Guest post from Dr. Pitchfork
Crime And Punishment on Wall Street
In this clip (from May of this year), Naomi Wolf and Moe Tkacik discuss feminism and the Dominique Strauss-Kahn case. The discussion is interesting in its own right, covering topics like police and prosecutor inaction in ordinary cases of rape or sexual assault, for example. What was remarkable, however, was that when Tkacik was asked about her own experience with date rape and how the authorities responded in her case, she immediately put it in the context of the financial crisis and the near-total lack of Wall St prosecutions. (Start watching at 13:00). Tkacik returns to the issue of Wall St. crimes several times during the interview, referring to them as “larger crimes” than even rape. In doing so, she doesn’t appear to be simply drawing a metaphor, but invoking a worldview. Moreover, it’s a way of looking at the world that I think many of us who have been close observers of the financial crisis have increasingly come to share. We might differ on the specific issue of rape, but the idea that there is one set of rules for the elite and a different set of rules for everyone else is starting to harden into a consensus.
In contrast to the massive fraud in mortgage underwriting and securitization (think Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, Countrywide), Tkacik calls the Galleon insider trading case an exercise in prosecutor PR. Much to Wolf’s consternation, Tkacik also admits that she doesn’t really care if someone like DSK, a member of the international banking elite, has been treated unfairly by prosecutors, by Mayor Bloomberg or by the media, because (quote) “it looked like it [the rape] happened.” At this point, Wolf nearly hyperventilates, insisting on the presumption of innocence, but Tkacik responds with a shrug, saying, essentially, that in the wake of the financial crisis it’s hard to muster outrage at the fact that DSK was frog marched or that we casually assume he did it. Finally, in trying to explain this view, Tkacik describes herself as something of a “judicial relativist.” In spite of Wolf’s eye rolls on this point, I think Tkacik describes the attitude of a great many of us who have waited month after month, year after year, for some consequences to come for those who contributed to the crisis through the commission of fraud, and thereby reaped enormous benefits. And those consequences are not likely to come, especially as the statute of limitations begins to come into effect. It’s no wonder, is it, that people are ready to take the law into their own hands?
But all of this points to an ironic paradox that seems to characterize the way many of us have come to think about the rule of law and how it relates to the so-called 1%. On the one hand, one of the chief reasons we had a financial crisis in the first place, as well as one of the main reasons many of us are still so angry (and increasingly cynical), is that the basic rule of law has simply been tossed out the window. Many laws, which are already on the books, just have not been enforced. One of the most harmful and corrosive results of this is, that we have become less and less scrupulous about advocating the rule of law, at least when it comes to dealing with the banks and bankers. The thinking goes like this: if laws could be bent, broken and ignored in order to save AIG (in order to save Goldman Sachs and Soc. Gen.), then why not bend the laws just a little bit in order to break up Citigroup, or to prosecute Dick Fuld? Or why, for instance, should we continue to pretend that Fabrice Tourre and Dan Sparks are not guilty of securities fraud in the way they marketed and sold Timberwolf? (We know damn well they’re guilty, right?) Or, as Tkacik argues, who cares if DSK’s name was dragged through the mud – he’s a banker (of sorts) and he probably did it anyway. Besides we want some damn retribution.
It’s not unreasonable to look at the world this way. In fact, because of the enormity of the financial crimes that have been committed in the last decade, it has become increasingly difficult to differentiate between the commitment to principle and mere naiveté (we’re looking at you, Naomi Wolf). When the fundamental rules of the game have been trashed (or rigged in someone else’s favor), what’s the proper way to respond? Do we continue on our merry, middle-class way, following the rules and being good citizens (all the while being financially raped), or do we take the law into our own hands and exact some kind of rough justice? In light of the death-grip the banks have on our political process, I’m not sure there is an easy answer to that question, but it’s one that will soon have to be answered, one way or the other. And I’ll be the first to admit, there’s a dark part of my bailout-weary soul that just doesn’t give a shit about rules anymore. I just want to get even.
In any case, watch the clip. A fascinating document of the times in which we live.