Essay:Towards a Safer America

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Towards a Safer America
The Suitable Punishment and Deterrence of Crime Committed
by Otherwise Productive and Well-to-Do Members of Society

Today is a frightening time in America. Violent criminals flood our streets. These days, a patriotic citizen has no choice but to take extreme measures to ensure his own family's security against the depraved criminal forces sweeping the suburbs and exurbs; the easy access to his loaded FAL .308 carbine, the warm press of the Desert Eagle .50 cal in its concealed holster, and a discount deadbolt lock from Home Depot become the only things safeguarding them against the flood of murderous burglars crashing against their door.

If there is one saving grace to this epidemic, it is that violent criminals are easily discerned, their barbaric and thuggish nature readily apparent to the wary citizen. So it follows that any criminal who can readily slip past our infallible American discriminations is all the more grave a threat. Unfortunately, such criminals exist: white collar criminals.

Suddenly anyone, from brokers to cashiers, is a potential criminal. Unlike violent criminals, a broker looks just like us, has the same mannerisms, the same fashions, the same race as us. And aside from his piles of money, vacation homes, expensive cars, private schools for his children, and lawyer on retainer, he is every bit as middle-class as us. The cashier at least looks like us[1] (though given his wages he is probably not middle-class like us).

Has society decayed so far that we can no longer trust our fellow middle-class, respectable, civil patriots? Unfortunately, it has. The crimes committed by white collar criminals like WorldCom, Enron, and Bernie Madoff have ruined the lives of untold numbers of people. But more importantly they cause about $400 billion in damages a year.[2]

If there is a second saving grace to the violent crime epidemic, it's that the majority of such misfortunes are perpetrated by and against people on the margins of society[3] — and, really, what business is it of ours how such people treat each other? This is America — live and let live! White collar crimes (e.g. embezzlement, identity theft, stock fraud, Ponzi schemes, etc.), on the other hand, are a direct threat to the middle class, and should not be tolerated.

There is a solution to this epidemic of shady money-changers. Like all the greatest solutions, it is simple, effective, and easily implemented: capital punishment should be applied to white collar crimes.

(A word of warning: you will find no talk of the "death penalty" herein — "death" is such an ugly word. The logistics of killing people is highly academic, and ought not to be sullied with such loaded words. Killing people is the favored solution of many modern, enlightened, and just nations,[4] used for only the most heinous of crimes.[5][6][7] The proper term is "capital punishment.")

A Brief History of Executing Accountants[edit]

Capital punishment for white collar crimes is fairly recent. The earliest set of recorded laws, the Code of Hammurabi (dating back to circa 1750 BCE),[8] is stunningly lenient towards embezzlement and fraud.[8]

As for the Bible... well, it spends a lot more time talking about crimes against God than it does crimes against finances. A missed opportunity, for sure.

While capital punishment for white collar criminals is a recent development, its moral basis was established by the ancient Welsh. In ancient Wales, the crime considered most worthy of capital punishment was not murder, but stealing from one's own host.[9] After all, only the most despicable of people would rob the very person whom so generously extended their hospitality. More than a violation of life, such thefts were a violation of trust, an assault on the very foundation of a community. And is white collar crime not exactly that: a violation of trust?

China was the first modern nation to recognize this. During the 1980s and '90s, rampant white collar crime was discouraging foreign companies from investing in China. Recognizing the reprehensibility of such violations of trust, China passed a law in 1996 which extended capital punishment to certain white collar crimes,[10] hoping to foster a trustworthy economy to match the trustworthy government they've had since 1949.

To reiterate, China realized that executing white collar criminals is all about making oneself more attractive to foreign businesses. In other words, trust.

We trust a cashier to handle our credit cards, an accountant our finances, a hedge fund manager our retirement funds. Over the course of their careers, each of them will be entrusted with the finances of many dozens, hundreds, or even millions of people.

