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Punishment, Vengeance and the Banks

wuming's picture

(cross posted from

People sometimes ask me, if I was in charge, what would I want done with the bank that have broken the law and carried out epic levels of fraud in the United States. And it's not just the banks, it's the finance, insurance and real estate industry as a whole, commonly called the FIRE sector.
Specifically, people often ask, what should be done about the executives who masterminded the various frauds?  Some people expect me to say life in prison, brutal punishment etc. People expect me to say, that's what these people deserve, so screw them, they have to pay.  
But honestly?  That's not what I'm looking for.  The drive for vengeance is what got the United States into this problem to begin with. Part of the reason that  and the oligarchy have gotten to be so powerful, is the politics of resentment and vengeance. In the last 30 years, whenever someone raised the idea of restraining the FIRE sector, there was an angry group of people that opposed restraint, because they were so angry and afraid that someone else might get something that they "didn't deserve."  We can argue all day about what people deserve, and some people will argue that Americans deserve what is happening to us right now, because we allowed it to happen. 
What kind of punishment would I like to see for FIRE executives convicted of financial crimes?  I'm not interested in feeling good about vengeance, I'm interested in meaningful steps that will both prevent the damage from happening again, and taking away the money from the people that stole it. Vengeance?  We've had lots of that through the prison system already, and I don't see that it's helping.  It cheapens the culture when people make rape jokes about prison, and think that torture-porn media are both entertainment and foreign-policy guides. 
Here's what I propose we should do with FIRE sector criminals 
1.  Restitution. They should have to give back their ill gotten gains.
2.  Prison that focuses on rehabilitating them so they understand what they did wrong and can be productive members of society.
3.  Lifetime ban from the finance sector, and a new job.  You made your money handling money and ripping people off?  Fine, from now on you can be a carpenter, a barber, an auto mechanic, or something unrelated to the FIRE sector.  
Even if someone doesn't really change their heart in prison, the lifetime ban will prevent them from doing extreme damage to the financial system again.  And for people like that, it will be a real punishment to spend the rest of their lives staring from the outside in.  I think this would also be a strong deterrent for people in the field who love what they do. They would know that if they were convicted, they'd have to give up their money and the job that is the center at their identity. That's enough. I
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Submitted by lambert on

Probably harder to move forward with than throwing a banker or two to the wolves. Probably because, as you point out, hate and fear are the defautls.

I would like to see trials and convictions. I like this post as an outcome of successful prosecution.

P.S. I removed some of the extra whitespace at the top of the teaser and the post. This new editor seems to be good at creating that. I also took out the last word of the post which was "I" and nothing else (a sentence fragment).

wuming's picture
Submitted by wuming on

Yes.  The big perp walk and a 50 year sentence (or worse) looks good , but does it solve the systemic problem? Nope.  

Thanks for the edits. Am still getting the hang of the new editor. Glad to see the comment index is working!