Bankstas in the Age of Money

The government’s attitude toward different professions is striking. With sports scandals, it zeros in on individuals. But when it comes to banks, federal authorities go after the institutions—when they go after anything at all. The people at the center of a financial scandal are almost never touched, and most walk away with compensation packages that would make a cable-news anchor or a talk-show host blush. In Clemens’s case, you’d think he had stolen money from widows and orphans, so fevered was the government’s wish to pin something on him. He should have gone into the true American pastime of our age: banking, a profession that actually has been clipping money from widows and orphans over the past decade. Clemens might have walked away from his troubles the way Angelo Mozilo, the former C.E.O. of Countrywide Financial Corp., did. As the man at the top of one of the principal subprime lenders responsible for the 2008 financial crisis—and a tabloid-ready poster boy for general subprime-loan quasi-criminality—Mozilo slithered away from the mess he helped create without spending a day in jail, hit with only a fine of $67.5 million, or about 10 percent of his net worth at the time.

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