THE BLOG
11/16/2014 01:31 pm ET Updated Jan 14, 2015

Ah, Yet Another Meaningless Corporate Fine

Apparently corporations can now exercise their religious beliefs and have free speech rights capable of affecting the outcome of elections, but until they can be put in a cell and made to work in the prison laundry, one or more persons must be punished for their crimes. The New York Times (11/13/14) reports that: "Big Banks Are Fined $4.25 Billion for Currency Rigging." I have frequently and reluctantly borrowed from the NRA: Corporations don't commit crimes; people commit crimes. According to the Times the banks "joined forces and shared information to 'double team' their clients and manipulate currency rates," but "the fines pose no risk to the health of the banks that settled." Surprise! Surprise! The frequency of these fines and their ever larger amounts indicate that they do not serve to deter. Those persons actually committing the crimes continue in their employment and probably receive raises and bonuses. The stockholders -- many of whom did not own the stock at the time of wrongdoing -- in effect, pay the fines. Ultimately the banks will find a way to pass the fines on to the consumer -- their customers.

True, no one was physically harmed or killed by this conduct as in many other instances in which the responsible corporate executives escape indictment and punishment. The perception, buttressed by the facts, is that somehow corporate executives of major corporations get a pass when it comes to individual criminal responsibility. These crimes are envisioned, created and carried out by people -- not by some mechanical, uncontrollable and faceless mechanical giant. Compare the fate of 5 black executives of a small corporation indicted, convicted and now serving sentences as long as 11 years basically for saying that they could pay their corporate bills and finding that they could not.

The public has this view, rightfully so, that corporations guilty of killing people, harming them or depriving them of their hard-earned money reach into their petty cash drawers to pay these fines -- no matter how large -- while gleefully going right on doing the conduct for which they were fined. This pervasive criminal conduct can no longer merely be the cost of doing business -- freedom of the guilty corporate executives must be the cost. Fines are what you pay for over-time parking -- not for major corporate criminal activity which kills, harms or steals from people.