As the Occupy Wall Street protest in Lower Manhattan intensifies, similar demonstrations spread to major cities around the world. Some of the demands were the same in each location: the rich don't pay enough, and the government(s) shouldn't be trying to climb out of a recession by leaning on the poor and middle class.
Afternoon update: the situation turned for the worse in Rome on Saturday, as protests spawned "the worst unrest Rome has seen in decades," according to the Financial Times. In Italy, the protests came just a day after embattled Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi barely survived a confidence vote in the parliament, and now finds himself with little power to advance a legislative agenda. Some protesters tore up paving stones and threw explosives in the melee, which some in the march blamed on outsiders who had infiltrated an otherwise peaceful demonstration.
Protesters in Hong Kong denounced the city's role as a world financial hub, which makes it, they said, a breeder of monopoly power and centralization of wealth. In London, about 1,000 demonstrators tried to get to the headquarters of the stock exchange, blocked along the way by police on horseback. Spanish protesters marched under the banner "Indignants," and in Tokyo, there was a local concern as well: ending nuclear power in the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster in March.
Like New York City, many of the world capitals struck by protesters provide keen examples of inequality. Here's AFP's wire report, explaining the situation in Hong Kong, where about 500 people gathered to denounce the financial system's excesses:
Hong Kong, a city of seven million people, is known for its super-rich tycoons, low taxes and teeming shopping districts.
But it is also a case study in economic inequality, with thousands of low-income residents forced to live in "cage" accommodation because of the skyrocketing cost of housing fuelled by wealthy property speculators.
In Sydney, demonstrators feuded among themselves, some seeking a platform at protests for the country's Socialist Party, others insisting that they wanted to fix capitalism, not end it.
In New York, near the actual Wall Street, a showdown was avoided when police called off an effort to enter Zuccotti Park to clean the debris that has gathered during the encampment there. But 14 people were arrested in demonstrations (two of them for wearing masks depicting Guy Fawkes, who tried to blow up the British Parliament in the 17th century), even as marchers detained on the Brooklyn Bridge filed suit against the city to contest their arrest.
Is any of this having an effect on the initial targets, the wealthy financiers in the offices above Lower Manhattan's streets? They view those protesting their growing wealth and their industry with "disdain," The New York Times discovered:
Generally, bankers dismiss the protesters as gullible and unsophisticated. Not many are willing to say this out loud, for fear of drawing public ire — or the masses to their doorsteps. “Anybody who dismisses them publicly is putting a bull’s-eye on their back,” the hedge fund manager said.
John Paulson, the hedge fund titan who made billions in the financial crisis by betting against the subprime mortgage market, has been the exception. His Upper East Side home was picketed by demonstrators earlier this week, but Mr. Paulson offered a full-throated defense of the Street, even going so far as to defend the tiny sliver of top earners attacked by the Occupy Wall Street protesters — whose signs refer to themselves as “the other 99 percent.”
“The top 1 percent of New Yorkers pay over 40 percent of all income taxes, providing huge benefits to everyone in our city and state,” he said in a statement. “Paulson & Company and its employees have paid hundreds of millions in New York City and New York State taxes in recent years and have created over 100 high-paying jobs in New York City since its formation.”
Not everyone agreed. Vikram S. Pandit, the CEO of Citigroup, told The Times that "trust has been broken" in the relationship between banks and the public, and "it’s Wall Street’s job to reach out to Main Street and rebuild that trust."