One shudders to think of the consequences of such violations of trust. A single Ponzi scheme or rogue CFO can cause untold economic devastation[11][12] — the future people were saving towards consumed in a great holocaust of imaginary money.

(Not to discount the human toll of white collar crime. The aforementioned Ponzi schemers and unsupervised CFOs can cause measurable physical and emotional harm as well.[13] And if but one victim of Bernie Madoff or Ken Lay's crimes was driven to suicide, that is blood on their hands. Indeed, between the literal years shaved off of people’s lives from dire financial stress and suicides committed in financial despair, Madoff and Lay may be more prolific murderers than the worst of serial killers.)

Therefore, like the ancient Welsh, a modern society, dependent as it is on the fluid exchange of money, ought to spell out in no uncertain terms the unparalleled enormity of white collar crime.

Regarding the Moral Superiority of Capital Punishment[edit]

The Value of a Human Life (on Discount)[edit]

One of the most common arguments for or against the death penalty is the question of cost: is it cheaper to execute someone, or imprison them for life? I have always felt this to be an excellent and highly relevant argument. When pondering the ethics of capital punishment, the first thought on one's mind should be "I certainly hope not killing people is cheaper than killing people," or, "I support the use of the ultimate punishment for the ultimate crimes, but only when it's really cheap." Fortunately, according to Dudley Sharp, of the organization Justice For All, capital punishment is quite the bargain, costing only $1.88 million to house a man on death row, versus $3.01 million to imprison him for life.[14] (Unfortunately, selling the bodies of executed criminals is illegal,[15] thus limiting further methods of cost saving.) One hopes accounting continues to be given such weight in important ethical matters. Provided the one doing the accounting is not an embezzler, or they might have to be executed.

The cost savings argument dovetails exquisitely with a most important question: how much financial distress does a white collar criminal have to cause to be eligible for capital punishment? (Lest we execute some poor cashier for skimming a five dollar bill from the till.). Or more directly: what is the value of a human life?

The answer is right before our eyes; the value of a human life has already been calculated, and it's worth $1,130,000. Clearly, if the cost difference of life imprisonment versus execution can change someone's mind on the matter, then that difference equates to what we value a human life at.

Now, it would hardly be fair to accept a government-based measurement of man without looking into the free market's own measurements first. The United States is, after all, a nation of free markets. The role of free markets is firmly established in the supreme law of the land: the Declaration of Independence.[16] The Declaration implicitly states that all men have a right to property — widely agreed among patriots to mean "the free market." Now, while it may say that "all men have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness," scholars agree that what was meant was "life, liberty, and property."[17] Discerning patriots will correctly interpret this as "free market, capitalism, free market."

So, what does the free market value a human life at? According to the life insurance industry, about $2 million.[18] However, $2 million is an awful lot of money — every good libertarian knows that a properly functioning free market pushes prices down. Perhaps the government realizes increased efficiency from economies of scale? (Or perhaps Dudley Sharp can't do math. He certainly can't do statistics.)

Perhaps looking to the wealthy for the measure of a human life is the wrong tack. A more traditional, populist conservative would urge us to look to the working class — the backbone of America.

What is a working class citizen worth, then? According to Don Blankenship, former CEO of Massey Energy, and former employer of at least twenty-nine coal miners in the state of West Virginia,[19] a worker's life is worth about $103,448.28.[20] This is an outstanding bargain, and a testament to the power of unregulated markets.[21] If that is the worth of a human life, then it follows that that is minimum amount of assets defrauded for a white-collar crime to be eligible for capital punishment.

Update: The state of Arizona has just decided the value of a human life is $14,285.71.[22] Pack your bags and go home, libertarians: the government has officially beat the free market in terms of efficiency.

