“And seeing the people in a state of such awful wickedness, and those Gadianton robbers filling the judgment seats – having usurped the power and authority of the land; laying aside the commandments of God, and not in the aright before Him; doing no justice unto the children of men; Condemning the righteous because of their righteousness; letting the wicked go unpunished because of their money….”
We’ve heard a lot about the huge and expanding gap of wealth and income between the rich and poor recently. I wrote in my last blog about Thomas Piketty’s book Capital in the 21st Century on that very subject. However, a recent book reveals the income gap is nothing compared to the justice gap.
I have always enjoyed reading stuff from Rolling Stone magazine’s investigative reporter Matt Taibbi. His writing is carefully researched, and his prose is marked by amazingly clever and biting humorous one-liners that help to make his point. His most recent book is The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap. Much has been said about how we seem to have created a system where if you are rich enough and powerful enough, you get a get-out-of-jail-free card, no matter how egregious or damaging your crimes. And make no mistake, Taibbi does not mince words in claiming that the last decade has seen one of the most significant crime waves in the nation’s history, made even worse by the fact that no one was punished.
However, the thing that just fills you with rage when reading this book is how he juxtapositions the most egregious accounts of fraud of the rich going unpunished, with heartbreaking stories about how our system of justice is filling our prisons with poor people whose crimes are orders of magnitude less severe. Taibbi introduces the book with the following:
“Over the last two decades, America has been falling deeper and deeper into a statistical mystery:
Poverty goes up. Crime goes down. The prison population doubles.
Fraud by the rich wipes out 40 percent of the world’s wealth. The rich get massively richer. No one goes to jail.”
The answer is complex, but Taibbi is blunt in blaming all of us. Our society has created a hatred of losers, of poor people, and so the bureaucracy has literally criminalized poverty. We have created a system where a huge bank can launder billions of dollars from violent global drug cartels with no one going to jail, while a poor black guy in Brooklyn can get sent to prison for “blocking traffic” by standing in front of his own apartment building. The accounts, both of the unpunished rich and the persecuted poor, are well researched and jaw-drop shocking.
At the end of the book, Matt Taibbi says something that should scare every American: “The problem is, if the law is applied unequally enough over a long enough period of time, at some point, law enforcement becomes politically illegitimate. Whole classes of arrests become (circle one) illegal, improper, morally unenforceable.
“We have to be really close to that point now. Too many of the same damning themes keep jumping out.”
The fundamentalists (and many Mormons) talk about how America is becoming so wicked we risk the judgment of God. I couldn’t agree more. But not for tolerating gays. I believe God’s judgment hangs over us for the same reason the Nephites were destroyed (see above); for our complacence in the face of the monstrous crimes Matt Taibbi documents in this book.