UA professor says false perception of greed fuels Occupy Movement

Janice Biancavilla | Arizona Daily Wildcat

Janice Biancavilla/ Daily Wildcat

Police officers supervise Armory Park as Occupy Tucson demonstrators pack their belongings and evacuate the area. Tucson Police Department officials told those in the park that they had one hour to leave beginning at 10:45 p.m. Thursday night.

Wall Street isn’t greedier than the “99 percent,” according to a UA professor who analyzed the Occupy movement using his study that examined the public’s perception of greed.

Stephen Gilliland, head of the management and organizations department in the Eller College of Management and the executive director of the Center for Leadership Ethics, looked at Wall Street Journal articles from the last 25 years and counted how many times they discussed corporate greed. When the stock market dropped, the Wall Street Journal reported on greed more often, Gilliland said.

Photo: Janice Biancavilla

Janice Biancavilla/ Daily Wildcat
Unemployed chef and Occupy Tucson demonstrator Eric Williams, 48, tapes a $5 bill over his mouth as a form of protest. Tucson Police Officers gave protestors in Armory Park one-hour notice to leave the park beginning at 10:45 p.m.

But Wall Street’s behavior throughout the 2000s was very similar to what bankers were doing during the past 30 years, Gilliland said.

“This perceived greed turns out to be a way to blame others for our own misfortune,” he said. “And it’s easy to blame Wall Street bankers, but from 2001 to 2007, we were pretty big fans of what they were doing. Then everything went south, but Wall Street didn’t do anything differently.”

Although Wall Street’s decisions contributed to dumping the US into a recession, so did the actions of people who took out mortgages they couldn’t afford, Gilliland said.

“One of the common signs you see in this movement is ‘We are the 99%.’ They’re implying that the 1 percent is greedy. We’re all responsible for the financial recession we’re in, but we don’t want to admit that,” Gilliland said. “We want to blame somebody.”

Fundamentally, the Occupy movement is a good idea and people should be voicing their outrage at a failed system, Gilliland said. However, a lack of regulations on financial institutions and dealing with a financial system that became too complex to handle are more likely reasons for the recession than greedy CEOs, he said.

Occupy Wall Street, a movement to expose what protesters call disproportionate corporate and wealthy influence in politics, started on Sept. 17. Occupy Tucson began on Oct. 15 in Armory Park, said Erin Whitfield, a coordinator for Occupy Tucson. Whitfield said Gilliland’s analysis was ignorant. She said everyone from the unemployed to Foothills residents represent Occupy Tucson.

Sabrina Ball, an aerospace engineering sophomore, said Occupy members are probably motivated because they think Wall Street is greedy, but she wasn’t sure if that is accurate.

Justyn Dillingham, a 2009 UA graduate and former Daily Wildcat editor who attended the first day of Occupy Tucson, said he hasn’t gone back because he has problems with the way the movement conducts itself. However, Dillingham said Gilliland’s assessment is misguided because the Occupy movement calls for financial regulation and the wealthy to be taxed, and members aren’t just spewing blind resentment.

Besides blaming the average person’s irresponsible behavior, Dillingham agreed with Gilliland’s explanation for the recession.

“Corporations exist to make money; that is their only reason for existence,” Dillingham said. “We shouldn’t expect them to be either ‘greedy’ or ‘benevolent’; they aren’t people. The recession cannot be attributed to lack of personal responsibility. The average citizen has absolutely no power over the economy.”

Rachael Sacks, a freshman studying geography and sociology, agreed with Gilliland. She added that since Occupy Tucson doesn’t even know what it wants, it can’t be taken serious.

Occupy Tucson keeps saying, “Down with the 1 percent,” but does not determine specifically what it wants, Sacks said.

Whitfield said many people forget that Occupy Tucson isn’t even a month old and that the movement has had many obstacles to deal with. The movement is still organizing, she said.

Regulations on financial institutions must be critiqued continuously, banks need to start lending more and the ‘next big thing’ would contribute tremendously to boosting the economy, Gilliland said. He said he expects the Occupy movement to stimulate solutions to many of the country’s problems.

