In truth, if British authorities were themselves more vigilant, the LIBOR mess wouldn’t have festered on for so long in the first place; a little-noted institutional side benefit of these nine-figure immunity deals that regulators so routinely cut with prosecution targets is that they insulate both the banks and their lax regulatory stewards from unwelcome public scrutiny. But even so, the public outrage stoking the British inquiries makes for an instructive contrast with America’s largely fatalist outlook on financial malfeasance. As Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osbourne announced in a recent speech on the LIBOR scandal before Parliament, “Fraud is a crime in ordinary business—why shouldn’t it be so in banking?”
Why, indeed? In the United States, the long-hapless Commodities Futures Trading Commission has been conducting its own years-long inquiry into LIBOR-fixing and has a grand jury reviewing potential criminal charges. But as Mr. Diamond well knows, these official investigations have a distinctly Potemkin feel in the States: At most, a fine is assessed, and a plea deal entered. Nothing as gauche as an actual criminal prosecution ever dogs our scandal-plagued investment class, even though maximum-minimum sentences are standard fare in most jurisdictions when nonaffluent citizens commit their own repeat offenses, or run afoul of our draconian drug wars."