Crime

In news that should not actually be shocking to anyone, since a lot of this started to surface a couple of years ago during the crisis, when narcodollars provided the only liquidity in the global financial system:

Banks Financing Mexican Gangs Admitted in Wells-Fargo Deal

By the laws of neoliberal finance large pools of capital cannot be impeded in their movements, even if they come from such illegitimate sources as one of the world’s largest industries. “These criminal empires have no choice but to use the global banking system to finance their businesses,” admonishes one official, but the lesson of the article is the converse: these banks have no choice but to use criminal empires to finance their businesses. Indeed, they have incentives to do so, since “too-big-to-fail” laws protect them from prosecution. “They seem to be willing to do anything that improves their bottom line, until they’re caught.” Or even after, since share prices rose after the Wachovia indictment. This is of course the iron law of fiduciary responsibility to one’s shareholder, encoded in our legislation, in which — theoretically, formally, and in practice — share prices determine all values, including social ones. Laundering money for drug cartels may be illegal, but it is not sufficiently illegal, just as negligently drilling for oil may be illegal, but not sufficiently illegal to prevent it from being done. The logic of deterrence behind the law completely breaks down. Pay a token fine, perhaps fire a token executive, and get on with the business of business — crime. In fact “crime” may not even be an appropriate term, since nothing these companies do is against the norm or even really against the rules.

This has become apparent to me in Mexico, a place where the lines between legal and illegal, criminal and legitimate, have become completely illegible. News reports discuss criminals who “wear police uniforms,” but everyone knows that the reason the criminals wear police uniforms are because they are the police. (The same reports come from Iraq and Afghanistan, where death squads “wearing police/military uniforms” are responsible for numerous atrocities.) Just like any hired gun, they can be contracted by narcos to provide muscle for cartel operations. In some cities, police openly sell drugs. The government is implicated too: by some accounts, the violence between drug gangs maps — unevenly and chaotically — to the struggle for power between the neoliberal PAN, the old PRI party dictatorship, and any number of smaller parties jockeying for a share of the pie. That current President Felipe Calderon stole the last election is simple common sense among mexicanos, but, as is so common, and obvious after the Bush elections in the U.S., the laws are designed not to stop crime but to enable its continuation.

“For four years, Mexican authorities have been fighting a losing battle against the cartels. The police are often two steps behind the criminals,” the story bemoans, but these simple dichotomies, practically obligatory for the Manichean mentality of Americans, simply make no sense in Mexico. The distinction between law enforcement and law-breakers becomes hazy, shaky, a relic of language more than a coherent representation of reality. And so it goes for the rest of the world, whose trajectory is shaped ever more completely by a financial system fueled by crime. This is not crime in the sense of leftist “capitalism is crime” rhetoric but crime in actual fact, and under the norms that any reasonable person would recognize. And yet it is crime that cannot be punished on the rare circumstances that it is evenly known, much less openly acknowledged as in Wachovia’s case — to punish it would be to “cause panic in the financial markets,” which of course, would cause misery to us all. Multinational crime in its disregard for life, law, or morality, is the perfect embodiment of the neoliberal logic of total deregulation — neoliberalism reveals itself as crime and crime becomes neoliberal.

And so the material basis for our lives, conveniently summed up by “the economy,” runs on crime; crime is irrevocably bound up in global political economy that to cordon it off makes no sense. Forbes magazine understands since now it places cartel leaders in its list of the world’s richest individuals: the ruling class is criminal not in the sense of Marxist rhetoric, but in point of fact. And crime, whether or not we ourselves break the law, interpenetrates our lives. But this is a thought for a later post.

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