Why Corrupt Bankers Avoid Jail

Numerous explanations have been offered for the failure of the Obama Justice Department to hold the big banks accountable: corporate lobbying in Washington, appeals-court rulings that tightened the definitions of certain types of corporate crime, the redirecting of investigative resources after 9/11. But Eisinger homes in on a subtler factor: the professional psychology of élite federal prosecutors. “The Chickenshit Club” is about a specific vocational temperament.

You might suppose that the glory of convicting a blue-chip C.E.O. would be irresistible. But taking such a case to trial entails serious risk. In contemporary corporations, the decision-making process is so diffuse that it can be difficult to establish criminal culpability beyond a reasonable doubt.

Lose a white-collar criminal trial and you become a symbol of prosecutorial overreach. You might even set back the cause of corporate accountability. Plus, you’ll have a ding on your record.