Why Dimon and Blankfein Should Envy Mikhail Khodorkovsky
NEW YORK ( TheStreet) Sometimes it pays to be a victim.
While outraged people in the U.S. clamor for the jailing of top U.S. financial executives, it is worth noting that Mikhail Khodorkovsky, once Russia's richest man, has received quite an image boost from the 10 years he has spent in prison.
It would have been hard to imagine in, say, 2006, but might U.S. business leaders like JPMorgan Chase (JPM_) CEO Jamie Dimon or Goldman Sachs (GS_) boss Lloyd Blankfein actually envy Khodorkovsky?
While Khodorkovsky almost certainly committed all kinds of crimes amid the chaos that ensued following the collapse of the Soviet Union, he is widely viewed -- and probably rightly so -- as having been singled out for punishment by Russian president Vladimir Putin because he posed a threat to Putin's power.
Now that he has received Putin's pardon, Khodorkovsky is probably better-positioned than ever to do anything he wants -- whether that means mounting a challenge to Putin's power, living a quiet life as a rich man anywhere in the world, or joining Bill Gates, Bill Clinton and Bono on the save-the-world celebrity circuit.
Meanwhile the Dimons and Blankfeins are widely hated, with regulators constantly breathing down their necks.
It seems unlikely these financial kingpins, or any of the other subprime mortgage profiteers, will ever face jail time, even though, as Judge Jed S. Rakoff of the Federal District Court in Manhattan has persuasively argued, some of them probably should.
That's largely because they, unlike Khodorkovsky, live and do business in a country where it is extraordinarily difficult to put a rich person in jail. If O.J. Simpson can kill two people with a knife and get away with it thanks to the genius of his high-priced defense lawyers, how much easier is it when your weapon of choice is a credit default swap?
If Obama were an autocrat, like Putin, on the other hand, he would have put Dimon, Blankfein and jail long ago, while subjecting financial crisis losers like Angelo Mozilo and Dick Fuld to public hanging.
Well, no: even Putin doesn't do public hangings, though it's hard to believe the former KGB leader hasn't authorized (or at least looked the other way during) an assassination or two. But we'll save a comparison of Putin's mafia state and President Obama's drone fetish for another day.
For now, let's merely take a lesson from the presumably high public approval ratings of Khodorkovsky vs. the presumably low ones of Dimon and Blankfein. It's not succinct enough for a Beatles song, but worth reflecting on nonetheless: money can't buy you love...unless you get thrown in prison by a Russian autocrat.
It's a maxim that works not only for tycoons, but could also be tweaked to include Pussy Riot: a not-so-interesting band until they got tossed into prison for performing "Punk Prayer: Mother of God Drive Putin Away," from Moscow's Christ the Savior Cathedral on Feb. 21, 2012.