Ethics Quiz: Income-Based Legal Penalties

In an op-ed in the Times,  lawyer Alec Schierenbeck argues for “progressive fines”:

“For a justice system committed to treating like offenders alike, scaling fines to income is a matter of basic fairness. Making everyone pay the same sticker price is evenhanded on the surface, but only if you ignore the consequences of a fine on the life of the person paying. The flat fine threatens poor people with financial ruin while letting rich people break the law without meaningful repercussions. Equity requires punishment that is equally felt.”

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz of the Day is..

Do you agree that “progressive fines” are a more ethical policy than having the same fines for the same violation, regardless of the offender?

I’m very interested in the response. The answer isn’t extremely clear to me—yet—but I’ll explain where I’m tilting.

Like so many progressive ideas aimed at leveling society and eliminating the injustices of life, this one ignores human nature, the inevitability of the slippery slope, perverse incentives, and most of all core American ideals and values. I know…know…that this approach would quickly metastasize, because all inequalities are regarded by progressives as a crime against nature. Shouldn’t the privileged, that is, whites and miles, be punished more severely that women, blacks and “people of color”? Surely those with disabilities shouldn’t have to pay fines as high as those who are “abled.” Elite college grads should pay more than those from state schools, who should pay more than community college grads, who should pay more than mere high school graduates. What about IQ? Isn’t a relative dim wit less culpable and likely to have less earning power than Silicon Valley tech whiz?  An surely those poor, “good illegal immigrants” shouldn’t be fined for minor offenses as harshly as citizens. We know that the whole progressive theory of the World As It Should Be and How To Gain Power In It relies on dividing society into competing tribes, and progressive fines is just one more sneaky tool to do it.

No doubt about it: if you are less successful and have fewer financial resources, misfortune his harder. The idea behind progressive fines is to even the risks, and that is a slippery slope as well. Doesn’t the principle argue for lower standards of workplace conduct for low-paying jobs?  A firing offense for a manager, such as coming to work drunk, shouldn’t be a firing offense for a victim of capitalism’s inequities, should it? And what about lowly workers with wealthy families? Surely they should be judged more harshly that blue-collar workers living paycheck to paycheck.

The logic behind progressive fines seems like an extension of the rationale behind affirmative action. If black kids and white kids have lower grades because they spent high school goofing off and getting high, the black kids’ grades should be good enough to get them into Princeton any way, because they need that degree more. I think I can be convinced that progressive fines are not a continuation of  the rejection of core American ideals, but it will be hard. This nation was envisioned on the ideal of equality among citizens, and that we should strive to give all an equal opportunity to succeed, encouraging success and achievement, not penalizing them, or rewarding failure.

I would prefer to go in the direction of eliminating lenient sentencing for crimes based on the criminal’s status in the community, or that he is a good father, or that he has contributed to society and the community. Prison is often more devastating for the wealthy and successful, and my response to that plight is “Don’t break the law, then.” I think that same applies to fines and the poor.

Or as Tony Baretta said, “Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time”

Here’s a poll:

 

 

 

49 Comments

Filed under Citizenship, Government & Politics, Law & Law Enforcement, Race, U.S. Society

49 responses to “Ethics Quiz: Income-Based Legal Penalties

  1. Other Bill

    I vote for “They’re a really BAD idea.”

  2. “Equity requires punishment that is equally felt”

    How in the world do you even come close to making sure punishments are equally felt? A single parent of 3, earning a healthy $60K per year, still is not going to feel punishment equal to someone earning $60K, who has a spouse earning $100K. Just like suspending the license of someone who works from home has a much different effect than suspending the license of someone who’s livelihood depends on driving.

    I hate the idea of punishing someone more, because they have more, without considering any other circumstance, and just assuming that income bracket alone determines how people feel about parting with their money.

    It’s a fool’s errand to keep trying to split hairs over and over until we get to a place where everything is equally fair.

  3. Greg

    To the extent that the purpose of the fine is to raise money for the government, as is the case with many traffic fines (especially red-light cameras), then I think we could reach a broad consensus that larger fines for rich people are probably fair. We have already accepted the idea of progressive taxation, which holds that rich people should pay more of the costs of government than poor people.

