Rolling Stone, in its latest edition, has this story to regale you with:
Conspiracy theorists of the world, believers in the hidden hands of the Rothschilds and the Masons and the Illuminati, we skeptics owe you an apology. You were right. The players may be a little different, but your basic premise is correct: The world is a rigged game. We found this out in recent months, when a series of related corruption stories spilled out of the financial sector, suggesting the world’s largest banks may be fixing the prices of, well, just about everything.
I suggest you all read it all before we continue. So see you in a few minutes, OK?
Fixing the prices of, well, just about everything, eh? That would, I suppose, include not only sovereign debt, community loans and the cost of things that make the world of manufacturing go round but also, indubitably, the price of foodstuffs too.
Can it get any clearer than this?
Time, perhaps, we resurrected my recent idea to “arrest without bail” and “imprison” banks? This is why we need these two figures – and how they would work:
[...] At the moment, corporations are legal figures with many of the rights and obligations of ordinary people. This is well known and well documented and I shan’t repeat myself here. However, what I would like to suggest is that a serious imbalance does exist as far as depriving the liberty of such corporations to act when under investigation – or, indeed, after being found guilty of certain acts.
Ordinary people, for example, quite often when arrested find themselves summarily deprived of their liberty – and no one questions the process. Apart from the odd legal phonecall or interview or occasional family visit, their radius of action and ability to influence the result is radically reduced. This allows for the police to carry out necessary investigations, untrammelled by the interference of too many interested – and perhaps self-promoting – parties.
This does not happen in the case of corporate entities: mostly, in cases of even quite severe misdemeanour (witness recent high-profile banking scandals around the long-term money-laundering of drug revenues by banks you’d hardly expect to exhibit such behaviours), we generally find such corporate figures – flesh-and-blood people in everything but flesh-and-blood – do not get arrested; do not need to request bail; and never get imprisoned. Their liberty is never deprived; they continue to operate in the meantime; they proceed to make their money as before.
Sadly, of course, we often discover after the event that the potential for being fined for some act or another will have been factored into an annual budget before the crimes in question were committed. A fine, even a large fine, even just the threat of a fine, becomes simply one more operating cost to be contemplated as the logistics of the year are calculated.
And although, on occasions, executives do find themselves accused of specific acts, the processes are so drawn out as to make any sensible adjustment to the direction of our socioeconomic fabrics impossible to engineer. They frequently manage to stay at the top of their hierarchical games, despite the complaints of shareholders; despite the unhappiness of a wider consuming public; and despite the reputational damage this leads to. With their battalions of legal support, these alpha men and women feel secure in their protective silos and bunkers of belief. No wonder they behave as imperiously as they do.
In such cases, not only are the operations of the companies in question left untouched, the ability of their apparently criminal leaders to continue leading remains intact.
My suggestion, then, which came to me as I journeyed – quite appropriately – to the TUC’s founding place, is to engineer two new figures in company law:
- the figure of arrest without bail
- the figure of imprisonment
How would these work? Well, in the case of the former, arrest without bail would mean the corporation would have to shut down all its operations immediately. Just as a person who finds themselves under the same deprivation of liberty, whilst investigations into probable misconduct take place, so we should be able to do the same to a company. And the mere threat of being able to do this would surely lead to a radical change in how fines and punishments for corporate maleficence were treated and assessed in the future by those who currently quite happily contemplate them.
In the case of the latter figure, the figure of imprisonment, we could suggest that a company might totally cease operations in a similar way once sentence had been passed a posteriori. Under such circumstances, and for a certain period of time only, the company in question could not continue to occupy the marketplace, in much the same way as a person in prison must effectively cut off all connections to the outside world.
The result would be two powerful instruments to make the corporate figure far more like the human equivalent which – in so many cases – it loves to emulate.
Applied in particular to the banking corporations, it would send a hugely important message around the significance of competence, honesty and openness for our shared societies.
As well as, surely, end the terrible cycle of reward for utter failure – a cycle which appears to be the current tonic and reality of latterday capitalism.
I think the evidence of a seriously consistent, deliberate and intentioned sequence of misdemeanours is piling up enough for a real and concerted series of contrary actions to be designed, shaped and implemented.
A 21st century banking fix in search of a 21st century legal fix. A way of changing radically how banking corporations behave. A way of recovering these astonishing tools to organise the masses, in order that – in potential harmony – different ways of seeing and doing might serve to re-establish some sense of overall sensibility.
If you like – and finally get – my drift, that is.
If you appreciate the measure of what apparently needs to be done.