I, alongside my friends from the libertarian and Republican clubs, went to the OccupyCornell weekly meeting yesterday afternoon. It was a tremendous departure from the “real” OccupyWallStreet and, thus, far more tolerable. However, it was still pretty pathetic. Here’s why:

What are these guys protesting? “The Ivy to Wall Street Pipeline.”

“It is up to us to decide if we will simply be passive participants in an oppressive system or if we will have the courage to step aside from the pipeline and commit to a world where the will of the people comes before the will of corporations and where social justice, sustainability, and democracy exist in practice, not in theory.”

I didn’t even know where to begin at the meeting, but I somehow got around to asking what was so morally reprehensible about finance and if there was a particular station within the ginormous sphere that really irked them. While I can’t speak for the whole group, one individual said he was bothered by the “secretive” type of trading. I asked if he meant high frequency trading and he claimed that he did.

Thankfully, I happen to know a decent amount about finance, relative to most philosophy majors anyway, so I proceeded to ask if he knew what exactly hft was about. He claimed his gripe was about the lack of transparency. I have no idea what that means, so I told him what hft actually does: provide liquidity to the market, lower the cost of trading, & increase the accuracy and linkage between markets. I even gave anecdotal evidence about futures markets and derivatives trading to stabilize pricing systems.

I suggested that he didn’t like it essentially because he didn’t know what it was. He did not disagree (or, really, reply).
I don’t think everyone who works in finance is some virtuous hero. There are plenty of shmucks in every profession and the fact that some of them work in powerful institutions is a bit scary. However, that is not an excuse to blindly hate things. If anything, accuracy over valuations – like what hft seems to provide – should be encouraged by these folks who also alleged that financiers are the ones who willingly distorted the housing market.

Because, you know, to them the goal of finance is to make as many risky, crappy bets as possible. That’s how the big money is made and they won’t let anyone tell them otherwise.
How are they going to protest it? Disrupting a recruiting event with financiers today.
First of all, Cornell benefits tremendously from Wall Street banks and firms. We give them great workers and, in turn, they continue to hire Cornellians. People who major in Applied Economics and Management (AEM), econ, accounting, etc. are fully aware of what they want out of a career and it is not some vague “sustainability” and “social justice” track. (I get along well with them precisely because of this.) Having a bunch of people “morally opposed” to their career at one of their events is not going to magically change them, it is going to annoy and embarrass them.

On the bright side, it will probably get each protestor a cushy job at thinkprogress. OccupyCornell is trolling, which falls under their philosophy of learning what they think through action. (Unfortunately, I got this quote second-hand from a guy who was at the occupation the week before, but isn’t it golden?) My only hope is that the Ithaca PD doesn’t arrest them and sanction their martyr narrative. It would be unjust to my ears.

Conclusion: It’s actually really hard for me to speak ill of these folks because they seem extremely well-meaning and tolerated my badgering quite well.

At the same time, though, I wonder if any piece of evidence I could have presented would have assuaged them to change their views. I have my doubts. I think they know very little about what they are so vehemently against and, if anything, they should be opposed to the Ivy League to Bureaucracy Pipeline. 

(Speaking of pipelines, the midwest can – allegedly -thank OccupyCornell for stopping theirs. As a friend suggested, there should be a $4/gallon surtax on all of the haters of “dirty energy.”)