    To the extent that the purpose is deterrence or punishment, I take your point that we will never be able to formulate guidelines that calibrate fines to the character and circumstances of particular defendants, in part because it would be impossible to reach a public consensus on what would constitute fairness. A system of corporal punishment would be preferable. A caning or flogging is equally painful for rich and poor, and a day in the stocks or pillory being pelted with ridicule and rotten eggs is equally uncomfortable and humiliating.

    • Errol

      “To the extent that the purpose of the fine is to raise money for the government, as is the case with many traffic fines (especially red-light cameras), then I think we could reach a broad consensus that larger fines for rich people are probably fair.”
      The purpose of fines is punishment and deterrence. Any society that uses fines for revenue gathering is a corrupt society.

  4. Jack Houghton

    The first thought that pops into my head is POLICING FOR PROFIT. Not a good idea! Don’t encourage bloated, profit motivated policing any more than it already is. Good golly… NO!

  5. Mike

    Very simple- everyone should pay the same price for a crime which should usually consist of restitution to the victim and the victm’s family. No process crimes beyond things like treason. Crime does not exist if there is no specific vic with physical or financial harm suffered.

  6. Related to Chris’s comment above, The only way progressive fines could be more “fair” (in the sense that I believe advocates are suggesting) is if a rich man and a poor man convicted of the same offense were made to feel the same pain by their respective fines. But to do that, the fines would have to be carefully calibrated to an accurate and comprehensive measure of the offender’s ability to pay. Every traffic ticket would require an accounting review of the offender’s family’s income, expenses, bank accounts, brokerage accounts, real estate, and on and on… The burden on the courts would probably make it unworkable. You’d have to greatly simplify it to make it efficient, and then it wouldn’t be very fair.

  7. On the one hand, it makes little sense to me when people complain about how rich people are affected less by things that cost them money. The entire point of being rich, or at least not poor, is that you can buy more things and handle more expenses without cutting into the budget for the essentials. The sentence “X becoming more expensive disproportionately affects poor people” is redundant. The essential expenses are largely fixed costs, so of course they are a greater percentage of a poor person’s budget. The problem isn’t (usually) discrimination against poor people; the problem is that poor people aren’t able to earn enough money to deal with economic change, for many different reasons. That’s something we can work on.

    On the other hand, I definitely understand the idea of making sure that people pay a cost based on their transgressions, so that regardless of their ethical alignment, their cost-benefit analysis is weighted against crime. If rich people can simply pay fines when caught, that’s a huge flaw in the justice system.

    This situation reminds me of the book Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely. He wrote about the social relationships and business relationships, and when quantifiable compensation like money is involved, social relationships and the ethics and empathy that accompany them go out the window. Ariely gives an example of a daycare that started fining parents for picking up their kids late. After the fine was imposed, parents arrived late more frequently, because paying the fine absolved their guilt. It shifted their obligations from social to business. Rich people can turn transgressions into transactions and continue on their merry way.

    However, there is a commodity that rich people have that, unlike money, has more marginal value to them than it does to poor people: time. If a rich person earns more in a certain amount of time, their time is more valuable to them. If they have a high-powered job, they want more time to relax. Imprisonment (possibly with homework) may thus be more of a deterrent to rich people than it is to poor people.

    However, if we are more strict with sentencing rich people, we will also likely have to be more strict with sentencing poor people, unless we do accept that an important aspect of sentencing is to alter a person’s cost-benefit analysis, and therefore tailoring punishments to individuals is desirable.

    • Based on joed68’s mention of recalcitrance, it occurred to me that what we seem to be worried about is rich people becoming repeat offenders. We already have harsher punishments in place for repeat offenders, such as higher fines or mandatory jail time, so that issue would seem to be already addressed.

      In a general sense, crime and punishment is an aspect of “conflict”, one of four fundamental threats to society or any other endeavor (the others being scarcity, disaster, and complacency). There are many ways to deal with conflict, from negotiation to innovation to education to enforcement.

      I don’t have the expertise necessary to design anything except a rough outline for how to go about implementing a system for managing all sorts of conflict, but I do think it’s important to think of conflict (along with the other threats) in a holistic sense. It helps to maintain awareness of all the different factors that go into a conflict, in order to be able to consider various creative approaches.

