In the US as most everyone knows inequality is pretty extreme. We've become much more unequal during the last 30 years. The right wing tells us we shouldn't be concerned. These are the incentives that lead the Horatio Alger's to pull themselves up by their own boostraps and make something of themselves. True enough, fear of poverty probably does drive a lot of people to succeed financially. But let's not forget the downside. Inequality has a huge effect on the way justice is administered.
Aaron Schwartz probably committed a crime when he downloaded scholarly articles in an effort to make them available to the poor so that the knowledge might improve their condition. OK, it's a crime, and if the justice system wants to punish him for it I guess I think that would be wrong, but whatever. Fine him and let's move on. Well, it didn't work that way. He was looking at 35 years in prison for it. This for a crime that the victims (JSTOR, who he took the articles from) didn't think he should be punished. Ultimately Schwartz committed suicide and his parents tell us basically the prosecutors pursuing this kind of sentencing drove him to it.
That's justice for one rung of our society. What is it for bankers? Our banking system crashed our economy and the economy of most of the world by doing a combination of legal and illegal things. They got super rich doing it. The rest paid the price. In this excellent Frontline documentary we learn about how the Obama justice department simply shielded top level banking executives from justice. Even Reagan prosecuted upper level officials during the Savings and Loan crisis, which caused less damage. Even that limited justice is a thing of the past. Notice via Greenwald that the Obama administration is livid that any media outlet would do actual journalism and investigate it's abuses, so they've vowed to never work with Frontline again, which is all the more reason PBS needs our support.
More recently HSBC was revealed to have been laundering money for terrorist organizations. The consequence? They paid a fine and moved on. Is that supposed to be a disincentive? If I engage in massive crimes but the company I work for has to pay the consequences, what do I care?
But this is exactly what you should expect in a country as unequal as the US and I suppose that's pretty much what you get in other countries that have similar levels of inequality. Martin Luther King said that peace is not merely the absence of war but the presence of justice. Justice shouldn't be expected in our country, and so we aren't surprised that it isn't present. Of course this has been going on for a long time. There's a reason half the prison population is black even though their crime rates aren't much different from the rest of the population. But we can see that it gets continually more extreme. For the rich laundering money for terrorists or crashing the world economy doesn't even merit a slap on the wrist. Sharing knowledge with the poor which was paid for a public expense? For that you get 35 years.