Injustice and Inequality

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Matt Taibbi discusses the intersection of two of the most troubling trends in American society—growing wealth inequality and mass incarceration. He argues that our current system of justice allows massively destructive fraud by the hyper-wealthy to go unpunished, while it turns poverty itself into a crime. His new book on the topic is The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap.


Matt Taibbi

Comments [20]

dlasson from New York

In Eugene O'Neill's play from 1920, The Emperor Jones, the title character, a former Pullman porter, explains to the Cockney trader Smithers the difference between their respective criminal enterprises: "Dere's little stealin' like you does, and dere's big stealin' like I does. For de little stealin' dey gits you in jail soon or late. For de big stealin' dey makes you Emperor and puts you in de Hall o' Fame when you croaks."

Apr. 08 2014 07:22 PM


Do what?

Apr. 08 2014 03:37 PM
KwaleJ from Minneapolis

Broken record? It's not entertainment. He's not going to change his tune just to entertain. The point is to listen to it, and then DO something about it. So if you are listening to this for the second or tenth time (Daily Show watcher?), then DO something about it.

Apr. 08 2014 02:59 PM

Sorry to say that, but Taibbi sounds like a broken record

Apr. 08 2014 12:55 PM

I can't help but wonder if this incredibly edifying segment, of Leonard interviewing Taibbi, were to be run on a primetime hour when all of America tunes in that we might have a far different world.
These are the kind of discussions that would shake people out of their somnambulant zombie states, fire up the requisite righteous indignation necessary to have the justice system kick into gear and prosecute these massive ponzu scheme for which no one has be held accountable.
Taibbi's excellent, fearless and intrepid reporting should amount to a revolution, or at least some serious changes to our financial regulations, an indictment of capitalism and a rebuke and wholesale change to our two-tiered justice system.

Then you look over at the knuckle-dragging apologisst, paid Protector of the Plutocrats/troll boy jgarbuz and you realize just how far we have to go.

My question for Taibbi is: Can he explain or has he thought of situation that the banks are taking up the most prime retail space on most corners in our city? I think that would be a great story, or at least a way of calling people's attention to the mockery of these bankster criminals, illustrating just how much disposable ransom money they've stolen from the public - that they can buy up all of the real estate in our cities and towns and throw up these eyesores, which to my mind are nothing more than trying to forcibly soften their image/ingratiate themselves forcibly by appearing everywhere, until they subliminally are accepted as part of the landscape. Where has the public outcry been? Who inside the insidious banking world came up with this p.r. plan?

And also, the question everybody here probably wants to know (or not, maybe I'm just feeding it) of you Mr. Troll,
do they still pay in cash, with briefcase or in envelope?

Apr. 08 2014 12:48 PM
Amy from Manhattan

Mr. Taibbi, I really appreciate your work on this. The story of the man arrested for standing on his sidewalk is outrageous & should be better known.

Still, I have to ask: When you say the previous generation of journalists were regular working-class/middle-class "people," you really mean "men," don't you?

Apr. 08 2014 12:46 PM

We want, Liz!!

Elizabeth Warren 2016!

Apr. 08 2014 12:33 PM

LEWIS: It's interesting because if you think back what I did with "Liar's Poker," I walked out of a job at Salomon Brothers, told my bosses I was going to write a book about Wall Street and they kind of smiled and said go do it if you want to, you're crazy because you could make a lot more money here. But you know, do your best kind of thing.

If you tried to do that now, well, for a start, the version of me on Wall Street would've signed all kinds of non-disclosure agreements when he came into the firm. And you would've been hounded by lawyers on your way out the door. The firms have become so concerned about their public faces and so reluctant to share what's going on inside of them. Now, why has that happened?

I think it's because Wall Street, to some extent, depends for its profits on people not understanding what's going on in Wall Street. The firms generate complicated situations, complicated securities, precisely so that other people don't understand them, creating an advantage for the Wall Street firms. I think that technology has naturally rendered a lot of what Wall Street's formerly useful function was moot, that you don't need a human being in between buyers and sellers of stock anymore. It could all be done electronically without Wall Street in between the buyers and the sellers. So Wall Street has been put in a position of having to scramble to find sources of revenues that are just less justified, that are more kind of manufactured.