  8. Chris Marschner

    I can see progressive fines if their premise is to deter a given behavior but that is not generally the case because fines are usually stated in law as ” not to exceed” some amount. So, one cannot calculate the expected value (cost) of a given behavior without knowing the probability of being caught and the associated penalty imposed. Thus, penalties are designed to reflect the imputed social costs of the behavior deemed undesireable and not to deter behavior.

    Traffic fines are generally fixed but only to expedite adjudication. They may disproportionately impact those with fewer resources but only if they choose to risk the penalty. I don’t drive aggressively because I do not wish to have a bad driving record that translates to higher insurance premiums or worse. Nothing suggests that people must, as a matter of daily living, run afoul of the rules and be forced to pay fines.

    Using progressive pricing for choices would require all goods and services to be priced according to ability to pay. This, as others point out is a highly inefficient distribution/ pricing method.

    If you want progressive penalties eliminate fines and simply impose days in jail. High income people will lose more than low income people for the same number of days. The problem with that idea is that the low income person will be at greater risk of job loss so he/she still may get a stiffer penalty over the long haul.

    We also should keep in mind another aspect of penalties. The richer person will often be sued for much greater amounts than a poor person. Assume two identical accidents with personal injury. One drunk driver is a billionaire and the other drunk driver is a pauper. Which victim will get a bigger payday and which transgressor will be probably not be sued due to the low expected value of the suit.

    Disproportionate impact is a poor way to assess anything that reflects individual choices.

    • joed68

      It would be interesting to see the results of studies designed to reveal the per-capita rate of various types of criminality based on income brackets. For example, what if poor people are more likely to engage in criminally-reckless behavior, like driving under the influence? If this were the case, maybe disparate impact, as it currently stands, isn’t a bad thing from a deterrence point of view.

  9. valentine0486

    This particular question requires an analysis of the backdoor pilot of the Danny Thomas show that introduced one Andy Griffith.

    Found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n0rTIfeOIkA

  10. Less than 5% of the votes in the poll favor progressive fines. I haven’t seen a genuine argument for them, and I’d urge the 3 (last I checked) who voted for such a policy to explain their thinking. In fact, I’m really interested in how someone reaches the point where a concept like that makes sense while growing upon a nation that extols personal responsibility and rejects the construct of class. The path to progressive fine seems to me to lead through Marxism.

    • valentine0486

      I wasn’t one of the three, but it’s pretty inarguable that they would be more fair provided there were appropriate checks against abuses. You argument against them assumes there are no such checks.

      However, imagine we lived in a simpler society, where everyone was a W-2 earner, and it was extremely easy to determine someone’s gross and net income. In that event, it would obviously be more fair if a traffic ticket was a certain percentage of an individual’s net income.

      The issue becomes what happens after this logic, do we continue on and say white people have had it better historically, so their fines should be higher? If we did that, progressive fines would be a major issue. But if we stopped only at the previously explained step, it seems obvious progressive fines would be more fair.

      I still don’t support them, however, because life isn’t so simple. Not everyone is a W-2 earner, and it would put too much complexity into simple traffic violations and other citations.

      • Speeding tickets? The principle is that society has declared conduct dangerous, and sends that message by an appropriate fine for the median or average citizen. The message is supposed to be enough for ethical citizens, and that’s who we should be trying to nurture. The “progressive fines” theory assumes that people only do right when the cots of doing wrong is great enough. That means that ethics doesn’t exist.

        What is fair is to have a consistent, clear message to all and equal punishment. The extra punishment theory is moronic, simplifying difference between individuals into class and nothing else. If the rich person would use that 100 bucks to give to charity and the poor one would use it to buy drugs or lottery tickets, why is fining the richer person more just, or even in society’s best interests?

        This is the Left’s delusion that “justice” requires responsible citizens to pay for irresponsible citizens’ mistakes. I pay for the excess children of people who can’t afford their kids, while I have but one, because that’s what we could responsibly handle. Obamacare says that I have to pay for the health insurance of those who are in bad health because of bad choices…because I made better choices that allow me both to have better health and more resources. Bernie Sanders says my taxes for money I earn trying to help society should go toward “living wages” for people who won’t or can’t contribute anything at all.

