THE DIVIDE: Matt Taibbi Talks about Unequal Justice in the Age of Inequality


Back in February 2011, Matt Taibbi wrote an article for Rolling Stone titled Why Isn’t Wall Street in Jail? In his article, he said that “financial crooks” brought down the world’s economy—yet the feds were doing more to protect than prosecute them. Taibbi began his article with a story about a conversation he had with a former Senate investigator at a bar in Washington, D.C. Here’s an excerpt from Taibbi’s article:

Over drinks at a bar on a dreary, snowy night in Washington this past month, a former Senate investigator laughed as he polished off his beer.

“Everything’s fucked up, and nobody goes to jail,” he said. “That’s your whole story right there. Hell, you don’t even have to write the rest of it. Just write that.”

I put down my notebook. “Just that?”

“That’s right,” he said, signaling to the waitress for the check. “Everything’s fucked up, and nobody goes to jail. You can end the piece right there.”

Nobody goes to jail. This is the mantra of the financial-crisis era, one that saw virtually every major bank and financial company on Wall Street embroiled in obscene criminal scandals that impoverished millions and collectively destroyed hundreds of billions, in fact, trillions of dollars of the world’s wealth — and nobody went to jail. Nobody, that is, except Bernie Madoff, a flamboyant and pathological celebrity con artist, whose victims happened to be other rich and famous people.

Matt Taibbi has just published a new book titled The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap. The book questions why most white-collar criminals have been able to avoid spending time in prison since the beginning of the financial crisis…while poor people and people of color are being incarcerated on a “mass scale.” His book “explores how the Depression-level income gap between the wealthy and the poor is mirrored by a ‘justice’ gap in who is targeted for prosecution and imprisonment.”

On Democracy Now! this week, Taibbi told Amy Goodman and Aaron Maté that his new book grew out of his experience covering Wall Street—which he’s been doing since the financial meltdown in 2008. He said he saw the same thing happening over and over again—“I would cover these very complex and often very socially destructive capers committed by white-collar criminals.” He said that the punch-lines were always the same: “Nobody would get indicted; nobody went to jail.” He added that after a while, he became interested in that phenomenon…and questioned, “Why was there no enforcement of any of this?”

Taibbi said that around the time that the Occupy protests began, he decided to write a book—but shifted his focus in order to learn more about who actually gets sent to jail in this country. He added that he couldn’t really make an accurate comparison until he learned “about both sides of the equation, because it’s actually much more grotesque to consider the non-enforcement of white-collar criminals when you do consider how incredibly aggressive law enforcement is with regard to everybody else.”

Taibbi also spoke about his new book with Tom Ashbrook of On Point this week. I’ve posted a link to Taibbi’s radio interview with Ashbrook below.  NOTE: The interview lasts about 46 minutes.

Matt Taibbi On Unequal Justice In The Age Of Inequality (On Point)

Following are two videos of Taibbi talking about his new book with Amy Goodman and Aaron Maté on Democracy Now!:

Who Goes To Jail? Matt Taibbi on American Injustice Gap From Wall Street to Main Street (1/2)

Who Goes To Jail? Matt Taibbi on American Injustice Gap From Wall Street to Main Street (2/2)

Excerpt from Matt Taibbi’s book The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap:

Over the course of the last twenty years or so, America has been falling deeper and deeper into a bizarre statistical mystery.

Take in the following three pieces of information, and see if you can make them fit together.

First, violent crime has been dropping precipitously for nearly two decades. At its peak in 1991, according to FBI data, there were 758 violent crimes per 100,000 people. By 2010 that number had plunged to 425 crimes per 100,000, a drop of more than 44 percent.

The decrease covered all varieties of serious crime, from murder to assault to rape to armed robbery. The graphs depicting the decline show a long, steady downswing, one that doesn’t jump from year to year but consistently slumps from year to year.

