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Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Wall Street’s 1 Percent Meets 2 Billion Seeking Answers

Oct. 19 (Bloomberg) — It’s all about location, location, location, as they say in real estate. Protests, too.

There were more obvious places for Tokyo’s Occupy Wall Street protest to converge on Saturday than the nightlife district of Roppongi. It could have begun in Nihonbashi, home to the Tokyo Stock Exchange; Nagatacho, Japan’s Capitol Hill; or Ueno, where droves of Tokyo’s homeless congregate.

Instead, activists chose the city’s hedonistic melting pot of hipsters, strippers, gangsters, expatriates and bankers. Not just any bankers — Goldman Sachs ones who work in the swanky Roppongi Hills complex. Amid the hundreds of activists, I saw signs saying “No Greed,” “Taxiderm the Rich” and my favorite, held by a 20-something woman: “Stop Vampire Squids.”

It was a reference to Goldman Sachs Group Inc., which was labeled a “great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity” in a 2009 article in Rolling Stone magazine. For better or worse, Asians see Goldman Sachs both as the gold standard of investment banks and a byword for how incestuous ties between banks and government concentrate wealth in the hands of a few.

When this sentiment reaches egalitarian Japan, you know it has legs. Like-minded protests are popping up in Australia, Hong Kong, India, New Zealand, the Philippines, South Korea and Taiwan (one planned in Singapore was pre-empted by police).

Those who dismiss this groundswell of anger thousands of miles from New York do so at their own peril. And those seeking clarity on Occupy Wall Street’s focus and goals can find it in Asia: The widening gap between rich and poor is threatening the very tenets of capitalism and democracy.