Wednesday, June 16, 2021

America Is Designed To Incentivize Crime At The Highest Levels

nakedcapitalism |  In America you always had two systems of justice, but it’s particularly bad right now. So it’s just like if you commit fraud, if murder people, as long as you do it with a spreadsheet, you get a bonus instead of a jail sentence. And I think that’s a crisis. It is also the crisis that we’re dealing with, with big tech. It is the crisis… Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook, they have been caught for fraud multiple times, lying to advertisers, lying to publishers knowingly to induce more spending on Facebook. There are multiple consent decrees with the Federal Trade Commission. It’s similar with the other firms as well. They routinely lie, commit perjury and whatnot. And that’s kind of like a legacy of this policy framework and ideological framework that we inherited from the Bush administration and the Obama administration of simply not enforcing the rule of law against the powerful.

So that’s I think the dynamic that we’re dealing with today and it’s across every sector of the economy, right? It’s not just opioids, it’s not just big tech, it’s kind of everywhere. And what this does is two things. When you have effectively lawlessness for white collar elites, it both penalizes honest business people who cannot compete when they’re not willing to lie, steal and cheat. If the other guy’s allowed to lie, steal and cheat and you don’t want to do that, you lose, right? So it undermines honest business. And then it also creates a situation where criminals become the pinnacle of society. And I think we saw that with Trump, where Trump… Cy Vance who was the DA of Manhattan, a Democrat. He had them dead to rights on real estate fraud years ago, way before he was kind of in politics. And he just… Trump’s lawyer gave Cy Vance campaign money and Cy Vance didn’t bring the case.

And so if he had just brought that case, if he had said, this is a criminal act to defraud people of their money, Trump wouldn’t have been in politics, right? But because he didn’t, Trump was in politics. And I think what people saw in 2016 was, well, they’re all crooks. So I’m going to pick the guy that appeals to me. And the thing is, is that analysis, they’re all crooks, is right. They are all crooks. Not everyone obviously. But the structure of our elite society, if you look at it, it’s just designed to incentivize criminal behavior, lying, cheating, and stealing at the highest level. And that’s the reaction… We’re seeing a reaction to that and there are many different reactions to that. One of them is this sort of Trumpist reaction. Another one is kind of the Lina Khan and the FTC reaction. But that’s where our politics is right now.

And the Biden administration is kind of a transition moment, right? Just like the Trump administration was kind of a transition moment to a new kind of politics. We’re not totally sure what that’s going to be. I think that, that’s similar with the Biden ministration. It’s a transition moment to a new form of politics. And we’re a little bit unsure about whether we’re going to address this problem with the rule of law. It’s not just criminal law. It’s also antitrust law, insider trading, kind of all of finance. And you can look at SPACs, that’s just corporate behavior, insider dealing. Are we going to address that in a meaningful way? Are we going to restore equal political rights to all, or are we going to go and kind of transition sort of officially into an oligarchy and shed the vestiges of democracy that we have?

Rob Johnson:

Well, I think the fact that Donald Trump got elected in 2016 and his, if you will, bumper sticker, his credo was the system is rigid and people felt like they were hearing what they understood and it appealed to them out of their despair or their despondency related to where the system was. And I would say what’s perhaps hopeful now is after four years of Donald Trump and the January 6th insurrection, some of the people in power are afraid of going back to that, to a repeat performance. And while they may be under the same pressures, money and politics and enforcements and revolving doors for senior public officials enticed what you might call to not enforce or to enforce and subsidize powerful interests, all of this collectively frightens elected officials that they may be sending us in the direction of an authoritarian and perhaps violent person who does not abide by any rules.

So I think that your diagnosis is exactly right, and this place, this limbo you describe with the Biden administration is fascinating. They are at what that blues singer with my name, Robert Johnson, called the crossroads. They got to choose the path. But let’s talk a little bit about… You’d said with regard to Mark Zuckerberg or others, who’s going to call out the truth here? I mean, you do, but many think tanks are tax deductible, what would you call it? Marketing institutions for power. That’s where they get their source of funding. Many institutions in the media depend on advertising. Many universities depend upon donors and wealthy alumni. And even the arts now depend on big corporate power for structure of live shows, radio promotion, visibility that inspire sales. Where does the truth come from and where does the impetus for deep structural reform in response to the despair of a Trump like return? How do you see that?

Matt Stoller:

It’s a really good question. And I think that the truth, this is going to sound cheesy, but I think that the truth lies in the heart of the public. I think the public has views about how politics works and politicians respond to those views. And you have a bunch of elite institutions, which I think are corrupt across the board. But the public kind of creates the wind. Those elite institutions are kind of like the sailboat, right? And you can put the sail in lots of different ways, but ultimately if the wind is blowing in one direction or the other, that determines what you can do more than how amazing the boat is.

But the boat is something that you can control. So you’re kind of looking at… Elites like to look at the boat and decide, should we do this thing or should we use that sail or this other mechanism? But the wind is what really matters. And I think one thing that I’ve noticed, and I think people don’t really… Particularly Democrats, they don’t want to admit it but Obama was a really bad president and it matters that he was a really bad president. That his policies-

… That he was a really bad president. He pursued policies that concentrated wealth and power into the hands of corrupt actors. Not necessarily for bad reasons. He might’ve been doing it in good faith. It’s not a personal comment on him. But the consequences of his policies were horrific, and they made us a weaker country, an angrier country, a more frustrated country. The opioid crisis exploded on his watch. And it wasn’t that the Republicans were mean to him. He had bad ideas. And he used his political power to pursue those bad ideas. He put people in like Geithner and Michael Froman and a whole bunch of others to do bad things, to offshore jobs. And they did it because they thought to bail out Wall Street, to enact a foreclosure crisis, to essentially grant amnesty for white collar executives for crime.