        Progressive fines carry through on a basic, un-American philosophy that society exists to level achievement and resources, rather than to give individuals opportunities to excel, and to achieve the benefits that excelling convey, including allowing daily and necessary expenses to be less burdensome.

        • valentine0486

          I’m frankly confused by your response.

          So let’s go paragraph by paragraph to help me get some clarity.

          In paragraph one, you argue that the current fines should be enough for ethical citizens. That logic rings patently false. No fines at all should be required for truly ethical citizens. I don’t speed (unless accidentally-my only speeding ticket occurred when I was CERTAIN I was in a 45 zone, but was accidentally in a 30 MPH zone). I don’t speed because I don’t want anyone getting hurt or killed. I don’t avoid speeding to avoid speeding tickets. As with all laws, they are (generally speaking) only necessary for the unethical. If everyone was ethical, there would be no need for laws at all. So, to say the progressive theory assumes people only do right when the cost of doing wrong is great enough is just incorrect. The progressive theory, like all theories involving law and the enforcement thereof, assumes the unethical will only do right when the cost of doing wrong is great enough. I fail to see how that theory is any different than the one we utilize right now.

          In paragraph 2, you argue it is fair to have a consistent and fair punishment. Actually, to say you argue is giving you too much credit. You just assert that is what’s fair, without really any logic or reasoning to support the proposition. Your example isn’t at all helpful because a poor person could easily be using his $100 to give to charity, and a rich person could be wasting his $100 by gambling. Additionally, I fail to see how Paragraph 2 even helps us to understand the issue. If we assume a poor person, under the progressive theory, gets fined $100 and a rich person $1,000.00, either party could have spent said money on wasteful things or either party could have spent the money on things that would be to society’s benefit.

          In Paragraph 3, you’ve gotten completely away from the question. The left may have a delusion that the more affluent should pay for the less affluent’s mistakes, but what does that have to do with the question at hand? We’re talking about a situation where the mistake is equal (I used an example of speeding), and each person is paying for their own mistake. You’re examples are not on point because in the examples you cite responsible citizens are paying for the mistakes of OTHERS. In the question we’re dealing with, the richer person did speed, and he’s paying for his own mistake. Your examples are more akin to a policy whereby the very poor didn’t have to pay for speeding tickets, and some other entity (tax payers) picked up the tab for their mistakes. Such is not what is happening in this scenario.

          In Paragraph 4, you argue progressive policies are un-american policy that society exists to level the playing field, rather than to allow individuals to excel. I agree, but have no idea what that has to do with the question at hand.

          Your whole comment reads as if coming from someone who has gotten so frustrated with progressive policies, that they immediately assume any policy advanced by progressives must be un-American, nonsensical, and moronic. But the comment fails to analyze the proposed change in the law at all, except in making blanket assertions that the change would be unfair. Said assertions seem to rely on the fact that previous progressive policies have been unfair, but I don’t see what that has to do with THIS proposed policy.

          So, let’s go slow, and let’s start at the beginning. Let’s go through the facts:

          1.) Barring innocent mistakes, (like my 45 MPH-30MPH gaffe), the policy will not affect ethical Americans, because ethical Americans follow the law regardless of the penalties for failing to follow the law. Thus, the policy does not assume that there are no ethics left in America, any more so than the current policies.

          2.) When someone is fined for an infraction, said money cannot be used for whatever the individual would otherwise have used that money for. The law, I think, does not want to assume that rich people will use the money for things that are good for society, and the poor will not. Neither does the law want to assume the reverse. Additionally, it is too complicated to do this analysis for infractions of the kind that only require fines.

          3.) Assuming one person has a net income of $25,000.00, and the other has a net income of $50,000.00 and they both committed the same crime as each other, let’s say speeding 20+ mph over the speed limit, it seems to me obviously more FAIR that the $50,000.00 earner pays double the fine than the $25,000.00 earner. It’s hard to see how you can come to any other conclusion, when you are just looking at this proposed change-rather than looking at progressives and the other ineffective changes they have proposed.

          To put it into a theory of punishment, an equal level of deterrence seems to me to be far more fair than an equal fine. It’s difficult for me to see it the other way.

          The only argument I can see for the other way being more fair, is that the way the progressives espouse does certainly seem to “punish” individuals for being more successful. However, the punishment is actually for the speeding, not the being successful. Certainly, as I was growing up my punishments became more severe as I got older. Isn’t this just the adult equivalent of that?