Rasmussen Is God: the Enduring Popularity of Execution[edit]

Capital punishment remains incredibly popular, as the below graphic (courtesy of the Pew Research Center) illustrates:

Pewdeathpenaltysupport.gif

Or not. Okay, I know this looks bad. Superficially, it appears this essay is on the losing end of the argument. (I swear, kill a few innocents,[23] and suddenly you're morally reprehensible.) If that's the case, then I'd like to request that the righteous half of Americans please donate more money to the cause — remember, every murderer executed is one less welfare queen off the street! (I'd also advise Dudley Sharp to avoid arguments that have expiration dates in his next essay.)

Fortunately, that interpretation is only based off a superficial look at the above graph. It's actually quite misleading. I offer this improved graphic as evidence for my case:

Pewdeathpenaltysupportimproved.gif

It's unfortunate that we can't decide other ethical issues by popular vote. Imagine the possibilities! Is abortion ethical? The public says... Sometimes![24] How many bullets is a police officer allowed to fire into an innocent person? The public says… Forty-one![25] Can I punch this old lady? The public says... Depends — is she ugly?

Furthermore, that in the past, reprehensible policies like slavery enjoyed terrific public support is irrelevant. Our current national morality is highly advanced and completely consistent. It's stopped evolving and is perfect. And just because we've always believed that to be the case, doesn't mean it isn't true now; just because we were imperfect in the past doesn't mean we're imperfect now.

Capital Punishment as a Preventative Measure[edit]

Solving Racism, One White Guy at a Time[edit]

A Dish Best Served Cold (and Preferably Dead)[edit]

Round Them Up and Gun Them Down: the Effectiveness of Execution[edit]

The preceding arguments, however, are but garnishes on the entrée of death, appetizers to the ultimate argument in favor of capital punishment: its historical effectiveness. What good are silly abstractions such as "principles," "democracy," and "cost effectiveness" in the face of capital punishment, so long as history shows us it works? Fortunately for our collective conscience, the historical record bears witness to the exceeding effectiveness of the ultimate punishment for the ultimate of crimes. Says Wesley Lowe, in his brilliant and completely sound Pro Death Penalty Webpage:

In the 1800s, in English occupied India, there was… [an] Indian [gang] known as the Thuggees. ...Thuggees were credited with murdering more than 2,000,000 people, mostly wealthy travelers.[26] The killer secret society plagued India for more than 350 years.

The ruling British government worked very hard to stop the Thuggee[s]… Between 1829 and 1848, the British managed to suppress the Thuggees by means of mass arrests and speedy executions. …rows and rows of Thuggees were left hanging from the gallows along the roads by the dozens…

In 1882, the British government deemed the problem solved with the hanging death of the last known Thuggee...

Back then, the British weren't as morally confused as they are now. …[The British] respected their moral responsibility to defend public safety by diligently countering barbarism, even in their colonies. If the British were anything back then like they are now, they would have been content to sit around on their hands reveling on how "civilized" they are to allow such and evil cult like the Thuggees to exist and terrorize the public. -gladly [sic] sacrificing public safety and social tranquility for some self-absorbed sense of delicacy. Most likely, the Thuggees would still be around today and for many centuries more to plague India. The Indians have a lot to be thankful for since the British eliminated that scourge over a century ago. They wouldn't have the nerve to effectively counter such barbarism these days.

Implicit genocide? Whites rounding up and killing brown people? An overwhelmed justice system focused more on killing as many as possible, thus guaranteeing that thousands of non-criminals were executed as criminals? It's a capital punishment-advocate's dream.

And if that was the effect of capital punishment on the notoriously difficult-to-control criminal underbelly, imagine how effective it would be when applied to the more civilized! One imagines the violent crime rate amongst homosexuals, the disabled, Romani, and Jews was at a record low during the Holocaust.

