Interview: Wall Street, Government Roles in ‘Crime of Our Time’

Published May 24, 2010

Danny Schechter is an investigative reporter and filmmaker whose most recent documentary—Plunder: The Crime of Our Time (—characterizes Wall Street as a crime scene.

In Plunder Schechter calls for a “jail out, not a bail out” of the people and institutions responsible for the country’s economic crisis. Which people and institutions should be jailed is an open question that Heartland Institute Policy Advisor Arin Greenwood and Shechter explored in a recent episode of the The Heartland Institute’s Finance, Insurance, and Real Estate podcast.

A transcript of that interview edited for length follows. The podcast can be heard in full at

Heartland Institute: Wall Street as a crime scene. Discuss.

Danny Schechter: Well, you know you’re dealing with a financial collapse in what’s called a FIRE economy. FIRE means finance, insurance, and real estate. And these three industries, working together, often were responsible for this. Now, the normal narrative is that they made mistakes, people were deluded, their risk models were off, they thought real estate would go up when it didn’t. You know, isn’t it terrible.

My view is different. This was quite intentional in many ways. You see that there were people who had the motive and the means to engage in practices they knew were illegal. These people are too smart not to have known what they were doing. And I think the investigation of the fraud that’s taken place here and of the financial crime has yet to begin.

So to talk about this as crime, you can’t do it narrowly and just look at securities law violations. You have to look at it in a larger context. And that’s what I try to do in my film and in my companion book.

Ayn Rand in Atlas Shrugged made a similar case about how financial scammers and fraudsters and criminals undermine a free market. So this is not a left wing, right wing thing. This is a right and wrong thing. I’m trying to get my film out there to try to provoke the conversation about this.

HLI: If I understand your film correctly, you seem to suggest that lobbyists and the banks managed to deregulate a lot of things that otherwise would have been criminal. And in allowing that to happen the government became complicit.

DS: The government allowed it to happen because politicians were bought. Wall Street has had its hand all over our political system, manipulating it. Unfortunately, the media and the public didn’t really understand this.

HLI: So the complexity is really what’s allowed this to happen, you think.

DS: The complexity really adds to the darkness of the whole thing.

HLI: I hate to use the “c” word here but I have to ask: Do you think there was a conspiracy to take down the economy?

DS: I don’t think there was a conspiracy. I don’t think they wanted to take down the economy.

They wanted to make a lot of money. They wanted to benefit and profit. And they did so with such tremendous irresponsibility, lack of accountability¸ lack of transparency. I don’t think they conspired, “let’s get together and let’s destroy the economy.” But these are the unintended consequences. You start off with a deal, and you end up collectively losing $197 trillion.

I mean, that is shocking. It’s outrageous.

Here’s this situation that is a catastrophe for most Americans, and yet there’s a smugness, a business as usual attitude. And I think we’re in a situation where these people have to be held accountable and responsible, and unfortunately it doesn’t look like they will be.

HLI: I know you’re not a regulations guy, but if you could see the economy be turned around in some way that you think would be better for people, that would be more transparent, what would you like to see?

DS: The financial services industry has mounted an army of lobbyists—25 lobbyists for every member of Congress. They don’t want any change. They are trying to stop this. They are fighting a guerilla war against all change. And they have a lot of people in the press who are supporting that.

This case against Goldman Sachs, in a way, just like the thing against Bernie Madoff, is a diversion from what we’re talking about here, which is institutional crime, not simply individual mistakes.

An investigation has not really happened. There’s nobody really leading the investigation. There’s been one subpoena issued. This is nonsense. This is why I believe this is a serious problem.

You dismiss what I’m saying. You think I’m a jerk. You don’t have any idea that I know anything. Still, why not give my book a read or see my film. It’s on iTunes. It’s on On Demand systems. Decide for yourself if I’m making any sense or not.

Arin Greenwood ([email protected]) writes from Alexandria, Virginia.