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Ignore the Hype: Wall St. and Main St. Need Each Other


Let's just cut to the chase:

Wall Street bankers are tax-dodging, bloodsucking, corporate zombies feasting on the blood of underpaid workers. They add nothing to the society from which they draw wealth that would've made Croesus blush. Most hedge fund managers would sell their children for a chance to sit court side at the Knicks with an 8-ball in their pocket and a teenage Ukrainian "model" on each arm. Wall Street brokers are more than happy to facilitate whatever debauchery a fund manager has in his greed-addled mind. It's all about the fees.

Denizens of Main Street, particularly those currently squatting near Wall Street, are underachieving losers raging against a system they are neither smart nor motivated enough to join. They hypocritically deride their social betters for having a lifestyle about which the average 9-5er is literally incapable of imagining. The children of Main Street are whining, entitled, hippies looking for a place to smoke pot and play drums with like-minded people until the Dave Mathews Band tour.

Members of the media, myself included, are in favor of any sort of cultural warfare. We're concerned only with getting a click or a ratings-friendly soundbite, regardless of human expense. If we had a God, or faith of any sort, we'd be praying and writing letters to Santa, asking for Occupy Wall Street to turn into something half as camera friendly as the riots in Greece.

Politicians of any and all sides somehow manage to pander to Wall Street and Main Street in order to get coverage from the media so they can get elected. It's not necessary for political candidates to actually identify with either side of Wall Street vs Main Street; the conflict polls off the charts so pols have to pick a side with no room for compromise. If they get enough voters to believe in their stance as Cultural Warrior the reward is a trip to Washington where they'll collect perks and pork until leaving office to take an absurdly cushy job with either Wall Street or the media. Oh yeah, most politicians are rich lawyers.

That should just about cover the stereotypical views of all sides of what's going on in America at the moment, at least according to the papers. Here's the dirty secret you won't hear on NPR or read in the Wall Street Journal:

We're all in this together. "Class Warfare" isn't in the best interest of even the most strident of demagogues. Wall Street can't thrive without Main Street and vice versa.

Grossly generalizing (even more): Wall Street wants thriving financial markets and Main Street wants secure jobs. Despite the view that these desires are in opposition, there's evidence suggesting Wall Street and Main Street can only get what they want by working together.

Supporting this thesis is the work of Wells Capital Management's Jim Paulsen. Paulsen has rolled through the data since 1900 and came to a conclusion that's somehow both common sense and provocative: stocks go higher when more people are being put to work. Specifically, Paulsen looked at data since 1900 and found "when unemployment insurance claims go down, that is, the job market improves with less layoffs, you see a very strong correlation with rising stock prices."

Simplistic on the surface, consider the implications. CEOs keep their jobs, corporate jets and trophy wives by pushing their stock prices higher. Golden parachutes are nice but they're for losers, pretty much by definition. Broadly speaking, stocks go higher as a group and individually during periods of expansion (hiring). Improving "efficiency" by firing people, juggling financial structures and preying on human misery don't drive stocks higher. Hiring people and finding productive things for them to do is how a CEO gets paid.

The video of my conversation with Paulsen contains an inverse graph of 4-week moving jobless claims and stock market performance. Freeze the video and look at the chart. Fewer claims equal higher stocks. Corporate America and its bankers desperately want to be hiring. Here, abroad or on the moon, hiring means growth which means becoming successful enough for Warren Buffett to demand you pay higher taxes.

Giving jobs to those who want them makes money for people who ostensibly care only about accumulating wealth. Having a job means dignity, a sense of purpose and contributing to society in a gratifying way. Win/win relationships are very seldom this obvious, this intuitive and this widely dismissed.