          4.) Of course, coming to the conclusion that something is more fair, doesn’t automatically amount to the conclusion that society should enact a certain change. It would be more fair if all children had two parents, but that doesn’t mean the government should tell single parents they cannot have children. There are other concerns here. Among them, your slippery slope concerns, and the issue that this could just become far too complicated far too quickly. However, the question was only whether it was more “fair”, not whether changing the policy, on the whole, was a good idea.

          As you can likely tell by my comment, I would have a different answer for the question as to whether we should enact the proposed policy.

          By the way, my answer to the poll was: “Close call. I’m not sure”.

          Also, this comment was very hard to right because my one-year-old wouldn’t stop trying to put Capslock on throughout. (He likes that button because it lights up).

          • In paragraph one, you argue that the current fines should be enough for ethical citizens. That logic rings patently false. No fines at all should be required for truly ethical citizens.

            Huh? Are you really saying that ethical citizens never slip up, never vary from their principles? There’s no such person. The fines remind us that the conduct is illegal because we have decided that it is wrong. And ethical people will still sometimes speed anyway.

            As with all laws, they are (generally speaking) only necessary for the unethical.

            No no no. Laws state societal conclusions about many conduct issues most people never think about. They are not just compliance devices. They are moral statements.

            In paragraph 2, you argue it is fair to have a consistent and fair punishment. Actually, to say you argue is giving you too much credit. You just assert that is what’s fair, without really any logic or reasoning to support the proposition. Your example isn’t at all helpful because a poor person could easily be using his $100 to give to charity, and a rich person could be wasting his $100 by gambling. Additionally, I fail to see how Paragraph 2 even helps us to understand the issue. If we assume a poor person, under the progressive theory, gets fined $100 and a rich person $1,000.00, either party could have spent said money on wasteful things or either party could have spent the money on things that would be to society’s benefit.

            The definition of fairness includes equity and integrity. Yes: the definitions are interpreted two ways: fairness is treating the same conduct the same, always, regardless of the individual, or fairness is taking into consideration individual differences. Our Founding documents settled the question of which definition this culture adopted. Progressives want to change that, and this is an example.

            My point was that mere salary and resources don’t really tell us enough to make the assumption that policy makes. Why is that unclear?

            In Paragraph 3, you’ve gotten completely away from the question. The left may have a delusion that the more affluent should pay for the less affluent’s mistakes, but what does that have to do with the question at hand? We’re talking about a situation where the mistake is equal (I used an example of speeding), and each person is paying for their own mistake.

            No, they aren’t. One is paying more for the same mistake, and underwriting the lesser payment by the other individual. Fines are budgeted as income…this is redistribution of wealth.

            “In Paragraph 4, you argue progressive policies are un-american policy that society exists to level the playing field, rather than to allow individuals to excel. I agree, but have no idea what that has to do with the question at hand.”

            I bet you can figure it out. The above is a hint. It’s all part of the idea that using government to be Robin hood is “fair” and “just.”

            But the comment fails to analyze the proposed change in the law at all, except in making blanket assertions that the change would be unfair. Said assertions seem to rely on the fact that previous progressive policies have been unfair, but I don’t see what that has to do with THIS proposed policy

            I analyzed the policy in the main post.
            .

      • joed68

        ” do we continue on and say white people have had it better historically, so their fines should be higher? ”

        Not to worry; we’ve got at least 3 years before something like that happens.

    • joed68

      Let’s see; Sparty’s cooking supper, Chris is watching the game, and Fattymoon doesn’t comment here anymore.

      • Chris

        I’m so flattered that you think I watch sports.

        I hadn’t voted until just now, actually. I think valentine0486 has made a pretty compelling argument. I share some of Jack’s concerns over the policy (though I think the whole “privilege” slippery slope would be easy to counter; it’s a fine, and money should be the only relevant factor in evaluating who pays what under such a system), but overall I think it would be more fair.

