For a free society to function in any capacity there has to be transparency of and access to information, as well as a set of rules that are applied equally to everyone. Our society has chosen not to hold those responsible for the financial meltdown accountable or implement the necessary corrections to the system. This is destroying our society economically by stopping access to transparent information and is destroying our society socially by not applying the laws equally to everyone. Economists and others can attest to the languishing of our economy in this financial quicksand so this commentary focuses on the social side of the scandal.
This blatant example of selective application of the judicial system forces even the most optimistic citizen to recognize that we now live in a society of the few unaccountable insiders and the many to which justice applies. Of course this didn’t happen overnight, but this state of our union has reached a tipping point now. For example, the Savings and Loan scandal of the 1980s did at least result in an application of the law to put over 800 white collar criminals in prison. Obviously in the 1980s there were also wrongdoers who went unpunished for their crimes. Justice and equality under the law has never been perfect. However, in just a couple of decades we can certainly detect a significant increase in the protection of the privileged class from the justice system. At this point it is difficult to imagine a scenario under which a group of persons within this class would be held accountable by the law. The justice system no longer applies to the few politically-connected and economically-elite in our society.
Let’s be clear that the status quo is not an option. Choosing to do nothing is still making a choice. We didn’t get where we are today because we have always been like this. A slippery slope of injustice has continually been tilted little by little to create a systemic avalanche. Our selective application of the judicial system and resulting immunity of the privileged class from justice is a path that our society has been following and reinforcing with time. We can either continue along the current path or we can change course. Our society will not stay the way it is today, just like our society is not the same as it was 50 years ago.
Our government is not by and for the average citizen, as it proclaims. If nothing else, this financial crisis did shine a spotlight on the degradation of our society from that of justice and liberty for all to a society of the enslaved majority who believe they are free. Although our society has been hijacked by the few, we do still have individual rights and with those we have historically-important responsibilities. It wasn’t too long ago, in the context of human history, that humanity challenged corrupt authority and introduced the concept of respect for the individual. From this was born the societal constructs of our great nation with unprecedented economic and social equality and mobility. We are the descendents of these great societal innovators and thus, the torchbearers of its future. We can choose to allow this to go down in history as a failed experiment in human society and continue following our corrupt authority or we can choose to improve upon the experiment by making the necessary structural adjustments. Rules and the enforcement of them provide the structure for society. The rules in our society have been manipulated and distorted to benefit the few at the expense of many. There are many manifestations of this unfairness in society: the elaborate networks formed between policymakers, lobbyists and associations and their donors to “buy” rules for society, the complex tax code with endless loopholes providing for dodgers, a legal system that does not uniformly apply a set of preexisting rules to everyone equally, and the paradox of useless over-regulation and tragic under-regulation. All of these manifestations develop from the primordial action of getting the right people to represent the best interests of society – our elected officials. If we start with the right people and then motivate them to behave in the best interest of society, then the entire system has a better chance of being fair.
Our political system is structured in such a way as to include money and influence as vital and integral components of the election process. Any elected official on local or national levels is required to accept money to pay for activities that will get him/her elected. Anyone who has observed human nature knows that when a person receives money from another, they are beholden to that person. Not only does the person receiving feel an obligation, but the person giving has an expectation. With this indebtedness component built into the structure, how can we expect the business of politics to be anything other than skewed towards the interests of those with money? The structure of the political system is flawed and therefore, all decisions and actions resulting from that system are flawed. We have a duty and responsibility to change the structural flaws in our political system to avoid the disappearance altogether of our rare and historic societal structure.