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posted by martyb on Tuesday March 17 2015, @11:09AM   Printer-friendly
from the cheaper-to-pay-someone-else-to-drive dept.

Joe Pinsker writes at The Atlantic that Finnish businessman Reima Kuisla was recently caught going 65 miles per hour in a 50 zone in his home country and ended up paying a fine of $56,000. 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. Several years ago another executive was fined the equivalent of $103,000 for going 45 in a 30 zone on his motorcycle.

Finland’s system for calculating fines is relatively simple: It starts with an estimate of the amount of spending money a Finn has for one day, and then divides that by two—the resulting number is considered a reasonable amount of spending money to deprive the offender of. Then, based on the severity of the crime, the system has rules for how many days the offender must go without that money. Going about 15 mph over the speed limit gets you a multiplier of 12 days, and going 25 mph over carries a 22-day multiplier. Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Austria, France, and Switzerland also have some sliding-scale fines, or “day-fines,” in place.

[More after the break.]

Should such a system be used in the United States? After all, wealthier people have been shown to drive more recklessly than those who make less money. For example Steve Jobs was known to park in handicapped spots and drive around without license plates. But more importantly, day-fines could introduce some fairness to a legal system that many have convincingly shown to be biased against the poor. Last week, the Department of Justice released a comprehensive report on how fines have been doled out in Ferguson, Missouri. "Ferguson’s law enforcement practices are shaped by the City’s focus on revenue rather than by public safety needs," it concluded.

The first day-fine ever in the U.S. was given in 1988, and about 70 percent of Staten Island’s fines in the following year were day-fines. A similar program was started in Milwaukee, and a few other cities implemented the day-fine idea. Nevertheless, in America, flat-rate fines are the norm and day-fines remain unusual and even exotic.

According to Judith Greene, who founded Justice Strategies, a non-profit research organization, all of these initiatives were effective in making the justice system fairer for poor people. “When considering a proportion of their income, people are at least constantly risk-averse. This means that the worst that would happen is that the deterrent effect of fines would be the same across wealth or income levels,” says Casey Mulligan. "We should start small—say, only speeding tickets—and see what happens."

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  • (Score: 4, Insightful) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 17 2015, @12:30PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 17 2015, @12:30PM (#158837)

    Power means immunity from consequences. The more power someone has the greater the consequences they can ignore.
    Scaling punishments by the amount of money a person normally spends is a way to scale the consequences to match the amount of power a person has.

    It isn't perfect, because the powerful can still lawyer their way out of convictions. But its a start.

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  • (Score: 3, Informative) by Thexalon on Tuesday March 17 2015, @02:54PM

    by Thexalon (636) on Tuesday March 17 2015, @02:54PM (#158889)

    Power means immunity from consequences. The more power someone has the greater the consequences they can ignore.

    It does tend to mean that, but it should be the other way around: The more power somebody has, the higher a standard they should be held to.

    The reason is very simple: The consequences of a powerful person screwing up are much greater than the consequences of a powerless person screwing up. For example, when an impoverished garment worker in Bangladesh screws up, the only consequence is that the seam on your pants unravels faster than it otherwise would have. Whereas when Lehman Brothers CEO Dick Fuld screws up, the global economy can crash causing huge amounts of misery everywhere in the world. And when the President of the United States screws up, thousands of people die.

    I want anyone with power to be very uncomfortable most of the time. I want them to be nervous that the slightest mistake could end their careers. That's how we'll get leaders that are careful rather than indulgent with power.

    The only thing that stops a bad guy with a compiler is a good guy with a compiler.
    • (Score: 2) by moondrake on Tuesday March 17 2015, @03:18PM

      by moondrake (2658) on Tuesday March 17 2015, @03:18PM (#158905)

      I tend to agree, but I believe such system is impossible. First of all, powerful people will use their power to secure their position, even in the case where they screw up.

      Secondly, if we were to instate such a system, why would anyone want to have (acknowledged) power? If be far more appealing to most people to be in a position that is not seen as powerful, as it would offer more security.

      It is possible to give money to counter-balance this, but they would just use the money to escape from the negative consequences that you impose on powerful people screwing up.

      • (Score: 3, Interesting) by Thexalon on Tuesday March 17 2015, @04:18PM

        by Thexalon (636) on Tuesday March 17 2015, @04:18PM (#158944)

        I've always thought the best extrinsic motivation we could give more powerful people was getting laid more often and by more people. That's a lot less harmful than giving them more money, and is still a very strong motivator. And when you look at politicians that were heavily motivated by getting laid, they on the whole did at least as good a job as anyone else who's tried it.

        However, one of the major problems of political science is that anyone who actually wants to be powerful is typically going to be a bad person to entrust with power. The leaders you want do it out of a sense of obligation towards whatever group they're leading. You can tell who these people are because when given power, they take it upon themselves to take more responsibility for what's going on in an organization rather than less responsibility. For people at the pinnacle of power, the best ones believe in "The buck stops here" (and yes, in my view and the view of historian surveys, Harry Truman falls into the category of one of the best ones). Of course, once bad folks know that's the path to power, they do their best to fake it, but there's a way around that, namely checking with the people they're supposed to be leading to see if they are in fact leading.

        The only thing that stops a bad guy with a compiler is a good guy with a compiler.
    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 17 2015, @04:00PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 17 2015, @04:00PM (#158929)

      Sure, but I'm not describing the way it ought to work. I'm describing what power actually means. Immunity from consequences is the function of power.

      I don't just mean criminal consequences. I mean in all things. For example: A rich person has a failed business, no big deal. An average person has a failed business, they might lose their house. A rich person contracts hep C, they can afford the $90,000 cure. A poor person contracts hep C, they just have to live with it for the rest of their life.