Home / Some Ideas for Improving the Integrity of the Wealthy — and the Financial Moguls in Particular

Some Ideas for Improving the Integrity of the Wealthy — and the Financial Moguls in Particular

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Give a rich man a thousand-dollar fine, and you don't impoverish him at all. Give a working-class stiff a thousand-dollar fine, and he might not be able to put food on the table. Not only that, but if a man who breaks the law doesn't feel the sting of justice, is the negative reinforcement of the law really effective? No.

I once read that one of Deng Xiaoping's slogans for China in the 1990's was "To get rich is glorious." I also read that in China, there is a saying that goes something like, "Why should one get rich if they have to abide by the same laws as everyone else?" Yes, this has been the attitude of the wealthy since time immemorial, but it doesn't have to be. We can get them to face the same weight of the law that the rest of us face without acting like a communist state, and I think it would do them — and America as a whole — a world of good.

So here's a few thoughts on how to bring some sanity to the wealthy, and particularly to the financial moguls whose misdeeds have brought the nation — and the world — to the brink of another Great Depression:

1) If a man is to face court-ordered legal fines, instead of the fine being within a set range of dollar amounts, let the fine be a certain percentage of that man's reported income for the previous year. In this way, all are truly the same before the law (including right-wing talk-show pundits AND left-wing movie stars). For instance, a 1% fine of annual income for reckless driving would result in a $1000 fine for those who make $100,000/year (which ain't what it used to be)…and would result in a $1,000,000 fine for someone who made $100,000,000 the previous year (which would certainly help the state coffers). Yes, the moneyed would fight like hell – but sooner or later they would learn that it's a LOT less expensive to obey the laws like the rest of us do.

2) If someone is convicted of knowingly committing financial fraud, then take the amount of jail time that he would normally spend for defrauding one person or one family and multiply that by the number of people or families he actually defrauded. After all, one might get ten years for defrauding a family out of their life savings, but is the punishment proportionally more for costing tens of thousands of families to lose their life savings? Of course it isn't — but it should be. One can only dream of how long the Enron execs would have been sentenced to…and how such a sentence would have gotten the rapt attention of the financial sector….

3) Let the states start their own credit-card companies and credit unions, and limit the highest interest rate to something more sensible than the legal usury that the credit card companies now charge. For instance, if California — which is currently in deep, deep financial kimchee — operated a credit-card company that would NOT charge over, say, 15% (bad credit risks would simply be handed off to collection agencies, of course), and would NOT increase the interest rate for any reason save failure to make payments on time, AND would be required to operate with complete transparency…this would bring some serious competition to the existing credit-card companies who would otherwise fight tooth-and-nail against legislation imposing the same such limits as the above proposed for the as-yet nonexistent CA credit card company. There's bound to be a great outcry among the conservatives, but I think that just as UPS and FedEx decided they could compete against the Postal Service, it would be turn-about's-fair-play for the states to go into business too (but ONLY under strictly-enforced guidelines).

4) Let the deliberate failure to pay taxes be equivalent to defrauding a person or a family of the same amount of money – in other words, the individual is defrauding the American government…and America is NOT the government, but the people – thus taking the approach that refusing to pay the IRS is NOT a 'victimless crime,' but tantamount to defrauding an entire nation. Looking at #2 above, a CEO's refusal to pay taxes could land that CEO in jail for a very long time. Of course, the same would apply to sports figures and left-wing movie stars (and appointees to presidential cabinet positions).

5) If an organization knowingly refuses to abide by federal, state, or local laws (or knowingly allows its people to do so), that organization should face very hefty fines…with the possibility — given a continued refusal to obey the law — of facing complete governmental takeover, after which the government would auction the company off to the highest bidder. The RICO act largely provides for this (I think, but I could easily be wrong)…but why can't this apply to, say, Major League Baseball which has knowingly allowed its players to continue using illegal steroids? And why, given such corruption in its ranks, do we continue to allow them to be exempt from the Sherman Anti-Trust Act?

