- A new book purports to answer the question why the U.S. government hasn't prosecuted any bank executive for the crimes leading to the 2008 economic collapse. Have you seen it?
- The Chicken-Shit Club.
- Yes. It's argument is that these financial crimes are hard to prove in court, and U.S. prosecutors are proud of their near 100% win record thanks to their never prosecuting cases with uncertain outcomes, to their choosing to settle out of court instead.
- And what do you think of that argument?
- It's essentially the same line taken by president at the time Obama who offered the excuse it wasn't clear that a crime has been committed, obviously untrue.
- What could be a clearer case of fraud than Goldman-Sachs telling customers to buy what they themselves were at the same time ridding themselves of as quickly as possible? Or Wells Fargo opening without permission millions of fraudulent accounts in the names of their customers? A few years ago a federal court judge, writing in the New York Review of Books*, said there was no doubt that crimes had been committed, but prosecutors didn't prosecute corporate executives because they were not in the habit of prosecuting corporate executives: it just wasn't done.
- Prosecutors were afraid of losing if they prosecuted the corporations themselves, and they didn't want to prosecute corporate executives because that 'just wasn't something they do'.
- Yes. The same impunity of corporations and executives can be seen in the lack of prosecution of banks and their executives for creating millions of fraudulent deeds to property they now wanted to sell that they'd bought as a package without deeds, the actual practice that led up to the financial collapse of 2008. Banks to this very day** continue to produce fraudulent documents as they sell off their accumulated foreclosed properties from the collapse.
- A more convincing explanation is that many of the government prosecutors would within a few years be working at vastly greater salary for the executives and companies they made favorable out-of-court deals with.
- I agree. We're not seeing the result of inefficiency of professional practice but justice being bought out; outright corruption dressed up as business as usual.
- What did you want to ask me about?
- I had just gotten used to the idea we don't live in much of a democracy because virtually all elected officials had been bought out by corporate "donations". That wasn't so bad, because the government though a lot isn't everything. Everyday life goes on. But now we see the finance industry, the largest industry in the country, in addition to buying the government, under the protection of the government they've bought is waging direct war on the people of the country. Yet life goes on as if everyone is doing the job they claim they are doing, the government watching out for the people and finance helping them out with their money.
- Again, what did you want to ask me?
- Don't be impatient. I know corruption is nothing new. I wanted to ask you if this is new, the openness of the corruption, and the way life goes on as if nothing much is wrong.
- Would you say the feeling of unreality is related to the sense that we are supposed to be living in a democracy yet are not? That we were willing to accept that our vote didn't count if somehow something was left of democracy in the way people lived together? And that the corporations getting away with literally millions of crimes against their customers challenges the sense that everyday life can be going on as usual?
- Yes. Democracy isn't rule of the many, or rule of the poor; it's a deal made by the poor with the rich that the rich wouldn't rob too much and in exchange the poor wouldn't take away their property.
- And that deal has been broken, yet we still think we are living in a democracy. Thus our feeling of unreality at being confronted with the fact that the deal between rich and poor has unquestionably been broken.
- So what do you think?
- We see here in our times how democracy ends, but have you ever wondered how it began?
- Where the idea came from to get rid of the property qualification for citizenship?
- Ancient Athens.
- I mean how had the rich convinced themselves the poor wouldn't vote them out of their riches, and how had the poor convinced themselves the rich wouldn't rob them blind?
- What did the Athenians themselves say? What about Pericles' funeral oration from Thucydides?
Our love of what is beautiful does not lead to extravagance; our love of the things of the mind does not make us soft. We regard wealth as something to be properly used, rather than as something to boast about"..."Here each individual is interested not only in his own affairs but in the affairs of the state as well: even those who are mostly occupied with their own business are extremely well-informed on general politics—this is a peculiarity of ours: we do not say that a man who takes no interest in politics is a man who minds his own business; we say that he has no business here at all.- Would you agree then that democracy is a theory of political life that is being tested in its actual practice?
- What theory?
- Self control, and self-knowledge creates a human being that can reach productive agreement with other human beings irrespective of how much property they own. If you think about it, it's really a wild idea. What is it about this character of human being that allows this agreement?
- You tell me. The idea really does seem to come out of nowhere. There wasn't, was there, precedent in history before the Athenians came up with it?
- There was perhaps a different kind of precedent.
- What kind?
- The so-called Pre-Socratic philosophers, who made claims about nature that it was all variations in the shape or assemblage of water, or air, or a combination of elements. While we see change in nature, actually, they thought, something was staying the same. Water was always there, or air, or a combination of elements.
- I see. Democracy is a theory of political life that says that, produce a human character of the sort that knows itself and controls itself, and something human stays constant in political life, and that constant is what we mean by democracy, not good relation between classes or voting rights. Is that what you mean?
- Yes. We live in a country where many or even most have or would like to have democratic character, yet the actual government and economic life no longer are of the kind a people with democratic character should be able to make for themselves. Because we see nature on the same terms as we've been accustomed to see political life, the unchanging behind the changing, our political life which no longer has that form strikes us as "unreal".
* The Financial Crisis: Why Have No High-Level Executives Been Prosecuted?
** Chain of Title