Fortunately, the U.S. military is never one to pass up the opportunity to explore the practical applications of capital punishment. Americans can rest easy knowing that such policies are currently being used to hunt terrorists in Iraq.[27]

Footnotes[edit]

  1. Unless they're a minority, which raises the question of how some Muslim illegal immigrant got hired in the first place. But I digress; the issue of President Obama is an essay for another day.
  2. "Economic and Social Effects of Crime - Determining Costs." Law Library - American Law and Legal Information. 2011.
  3. In short, if you're an unmarried, poor, young Native American woman, you're completely fucked. Source: "Victim Characteristics." Bureau of Justice Statistics. 2006.
  4. Including such bastions of justice as China, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen! All countries should strive to be more like Yemen. Source: "Use of capital punishment by country." Wikipedia. 2011 November 8.
  5. "Execution of a teenage girl." BBC News. 2006 July 27.
  6. "Hanged for being a Christian in Iran." The Telegraph. 2008 November 10.
  7. Though what constitutes a heinous crime is up for interpretation. It would be best to give the benefit of the doubt to Saudi Arabia, and assume they only execute the adulterers and idolaters that really deserve it.
  8. 8.0 8.1 Charles F. Horne, Ph.D. "The Code of Hammurabi." Academy for Ancient Texts.
  9. It must be true! A fanfic told me!
  10. "The Death Penalty in China: Breaking Records, Breaking Rules." Amnesty International. 1997.
  11. Assuming $64.8 billion rounds up to "untold." Source: Martha Graybow. "Madoff mysteries remain as he nears guilty plea." Reuters. 2009 March 11.
  12. $45 billion directly due to fraud, not counting another $29 billion in technically non-fraud losses (which wouldn't have become losses in the first place if the company hadn't been committing fraud). Source: Kris Axtman. "How Enron awards do, or don't, trickle down." The Christian Science Monitor. 2005 June 20.
  13. Barbara O'Neill, et al. "Changes in Health, Negative Financial Events, and Financial Distress/Financial Well-Being for Debt Management Program Clients." Financial Counseling and Planning. Volume 17, Issue 2. 2006.
  14. Dudley Sharp. "Death Penalty Paper." Justice for All. 1997 October 1.
  15. Tony Paterson. "Body Worlds impresario 'used corpses of executed prisoners for exhibition'." The Telegraph. 2004 January 25.
  16. The Constitution, on the other hand, is a egregious and mistaken embrace of Big Government, what with its talk of providing for the general welfare, regulating interstate commerce, and levying taxes. Classic statist tripe.
  17. The reason why somewhere between Thomas Paine’s Common Sense and the final draft of the Declaration, the Founding Fathers decided to change a single word into a completely unrelated whole phrase remains unfathomable. Lord knows they never changed their minds.
  18. Mark Maremont and Leslie Scism. "Shift to Wealthier Clientele Puts Life Insurers in a Bind." Wall Street Journal. 2010 October 3.
  19. Taylor Kuykendall. "Remembering the 29." The Register-Herald. 2011 April 6.
  20. $3 million in campaign contributions divided by 29 people is about $103,448.28. Source: Adam Liptak. "West Virginia Judge Steps Out of Case Involving a Travel Companion." The New York Times. 2008 January 19.
  21. Also a testament to the power of unregulated markets: 29 dead bodies.
  22. $1.4 million divided by 98 people is about $14,285.71. Source: Ben Tracy. "Medicaid Cuts Killing Ariz. Transplant Patients." CBS News. 2011 January 6.
  23. Paul Cates. "DNA Test Proves Critical Hair Evidence in a Capital Murder Case Didn’t Match Man Executed." Innocence Project. 2010 November 10.
  24. Dalia Sussman. "Poll: Thirty Years After Roe vs. Wade, American Support Is Conditional." ABC News. 2004 January 22.
  25. "Amadou Diallo." The New York Times.
  26. I'm as surprised as you are that India had that many wealthy people.
  27. Statistically speaking, at least some of the over 108,000 Iraqis killed in the Iraq War were terrorists, so the whole endeavour's been totally worth it. Source: "Iraq Body Count Database." Iraq Body Count. 2012 July. accessed 2012 September 24.

See also[edit]