Of course the above suggestions — particularly the last one — can be taken too far, and will certainly enrich the legal profession by the plethora of lawsuits and legal fights sure to follow. However, if those who have hundreds of millions of dollars KNEW that they would face the same disaster that one of us little people would face for committing the same crime, you'd see them whine, moan, complain, yell to the mountaintops and on every media outlet in existence…but they'd soon learn to obey the law like the rest of us and set FAR better examples for our children.

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About Glenn Contrarian

White. Male. Raised in the deepest of the Deep South. Retired Navy. Strong Christian. Proud Liberal. Thus, Contrarian!
  • bliffle

    Good article, and a very topical subject.

    Victor Hugo observed that “the law, in all it’s majesty, declares that rich man and poor man alike are prohibited from sleeping under bridges”.

    You’ve pointed out some of the fixed expenses that discriminate in favor of the rich, but there’s more. In particular, the rich set national economic policy that favors them while they create the belief that everyone shares the same interest. But it is not true.

    For example, the national economic policy of the USA is to control and limit “inflation”. But why? Who benefits most from this policy? Why do we all nod our heads in agreement with this policy?

    If you talk to rich people who have large disposable moneys you will discover that they are terrified of inflation. They constantly see inflation as a threat to their nut, their net worth. For good reason, if they do nothing (put the money in the mattress) the nut decreases directly with inflation. Even if they have underperforming investments they will see a decrease in real value against inflation.

    Imagine that you had a million dollars cash, wouldn’t you rather that the nation experiences DEFLATION and every one of your dollars increases in value therefore?

    And, conversely, wouldn’t you dread that inflation would reduce the spending value of each of your dollars?

    Thus, with all that money to be responsible for, you’d have to find investments that would at least match inflation. That would require lots of work to research and study and it would require taking risks that might diminish your nut!

    This is the problem that every lottery winner must confront, and every person who inherits a large fortune. It’s simply hard risky work to protect your investment.

    Wouldn’t it be better if inflation were controlled so that you knew that next week your net worth would not have deteriorated?

    Thus it is that the rich favor restraining inflation, perhaps even encouraging deflation!

    By contrast, look at the typical American family, which has little in real assets, but has a house with a substantial mortgage. But we buy those houses even so because the interest is deductable, AND because we expect inflation to increase the value of the house so that we will harvest a large capital gain someday. This will be the biggest investment gain that most of us will ever have an opportunity to harvest.

    So inflation works in our favor because we are net debtors.

    “Viva le inflation” should be our cheer!

    But pesistent propaganda from the press owned by people with large net worths have dulled our minds and convinced us to go against our own interests.

    But there’s a really evil twist to all this, too.

    Our rulers want to spend lots of money on expensive gifts to themselves and they want to fight expensive foreign wars to accumulate more wealth. Very costly. So what they do is spend the money, that’s fiscal expense, and then suppress the natural inflationary effect of spending more than we have, by controlling interest rates, that’s monetary policy.

    Controlling inflation with monetary policy works – for a while. But it’s really only a bridge technique, it can’t go on forever. It’s just a finger in the dike, because you haven’t done anything to solve fiscal distortions, which is where the real health of the economy is.

    Eventually the dam will burst and you’ll be flooded by inflation. We WILL have an inflationary crisis. Tremendous inflation.

    Won’t that be bad for even the rich? No, and here’s why. Because the artificially induced non-inflation (such as we have right now) will cause weak players to fail and their investments to shake out as their mortgages fail. It’s a form of BigTime investors technique called “shaking out the fleas” by which they kill small investors and steal their money. You won’t find that written up in any of those $40 investment books you can buy at Barnes and Noble, but it exists, and, in it’s various forms, is one of the most powerful and highest yield techniques possible.

    When the little guys who have so little capital that they can’t stay in the game fail, the big guys swoop in and grab the assets.

    It’s just like poker: given about equal skills, the guy with the biggest bankroll will win everything. Mathematicians call it a ‘non-ergodic’ process.

