Wall Street, GameStop And The Internet—Collective Power In Action


What is happening on Wall Street is historic and yes, wild to watch unfold. I won’t break down all the details, but I can say that essentially, a group of people on Reddit all banded together to buy stock all together, as a movement, and in doing so, beat Wall Street at their own game. Upon recognizing this windfall, the Robinhood app actually halted the ability to trade these stocks, a move that is highly antithetical to the free market and seemingly illegal. The story is still unfolding, but that is essentially enough information to understand the basic premise of what’s happening, although further research will provide oodles of truly wild details.

Wall Street is and has been plagued by manipulation. This story speaks to collective action; to moving together as one; to locating the correct enemy. Value is where value is perceived, so let’s value something else: let’s value human lives. If the takeaway is that we don’t have to operate this way then that is meaningful.

Of course there is poetic justice in millennials giving value to GameStop and AMC and all of the last bastions of the ’90s era pop culture. But Melvin Capital (the hedge fund that is losing the most money in this situation) and others had also placed an aggressive short on the company to drive its business down, so this is not coming out of absolutely nowhere. There is poetic justice in a group of Internet users transcending party, ideology and religion and banding together for a collective action. Absolute power of the people. What is remarkable about this story has nothing to do with any spin about manipulation and has everything to do with collective action. A group of people all together chose to play the same game that Wall Street plays – the key here being that it was a group all together and all united. It was, by its very definition, fair play – the Redditors were playing by the rules of the game and all buying stock together. And seemingly, after this, Wall Street will likely want to lock down on more regulations and rules to stop this from happening. Robinhood will also likely be fined an amount that they’re willing to eat and continue to play. Bets are placed and companies’ futures are gambled with and manipulated on a regular basis. Essentially, in this case, investors bet that the stock would go down, and when it went up, they lost money (that essentially they didn’t even have to bet in the first place).

This isn’t a story about young people “not understanding what they’re doing” and getting “left holding the bag”. I think it’s safe to say that by and large, most of these people knew what they were doing and knew it did it with purpose. Most invested small amounts and together it made the difference. This is the point. A movement, a message, and yes for some, a way of making money and redistributing wealth. This will continue to be spun several ways and already has. This was a collective movement with intention, this was not nonsense.

In the past few years we have seen so many movements to uproot and fight back against social injustices in the world. This is an ideal opportunity to find the abuser which is located in every screw and nail and bolt and steel plate and tiled floor of every structure of our system. This is the structure that forms the basis of our nationalistic value system. Capitalism is a confidence game the same way that Wall Street is a confidence game. Where there is perceived value, there is value. This isn’t to say we need to switch gears completely overnight and immediately become a ‘socialist’ country – it’s true that huge volatility would also lead to instability. But there is no reason that we can’t recalibrate some of our programs so that they work better for everyone over an appropriate and well-calculated period of time. So often, what keeps us from these types of changes is the permeating belief system of capitalism, which is stronger and more unifying than any religion in this country and which is so often used as a bludgeon to perpetuate the idea that things cannot be different than they are. A 0.1% tax on Wall Street speculation on precisely this type of activity could fund so many social services and programs in a concrete way that could actionably change the lives of people.

It is so much more a story about the veil being pulled off of the illusory nature of so many of our capitalistic systems and structures; the stock market is not the economy and the economy is not the stock market. If the takeaway is that alone that is meaningful.

Today, as a coalition of working-class people began to make money on the stock market, the Robinhood app halted the ability to trade precisely these stocks. No capitalist who believes in the ideology of the free market can support or defend hampering with the ability for the free market to run. It is inherently in opposition to the basic tenets of this ideology. The reality is that this free market is hampered with all the time through insider trading and various manipulations including, but not limited to, the kind of shorts that precipitated this event. Wall Street casino gambling should have nothing to do with the productive creation of value through labor in our economy and we must stop glorifying it.

There is a reason that this is supposed to feel inaccessible to a common understanding. The disguise of obtuse and obscure language is used to both veil the reality of the stock market as well as place it on a pedestal beyond the reach of the average comprehension. The rules change and are set to purposefully elude those not involved, to keep the game elusive and seemingly beyond comprehension. Thus a sense of “justified money-making” is created, because so many of us feel as if this is something we don’t understand and thus the magic knowledge beyond our grasp must be earned and valuable to some degree. The pretense of these words are meant to be clouded. There is a reason why obtuse vocabulary and acronyms are used to prop up the pretense of this system which serves no productive value for our society as a whole. GDP is not the quality of our life and the stock market is not the full picture of the health of our country.

Another thing that was brought to the forefront is that these companies don’t even gamble with real money. At the privilege of being at the height of this dreamscape, they move around borrowed money in a way that the working class never could. Then when they lose on their own bets they don’t even have anything to back up their movements on the market. Worse, they can turn to the Federal Reserve to cover their failure.

The 2008 stock market crash was devastating to the lives of so many people and yet the cognitive dissonance between capitalism and the subsequent toxicity of our country remains strong. At a certain point, if we do not work to actively speak against these systems, we inherently continue to perpetuate them as it is so heavily and profoundly intertwined and baked into every aspect of our society. This isn’t righteous anger at people “who do better than us at capitalism”, it is a fundamental call to arms against a structure which is profoundly out of balance, profoundly unhealthy, and built with illusion upon illusion. This story also brought to light how so much of big money is a house of cards balanced upon a house of cards. It is a collective story. A mythology we all collectively continue to agree to believe in.

This story is more about collective unity than it is about a “David and Goliath” story or even about the fraudulent nature of the Wall Street model itself. In so many ways, it is a story about the illusory nature of so many of the systems that we are inextricably threaded and woven into. It is so much about how those illusions can be shown for what they are through collective action. This action only worked because people banded together and united. This was not something one person could have done or created. There isn’t a false premise, it’s merely showing that everything else is a false premise. I hope that people are not turned away by this news story if they do not understand the stock market or economic structures because as previously stated, they are intentionally made obscure and obtuse so that we don’t understand them. Our ensuing confusion creates a sense of expertise within these structures that elicits a subsequent sense of deserving their “earned” rewards. It’s a game we perceive we can’t win because we don’t have their expertise, not because the whole thing is a rigged sham and they play with huge numbers using imaginary money that we could never compete with. These illusions can and should be struck down. And the fact that this story tackles it with absurdity and humor and a clear, clear indication of the true transparency of this system is absolutely brilliant. This movement is a poem. And it is performance art. And it is also very, very real. And it is also an act of protest which is more efficacious and more creative than so many other forms of protest. What I hope people take from this is the truly alive nature and capability of collective organizing. And the mythology of all of the structures which we continue to prop up simply by believing in them at all. Value is in the perception of value. We can join so much of the rest of the world in providing social programs that will make a real profound difference to so many; to the downtrodden, to minorities, to the disabled and to the everyday American. We do not need to keep being told that our particular brand of capitalism is what makes us special and unique and the driving force of the world. We are in an abusive relationship and we need to recognize it. We can still be in a relationship but it doesn’t have to be quite as unhealthy as it is.