  11. Aleksei

    It seems this system would be rife for abuse by wealthier individuals. If for some reason one wants to commit a crime where you get fined, why not find a bum to do it for you. As the bum basically has no income, he’ll maybe get some jail time, and the you can pay him minimum wage for the time he spent in jail. That may possibly be cheaper than paying a progressive fine. You can subcontract your criminal activities for more willing people. Then the only thing is not to get caught in the “criminal conspiracy”. I’m sure more entrupenurial people can create an exchange were bums and wealthy people can come into contact and get paid in cryptocurrencies and not have any paper trails between each other.

    • Dwayne N. Zechman

      I thought about rich criminals “subcontracting” poor people to do the crimes so that the fines would be lower too.

      Where there is a system, there is a way to game the system. If you design a system, then you must assume that people will do exactly that, and you must further consider whether or not you’re okay with people doing exactly that.

      –Dwayne

    • Chris

      I don’t see any reason this system would incentivize rich people paying poor people to commit crimes for them any more than our current system does, though.

  12. The person pushing this position is asking a philosophical question as to the purpose of the law: Does the law exist to prescribe outcomes for actions, or is it meant as a deterrent to certain behaviors that society fins intolerable? Is the fine designed to “make right” the negative outcome of the prohibited behaviors, or a punishment for breaking societies rules?

    I think the argument for them is obvious: These fines are meant to be a punishment and a deterrent, and punishment and deterrents only work if someone is punished or deterred by the fine they have to pay. Someone of considerable financial means could, for instance, take the position that “laws are for little people” and accept that the system will skim some shekels off the top, but they don’t care, the time saved, the pleasure derived, whatever unethical considerations they’re putting above that money, is deemed more important to them, a progressive system of punishment would ideally cause the system to function better because it would act as a more effective deterrent to people who would otherwise not be burdened by either a sense of justice, or the reality of a budget.

    That’s probably the best argument for it. And I admit… The law and justice side of me sees the allure… But as with so many other things… The libertarian in me doesn’t trust the government to run something like this…. Chris and Windy made a great point: It would basically require an accounting audit every time it was tried, and in a system already overburdened, this is probably untenable.

    But I’d like to add to that that the kind of people that would push this kind of legislation are generally the same kind of people that would assume that a homeless white man has privilege that he should check in the face of a wealthy black female, merely because of the relative melanin content of their skin. While I could see the benefit of a progressive justice program, I’ve already said that I can’t imagine a government competent enough to run it, and I’m even less convinced that there’s a government out there both in favor of this program and willing to actually tether it to things like means, as opposed to broad demographic markers.

    In order for this to really work, there would have to be some deep thought put into it that I just don’t think progressives are willing to do. Consider this: If we want to make punishment more just, if we want to make deterrence the metric instead of prescribed punishment… Then what would we do in the case of incarceration? Should a rich person serve more or less jail time than a poor person? “More!” My progressive strawmen would scream, although I’m sure that some, if not most, would, “Time is valuable, and we’ve already asserted that their debt should be higher!”. I’d actually argue in the reverse, and that’ll set a head or two spinning, I’m sure… But if you want to argue that the relative value of individual people’s time is different, I think you’d be hard pressed to argue that a poor person’s time is more valuable than that of a wealthy person. A month out of the office, eating shitty prison food and sleeping on thin mattresses is objectively more punishing to a wealthy person that a month with a roof over their head, three square meals a day and something other than dirt to sleep on for a homeless person.

    I see why someone might make the argument, I even think that under ideal circumstances, there might be a genuinely good argument for it. But as with so many other progressive policy prescriptions, it suffers from the arrested development of being created in an echo chamber, without critical review, and presented to the public with all the smug self assurance of someone who doesn’t think their idea is anything less than perfectly unassailable.

    • Dwayne N. Zechman

      “…it suffers from the arrested development of being created in an echo chamber, without critical review, and presented to the public with all the smug self assurance of someone who doesn’t think their idea is anything less than perfectly unassailable.”

      Not only that, but with the underlying–and unchallenged–assumption that their idea is NEW and that NEW IS AUTOMATICALLY BETTER Every. Single. Time.

      Because obviously they are smarter than every single person who’s ever come before them in thousands of years of human history, and it’s unthinkable that maybe . . . just maybe . . . someone else thought of this idea before . . . and promptly tossed the idea into the mental trashcan after recognizing the flaws in it.