“The more people become aware of the interplay between business, politics and personal responsibility in making our situation, the better,” Gilliland said. “It’s okay to publicly demonstrate, but we should also be looking at our personal roles in making this situation.”

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Bill Gurley
(12/31/69 5:00pm)

A proud grad of the old BPA college, I have been in the business world for 40 years. What brought on the current crisis, in my view, was a lack of ethics in the financial world. You don’t knowingly sell a mortgage product to someone who is not qualified and then package them as securiies to be sold in the markets. It’s hard to legislate against bad ethical behavior, but it can be taught in our schools. Based on the professor’s comments, I am worried about what we are teaching our young people at Eller.

Laura Neff
(12/31/69 5:00pm)

“Corporations exist to make money; that is their only reason for existence,” Dillingham said. “We shouldn’t expect them to be either ‘greedy’ or ‘benevolent’; they aren’t people. “

This is true, but one of the major problems that the movement is addressing (that I have seen) is that the government treats them as they are, which leads to unsung amounts of money that goes into the influence that corporations have in our government, yet those who run them pay less into government than the rest of us when it comes to percentage.

While the message is broad, it is doing what it is supposed to do. The movement is getting media attention and giving a voice to those who can’t pay for one.

Pat O'Brien
(12/31/69 5:00pm)

I am continually flabbergasted that no one thinks the 2008 economic collapse was anyone’s fault—it just happened. US business defrauded the American public by hawking loans that they then sold off, knowing full well they were no good. It was like people were clamoring for these loans—banks pushed them, tying individual bonuses to the number their agents could move. Are business ethics different than ehtics in general? If we roll over for this sort of treatment by stating that corpoprationis aren’t people while giving them individual rights in the courts, we’re not only doomed—we deserve what we get. Good for those people in the park—at least thy’re not gling to take it “lying”

Gehrig Fry
(12/31/69 5:00pm)

If I had submitted this article when I was on my high school newspaper staff I would have received an F big time. First, the headline is misleading. Secondly, if in fact this reporter accurately reported on what Prof. Gilliland said, then the story itself does not provide any evidence to support Prof. Gilliland ‘s conclusion(s).

Here is what I understand the article to say;

1. Lack of regulation and a too complex financial system are the most likely reasons for the recession – not greedy CEOs.
2. Regulations on financial institutions must be critiqued continuously.
3. Banks need to start lending more (money).
4. Some new idea would help boost the economy.
5. Wall Street’s behavior today has been the same since 1981.
6. From 2001 to 2007 we (the public?) liked what Wall Street was doing.
7. In the last 25 years the Wall Street Journal did not report as much about greed until after the crash.

And if I understand correctly the conclusion we are supposed to draw from all this is either;
1. Wall Street isn’t greedier than the 99%
2. False perception of greed fuels Occupy movement.

Someone help me out here.
What am I missing?

Patrick Rounds
(12/31/69 5:00pm)

I am happy to see both a UofA professor and at least one student who are objective on this topic. Corporations are and those who run them are not our problem. The 1% “rich” are not the problem. Throughout Europe and the U.S. unaffordable social spending and excessive borrowing are the problems. This approach always eventually results in lower growth, higher unemployment and a decline in the standard of living. The problem can either be addressed by changing policies or through the forces of eventual currency collapse and widespread government failure. The Occupy movement is mistaken.

Mike Black
(12/31/69 5:00pm)

As the proud parent of an Eller Soph and having written my own doctoral dissertation (a generation ago) on the economic causes for US depository regulation and deregulation: I both respect the privilege of any fellow prof to teach whatever he wants while also remain in shock over the “whatever”, here, being taught. It reflects a cute, happy ignorance of the workings of the derivatives markets and the political controls of them. Since I have such ignorance of the psychology and sociology of political groups, I’ll leave that part of the blog response to others. Over the years, I have come across the occasional Business prof who, actually, studied another discipline (and, later fell into this, as a second career). I just have to believe this is such an example.

get real
(12/31/69 5:00pm)

Those who gave themselves bonuses after receiving tax payer bailouts are the PROBLEM. They should’ve been prosecuted and put in jail. They are still free to practice their unethical greedy ways and that is what the 99% should be worried about.