This is a guest post by Patrick Emmenegger, Professor of Comparative Political Economy and Public Policy at the University of St. Gallen, as part of the Duck of Minerva’s Symposium on Structural Power and the Study of Business. This post draws on ideas developed at greater length in Emmenegger’s article found here. Links to other posts in the symposium can be found here.
The United States of America is the most powerful country in the world but when it comes to interactions with international banks, it looks surprisingly feeble – at least according to conventional wisdom. Two types of international banks seem beyond the reach of U.S. law enforcement authorities. On the one hand, some banks are primarily located in other countries and thus protected by these countries’ legal sovereignty. Absent international cooperation, these banks – although influencing international capital flows in important ways – seem beyond the reach of national law enforcement. On the other hand, the largest international banks are typically located on U.S. soil but considered to be “too big to fail.” Since their collapse could endanger the viability of the global financial system, these banks are off-limits for criminal prosecution, because history shows that criminal prosecution of such banks leads to their collapse.