Another day, another whitewash

It doesn’t seem to matter how much the banks steal or how much fraud they commit, no one ever goes to jail:

Regulators delivered the first blow in a major investigation into whether big banks had improperly set key interest rates that affected how consumers and companies borrowed money around the world.

On Wednesday, Barclays agreed to pay $450 million to resolve accusations that it had tried to manipulate rates to benefit the bank’s own bottom line. At the height of the financial crisis, regulators say, the big British bank reported bogus figures that in some cases had influenced a benchmark for student loans, credit cards and mortgages.

The Barclays deal, struck with regulators in Washington and London and the Justice Department, caps a multiyear investigation that yielded one of the largest regulatory penalties tied to the financial crisis. The settlement is the first in a series of potential cases against other financial firms, including HSBC, Citigroup and JPMorgan Chase….

Some of the most troubling actions, regulators say, occurred between 2007 and 2009. As bank financing costs rose to new highs after the collapse of Lehman Brothers, regulators worried that firms might have submitted low interest rate figures that underpin Libor, making their financial positions look stronger. Amid speculation that the bank was struggling to raise money, Barclays’ senior management asked employees to lower the rates submitted to the Libor committee, according to the regulatory filings. Management wanted the bank’s rates in line with rivals.

The way these things are reported is always in a manner suggesting that there were some complex financial details that are hard to understand or report accurately, but the LIBOR-fixing was pretty simple. Barclays and the other banks simply reported false prices, claiming to have loaned money at higher rates and borrowed money at lower rates than they did, depending upon what served their interest at the time. Since the interest rate is determined by this activity, that activity was fraudulent and affected anyone borrowing money at that time.

An assistant attorney general says: ““For this illegal conduct, Barclays is paying a significant price.” But once more, no criminal charges. So, the message is clear. Commit all the fraud you like. Commit all the crime you want. Steal without hesitation or remorse. If you’re caught, you’ll merely be fined pennies on the dollars you stole. So when you read about the corruption in Rome and other historical societies, don’t deceive yourself into thinking that Man has progressed in any way beyond the technological. It’s no different, and in fact, as Jean-Jacques Rousseau once pointed out, the Romans abided by their own laws better than any other historical society, and far more than Americans do.