Occupy the Peter G. Peterson Institute!


(Photo: Ezra Klein)

But there were no mic checks. There was no chanting. Fact is, the Peterson Institute invited the occupiers in. They hosted “a luncheon meeting to publicize the release of ‘The Occupy Handbook.’” And over steak roulade and fruit tarts, members of Washington’s most elite policy shop allied themselves, in name and economic analysis if not in living situations, with the Occupy Wall Street movement.

”I think its fair to say there’s pretty wide agreement on the diagnosis of the problem,” said C. Fred Bergsten, director of the Peterson Institute. “A very high degree of income inequality. A very high degree of political polarization. The question is what to do about it?”

John Cassidy, a finance writer for the New Yorker, didn’t mince words. “For economic research institutes like this, I would argue that rather than producing more reports about how efficient the market is -- I get 20 of those a day -- it might be better to start from the premise that the market is inefficient and decide where we go from here.”

Robin Wells was co-author with Paul Krugman of the lead article in the book, which the institute described as “a compendium of articles by leading economists and others on the causes and implications of the recent Occupy movements around the country.” Wells blamed the “deregulation fury the Republicans brought in that laid the groundwork for the implosion.”

Carmen Reinhart, a senior fellow at Peterson, also decried “the financial liberalization binge.”

James Robinson, co-author of the recently released “Why Nations Fail,” thought none of this went far enough. “The financial sector should be regulated,” he said. “Fine. But why was it deregulated? Because people in the financial sector influence policymakers. Changing regulations without changing the relationship between the financial and political sectors does nothing.”

The Peterson G. Peterson Institute, for all its good economic work, is, of course, one manifestation of the relationship between the financial and political sectors. But perhaps that’s evidence of just how much the last few years have done to shake policy elites. The panel wasn’t met by hostile questions. The oddity of the surroundings didn’t merit so much as a remark. The Peterson Institute, it turned out, was occupied long ago.

”Riots can be useful,” said Cassidy. Nobody disagreed.

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