    So, by controlling inflation the big guys cause the little guys to fail, the big guys grab the assets (say, houses), and then, finally, the dam bursts and a wave of inflation makes them even richer.

    Ha ha on you, sucker!

    So how much money do you think this is worth? Well, lets say that 1 million homeowners suffer capital losses of $100,000 each, either thru loss on a foreclosed house or comparable-worth loss in a down market, that’s about $100billion. Not bad. A few years of that makes this whipsaw routine worthwhile.

  • Glenn,

    Read some of John Locke, too – the presumed ideological father of our present political system. Wealth and property were not supposed to exceed what one could possibly use; and if it did, it was against the Natural Law to the extent that it deprived others of their rights to subsistence. Locke believed in the common/pubic good – it being an obligation of all, including the sovereign, to make certain that no one will be lacking.

    A far cry from the rabid proponents (who shall remain nameless) of all those who espouse the freedom for persons to enrich themselves beyond all bounds. Talking about perfidy and bad faith. It’s precisely on these, philosophical grounds, on fundamentals, that you’ve got to fight your fight and destroy them all like the worthless worms they are – too despicable to wear an epithet of a human.

    But that’s only my humble opinion.

  • Maurice

    Glenn – great article. Supposedly we are all created equal. Our government should treat all citizens equally and proportionally.

    Here are my additions to your list:

    1) All citizens should pay the same percentage in income tax. You tell me what the number is but is should be one number and ALL should pay.

    2) All laws should apply to all citizens. In other words if the government is going to pay one person to not grow pigs they have to pay all to not grow pigs.

    Thanks for an inspiring article.

  • Cannonshop

    #3 Agreed on all points.

    #2 Bliffle, Inflation has eaten what I make down to where it was when I was new at the job and had zero skills, Inflation HURTS the POOR and the WORKING more than it hurts the Rich, who tend just to get richer and richer regardless, people whose lifestyles remain “Super-rich” even while the rest of us are working overtime to afford what we used to be able to afford on “Straight time”.

    The only people it HELPS are the tax-fattened hyenas whose wages rise with the cost of living because they can increase the taxation to cover it, and the ass-monkeys who deliberately get into debt to live beyond their means.

  • I so agree. Unfortunately, how can we get the laws to change, when all of our legislators are millionaires?

  • Glenn,

    I think the title of your article is a misnomer. None of the measures you’re proposing would even in the least affect or improve “the integrity of the rich.” (With some notable exceptions of course, the phrase is an oxymoron.)

    Personally, I don’t think that progressive application of the laws (in terms of a sliding scale) is a good idea. And my logic here is based on a similar objection to what I call “hate crimes,” which, as you know, carry an escalated sentence if and when it’s established that “hate” was one of the factors.

    I understand, of course, the reasoning behind such a legislation – to institute preventative measures – but in my opinion this thinking perverts the law. There must be other means of eliminating hatred and ignorance in a civil society – more informal, such as ostracism perhaps – than making use of the legal concept for the purpose. We’ve got to be more innovative than that.

  • Perhaps someone like Dan Miller would be in a better position to contribute to this discussion.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Roger –

    In my experience, ‘integrity’ tends to increase in proportion to one’s perception that (1) someone is looking over his shoulder, and (2) if he’s caught, he’s going to pay a very heavy price.

    Will this stop everyone? Of course not. But it will stop quite a few.

    That said, I do understand what you mean and you do make a valid point. One must wonder, then, if such measures are meant to punish or take revenge on the rich…or to correct a disparity in justice between the rich and the poor that has existed for all of human history.

    I suspect the answer might be a mix of both…but I agree – Dan’s opinion would be valuable here.

  • Agreed, except I wouldn’t call it integrity – more like subscribing to a more acceptable behavior (because failure to do so would be too costly).
    There was a time of course – “Once Upon a Time in America,” – remember the movie – when we had corporate ethic and responsible corporate behavior. Perhaps the present crisis will serve its purpose to clear the air and re-establish business practices to what they ought to be, to the good old-fashion way of making money by earning it.

