In the past, I’ve formulated this argument:
In situations where your own personal good comes, not simply into contradiction with the common good, but with the possibility of other people pursuing their own personal good, a crime has been commited. For example, it’s not a crime if I catch a fish which someone else could have caught. However, if I steal the copper from all the fishing boats to sell it for cash, this is a crime. In the first case, my catching the fish means someone else can’t catch it. In the second, me catching the copper means others never get to catch fish.
Turned over towards the economic problems, this means if I make a trade which someone else could have made, this isn’t a crime. However, if I make trades which destroy the stability of the market, which make it impossible (over time) for anyone to make trades, then this is a crime.
The problem with this argument is that it is not the responsibility for people to understand how their actions impact others way down the line, but only quite immediately. In other words, if I stab someone, I’m responsible for them being hurt, but not so much for the extent of which this stabbing impacts their likelyhood to commit future crimes. (The Nuremburg trials are of course the notible exception to this rule – agression is considered the highest crime specifically because it is deemed to include all the crimes it directly and indirectly causes).
Therefore to understand responsibility in the economic crisis, we need to understand whose responsibility it is to monitor the distant, long term effects of individuals decisions. In other words, not the individuals, but the regulators. It is exactly the responsibility of regulators to set up incentive structures which prevent individuals, making selfish decisions, from destroying the possibility of anyone making any decisions at all.