There's a real double standard in legal action against bad behavior by members of the 99% compared to the 1%.
A relatively small number of banks and Wall Street firms inflicted harm to the world economy on a scale that the most diabolical of terrorists could only dream of. And if someone questions the astronomical pay and benefits the executives at those corporations get, he is likely to be told such huge pay insures those executives are the cream of the crop (!) - and they have ultimate responsibility for their company. Which means it's very reasonable to hold them to blame for the devastation the rest of us are still suffering through years later.
Yet, the government has done little or nothing.
Across the country, people with teaching degrees from respected colleges are forbidden to work in their profession without a government license. This is true of many professions. At least in some states, even a manicurist is required by law to be licensed. Regardless of occupation, people are required to be licensed to drive a car, because cars can be dangerous. Clearly, "driving" a corporation can be extremely dangerous as well.
And yet, there has been no talk about the executives who caused this crisis losing professional licenses. I assume this is because executives are not currently required to have a license. If they aren't, why not? Surely, executives can cause enough harm. If executives are already required to have licenses, why don't we hear about any losing them?
Not only do they receive obscenely high incomes, but they are not expected to be subject to the same rules that apply to teachers and manicurists. It's time that our government licensed executives and made clear to them that next time they cause society serious harm they'll have to go out and get a real job that pays the salary of a teacher or manicurist.
Opponents will say licenses are unnecessary because corporations will make sure their executives meet high standards. The world economic crisis proves otherwise.
Traditionally, licensing of professionals is done by state governments. There are good reasons for the federal government to license executives of large corporations. They operate in a large number of states. These multinational corporations are capable of having a serious impact on our relations with other nations. When they cause disaster, the federal government has to take care of the mess. Fixing problems corporate executives cause is the responsibility of the federal government, so it should have the right to protect us from dangerous executives.
Even if the US Constitution does not currently permit the federal government to do professional licensing, the government could still act. State governments could still license executives. And there are ways the federal government could ensure safety from dangerous executives. Perhaps, the federal government could make the level of federal aid to states dependent on whether a state licenses executives according to rules specified by the federal government. The federal government could forbid companies from being federal contractors if their executives did not have an appropriate state license. Perhaps, the Federal Reserve could charge higher rates to corporations whose executives didn't meet standards. The federal government could make changes to the corporate tax laws – doubling the corporate tax and giving tax breaks to those corporations that met standards for their executives (so the complying corporations continued to pay what they paid prior to the changes). Where there's a will, there's a way.
Our elected officials treat executives like a special class of citizens who are exempt from the rules that apply to working people.
Reckless Corporate Irresponsibility
Corporations caused the economic crisis. Millions of people have lost their jobs (and so, many have lost medical coverage), huge numbers have lost their homes, millions have lost savings for college or retirement, federal and state and local governments are suffering from lost revenue, people who receive state and local government services are suffering from cut programs, and so on. Perhaps, nobody has died directly from this, but there can be little doubt that many deaths have indirectly resulted. There have been cuts in police, fire departments, ambulances and hospitals. People have been put under extraordinary stresses, making them more subject to medical or psychiatric issues.
I'm not claiming corporate executives said, "I'm going to make incredibly stupid business decisions in order to cause people around the country to suffer and to see how many will indirectly die as a result." But that's not crucial. At least many jurisdictions have laws criminalizing "involuntary manslaughter". Here's an example: A man parks his car on a hill. When he gets out of the car, he doesn't put on the emergency brake. While he's away, the car rolls down the hill and runs over a pedestrian. The car owner meant no harm, but he acted irresponsibly with horrible consequences. The law says he should be penalized.
Not all of today's laws against dangerously irresponsible behavior have to require someone to actually die or be injured. A driver can be stopped at a routine checkpoint – he need not have caused an accident nor have been observed driving poorly - and if his blood alcohol is above a certain level be subject to legal penalties. There are other laws that do not require use of alcohol or drugs which criminalise "reckless endangerment".
Our legal system does not hesitate to prosecute working people for poor judgment which puts others at risk - even if none are harmed. Corporations that hurt millions of individuals and our very governments are not being prosecuted.
If there are already laws worded in such a way they could define as crimes the kind of reckless corporate actions that caused the economic crisis, why haven't they been prosecuted? If existing laws are not now worded properly to cover those acts, it is time the government made laws worded in a way so such acts are subject to prosecution.
The law need not say that every executive decision that doesn't turn out as hoped is a crime. Drivers are allowed to have a certain amount of alcohol in their blood. The driver is only guilty of a crime if his blood alcohol is above a safe level. Similarly, corporate actions could have to be reckless to be treated as a crime. Today, reckless irresponsibility is a crime for the average person, but not for executives and corporations. This has proven to be a disastrous double standard by our government.