America has an epidemic of affluenza, that curious disease in which the rich can do whatever the hell they want because they’re, well, rich. They speed, they steal, they lie, and they cheat, because, so what if they have to pay a fine? What’s a few hundred dollars to someone worth millions?
This unequal system has given rise to a class of scofflaws; people who literally scoff at the law. But what if there was another way to punish the rich would still be perfectly fair but rein in their obnoxious behaviors? Let’s take a look at a country where the rich don’t dare treat the road like their own personal racetrack: Finland.
Reima Kuisla, a Finnish businessman, was recently caught going 65 miles per hour in a 50 zone in his home country — an offense that would typically come with a fine of a couple hundred dollars, at most, in the U.S. But after Finnish police pulled Kuisla over, they pinged a federal taxpayer database to determine his income, consulted their handbook, and arrived at the amount that he was required to pay: €54,000.The fine was so extreme because in Finland, some traffic fines, as well as fines for shoplifting and violating securities-exchange laws, are assessed based on earnings — and Kuisla’s declared income was €6.5 million per year. Exorbitant fines like this are infrequent, but not unheard of: In 2002, a Nokia executive was fined the equivalent of $103,000 for going 45 in a 30 zone on his motorcycle. Two years earlier, the NHL player, Teemu Selanne incurred a $39,000 fine.
Imagine that! A place where being rich doesn’t mean you can laugh at the law, comfortable in your ability to pay the same fine all the little people get with the loose change in your pocket.
The rich, of course, wail that this is unfair and victimizes them. “Victimize” in this context means “play by the same rules,” something the rich cannot abide, the poor, delicate oppressed flowers:
“This is no constitutionally governed state,” one Finn who was fined nearly $50,000 moaned to The Wall Street Journal, “This is a land of rhinos!” Outrage among the rich — especially nonsensical, safari-invoking outrage — might be a sign that something fair is at work.
Yeah, I’m not sure what “a land of rhinos” is supposed to mean either, but I agree, if the rich are getting as pissed off at a speeding ticket as the rest of us, chances are the system is working the way it’s supposed to.
The reality is that the current system in America rewards the rich for being rich and punishes the poor just for being poor. When the poor are hit with a $200 fine and can’t pay it, they get thrown in jail. Then they get hit with more fees that keep them in jail. Meanwhile, they’ve lost their job and the ability to pay any fines at all. This is the modern incarnation of Debtor’s Prisons which were ruled unconstitutional decades ago. Last Week Tonight with John Oliver did an amazing story on this.
To fine people on a scale according to their ability to pay would be 100% fair because we would all feel the exact same amount of pain, and isn’t that supposed to be the point of fining people for breaking the law? We already have a progressive tax system where the more money you make, the more taxes you pay (in theory, at least. The 1% has been carving out huge loopholes for 40 years now). Why not have a progressive justice system that has the rich pay an equivalent amount as the poor when they break the law?
It’s time we got rid of our ridiculously unconstitutional two-tiered justice system; one for the rich that treats them with kid’s gloves and the real one for the rest of us.