  • Cindy


    In Greece the saying is, “If you’ve got money, you’re innocent.”

  • How do they mean it?

  • Cindy

    Well, how would you mean it?

  • Are they being sarcastic? Just asking.

  • Cindy

    No. In fact, most things I post are not sarcasm in the sense you mean.

  • Well, I don’t understand the comment. I’ve made it fairly plain in my own comments above as to how I view the matter.

  • Cindy


    It is the way some Greek people, who aren’t rich, feel. They see rich people getting out of legal trouble, when poor people cannot.

    We’ve got to be more innovative than that.

    I agree. Much, much more innovative.

  • I thought that was the intended meaning. Just wanted to make sure.
    Did you check out that cartoon link?

  • bliffle

    Glenn said:

    “In my experience, ‘integrity’ tends to increase in proportion to one’s perception that (1) someone is looking over his shoulder, and (2) if he’s caught, he’s going to pay a very heavy price.”

    In the past I’ve read some actual experimental studies that said the opposite: that prospect of punishment is a poor deterrent to crime, and that integrity is learned in the first 3 to 5 years of life.

    However, I’m open to reading any modern studies.

    But I’m not persuaded by anecdotes and bromides. Though I think there are some observant bon mots, such as my favorite by La Rochfaucauld: “a mans ingratitude may be less reprehensible than the motives of his benefactor”.

  • “a man’s ingratitude may be less reprehensible than the motives of his benefactor”.

    Great quote.

  • Here’s my idea how to “improve” the integrity of the rich: send them to Russian labor camps, preferably in Siberia, for crimes against society.

  • A breaking story bound to improve the integrity of the moguls:

    US files new lawsuit vs. UBS seeking the identities of thousands of US customers.

    So maybe the chickens are coming home to roost.

  • Baronius

    Glenn, have crimes been committed, or were the financial institutions simply run poorly? If crimes were committed, are the actual penalties too lenient? You need to answer those questions before shouting “let’s run them out of town on a rail”.

    I have no idea if the fine for insider trading is too high. I’ll bet that your working-class stiff has never been prosecuted for it. I don’t know what crimes the bankers may have committed – fraud, maybe – but the years in prison aren’t any easier for a rich white-collar criminal than for a poor one.

  • the Enron scandal, Bernie Madoff, and now Sanford (apparently in flight) – yes, these are crimes. And that’s only what makes the papers. And so are the Philadelphia judges who took bribes to incarcerate juveniles in private prisons – not to mention thousands of Americans hiding their assets in UBS – another unfolding lawsuit.

    Stay tuned because more is certain to be forthcoming every day.

  • Another good news to celebrate – so let’s try to vindicate Wall Street, shall we?

    Dow reaches its lowest in over 6 years.

    Happy hunting!

  • Baronius

    Roger, Glenn implies that there is a failure in the justice system, but he doesn’t back it up. The people you mentioned are being or have been pursued by the legal system.

    I’m not attempting to vindicate Wall Street. That’s a false accusation. But that seems appropriate, since your whole comment, and this article, are vague ungrounded accusations.

  • There are no assumptions as regards the instances I mentioned. But I agree with you, Baronius, insofar as Glenn’s article doesn’t demonstrate the failure. In fact, judging by some cases – Martha Stewart’s, for instance – it would seem that the justice system, if anything, is skewed against the rich, if only to make an example.

  • Baronius

    Very careful phrasing, Roger. “Stay tuned because more is certain to be forthcoming every day.” isn’t an assumption as regards the instances you mentioned, but it is an assumption. It’s also impossibly large. If you’re going to count judges taking bribes as part of the Wall Street story, then you’re casting such a wide net as to include any prosecution as an example.

  • Correct! The judges’ story was an extra bone. But I don’t think it’s unreasonable to assume – and yes, it is an assumption! – that we haven’t heard all yet.

