Audiobook Review: Big Dirty Money by Jennifer Taub

How ordinary Americans suffer when the rich and powerful break the law to get richer and more powerful–and how we can stop it.

There is an elite crime spree happening in America, and the privileged perps are getting away with it. Selling loose cigarettes on a city sidewalk can lead to a choke-hold arrest, and death, if you are not among the top 1%. But if you’re rich and commit mail, wire, or bank fraud, embezzle pension funds, lie in court, obstruct justice, bribe a public official, launder money, or cheat on your taxes, you’re likely to get off scot-free (or even win an election). When caught and convicted, such as for bribing their kids’ way into college, high-class criminals make brief stops in minimum security “Club Fed” camps. Operate the scam from the executive suite of a giant corporation, and you can prosper with impunity. Consider Wells Fargo & Co. Pressured by management, employees at the bank opened more than three million bank and credit card accounts without customer consent, and charged late fees and penalties to account holders. When CEO John Stumpf resigned in “shame,” the board of directors granted him a $134 million golden parachute.

This is not victimless crime. Big Dirty Money details the scandalously common and concrete ways that ordinary Americans suffer when the well-heeled use white collar crime to gain and sustain wealth, social status, and political influence. Profiteers caused the mortgage meltdown and the prescription opioid crisis, they’ve evaded taxes and deprived communities of public funds for education, public health, and infrastructure. Taub goes beyond the headlines (of which there is no shortage) to track how we got here (essentially a post-Enron failure of prosecutorial muscle, the growth of “too big to jail” syndrome, and a developing implicit immunity of the upper class) and pose solutions that can help catch and convict offenders. 

I got to know about this book because I think I saw the author comment on Twitter about it during some conversation about 45’s corruption and if they’ll ever face consequences. I immediately decided to get it from the library and it was so eye opening.

The one overarching feeling you are left with after reading this book is rage. Rage at the wealthy corporate executives who use corrupt and unethical practices to maximize their profits while screwing over the lives of millions of normal people, while also getting away with a slap on the wrist or no consequences at all. The other feeling of rage is against the politicians who create such laws favoring corporates and prevent them from being punished, just to preserve their donor class. It’s absolutely horrifying to read and after seeing so many instances of powerful people getting away with just about anything, the chances of any convictions for the corrupt members of the outgoing administration seem very bleak.

But the book ends on a small hope. The author lists down the things that even we normal and usually powerless people can do to nudge our politicians to write better laws and ensure that the existing ones treat everyone equally before it. It doesn’t seem like an easy path forward but unless something is done to get money out of politics and to reduce the influence of corporate lobbyists on the writing of new laws, the situation is only gonna get worse.

In conclusion, this was a very interesting book to read and you should especially pick it up when you are ready to read something that’ll make you angry. I think what also works in its favor is that the author never shies away from giving her opinion about how despicable these massive frauds by powerful people are, and this natural outrage of the author is even more evident in the audiobook. I learnt a lot and I hope you will too… highly recommend.

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