Raj Rajaratnam Sentencing Could Help #OWS Hone Policy Platform for 2011


The Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement is growing in national and international scope, but the protesters’ message continues to look unfocused. Though rightly calling for more to be done to bring those responsible for the 2008 financial meltdown to justice, many OWS protesters have not proposed practical solutions that could actually be used to punish guilty bankers. Shuttering banks or ending capitalism is not a plausible solution. Instead, we need a new set of rules that allows the government to successfully prosecute corrupt practices on Wall Street. OWS protesters should look at the government’s initial attempts to reign-in the financial sector as a start towards reform, and a base for their own policy platform.

As was shown today with the Raj Rajaratnam trial – in which the Wall Street hedge fund tycoon convicted in America’s biggest insider-trading scandal received an 11 year prison sentence – government is now more aggressively cracking down on those responsible for the recent financial injustices.

Rajaratnam should be a model of what government is now doing to curb the reckless business strategies of Wall Street hot-shots. The former trader called the aggressive prosecution and sentencing against him “grotesquely severe.” Rajaratnam’s clamors fall on deaf ears for many in America. Illustrating the government’s new strategies, the Wall Street Journal reported that Rajaratnam is not alone when facing heavy-handed federal prosecution, noting that the sentencing times for insider trading over the last few years have grown considerably longer.

The problem with this approach is that many of those responsible bankers were not clearly violating the law. Therefore the first step in new policy making is a new set of guidelines that very clearly states illegal banking practices. The OWS protesters should make this one of their primary objectives.

The government has started to achieve the increased financial regulation that many OWS protesters are calling for. The sweeping Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform bill, passed last year to affect nearly every aspect of federal financial oversight and the financial services industry, is set to become a barrier against the type of rogue trading which led to the 2008 economic meltdown. Republicans and Democrats favor these reforms, and Dodd-Frank looks to become a cornerstone of the government’s financial oversight.

The OWS movement has been repeatedly criticized for having an unclear set of policy demands. Protesters have increasingly called for an end to capitalism. Though this is unrealistic, the protesters do have a point: Something must change in the U.S. economic system. We need new policies and strategies to reign-in the financial sector.

The OWS protesters may have their finger on the pulse of national opinion, but need to do better in articulating clear demands. Stricter financial oversight is a great start, and should be a fundamental aspect of the OWS demands. The Rajaratnam sentencing is a example of stricter sentencing that OWS could demand for corrupt bankers.

New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg on Wednesday night visited the OWS camp in Zuccotti Park and said the encampment needed to be cleaned with power hoses because of sanitation concerns. Such a clean-up should be extended to the protesters’ own policy agenda. Seeking unattainable goals like an end to capitalism won’t help OWS achieve anything. A more realistic solution would be to use the Rajaratnam verdict as base for a new economic policy platform.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons