I was watching Batman Begins last night, and I was struck by how the Nolan Batman scenario doesn’t really fit with the current American criminal landscape, but how it could with only a few tweaks.

Briefly, the situation is that Gotham City is portrayed as a third-world kleptocracy. The police, prosecutors, and judges are ineffective and corrupt, and so thieves, bank robbers, murderers, etc., run free while ordinary people are constantly paying bribes to carry out business. Batman comes along and makes some examples of top level criminals, and because no one knows who he is the corrupt elite can’t kill him or buy him off, so bad elites are weakened while good ones are emboldened, starting a self-sustaining cycle of good governance.

The problem is that American cities aren’t really like this. That kind of theft and violent crime is at historic lows and falling. However, what we do have is a galloping epidemic of unpunished financial crime. Big banks have been caught time and again ripping off the American people by the millions, and at most a few low level flunkies go to jail, while the bank pays some trivial fine and promises not to do it again. For obvious reasons, they immediately do it again.

This seems like a ripe opportunity for some caped vigilante to provide some negative incentives for financial lawbreaking. He’d need some crack investigators to sort through the financial squid ink, but Bruce Wayne has the resources to hire a squad of disaffected Wall Street engineers, while Batman could give some thrashings to thieving bankers. (And because they’re bankers he wouldn’t even have to be that fit.) Then with the evidence gathered from electronic wizardry, he could tip off the SEC and the press. Repeat as necessary.

Interestingly, the new Batman (trailer above) has hints of this.

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Ryan Cooper

Follow Ryan on Twitter @ryanlcooper. Ryan Cooper is a national correspondent at The Week. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, The New Republic, and The Nation.