It’s time for in­vestors — gov­ern­ments, in­sti­tu­tions and in­di­vid­u­als — to be­gin di­vest­ing from Wall Street.

The Denver Post - - NEWS - By Larry Dansinger Larry Dansinger, who does not own any stock, does com­mu­nity or­ga­niz­ing in Ban­gor, Maine. This col­umn was writ­ten for the Pro­gres­sive Me­dia Project, which is run by The Pro­gres­sive magazine, and dis­trib­uted by Tribune News Ser­vice.

The Stock Mar­ket. Wall Street. These are iconic sym­bols of our econ­omy. But they are not in­sti­tu­tions that ben­e­fit the en­tire U.S. econ­omy. They do not “lift all boats.” Wall Street and the cor­po­rate stock and bond mar­ket are a Robin Hood in re­verse, pri­mar­ily trans­fer­ring money from the mid­dle and work­ing classes, the 99 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion, to the wealth­i­est 1 per­cent.

Re­cent in­sta­bil­ity in the mar­ket has left many baby boomers won­der­ing whether they will have enough money for re­tire­ment, es­pe­cially those whose as­sets de­pend on stock prices to hold steady or keep on ris­ing. Con­versely, ex­treme mar­ket volatil­ity, with or with­out a trade war, is lead­ing more in­vestors to turn to safer mu­nic­i­pal bonds and lo­cal com­mu­nity devel­op­ment.

It is time for in­vestors — gov­ern­ments, in­sti­tu­tions, and in­di­vid­u­als _ to be­gin di­vest­ing from Wall Street. The city of Port­land, Ore­gon, did it in April 2017. Af­ter be­ing pres­sured by lo­cal or­ga­ni­za­tions ob­ject­ing to stock hold­ings in for-profit pris­ons, com­pa­nies do­ing busi­ness with Is­rael, and fi­nanciers of the Dakota Ac­cess Pipe­line, city com­mis­sion­ers agreed to move $539 mil­lion pri­mar­ily to gov­ern­ment bonds.

Di­vest­ment has worked in the past. It contributed to the col­lapse of the apartheid gov­ern­ment in South Africa. It trans­ferred bil­lions from large banks to credit unions and com­mu­nity banks in a 2010 “Move Your Money” cam­paign. The en­vi­ron­men­tal group has pop­u­lar­ized “fos­sil fuel free” funds that have taken money out of big oil and coal. Di­vest­ing from se­lected stocks helps, but even so-called “so­cially re­spon­si­ble” stocks sup­port multi­na­tional com­pa­nies.

The stock mar­ket used to be seen as a pretty safe bet for in­vestors. Not any­more. Af­ter the 2008 fi­nan­cial col­lapse — where stocks lost about 50 per­cent of their value in­clud­ing an $8 tril­lion hit for U.S. house­holds, ac­cord­ing to the Roo­sevelt In­sti­tute — it’s been a roller coaster ride.

As de­scribed by Mar­jorie Kelly in her book, “The Di­vine Right of Cap­i­tal,” stock­holder div­i­dends are a cor­po­ra­tion’s first pri­or­ity. Work­ers, the cre­ators of cor­po­rate wealth, have not shared the profits, which are at record-high lev­els. Com­pany spend­ing on lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties and the en­vi­ron­ment has suf­fered in the name of max­i­miz­ing share­holder re­turns.

Most im­por­tantly, Wall Street has sig­nif­i­cantly contributed to the wealth gap be­tween those with higher in­comes and other Amer­i­cans. The wealthy are the prime ben­e­fi­cia­ries of Wall Street’s cor­po­rate largesse. The United States now has the du­bi­ous dis­tinc­tion of be­ing the most un­equal “de­vel­oped” coun­try in the world.

Thanks in part to Wall Street’s con­tri­bu­tions to eco­nomic inequal­ity, the U.S. has the high­est rates of teen preg­nan­cies, obe­sity, men­tal ill­ness and in­car­cer­a­tion among in­dus­tri­al­ized coun­tries.

Port­land’s di­vest­ment from Wall Street should serve as an in­spi­ra­tion to other com­mu­ni­ties. The city’s in­vest­ments are now in mu­nic­i­pal bonds, where they are ben­e­fit­ting Main Streets across the coun­try. A rep­re­sen­ta­tive of Port­land city com­mis­sioner Chloe Eu­daly said that “Com­mis­sioner Eu­daly has no re­grets about her vote to divest,” and that “cit­i­zens have been sup­port­ive.”

If we want a hu­man scale econ­omy that re­duces eco­nomic inequal­ity in our fu­ture, it’s time to divest from Wall Street and move our money to lo­cal eco­nomic devel­op­ment in­stead.

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