Second: although poverty rates largely declined during the 1990s, offering at least one possible explanation for the drop in violent crime, poverty rates rose sharply during the 2000s. At the start of that decade, poverty levels hovered just above 10 percent. By 2008 they were up to 13.2 percent. By 2009 the number was 14.3 percent. By 2010, 15.3 percent.  

All this squares with what most people who lived in Middle America knew, and know, instinctively. Despite what we’re being told about a post-2008 recovery, despite what the rising stock market seems to indicate, the economy is mostly worse, real incomes are mostly declining, and money is mostly scarcer.

But throughout all this time, violent crime has gone down. It continues to decline today. Counterintuitively, more poverty has not created more crime.

The third piece of information that makes no sense is that during this same period of time, the prison population in America has exploded. In 1991 there were about one million Americans behind bars. By 2012 the number was over 2.2 million, a more than 100 percent increase.


Matt Taibbi On Unequal Justice In The Age Of Inequality: Muckraking journalist Matt Taibbi sees a huge and growing divide in the US justice system, where big money buys innocence and poverty means guilt. (On Point)

Who Goes to Jail? Matt Taibbi on American Injustice Gap from Wall Street to Main Street (Democracy Now!)

Why Isn’t Wall Street in Jail?: Financial crooks brought down the world’s economy — but the feds are doing more to protect them than to prosecute them (Rolling Stone)

This entry was posted in Crime, DOJ, Financial, Fraud, Law Enforcement, Prison, United States, Wall Street and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to THE DIVIDE: Matt Taibbi Talks about Unequal Justice in the Age of Inequality

  1. michaelbeaton says:

    Everything is connected to everything… And it is compelling to connect the corruptions detailed in this book with the notion of corruption as recently adopted by the Supreme Court, and then examine the notion of justice in light of it all… it makes for a compelling narrative.
    Basically, the essential systems of our society are systemically broken. I don’t know how this gets fixed. If it were a house that had fallen into this level of disrepair and disfunction it would be torn down.
    I truly wonder, have wondered for a long time, if the country we love and live in is actually beyond repair. It is hard to find meaningful examples that counter the weight of reporting like this.

    It is not that there are no good things going on.
    There are plenty. Only that it seems they are operating in completely disconnected spheres. Meaning that those good things have not yet encountered the corrupted system yet. When they do, they will be subsumed just as certainly as this book details. And the perpetrators will not be held accountable.
    That this lack of accountability is now being woven into the structure of our governance and society at the highest levels makes it difficult, if not impossible, to counter. At least in the short term or any specific instance.
    There are many examples of this point in the book.

    I wonder if anyone has a more rosey picture to paint after reading the book and/or listening to the interviews. I’d love to have one.

  2. Mike Spindell says:

    “I wonder if anyone has a more rosey picture to paint after reading the book and/or listening to the interviews. I’d love to have one.”

    Michael Beaton,
    I’m not one to provide a more rosy picture since I think Taibbi’s got it nailed. He is perhaps America’s greatest journalist. His dyspeptic view of this country comes not from ill disposition because personally he’s supposed to be a nice, laid back guy. The foulness of our current system and his ability to look behind the curtain of propaganda and flackery leads him to his inescapable conclusions. I personally cope with it all by struggling to remain an optimist, yet there is a siren call of despair to be fought against.

  3. Byron says:

    funny, Freakonomics says the decrease is due to abortion.

  4. Elaine M. says:


    Taibbi wasn’t always a “nice, laid back guy.” He was a wild child who took drugs. He lived in Russia for about a decade…and spent time in Mongolia playing basketball. I’ve read all of his books–including “The Exile: Sex, Drugs, and Libel in the New Russia.” He’s a great journalist who has a knack for writing about boring subjects in a way that captures and holds a reader’s attention.

  5. Tony C. says:

    Byron: I agree with Freakonomics, to my knowledge the stats and methodology hold up as the most likely explanation.

Comments are closed.