By: Adam Levy
Everybody wants to know the significance of “Occupy Wall Street,” including CEOs and a presidential candidate who believes the protest is a “natural outcome of a bad education system teaching them really dumb ideas.” A more reasonable explanation for the civil unrest is the continuous collision between high life expectations and a debilitated job market, concurrent with Wall Street posting record profits after a massive government bailout.
Still, some young entrepreneurs are raising outstanding amounts of capital through Wall Street giants such as Goldman Sachs, to fill new market niches. Advances in technology have also made it much easier than ever before to start a new company. Nevertheless, such success is not easy or commonplace, and the financial crisis has enfeebled many ambitious individuals pursuing traditional careers. A recent study suggests this may be the result of inadequate training rather than a dearth in the job supply. Whatever the cause, dissatisfaction, even resentment will continue to brew barring some significant economic change.
What will amount from Occupy Wall Street? The government’s recent and salient toughness on antitrust and insider trading enforcement may reflect a growing public mandate to regulate increasing social inequities. But government has to do more for both practical and moral reasons. On the moral side, political philosophers cogently argue that government owes its citizens some form of economic justice. Society imposes on the individual a system with inherent and arbitrary economic inequities (some people are born into it already well off, and some are born at the lowest rung for no fault of their own). On the practical side, a disgruntled and under-utilized college educated labor pool is bad for the country’s overall competitive advantage. In an ideal America, everyone will have a place to work hard, fulfilling life goals, while simultaneously strengthening American companies against their international counterparts.
To get America reemployed, some proposed creative legislative solutions are promising. There is no question that we desperately need a complete revamping of our education paradigms. However, education reform will not do us much for the short and medium-term, and financial assistance in the form of tax breaks or loan assistance may not be enough to get companies to bud.
Innovative start-ups can teach us a lesson. Perhaps government can nimbly step in and find creative ways to incubate emerging companies, as well as foster growth in already established ones, to promote entrepreneurial-type growth and spirit. One way could be by connecting businesses (at a discounted rate or free) to various specialists that can help improve their business model or product. Such a program has been successful in New York City. But to create the change needed to reboot the national labor supply, the effort needs to be more widespread, involving more industries, and in such a way that breeds enthusiasm for work. Besides being a productivity killer, a lack of work enthusiasm (caused largely by a lack of any work) is the root cause of the Occupy Wall Street malaise.