How Does Wall Street Affect Our Lives?
Wall Street is no abstraction: the rules of finance determine who gets and doesn’t get money. Read on to learn more about how the big Wall Street banks affect our lives in a million different ways. To organize for the things that we need as a society — schools, healthcare, basic rights — we have to take on Wall Street power.
Most wealth in the U.S. today is based on homeownership. But a person working full time in a minimum-wage job can’t even afford to rent a two-bedroom apartment anywhere in the U.S. The federal Fair Housing Act banned racial discrimination in lending fifty years ago, but African-Americans and Latinxs are still denied conventional mortgage loans by banks at rates far higher than their white counterparts. Wall Street both takes advantage of, and contributes to, these structural inequalities by fueling and profiteering from financial crises, as when investors gobbled up housing after the foreclosure crisis. These investors make housing unaffordable for many families by driving up housing costs, and unlivable by failing to provide habitable living conditions for their renters. Wall Street also funds efforts to block affordable housing initiatives, like a recent California rent control proposition.
Wall Street began life as an official slave trading post. Today, Wall Street takes advantage of structural racism — wage inequality and the systematic exclusion of communities of color and especially women in those communities from wealth-building opportunities. Lenders deliberately prey on communities of color with deceptive financial products — like toxic mortgages, more expensive car loans, and bogus for-profit college degrees. Investors then blame the same communities when a financial crisis occurs. Wall Street is a big investor in the prison industrial complex, and even issues police brutality bonds to cities, creating a financial incentive for incarceration and violence. The big banks also extract wealth individually through high fines and fees for basic banking services and higher interest rates for loans. Finally, there are hidden rules of race embedded in the new tax law that continue to actively worsen the racial wealth gap.
Wall Street has driven a shift in the corporate model to one that privileges increasing shareholder value above investing in workers, innovation, and companies’ long-term success–often called “shareholder primacy.” Wall Street investors often prefer job destruction over job creation: when General Motors announced 10,000 layoffs in November 2018, GM shares spiked 8%, the highest intraday price in months. Private firms are also increasingly buying control over companies, making a small class of money managers extremely rich, while killing jobs, making work conditions more precarious, and sucking wealth from workers.
Men dominate the top of the economic summit while women are saddled with debt and poverty. Women have historically had lower wages and wealth than men: the result of policies and social norms about citizenship, reproductive labor, and property, voting, and financial rights. Not surprisingly, this comes with a greater need to borrow to cover basic needs for themselves or their families. Wall Street takes full advantage of this to sell women predatory lending products. Wall Street also rigs the tax code to shirk their tax responsibilities, which harms working families and the programs they need to raise their families. Shrinking revenues and cuts to public budgets affect women in two major ways: first, as the default providers of reproductive labor in the American economy, cuts to services for children affect their household bottom line. Second, Black women represent 17% of public sector workers and are hardest hit by public sector layoffs. Finally, wages and benefits are still lower for women and in particular women of color.
Our tax system is rigged in favor of Wall Street and the extraordinarily rich, and the rest of us pay the price. The biggest beneficiaries by far of the recent tax bill were the big Wall Street banks, especially Wells Fargo. These tax windfalls were primarily spent on juicing stock prices through stock buybacks to reward executives and investors. Congress can change this by closing loopholes and restructuring tax policies to stop rewarding Wall Street manipulation. Real tax reform is needed to end advantages for giant CEO pay packages that reward risky, short-sighted and fraudulent activities at the expense of workers, investors and consumers; to make the financial industry pays its fair share and stop Wall Street tax evasion; to curb wasteful and risky speculation, and to incentivize financial companies and players to support — not suck money out of — the real economy. Rather than spending trillions on tax cuts to the super wealthy, we should be making investments in programs that strengthen job creation and training, and boost working families’ health, nutrition, and education.
Wall Street has a long and fraught relationship with the firearms industry. Two of the world’s biggest money managers, BlackRock and Vanguard, are among the largest owners of shares in publicly traded gun manufacturers as well as some of the biggest gun retailers. Activists were successful last year in pressuring Bank of America to cut ties with the National Rifle Association and to stop investing money in gun manufacturers that that make military-inspired firearms for civilian use. The campaign began after Bank of America bailed out gun manufacturer Remington Arms with a $43 million loan, a day before a Remington shotgun killed 10 in a Texas school shooting. And there have been increasing calls for public pensions to sell their shares of companies that sell assault weapons, ammunition and other firearm devices.