This article in the Huffington Post about how Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner is pushing the state attorneys general to quickly as possible “bring to bed” their investigations of the wide-scale systematic violations of law by the nation’s largest financial institutions is a great reminder that, in America, there is a very important theft-to-punishment inflection point for the super rich and powerful. As demonstrated in this graph:
When you steal things of minor value, the value of what you stole is correlated with the level of punishment you receive. Shoplifting a candy bar is going to result in less punishment than stealing a car.
At some point, you steal enough to basically reach the punishment limit, which is the flat part in the graph. You will likely get the same amount of jail time if you steal $3 million or $6 million.
Eventually, though, if you systematically break the law to steal such an absurdly large amount of money for a long enough time that you become so politically powerful and integral to the entire economy, you hit the magical theft inflection point. It is the amount at which you become too big to jail and, as you can see from the graph, accountability just drops off a cliff.