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TWO EXCERPTS FROM INTERVIEW:
GROSS: So you think that having, say, investment banks settle for large fines is not an adequate punishment. Why not?
EISINGER: I don’t think it deters crime. And I think it undermines the sense of equity and justice in this country. I think people see companies paying big checks and the individuals getting away with it. And I think it stokes an enormous amount of anger with the system and undermines the legitimacy of our justice system, especially because we have a justice system which excessively punishes the poor and people of color while allowing top corporate executives, powerful people, off. We talk about inequality in this country, but I argue that the greatest perquisite of being powerful and wealthy in this country is the ability to commit crimes with impunity.
(INSERT: perquisite (perk) – a thing regarded as a special right or privilege enjoyed as a result of one’s position.
You know, it seems paradoxical that in an era of mass incarceration, it’s so hard to prosecute executives of corporations. Can you describe this, like, judicial timidity about prosecuting executives for corporate wrongdoing? So how do you explain that disparity?
EISINGER: Well, one thing is that there’s a kind of class affinity here where I think that prosecutors have an easier time certainly prosecuting drug dealers and murderers but also prosecuting corrupt politicians. I think they see politicians, and it kind of disgusts them when they do corrupt things. But when they see an articulate, well-educated executive from the same schools that they went to or the parents of the – their classmates, they find it much more difficult to picture these people as criminals.
As one SEC regulator put it in an email when they were investigating Goldman Sachs for wrongdoing – he said these are good people who have done one bad thing. And they essentially view executives as good people who may have made a mistake, and they don’t want to put those people in prison. Suffice it to say, they don’t see young black males who are dealing drugs as essentially good people making one bad mistake.
The other problem is that the courts are much friendlier and judges are much friendlier to corporate criminals than they are to street criminals. So we have a divided society, which is no surprise to anybody. And it really manifests itself in criminal law enforcement.
GROSS: Are we seeing a double standard develop about what a corporation is – because in some instances, a corporation is a person. Like, when it comes to giving money to a campaign, a corporation is now a person. (INSERT: In the US, not in Canada) But does a corporation have a different standing when it comes to being prosecuted?
EISINGER: It does because the Department of Justice has effectively decided that it will not indict this kind of person, the corporate person. And it’s not an official policy. It’s just an effective one. And because of that, corporations have the ability to settle for money and never face the death penalty, never face serious indictment. And because of that, they can get away with a lot of wrongdoing for a long time without paying any serious penalty besides writing a check. And the checks are something that they can afford and something that comes out of not their pocket but the shareholder pockets.