Net Net: Promoting innovation and managing change
Net Net: Promoting innovation and managing change

The Government Sues the Banks: An Ancient Story

The news that the federal government is suing 17 of the biggest banks in the world for hundreds of billions of dollars no doubt has many people wondering what was the point of bailing them out with hundreds of billions of dollars.

Why sue the companies you just rescued?

There's an ancient precedent for this kind of thing. Herodotus tells us a story about a fraught sea voyage in which Xerxes, the ancient Persian king, was told by the ship's captain that they would sink unless the load was lightened. When Xerxes delivered this news to his subjects on board, many jumped into the ocean in order to save their king. It worked. The ship made it to port thanks to their sacrifice.

The captain of the ship was rewarded for saving the life of Xerxes with a golden crown. But then Xerxes ordered the captain's beheading because he has lost the lives of so many loyal Persian subjects.

It's hard to escape the impression that we've gone from crowning to beheading. The question really is when does the pursuit of justice go too far?


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