The Impunity Trap

NEW YORK – Ours is a world of impunity. Allegations of corruption swarmed around FIFA for decades, culminating in indictments of current and former officials last week. Yet FIFA President Sepp Blatter was re-elected four times, including after the indictments were filed. Yes, Blatter has finally resigned, but only after he and dozens of Federation members once again showed their scorn for honesty and the law.

We see this kind of behavior all over the world. Consider Wall Street. In 2013 and 2014, JPMorgan Chase paid more than $20 billion in fines for financial malfeasance; yet the CEO took home $20 million in compensation in both 2014 and 2015. Or consider corruption scandals in Brazil, Spain, and many other countries, where governments remain in power even after high-level corruption within the ruling party has been exposed.

The ability of those who wield great public and private power to flout the law and ethical norms for personal gain is one of the more glaring manifestations of inequality. The poor get life sentences for petty crimes, while bankers who fleece the public of billions get invitations to White House state dinners. A famous ditty from medieval England shows that this is not a new phenomenon:

The law locks up the man or woman
Who steals the goose off the common
But leaves the greater villain loose
Who steals the common from the goose.