On Monday, a group of Occupy Harvard Protesters attempted to disrupt a Goldman Sachs recruiting event at the Office of Career Services on-campus interview facility on Mass Ave. The protest began as a free speech protest in solidarity with UC Berkeley and Davis students who were the victims of police brutality but it later split, with a contingent heading to the OCS building to disrupt the event. The protest attempted to highlight the alleged pre-eminence of Goldman Sachs in causing the 2008 financial crisis, as well as challenge the undergraduates seeking careers there. And while many experts agree that Goldman was part of the problematic system that created the financial crisis, Occupy Harvard’s targeting of a Goldman Sachs recruiting event presents a facile and trivializing interpretation of the root causes of the economic catastrophe and debases our national conversation on the issue.
Obviously, Goldman Sachs is not without blame in the financial crisis. The deceptive and irresponsible peddling of financial products known to be “crap” by their traders stands as a monument to the dangers of an insufficiently regulated financial sector. If Goldman Sachs employees had resisted the kinds of dealing that lead to high bonuses and long-term financial instability, it is possible that the mortgage crisis would not have been as severe as it was. However, to single out Goldman Sachs as a single target of opprobrium for causing the financial crisis is myopic and unoriginal; Goldman has been in the eye of the storm of banker bashing for close to three years now. No one has successfully proven yet that this one investment bank caused the financial crisis and benefited unduly from it. Instead, the bank was simply one actor out of many, and certainly doesn’t fit the role of super villain as well as the Occupy Harvard folks imagine it does. For example, an excellent argument could be made that the millions of Americans who took on mortgages beyond their means are equally responsible as a group for the financial meltdown. Certainly, the 1999 repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act also figures prominently in our nation’s pre-crisis financial instability. It would be convenient if we could easily paint Goldman Sachs as the evil enemy of the 99 percent, but it’s more complicated than that.
More unsavory, the protest carried with it a strong sentiment against Harvard undergraduates seeking careers in the financial services industry. Perhaps it is not ideal that so many of us go on to Wall Street, but targeting individuals looking at career options in this way is hardly the appropriate remedy. Many students who enter these fields are not the scions of banking families but rather hard-working students looking for a challenging job that lets them experience a newfound financial prosperity. To exhort students to consider their contribution to society when choosing a career is one thing but to target those who want to work for Goldman Sachs misses the point; whatever negative impact the company has on our economy is due to structural issues rather than questions of individual morality. Deterring a couple dozen Harvard students from working at Goldman will not change income inequality nor will it create a more equitable society. Goldman will just hire the next people in line.
Occupy’s actions continue to erode whatever student support it gained on the heels of a successful janitorial contract. Pitching a simplistic conception of the financial crisis and targeting fellow students is not the way to have a successful movement. Occupy ought to refrain from such ill-conceived protests in the future.