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There is a populist overtone to the recent frenzy surrounding GameStop and other recently-shorted stocks. This is about more than making money. It is about making the elites pay. Take one scroll through r/WallStreetBets on Reddit and you will see people reveling at the thought of obscenely wealthy Wall Street hedge funds losing billions to a rag-tag group of retail investors who beat them at their own game.
I think it is worth reminding us that Harvard University and its graduates are certainly within the scope of populist ire.
Although this recent movement sprouted out of a small corner of the internet in 2019, its roots span decades. Americans never forgave the reckless speculation of Wall Street nor the federal government’s decision to bail them out after the 2008 financial crisis. Ordinary people were suddenly struggling to keep a roof over their heads whilst corporations received billions to cover their losses, nearly all without so much as a slap on the wrist for causing the whole mess. But this problem runs even deeper than that.
Economic inequality has steadily risen since the 70s in America. For many adults, this economically divided world is the only one they know. Employment is increasingly dependent on college degrees, and colleges are increasing their price every year, to the point where spending decades paying off loans one could’ve taken out as a teenager is now commonplace. Rather than acknowledging this reality, older generations have called younger generations spoiled and sheltered. They have told younger generations that hard work, careful budgeting, and a self-starter attitude is all it takes to become rich. However, this couldn’t be farther from the truth.
Rich people live entirely different lives from everyone else. They increasingly attend private schools, are more likely to gain admission to Ivy League colleges bolstered by legacy status, college counseling, or a sizable donation, then can work the connections they were born with to get a cushy white-collar job. The disparities between the reality for the rich and everyone else have sown resentment which is beginning to fester.
Perhaps, this phenomenon can partially explain the rise of Donald Trump, who stoked the flames of outrage towards the establishment. That’s not to say that all the people buying GameStop stock are Trump supporters. After all, support for this movement seems to be coming from all across the political spectrum — from figures like Alexandria Ocasio Cortez to Elon Musk to Ted Cruz. However, all these groups share a common motivation: stripping power from the institutions which have earned their distrust and return that power to the people.
Harvard accepts disproportionate numbers of wealthy applicants, it is known for funneling graduates into finance and consulting, and it has more millionaire and billionaire alumni than any other university. Yet, Harvard students are getting in on the populist action.
In class, I’ve heard discussions among students excitedly reporting their gains or exchanging strategies about when to buy and when to sell. My peers have co-opted the memetic language of r/WallStreetBets, spamming group chats with rocketship emojis and phrases like “to the moon” or “we like the stock”. Clearly, some of us view ourselves as part of this movement, not as its enemies.
Right now, we may not identify with the elites of Wall Street. As college students, we feel just as part of the masses as anyone else, still penny-pinching and working part-time jobs, still feeling the pressure of inadequacy that pushes us to constantly network and build our resumes. We are only at the beginning of our climb. But one day, many of us will reach the top and when we do, the ground may appear quite far away. It may become difficult to imagine a life without the connections and opportunities that attending Harvard has afforded us.
I urge my peers, especially those aiming for jobs in finance or politics, to take a look around at the anger of people claiming that the elites have robbed America; at the suffering of those who have lost their jobs or homes; at the desperation of people willing to gamble everything they have at a shot which seems once-in-a-lifetime to most. Remember, it was people who were once like us that caused these wounds.
Soon, we’ll likely be wielding the same power that our predecessors have abused. That power has a tainted legacy we must bring to reckoning.
Rasmee E. Ky ’24, a Crimson Editorial editor, lives in Straus Hall.
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