Matt Stoller on toleration of corporate crime

Matt Stoller is a journalist whose specialty is business monopoly.  He is the author of Goliath: the 100-year war between monopoly power and democracy. 

In a recent interview, he talked about how much better off we Americans would be if our government simply enforced the law against rich and powerful individuals and corporations.

So I’m reading this book, Empire of Pain [by Patrick Radden Keefe], which is on the opioid crisis … … … And it’s a really fun read. It’s not just a good story, it’s actually fun.  I mean, it’s this depressing topic, but it’s actually not a depressive book, which is very hard to do.

I think it’s a really amazing story about modern America and how our economic order works.  Because it’s basically the story of heroin dealers.  The Sackler family, they made Oxycontin knowing that it was addictive, that it was very similar to heroin.  And they induced a prescription drug and then [there was a] heroin crisis.

And they knowingly did it, but they didn’t do it alone.  They did it by taking advantage of a corrupt political system.  They hired corrupt actors and they also corrupted others.

They corrupted the FDA.  They hired Mary Jo White, who you and I know well as Obama’s SEC chair, but she was working for the Sacklers in the mid- 2000s as was Rudy Giuliani, Eric Holder.

There were some Virginia federal prosecutors who had the Sacklers dead to rights probably with felony charges, mail fraud, wire fraud, so on and so forth.  And they were going to bring those charges against the executives at the firm and then they were going to flip to the Sackler family themselves.

How you flip the mob, you start with the mid-level guys and then you go the way up. They were going to do that.

And Mary Jo White actually went over their heads, went to the political people and got them off the case basically. … … …

And just kind of at every stage, Mary Jo White has been helping really the bad guys here. … … …

This happened in lots of different ways. McKinsey was helping them. I mean, we know this. They funded lots of think tanks in DC.  We know why we have a heroin epidemic and it’s not because people just like drugs.

It’s because we allowed the Sackler family to turn our doctors into pill pushers.  And we did it by allowing them to corrupt our politics.  And these are people who should be in jail.

And people like Mary Jo White should be in jail. And the McKinsey consultants who helped set up this heroin epidemic should be in jail, but they’re not. 

And it’s because we have a broad crisis with the rule of law as applied to the powerful.

We also have one as applied to the powerless.  You’re seeing a lot of protests around that.  But we have one, I think, that’s unacknowledged that I think is more serious.  Maybe not more serious, but is linked intimately with the way that we enforce the law against the powerless.

The mirror image is how we don’t enforce it against the powerful.  And I’m talking about corporate CEOs and billionaires and the legal elites like Mary Jo White.

And that’s a crisis for our society.  It’s something that you and I saw since the financial crisis.  No one went to jail for the financial crisis.

I think it started a little bit before that. I think 2005 or ‘6 is when it kind of really got bad. In America you always had two systems of justice, but it’s particularly bad right now.

So it’s just like if you commit fraud, if you murder people, as long as you do it with a spreadsheet, you get a bonus instead of a jail sentence.

And I think that’s a crisis. It is also the crisis that we’re dealing with, with big tech. … … …

Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook, they have been caught for fraud multiple times, lying to advertisers, lying to publishers knowingly to induce more spending on Facebook. There are multiple consent decrees with the Federal Trade Commission.

It’s similar with the other firms as well. They routinely lie, commit perjury and whatnot. 

And that’s kind of like a legacy of this policy framework and ideological framework that we inherited from the Bush administration and the Obama administration of simply not enforcing the rule of law against the powerful.

So that’s I think the dynamic that we’re dealing with today and it’s across every sector of the economy, right? It’s not just opioids, it’s not just big tech, it’s kind of everywhere.

And what this does is two things. When you have effectively lawlessness for white collar elites, it penalizes honest business people who cannot compete when they’re not willing to lie, steal and cheat.

If the other guy’s allowed to lie, steal and cheat and you don’t want to do that, you lose, right?  So it undermines honest business.

And then it also creates a situation where criminals become the pinnacle of society. And I think we saw that with Trump … … …

Cy Vance was the DA of Manhattan, a Democrat.  He had them [the Trump family] dead to rights on real estate fraud years ago, way before he was kind of in politics. … … … Trump’s lawyer gave Cy Vance campaign money and Cy Vance didn’t bring the case.

And so if he had just brought that case, if he had said, this is a criminal act to defraud people of their money, Trump wouldn’t have been in politics, right?  But because he didn’t, Trump was in politics.


BIG by Matt Stoller.  His Substack blog.

‘A Society Designed to Incentivize Criminal Behavior at the Highest Level, the full text of the interview.

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