  • bliffle

    Cannon said:

    “#2 Bliffle, Inflation has eaten what I make down to where it was when I was new at the job and had zero skills, Inflation HURTS the POOR and the WORKING more than it hurts the Rich”

    So, how did that happen, Cannon?

    Could you not get a raise? Did no competitor offer better? Were you on salary or in business?

    When I worked on salary we would always talk up the latest inflation figures and cost of living increases incessantly with the bosses to beat them into submission for pay increases.

  • They just don’t connect the dots, Bliffle.

  • bliffle

    When I was working on salary it always paid to chat up the inflation and cost of living numbers with the bosses, so as to soften them up before you asked for a raise. Of course, they were aware of the same figures regarding their own salaries, so they would actually welcome the numbers and the arguments so they could use them in turn with their bosses so as to improve their own outcomes, and to get the number in the “raise pool” improved.

    That’s just ‘due diligence’ for salaried employees.

  • Rhetor

    Sometimes an outcome (in business or elsewhere) that is the result of “poorly run” managerial activity meets the threshold of criminality. The legalese concepts of intent and effect or result come to mind: a drunk driver killing a pedestrian likely does not have the intent to kill, but will nevertheless face the judicial music.

    Another example (my sources are secondary): only a few years ago, the COO of Barnes & Noble cashes $79, or $76 million in stock options. This year, the word is, that there will be no bonuses, nor any pay raises at the company for any of its otherwise eligible employees. I am sure the $79 million maneuver was not intended to cut into the incomes of the thousands of employees now affected…

    Look, we can argue till the cows come home about whether or not stock options at this or that company two, three years ago have a direct cause/effect relationship with payraises and bonuses for employees here, there and everywhere. The fact remains that our working parents in the 1960s and 1970s could manage to maintain a lifestyle on one income that today requires two incomes. We simply have to stop that trend. This is not about prevention. Greed will happen, but we have to stop encouraging it because the rest of us are paying the price, literally.

  • In perfect agreement with your last paragraph, Rhetor. But who is this comment being addressed to>

  • Rhetor


    Oh, there was an earlier entry which suggested that legislating, or criminalizing, bad performance might not be the right direction to go. This is a more broadly held position than the single contributor above. While the entry in question was written by Baronius, who exactly holds this position is less relevant. I am addressing the view, not the viewer.

    In fact, the call for caution implicit in the warning against railroading — again, I am sure that Baronius is not the only one who holds this position — is a fallacy, a red herring perhaps. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with caution. I am all for it. However, what interests me is the precise nature of our reluctance? Are we worried about ill-conceived, or half measures against greed? Or, are we reluctant to address greed altogether, thereby playing into the hands of the very parties who find themselves targetted by Glenn Contrarian’s initial article?

  • bliffle

    Rhetor is correct.

    Doubling up in family jobs is detrimental to the USA because that second job in the family is one less job to support another family.

    And then the two job family gets it when one member is laid off or disabled. The second person is already working, so there is no slack left to work with.

    The two-income family is simply twice as vulnerable as a one-income family.

  • I definitely agree, as I indicated earlier. But you’ve got a tall job on your hands, friend, trying to convince others. Good luck!

  • Cannonshop


    I’m making over twice (in raw numbers) what I was making back then, Bliffle…and barely holding even.

    If I rolled in the shit-pile of easy-credit, I could live beyond my means like the people who’re going to benefit from the “Porkulus” package, your “Inflation Aided Poor”. I’ve not only gotten pay increases, but shifted jobs to make more money by moving from “unskilled” to “Skilled” catagories, and it’s all served to keep me at exactly the same quality of life I had twelve years ago when I made roughly half what I’m making now.

    It’s not just raw numbers, Bliffle, it’s purchasing power. The more things cost, the less those higher numbers matter-and things are plenty expensive as it is without Obama and Nancy’s Inflation Generator working.

  • So why are you complaining while is evident to all but inquiring minds that it’s all f…. up in this day and age? Why is your rage directed at anyone other who is responsible for your plight? What is the point of your diatribe?

