The law of the few

The chapter begins with an example that American readers will probably find very familiar: During this event, Revere rode through Lexington and other Massachusetts towns to warn American colonists of the British invasion; in turn, American colonists warned other colonists of the danger, so that the news spread like a virus. But why is it that certain ideas spread via word-of-mouth faster than others? There were other people, including a man named William Dawes, who also spread a message about the British invasion in other parts of Massachusetts that night.

The law of the few

Aug 23, at 3: In no sense should we be prosecuting more people in this country. Practically we already incarcerate too many desperate people for fraud without addressing the underlying causes of their crimes.

We prosecute a ton of white-collar crime in this country, using the same flawed criminal system that puts people in cages for jumping the subway turnstile, or being too poor to pay a fine or bail, or having a drug problem. All of those different kinds of prosecutors report to the same boss.

The white-collar crime prosecuted in America is mostly, like, a guy and a few partners who started drinking one night and came up with a genius plan to swindle some people out of money. It can be ruinous to the swindled! They are unemployed or in debt and searching for a way to get out.

Instead, they largely get caught and charged with real estate, health care, and securities fraud plus those people who trade stock tips at that one country club in Massachusetts. Fraud and other white-collar crimes accounted for about 8, federal prosecutions last year.

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Federal data is easiest to get, but all fifty states are prosecuting people for fraud, too. Assuming, as I do, that we massively over prosecute people in this country, I would not consider white-collar crime exempt.

Prosecuting people is a violent individualistic solution to a variety of problems that are largely systemic. Whether you are talking about mortgage fraud or drugs or theft there will always be more individuals with the incentive to step up and commit those crimes until the underlying issue is fixed.

They think about the few glitzy prosecutions that do happen. Martoma got nine years in prison for receiving and trading on some information about a new drug a little early. It was a massively profitable trade.

It was illegal, although the people hurt were… the market? Maybe at the margin it was a question of resources, but Preet Bharara sniffed around him for a decade.

Cohen had good lawyers and he insulated himself and made sure that he personally did not explicitly leave evidence of committing any crimes.

The rich and powerful will always have wealth and power to insulate them. And, of course, you can do bad things that hurt people without committing any crimes!

The law of the few

But even more fundamental than that, what exactly is the point of putting bankers in jail? Incarceration is an ex post action.

Is there a small deterrence effect of throwing people in jail?

The law of the few

What makes anyone so sure that locking up bankers will have a different outcome? Why not focus our political outrage at systemic solutions? We need a wealth tax. We need universal healthcare. We need to stop directing the power of the state toward benefiting corporations over citizens.

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