The four banks listed in the infographic below – CitiGroup, Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, and Wells Fargo – have received nearly $93 billion in taxpayer funds ($92,849,517,353 to be exact) since the bailouts began in 2008.
While they make up a small percentage of the 940 bailout recipients which have, to date, received $611 billion dollars from American taxpayers, they represent a significant chunk of those funds. More importantly, their acquisition trajectories represent the consolidation of major banking institutions in America which have made them "too-big-to-fail," or so we've been told.
The graphic above is not a statistical representation, as it does not display the relative sizes of those banks acquired, nor does it indicate which banks disappeared as a result of forced acquisitions. However, it does visually represent how banking institutions in this country are capable of not just dictating regulatory practices with their undeniable influence and size, but are able to get away with holding the country hostage after those criminal and unethical activities which brought our nation's economy to its knees and is serving to widen growing inequalities in America.
Regarding that latter point, income inequality is higher than its been since 1928, which is partly responsible for a crushing wealth gap in which the bottom 60 percent of Americans own only 3.5 percent of the country's wealth. We have a shrinking middle class with disappearing disposable incomes and an increasing number of Americans with no disposable incomes to speak of. Over 46 million Americans are below the poverty line, many of whom are employed but finding that "hard work is just not enough" anymore.
This is at a time in which behemoth financial institutions are getting larger, consolidating more and more wealth, and being not just financially protected by that consolidation – vacuuming up taxpayer funds from a drowning citizenry – but being legally protected as well.
In 2013, Eric Holder admitted that global financial institutions in the U.S. and abroad have become so large as to be above the law. This truth came into stark focus when the British bank HSBC, which does significant business in America, was neither shut down in the U.S. nor pursued with criminal charges after it admitted to laundering billions of dollars for Mexican drug cartels.
This and other criminal activities by those in the banking industry and on Wall Street prompted Elizabeth Warren to say two days ago:
A kid gets caught with a few ounces of pot and goes to jail, but a big bank breaks the law ... and no one even gets arrested.Yes, they are shielded from the law. However, they have also been responsible for writing (or underwriting) our regulatory and financial laws which have propped up banks such as BoA, which has illegally defrauded its customers, and whose subprime lender, Countrywide, engaged in widespread mortgage fraud with BoA's knowledge.
Which brings us back to the beginning. The richest in our country continue to consolidate and grow their wealth as an increasing number of Americans slide into poverty or out of the middle class. And the consolidation of financial institutions into behemoth entities don't just symbolize what is happening, they are organically at the root of the problem.
If America has truly become an oligarchy, then the infographic above could be considered one of its banners. It is a banner which will continue to wave, I fear, until we hit a breaking point.
Where that point is, I do not know, nor do I know what the popular response will be when it is reached. However, one thing is certain: our current course will not be able to sustain itself without this country falling apart.
Perhaps that's what it will take.
David Harris-Gershon is author of the memoir What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife?, just out from Oneworld Publications.