Subprime mortgage CDOs are one example. The incredibly complicated things they did in the subprime mortgage market were not actually economically useful. They were damaging but they generate a lot of profits for Wall Street. This breathtakingly complicated stock market that's been constructed is not actually socially or economically useful but it generates a lot of money for Wall Street.

So when you are running one of these firms and you sense that a lot of what you do is not socially or economically useful, it's just enabling a kind of skim, the last thing you want is transparency or people from the inside talking about what's going on in the inside. You want to hide what you're doing. I mean I think they're naturally kind of more frightened of having the public genuinely understand what their businesses are.

And it's not that all of the business on Wall Street is bad or not useful, but it's just an increasing chunk of Wall Street is essentially predatory. So I think that's what's going on. And I think that the sort of technology has caused a crisis in the financial services industry and the financial services industry has responded by, you know, trying to defend its profitability and it's been very good at doing it. But it requires this kind of opacity.

Michael Lewis On Fresh Air discussing his book, "Flash Boys"

Apr. 08 2014 12:30 PM
RUCB_Alum from Central New Jersey

Similar tactics are/were used by Scientology to reach a compromise with the IRS. It amounts to blackmail. "I'll fill your calendar so that you don't have a tic left to do anything but respond to all my legal bull**it."

We are doomed unless some method of exerting social control over these institutions is developed. Do these organizations already control so many resources that they cannot be policed?

What are the proposed cures?

Apr. 08 2014 12:30 PM
Patricia from Westchester

The government can't seem to make the punishment fit the crime. They destroyed the accounting firm, Anderson, rather than punish the criminals within this otherwise reputable company.

Apr. 08 2014 12:28 PM

Lanny "Pantywaist" Breuer

Apr. 08 2014 12:25 PM

I wonder if one of the aspects which put more non-white people in prison for the same crimes committed by both white and non-white persons is that the prosecutors who are probably from middle class white backgrounds can see in a defendant from their own background, that people make mistakes in their lives and that there should be some understanding, while people from outside of their own background are seen differently, more coldly and as the other and without empathy, and the understanding factor doesn't come into play.

Apr. 08 2014 12:23 PM

Ethan Couch. Teenager drove drunk, killed 4 pedestrians. Judge found that, as a wealthy young person, prison would be just too hard on him.

Robert H. Richards IV. _Convicted_ of rape, but spared prison because the judge concluded that, as a rich man, he would "not fare well" in prison.

Barack Obama and Eric Holder promised to prosecute Wall Street banksters behind mortgage fraud. The Times reports: "Four years after President Obama promised to crack down on mortgage fraud, his administration has quietly made the crime its lowest priority and has closed hundreds of cases after little or no investigation."

Fines assessed against HSBC and other Wall Street firms are tax deductible.

And as Matt Taibbi points out, the individuals responsible see no negative consequences at all. Indeed, they've benefitted. And Bush and Obama have signaled loudly that "too big to fail" is a guarantee of a bailout.

Even conservative economists would concede that the absence of oversight and of disincentives ensures misconduct. But we have a small army of economists and policymakers working to make sure that Wall Street banksters will (1) do it again and (2) get off again.

Apr. 08 2014 12:23 PM

Dylan said it well 30 years ago:

Steal a little and they throw you in jail
Steal a lot and they make you king

Apr. 08 2014 12:22 PM
jf from dystopia


Apr. 08 2014 12:21 PM
jgarbuz from queens

The disparaging label "Robber Barons" was invented by NEw Deal liberal professors to libel the builders of this country's infrastructure hardware and got wealthy doing so. Today we have the Software Robber barons, such as Bill Gates, Bezos, Zuckerberg and the whole crew of geeky software "robber barons@ who have become incredibly wealthy building the software insfrastructure of the 21st century.

Apr. 08 2014 12:13 PM

Thanks, Matt!!

Apr. 08 2014 12:12 PM
jgarbuz from queens

The Golden Rule:

He (or she) who has the Gold makes the Rules.

Apr. 08 2014 12:07 PM
jgarbuz from queens

This covers it:

Exodus 20:17
King James Version (KJV)

17 "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour's."

Apr. 08 2014 12:00 PM

With all the due respect to Matt Taibbi, what's the point?

Nothing will change.

The squid is still there, powerful as ever, the income inequality and wealth gap continues to increase, and the what we call justice system cannot change without first being completele destroyed.

Apr. 08 2014 10:03 AM

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