A piece "Too Smug to Jail" on CommonDreams addresses the ever-continuing question of how it is that white collar criminals seem to be able to remain immune from persecution, smug and enjoy life, mostly enriched even more than they were when engaged in criminal activity.
"As we reach the close of an election season marked by anger toward the unaccountable rich, The Economist has chimed in with a defense of the beleaguered white-collar criminal.
An editorial called "Jail bait" is the latest in a line of salvoes against what the magazine imagines is a wave of politically driven regulatory actions against corporate executives.
The piece makes many of the usual Wall Street arguments: locking up executives wouldn't do any good, populist passions are ignorant, etc. But this is the crucial passage:
"Most corporate crime is the result of collective action rather than individual wrongdoing—long chains of command that send (often half-understood) instructions, or corporate cultures that encourage individuals to take risky actions. The authorities have rightly adjusted to this reality by increasingly prosecuting companies rather than going after individual miscreants."
Yikes! This extraordinary argument is cousin to the Lieutenant Calley defense, i.e., that soldiers bear no responsibility for crimes they were ordered to execute. The Economist here would have you believe that there's no such thing as an individual crime in a corporate context.
This is a line you hear a lot not only in the finance community, but among the lawyers who defend the likes of banks and pharmaceutical companies.
Former Attorney General Eric Holder, now back in his comfy old role as a partner in a prominent corporate defense firm, said almost exactly the same thing in a speech in New York two years ago (emphasis mine):
"It remains true that, at some institutions that engaged in inappropriate conduct before, and may yet again, the buck still stops nowhere. Responsibility remains so diffuse, and top executives so insulated, that any misconduct could again be considered more a symptom of the institution's culture than a result of the willful actions of any single individual."
That was a sitting attorney general saying people don't commit crimes – corporate culture commits crimes. No wonder there were no meaningful prosecutions after the financial crisis of 2008."