Bob Franken

Legalized Fraud

“Fraud”. One dictionary describes it as “Dishonesty calculated for advantage”. Only when it stringent burdens of proof are met does it fall to the standard of a criminal act that can result in fines and imprisonment. But manipulating those stringent requirements is what keeps many of those on the the top rungs of our financial ladder above the law. They have safe havens for people who could semantically, if not legally, be called “Frauds”.

How else do we describe the bankers who conceal business practices that sneak large sums of money from unwitting customers who are left with no choice but to use their services?

What else do we call the pharmaceutical executives who peddle their concoctions at huge profit, fully aware they are neither safe nor effective? We’re talking about the ones who coddle the doctors and obstruct the regulators to make sure they turn a blind eye toward the sometimes toxic dangers of their products.

How else do you describe the big business lobbying behemoths who dole out some of their limitless wealth to finance bogus studies for use in distorting public policy debate?

We can probably agree on a word that fits those few who get caught at it, like the poor guy at the US Chamber of Commerce, whose emails soliciting money for a phony economic analysis that would then be used to sabotage health care reform came into the possession of the Washington Post. But he doesn’t really need an insult to add to the injury he’ll suffer when his bosses get their hands on him for exposing their legalized fraud. There’s that word again.

For that matter, the “F word” probably works to characterize those who have wormed their way into the administration who are really there to make sure no meaningful change takes place.

It certainly describes the executive who nearly destroys the lives of thousands by laying them off so he can be lauded for maximizing profits and his own salary? Or is “predator” a better choice? It doesn’t matter.

What’s really sad is not only that they get away with it, but that it doesn’t really surprise any of us. It’s so pervasive, we’ve come to expect that we will be robbed blind and that there is nothing anyone can do about it.

When it comes time to try, like say, after the larcenous behavior has caused an economic collapse, the villains are able to deflect attention from what they do and prey on this country’s inbred fear of government.

They scream “socialism” at the first sign of sensible regulation that might make them legally accountable. They piously celebrate the sacred virtues of a free market that leaves them free to go right on marketing their snake oil. It helps that they’re shameless.

They’re also wealthy. We want something to trust and there are a whole lot of operators out there who have the resources to exploit our fervent desire to believe in something. So we allow them to make sure the law doesn’t punish their deceptions. We continue to be willing victims of this fraud. That is the biggest crime of all.

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