U.S. bank penalties now exceed the GDP of most countries

Following the housing meltdown and the 2008 financial crisis, hardly anybody felt the slightest sympathy for the Wall Street banks that helped cause it all. But six years on, the four biggest U.S. banks alone have paid a whopping price — approaching $100 billion, according to a Yahoo Finance tally — in fines, penalties and various legal settlements. Virtually nobody responsible for the financial crisis has gone to jail, of course, and the penalties they've paid are a fraction of the damage caused by the 2008 crash. Yet the punishments may have reached the point of diminishing returns.

“The banks have turned into a bunch of zombies,” says Roy Smith, a finance professor at the NYU Stern School of Business. “They’ve hunkered down and don’t want to take any type of risk.”

The government’s campaign to punish Wall Street may finally be reaching a climactic phase. The Justice Dept. is reportedly close to negotiating a $7 billion deal with Citigroup (C) to settle allegations Citi defrauded investors by peddling mortgage-backed securities packed with bad loans, without disclosing the risk. The government is reportedly negotiating a similar settlement with Bank of America (BAC)