I was very interested to read Suzy Khimm's long take on the Occupy the SEC group, who are apparently in large part composed of former Wall Street traders and the like:
In its heyday, the tea party turned to elections to enact change, rallying supporters to primary incumbents and helping the GOP retake the House. Occupy Wall Street, by contrast, has largely eschewed the traditional political process. Instead, as protesters have moved off the streets, a small minority of Occupiers has waded deep into the weeds of the federal regulations, legal decisions and banking practices that make up the actual architecture of Wall Street. And they’re drawing on the technical expertise of the financial industry’s own refugees, exiles and dissidents to do so.
Many of the Occupy wonks once worked on Wall Street, and some of them still do. They’re former derivatives traders, risk analysts, compliance officers and hedge fund quants. They hail from Morgan Stanley, Deutsche Bank, Bear Stearns, D.E. Shaw, Merrill Lynch and JPMorgan Chase — and at least one is a former Securities and Exchange Commission regulator. They’re more likely to use a flowchart than protest signs to fight big banks. But they identify with the movement’s animating belief that America’s financial heavyweights wield too much power, and that its political leaders are too eager to do their bidding.This is a prime example of my working thesis that public virtue is extremely important for developing and maintaining the inclusive institutions described in Why Nations Fail. It's important to think of the incentive structure of institutions, maintaining watchful and vigorous oversight to prevent corruption, and so forth, but these people aren't even part of a traditional institution. They're working on their own time to try and restrain the power of the financial sector, by attacking one of its most powerful weapons--the nearly-incomprehensible complexity and tediousness of financial operations.
Again, it's obvious that these people won't succeed in breaking Wall Street's power by themselves. But it's a good example of how unselfish motives can genuinely help to make a more successful society.