The Duplicity of Law and the Cowardice of Capitalists

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A Socialist Project e-bulletin .... No. 1461 .... August 3, 2017
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The Duplicity of Law and the Cowardice of Capitalists

Harry Glasbeek

Capitalism is ugly.

The major villains at Goldman Sachs, J.P. Morgan, Citigroup, Barclays Bank, Royal Bank of Scotland, AIG, were not impelled by any desperate need they had to meet, or by their lack of education and opportunities, the circumstances that lead the poor to commit crimes. They were acting as self-seeking, greedy, venal individuals who do not care for anyone but themselves. They were acting as capitalism expects capitalists to act. Their manipulations of financial markets led to the evictions and impoverishment of millions and ravaged sovereign states. None of the most heinous miscreants have been prosecuted for their crimes. Spineless, supposedly Rule of Law- loving governments, hid behind the slogan that... these corporations and their avaricious leaders were ‘too big to fail, too big to jail’.

The law’s shocking tolerance for the wholesale financial thievery in capitalism’s flagship nations presented capitalism’s gatekeepers with a political problem. It laid bare a central fact: there is one set of laws for capitalists and another for the rest of us. This is not to be acknowledged. Capitalism’s legitimacy depends heavily on the belief that the law is evenhanded and that capitalists, just like all other people, are subject to law. Law’s prestige derives from this evenhandedness, from its devotion to fairness. That is how it delivers justice. Vague as the ideas of fairness and justice are, once law is seen to fail to deliver on these fronts, capitalism is in danger as it stands to lose the patina of legitimacy law bestows on it. The peasants, as the self-proclaimed zillionaire Nick Hanauer warns, are then likely to bring out their "pitchforks". He wants to retain the unearned privileges capitalism bestows on him and he urges his comrades to exploit the working class a little less crassly. Exploit, but do so slyly, is the advice he and the zillionaires’ intellectual gatekeepers (Stiglitz, Krugman, Summers, Carney, Lagarde) give their fellow exploiters.

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