
A remarkable series of events culminated in at least one major Wall Street hedge fund on the verge of insolvency and widespread anxiety and even panic from the titans of the financial system. It was all initiated on a sub-group of Reddit known for its heterodox interest in stock markets, video games, and vaguely populist politics. Purposely targeting the stock of a company that had long been written off by Wall Street and which short sellers had decided to ravage — the video game retailer GameStop — these small investors, many apparently working class or debt-ridden, banded together to drive up the stock price of that company into the stratosphere, abruptly leaving the hedge fund short-sellers with billions of dollars in losses.
Sometimes things only make sense when seen through a magnifying lens. As it happens, I’m thinking about reality, the very American and global reality clearly repeating itself as 2021 begins. We all know, of course, that we’re living through a once-in-a-century-style pandemic; that millions of people have lost their jobs, a portion of which will never return; that the poorest among us, who can withstand such acute economic hardship the least, have been slammed the hardest; and that the global economy has been kneecapped, thanks to a battery of lockdowns, shutdowns, restrictions of various sorts, and health-related concerns.