In an insightful song about outlaws, Woody Guthrie wrote this verse: “As through this world I travel/I see lots of funny men/Some’ll rob you with a six-gun/Some with a fountain pen.”
The fountain pens are doing the serious stealing these days. For example, while you would get hard time in prison for robbing a bank at gunpoint, bankers who rob customers with a flick of their fountain pens (or a click of their computer mouse) get multimillion-dollar payouts. They usually escape their crimes unpunished… but not unscathed. After all, it’s their constant, egregious, gluttonous thievery that has made “banker” a four-letter word in America, synonymous with immoral, self-serving behavior.
For example, Wells Fargo, our country’s biggest consumer bank, has gotten away with paying some fines for stealing millions of dollars from customers in its notorious “fake accounts” scheme — but it has not escaped the wrath of the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia. This feisty order of nuns, which holds a block of Wells Fargo stock, has been embarrassed and are infuriated by the rank immorality of their bank’s executives. They are pushing a shareholders’ proposal demanding a full accounting of the “root causes” of the malicious fraud perpetrated on vulnerable depositors. Unsurprisingly, the bank’s aloof and arrogant board of directors, which had silently presided over the fraud for years, opposes any such meaningful probe.
Such recalcitrance only intensifies the public’s outrage and cynicism toward out-of-control banksters. But the giant worries less about its public image than it does about the reality an in-depth investigation would expose — namely that our nation’s dominant banks have not only become too big to fail and too big to jail, but too big to manage and control. To stop that thievery, they must be broken up.
This opinion column does not necessarily reflect the views of Boulder Weekly.