My econ dept colleague Joseph Stiglitz suggests that financial fraudsters be sent to prison. He points out that the usual penalty–million-dollar fines–just isn’t enough for crimes whose rewards can be in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
That all makes sense, but why do the options have to be:
- No punishment
- A fine with little punishment or deterrent value
What’s the point of putting nonviolent criminals in prison? As I’ve said before, I’d prefer if the government just took all these convicted thieves’ assets along with 95% of their salary for several years, made them do community service (sorting bottles and cans at the local dump, perhaps; a financier should be good at this sort of thing, no?), etc. If restriction of personal freedom is judged be part of the sentence, they could be given some sort of electronic tag that would send a message to the police if you are ever more than 3 miles from your home. And a curfew so you have to stay home between the hours of 7pm and 7am. Also take away internet access and require that you live in a 200-square-foot apartment in a grungy neighborhood. And so forth. But no need to bill the taxpayers for the cost of prison.
When you say the Pledge of Allegiance you say, with “justice for all.” People aren’t sure that we have justice for all. Somebody is caught for a minor drug offense, they are sent to prison for a very long time. And yet, these so-called white-collar crimes, which are not victimless, almost none of these guys, almost none of them, go to prison.
To me, though, this misses the point. Why send minor drug offenders to prison for a very long time? Instead, why not just equip them with some sort of recorder/transmitter that has to be always on. If they can do all their drug deals in silence, then, really, how much trouble are they going to be causing?
Readers with more background in criminology than I will be able to poke holes in my proposals, I’m sure.
P.S. to the impatient readers out there: Yeah, yeah, I have some statistics items on deck. They’ll appear at the approximate rate of one a day.
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