      –Dwayne

      • joed68

        Yup, and the people that live to endlessly tinker with, and tweak, social policy, all too often fail to consider the avalanche of unintended consequences that inevitably follow.

      • joed68

        “Communism is great! No, really, it is! It just hasn’t been implemented correctly yet”

    • Chris

      But I’d like to add to that that the kind of people that would push this kind of legislation are generally the same kind of people that would assume that a homeless white man has privilege that he should check in the face of a wealthy black female, merely because of the relative melanin content of their skin.

      OK, but are there any progressives who argue that a homeless white man should be taxed higher than a wealthy black woman? If not, I’m not sure why we would fear that they’d argue that the homeless white man should be fined higher.

      • joed68

        You’d be surprised. Believe it or not, there are some whom I’ve encountered that have said just that.

      • My point is the fact that he’s homeless might not make it into the equation, as stupid as that may seem.

        There are “feminist bake sales” where men are charged more than women just because they’re men, and similar variations on that theme for white people, straight people and “cis” people (tysrl). The fact that someone might actually be underprivileged because they’re living in a cardboard box never comes up because they’re too busy dividing everyone into focus groups and treating them as a monolith, and cis/het/white/males are as a whole doing OK.

        • Chris

          You’re changing the subject to your own personal hobby horse, which is mocking dumb radical SJWs. We’re talking about income-based legal penalties. The counter-argument was that this would be a slippery slope to considering gender and race in addition to income; now you’re saying there’s a danger the government won’t consider income at all? That’s not a realistic concern.

          The government doesn’t have “feminist bake sales” like the ones you describe, and isn’t in much danger of starting. You can’t just use “dumb SJWs exist” as a counter-argument to every single proposed progressive policy ever, any more than progressives should use “dumb conservatives exist” against every proposed conservative policy.

          • In reverse order….

            Using “dumb progressives exist” as a counter argument is only a fallacy if dumb progressives didn’t routinely make it into the halls of power and wreak havoc. When Democrats hold a bake sale, you get the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, or VOWA, you get Mary Koss redefining rape for the FBI as something exclusively done by men almost exclusively to women. You get bullshit statistics like the 77 pay gap that despite being debunked by left and right leaning people alike, refuse to fade away, or the 1 in 4 rape myth that just won’t die. And that’s just on the feminist portfolio.

            And then, I think that it is a real concern that progressives would institute income based legal penalties in a way that at the very least mitigated taking into account earnings in favor of demographic markers. Democrats have other the last election cycle slowly morphed from talking about the middle class to talking about women and minorities. I can’t decide whether that’s because women and minorities are their new favorite props, or if they’ve finally realized that white, middle class America generally doesn’t buy what they sell… But the fact is that their message has changed, and I have to decide if it’s all an act, or if they’ll actually legislate that way.

            Half of the congressional black caucus openly embraces a raving Anti-Semite… How much trust do you think the Jewish community has in the CBC right now? And if the Democratic leadership routinely scoffs at the concerns of white people, why on Earth should white people trust them?

  13. WindyPundit wrote: ”Every traffic ticket would require an accounting review of the offender’s family’s income, expenses, bank accounts, brokerage accounts, real estate, and on and on… The burden on the courts would probably make it unworkable. You’d have to greatly simplify it to make it efficient, and then it wouldn’t be very fair.”

    Every US person pays personal income tax, and the amount paid could be translated into a number that reflects that amount, and that person’s SS number could have the number attached to it in a data base for the past year’s taxes. Then, when a fine is assessed, that number-rating would be referred to and the fine determined. Not at all impossible.

  14. In the best of all possible states all citizens would be responsible, upstanding agents, and each would desire to pay their fair share in proportion to their earnings. It would be undertood to be ‘civic duty’ and would be a source of pride.

    In such a society there would be a list of fines proportionated to one’s income and no one would have to check; the citizen would volunteer to pay the determined fine.

    In principle the notion of a fine scale is perfectly sound.

    • Human nature, which does not change, does not work that way.

      This is the exact same argument used for communism and socialism: “from each according to their ability, to each according to their need.”

      Until some animals are more equal than others, as the late Soviet Union showed

      • I see your point. But I have a somewhat different view of the question. Obviously, it will be impossible to scale fines to the income of the fined. It will amount to something far too complex as many have pointed out. But it is not an unethical idea in and of itself.

