15 July 2012

Read This Book: Predator Nation by Charles Ferguson

Chapter 1 (an excerpt)Cover art for "Predator Nation" by Charles H. Ferguson
MANY BOOKS HAVE ALREADY been written about the financial crisis, but there are two reasons why I decided that it was still important to write this one.
The first reason is that the bad guys got away with it, and there has been stunningly little public debate about this fact. When I received the Oscar for best documentary in 2011, I said: “Three years after a horrific financial crisis caused by massive fraud, not a single financial executive has gone to jail. And that’s wrong.” When asked afterward about the absence of prosecutions, senior Obama administration officials gave evasive nonanswers, suggesting that nothing illegal occurred, or that investigations were continuing. None of the major Republican presidential candidates have raised the issue at all.
As of early 2012 there has still not been a single criminal prosecution of a senior financial executive related to the financial crisis. Nor has there been any serious attempt by the federal government to use civil suits, asset seizures, or restraining orders to extract fines or restitution from the people responsible for plunging the world economy into recession. This is not because we have no evidence of criminal behavior. Since the release of my film, a large amount of new material has emerged, especially from private lawsuits, that reveals, through e-mail trails and other evidence, that many bankers, including senior management, knew exactly what was going on, and that it was highly fraudulent.
But even leaving this crisis aside, there is now abundant evidence of widespread, unpunished criminal behavior in the financial sector. Later in this book, I go through the list of what we already know, which is a lot. In addition to the behavior that caused the crisis, major U.S. and European banks have been caught assisting corporate fraud by Enron and others, laundering money for drug cartels and the Iranian military, aiding tax evasion, hiding the assets of corrupt dictators, colluding in order to fix prices, and committing many forms of financial fraud. The evidence is now overwhelming that over the last thirty years, the U.S. financial sector has become a rogue industry. As its wealth and power grew, it subverted America’s political system (including both political parties), government, and academic institutions in order to free itself from regulation. As deregulation progressed, the industry became ever more unethical and dangerous, producing ever larger financial crises and ever more blatant criminality. Since the 1990s, its power has been sufficient to insulate bankers not only from effective regulation but even from criminal law enforcement. The financial sector is now a parasitic and destabilizing industry that constitutes a major drag on American economic growth.
This means that criminal prosecution is not just a matter of vengeance or even justice. Real punishment for large-scale financial criminality is a vital element of the financial re-regulation that is, in turn, essential to America’s (and the world’s) economic health and stability. Regulation is nice, but the threat of prison focuses the mind. A noted expert, the gangster Al Capone, once said, “You can get much further in life with a kind word and a gun than with a kind word alone.” If financial executives know that they will go to jail if they commit major frauds that endanger the world economy, and that their illegal wealth will be confiscated, then they will be considerably less likely to commit such frauds and cause global financial crises. So one reason for writing this book is to lay out in painfully clear detail the case for criminal prosecutions. In this book, I demonstrate that much of the behavior underlying the bubble and crisis was quite literally criminal, and that the lack of prosecution is nearly as outrageous as the financial sector’s original conduct.
The second reason that I decided to write this book is that the rise of predatory finance is both a cause and a symptom of an even broader, and even more disturbing, change in America’s economy and political system. The financial sector is the core of a new oligarchy that has risen to power over the past thirty years, and that has profoundly changed American life. The later chapters of this book are devoted to analyzing how this happened and what it means.
From:  Predator Nation: Corporate Criminals, Political Corruption, and the Hijacking of America by Charles H. Ferguson