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.Powered by Sidelines