Big Dirty Money | Jennifer Taub

Summary of: Big Dirty Money: The Shocking Injustice and Unseen Cost of White Collar Crime
By: Jennifer Taub


In Big Dirty Money, Jennifer Taub offers a captivating glimpse into the world of white-collar criminals and the shocking repercussions of their actions. Vividly exploring high-profile cases, such as the Sackler family led opioid crisis and the financial meltdown of 2008, Taub illustrates the injustice and costs of these large-scale scams. This summary provides an overview of the harsh realities that emerge when the wealthy escape punishment and continue to thrive, while the not-so-fortunate face severe consequences. Readers can anticipate instructive discussions of how these criminal masterminds operate and the systemic failures that enable their continued success.

Corporate Crime Pays

The rich are getting richer at the expense of the public, and corporate criminals are often the beneficiaries. The Sackler family made billions from marketing OxyContin, while over 230,000 Americans died from prescription drug overdoses. Pacific Gas & Electric neglected maintenance, leading to the deadly Camp Fire, while paying out billions to shareholders. High-profile examples of larceny abound, including hedge fund manager Leon Cooperman, blood-testing firm Theranos, and WeWork co-founder Adam Neumann. Corporate crime is a lucrative business, and it’s time to hold these cheats accountable.

Injustice of the Justice System

The wealthy evade punishments while the poor suffer for the same crimes. This is evident in cases such as PG&E and GM, where those responsible for tragedies only paid a sum of money and did not face prison. Meanwhile, in the 2008 financial crisis, millions of ordinary citizens lost their homes but the leaders of banks received no punishment and even received bonuses. The justice system benefits the powerful and punishes the powerless.

The High Cost of White Collar Crime

Angelo Mozilo, former head of Countrywide Financial, made millions by selling his company’s stock while misleading the public about the quality of its mortgages. He later settled for $67 million, while his employer covered $45 million. Despite collecting a half-billion dollars in compensation in the previous decade, Mozilo faced no criminal charges. This case highlights the need for a clearer definition of white collar crime, with enforcement efforts focused on costly infractions committed by powerful players rather than small-time economic offenders.

Corporate Crime and Punishment

The book highlights how federal prosecutors were more lenient with financial crimes after the 2008 financial crisis. While many high-profile executives faced jail sentences after the savings and loan scandals of the 1980s and the corporate crime wave in the 1990s and early 2000s, very few did so after the 2008 crisis. Despite the public’s support for regulating private enterprises to protect people, the business community did not welcome it. In the aftermath of the crisis, only one Wall Street figure was pursued by US authorities, while European authorities prosecuted their citizens. Overall, the book underscores the differences in how the justice system dealt with corporate crime before and after the 2008 crisis.

Lobbying Against Prosecution

Decades of lobbying by the business community resulted in a halt in charging executives. In 1971, Lewis Powell wrote a letter titled “Attack on the American Free Enterprise System” and positioned the Chamber of Commerce to push back against the prosecution of business leaders. The Chamber became an active opponent of regulatory crackdowns on criminal executives. As the financial crisis began, the Justice Department seemed poised to ramp up prosecutions, but they suffered a setback when the defendants won acquittal. The US Justice Department found it difficult to prosecute large institutions. Therefore, major banks and their execs became “Too Big to Fail” and “Too Big to Jail.”

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