        Also, I think you may be at least a little wrong. I think in a high-trust society, and one that would necessarily have to be homogenous for high-trust to exist and function, that an honor system has been shown to work. It is when society devolves toward a low-trust and no-trust situation that many many different things become untenable.

        • While you may be correct, in theory, such has not been seen on this planet in hundreds of years, if ever.

          Is such a system unethical, in such a society? Since that would BE the ethics of that society, no. But that is a referential self validating statement.

  15. joed68

    There are far, far too many variables, some obvious, others not so much, to consider when weighing the impact that a fine would have on different people. In the end, you have to return to the only policy that makes sense, which is that the nature of the offense, as well as the recalcitrance of the criminal, determines the fine.

  16. Great discussion so far. Looks like I’ve come to the party late.

    I’m generally an every man is equal before the law and should therefore be punished equally across the board…and I think that’s a definite easy answer for most crimes or misdemeanors.

    But I can see the possibilities regarding fines. Fines are supposed to hurt to send the discouraging message like Humble discusses above. A very very wealthy person simply will not be inconvenienced in the slightest by a traffic ticket.

    I’m not wealthy by any means, but the last traffic ticket I had to pay didn’t bother me severely in terms of wondering about paying for my next meal or whether or not I need to cut out some luxury item in my life. It really meant I wasn’t going to be adding as much to savings this go around while shaving some off of other “fun things in life” so it stung…but not devastatingly so.. The time dealing with the court house was more painful. I’d say to for my “wealth bracket” the traffic ticket was sufficient…but of course, I’m a lot more than my wealth bracket…I’m a guy whose parents taught him to respect the law, so my own personal shame added to my punishment.

    I like Humble’s simple angle that if progressive fining were implemented it probably can only be supported in terms of a “let’s make the inconvenience in life *feel* the same”. BUT, in the following summary brain storm, there’s another related angle:

    If you are wealthier you have gained a certain increased influence on the community in terms of visibility and power…it may not be much but it is there. Seems to me that those who have gained a greater impact on the community do have greater expectations and therefore their violations of the community trust are more severe…therefore warrant a more severe financial burden.

    But I don’t even like that reasoning because why on earth wouldn’t you apply that to all manner of crimes…not just those exacting a financial penalty?

    I wouldn’t see it so much as a slippery slope of expecting less from poor people as much as it is expecting the baseline from poor people and expecting more from the wealthy.

    But again, I don’t like that at all.

  17. Like Mike, I am late to the party. However, I find something missing in the conversation, an underlying assumption that should be addressed.

    This entire topic is predicated upon the ideal of equal justice. A lofty goal, which any society will fall far short of. This in turn is wrongly predicated upon the childish (or progressive, if you wish) notion that life should be fair. A child must be taught that the emotional appeal of ‘fairness’ is an illusion. Progressives take this idea further than most of humanity, historically speaking, and try to eliminate anything they deem unfair.

    One way of stating this is the theory of equal outcomes, that anyone, no matter their background, education, experience, talent, or whatever should have the same result in life. America promises equal opportunity for all, but cannot guarantee equality of outcomes. Life is too complex, and the goal too ill defined (and undefinable) for this to ever be possible.

    One reason for this are rooted in human nature, and the laudable impulse for one to strive to better one’s own family or community, however you wish to define that. Not everyone will feel this impulse equally, or will act on that feeling.

    Another reason is that talent is not equally distributed. Someone with a gift for mathematical relationships might excel in stock trading, while a auto mechanic might not. The stock whiz would have to pay the auto mechanic, in all likelihood, when the fancy car breaks down.

    Finally, some people like to prey upon others, and prefer this to honest labor. This demographic will always be with us (and likely become politicians, if successful enough) and have no reason to play ‘fair.’

    There are more reasons that time limitations prevent me from exploring, but these three suffice. Any attempt at ‘leveling the playing field’ will result in more inequality, not less, like holding the ocean back with a broom. These attempts are unethical on their face, no matter the good intentions of those proposing them.

    I will leave you with what I taught my kids, which is distilled from my forefathers, and crystallized by Robert Heinlein:

    ‘Life is not fair. Anyone telling you otherwise is trying to sell you something.’

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s