  • Hope and Change?

    Its seems that US Government workers..from the postal service…to the lowest of the low HUD employees…well whale shit is lower, but not by much havent been paying their fair share of taxes. Hmmmm must all be democrat!

    From the U.S. Postal Service to the Executive Office of the President, thousands of federal workers have not paid their 2007 federal income taxes.

    The Internal Revenue Service is trying to collect billions of dollars in unpaid taxes from nearly half a million federal employees. According to IRS records, 171,549 current federal workers did not voluntarily pay their federal income taxes in 2007. The same is true for 37,752 active duty military and nearly 200,000 retired civilian and military personnel.

    Documents obtained by WTOP through the Freedom of Information Act show 449,531 federal employees and retirees did not pay their taxes for a total of $3,586,784,725 in taxes owed last year.

    So these lazy ass government workers work maybe 2 hours a day at their do nothing jobs have the balls to take their pay checks…but are too stupid or just too “unpatriotic” to pay their taxes!

    Dr. Dredge can you illuminate us on this issue using some your first hand knowlege and personal experiences concerning these low life scum bags?

  • H&C – I recall warning you recently not to keep changing people’s names, yet here I see you doing it again. One more transgression or excessively repetitive remark and you will be banned permanently.

    Christopher Rose
    Blogcritics Comments Editor

  • STM

    Rosey: Don’t hold your breath hoping for a change

  • bliffle

    Cannon said: “…exactly the same quality of life I had twelve years ago when I made roughly half what I’m making now.

    It’s not just raw numbers, Bliffle, it’s purchasing power. The more things cost, the less those higher numbers matter-and things are plenty expensive as it is without Obama and Nancy’s Inflation Generator working.”

    Maybe so. But why are you mad at Obama and Pelosi when it seems that, since 1997, Bush has been the main source of your distress?

  • Cannonshop

    #42 Because being mad at Bush won’t do anything, Bliffle-Bush isn’t in a position to do anything one way or the other-it’d be like being mad at LBJ for Vietnam, or Ford for how we left an ally there. The Democrats had a chance to show they were better than the Republicans in September-all they had to do, was say “no”. They said “Yes” instead (well, except for Maria Cantwell…she said NO, and that matters to me.) Now, they’ve shown they’re the same kind of corrupt bastards they campaigned against.

    Besides, GW bush is a Pinko anyway, a “Neo-Con” who basically “Found Jay-Zusss” but kept the same cracked ideas about Wilsonian adventurism and socialist economics he had when he was snorting blow and dodging the draft via Natioal Guard in ’72.

    I save MY anger for the people who, by law and position, are actually supposed to be able to DO SOMETHING ABOUT THE PROBLEM.

  • bliffle

    Cannon: that’s fair. I even agree with some of your distress. And I’m in a similar position since much of my retirement income is rather fixed in dollar terms, and I think that inflation has a net negative effect on ME.

    Nevertheless, from the standpoint of a middleclass family, buying a house and raising a family, inflation is a blessing. And this type of person has traditionally been the archetype of a USA citizen.

    Therefore, it would seem to me that this archetype would LIKE inflation, and, in fact, sometimes (at the watercooler, discussing real estate prices) they even say so.

    I’ve been a member of that class. Most ordinary americans go thru such a period. It used to be a life path in this country (but now, these days, nothing is certain).

    Therefore, I find it interesting that so many middleclass people consider inflation as bad when it seems to work in their interest.

    Partly because of propaganda and partly future self-interest, I suspect. It seems to be a birthright of all Americans to hope and expect that they’ll Strike It Rich in the future and then have Rich Mans problems to worry about.

  • I have another suggestion to Canon. If he were in Washington, D.C, what would he suggest? And I presume now – though not everyone may agree – that not every Tom, Dick and Harry is corrupt. There may be some persons representing us out there who are not totally corrupt. I’d count myself among them if I had the privilege, not that I ever would aspire to the glory. What then?

    I admit I’d be at my wit’s ends. Wouldn’t anyone?