The 2008 subprime mortgage crisis cost nearly ten million Americans their homes, stripped more than two trillion dollars from retirement assets, and threw nine million people into unemployment. Banking deregulation and reckless business practices played a significant role in building this financial time bomb, but so did fraud at multiple levels of the housing market, from lenders to ratings agencies.
Numerous whistleblowers came forward to report corporate misdeeds, and the Department of Justice, then led by Attorney General Eric Holder, conducted several investigations. Almost all of them resulted in the same outcome: The companies under scrutiny agreed to pay large fines and settlements, and the federal government agreed to drop any civil or criminal cases that would have exposed (and possibly imprisoned) specific bad actors. Despite all the chaos and damage wrought by this system, only one banker ever served time because of his role in the subprime crisis.
Why did the highest levels of law enforcement favor settlements over prosecutions? There’s no single answer. A pragmatist would argue that settlement’s more efficient than hoping to convince a jury to appreciate the finer points of mortgage disclosure requirements. A cynic would insist the politically powerful don’t want to cut off potential campaign donors. Both can be right, but we are here to answer a question that has nothing to do with prosecutorial discretion or burdens of proof: How come Batman didn’t go after any of these dickweeds?
I mean, it’s not like Batman’s terribly concerned with things like the admissibility of evidence, or civil liberties, or conviction rates. When the mob is untouchable in Gotham because they’ve paid off the cops, prosecutors, and judges, Batman steps in. Serving as the guardian of justice when traditional mechanisms have broken down is his whole raison de bâtre.
So, I ask again: Why didn’t Batman sneak into JPMorgan one rainy night and dangle Jamie Dimon out of a conference room window until he promised to, I don’t know, stop being Jamie Dimon? It’s not like these guys are scarier than the supervillains Batman usually faces. “YOU KNEW YOU WERE PACKAGING LOANS BASED ON FALSIFIED BORROWER INCOME” isn’t super growlable, granted, but the stakes were certainly high enough for the Dark Knight to take interest! Weren’t they?
Well, the mortgage industry’s pretty complex, and that’s before you get into secondary markets like collateralized debt obligations. Listen, Batman is the World’s Greatest Detective. He says so himself!
Are you really gonna tell me that Elizabeth Warren – operating without the benefit of even one stylized boomerang that can home in on her enemies and knock them unconscious – figured all of this out, but Batman’s too clueless when confronted with a spreadsheet to see what was going on?
So if Batman was both unencumbered by prosecutorial red tape and capable of understanding the crimes that had been perpetrated, there are only two remaining explanations for his inaction.
One: Batman chose not to confront fellow members of the super-rich, proving once again that power protects itself above all else. A tempting theory, though not really consistent with Batman’s history; he regularly pursues villains with plenty of wealth. Sure, Batman will cheerfully break some henchman’s legs even though the guy’s probably pulling down $37,000 a year tops (and it’s not like working for the Joker comes with employer-provided health insurance), but net worth alone won’t save you from Bat-wrath.
Two: Bruce Wayne knows his riches rely, in part, on the very financial schemes he would be punishing. Wayne Industries is a diversified company, so it almost certainly had at least a few million invested in the housing market. And because Wayne’s a more important client than, say, a single mom who was assured it was fine to buy a house with no down payment and finance the purchase with a balloon mortgage, his company likely got a quiet heads-up to move some of that money around before the market crashed.
If Batman were to force the banks to open their books to public scrutiny, that would draw attention to Wayne Industries finances. And if the wrong people started digging into Wayne Industries’ finances, they might reveal the money river that keeps Batman’s operations going. That, in turn, would risk exposing Batman’s true identity.
That’s why Batman didn’t do shit after the world economy collapsed in 2008. Because he benefited personally from the fraud that poisoned the housing market, Batman has effectively blackmailed himself from ever stepping in to punish the perpetrators.