Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Prisoner's Choice

Eugène Delacroix, The Prisoner of Chillon
In the past prisoner’s were kept in very poor conditions such as castle dungeons and fed on leftovers. With time humanity has advanced so that conditions of prisons have vastly improved. With that has increased the expense of maintaining these prisons.

Criminal are put in prisons for many reasons, the primary one being that society should be protected from criminals and that imprisonment is a deterrent for crime. There is also the hope that the criminal would reform. However, let us see if these aims are being met. First of all the expense is something that the public bears and because of it public debt rises. The living condition of prisons has improved to the extent that in most countries of the world prisoners get better food for free than a large segment of the population at large. There have been cases of persons who commit petty crimes just so that they can get free lodgings in prison. Recently there was the case of an old man who begged to be kept in prison after his sentence was over because he said he had no other place to go to.
"The financial implications of the legal and justice systems around much of the world designed by the one percent for the one percent i.e. bail and legal costs are such that dame justice has a blindfold and a cell for the for the poor in one hand and a gentle pat for the rich in the other. "   Ashok

On the one hand society is protected when a criminal is imprisoned but on the other hand it suffers because of the economic burden. The public first pays for investigation and public prosecution and next it pays for the prison and living expenses of the prisoner. Few prisons reform the criminal, rather, petty criminals become hardened because of their new found company and return to society as such posing greater dangers.

There is also the perception that prisoners are jailed not primarily because of the things mentioned but for some other reasons, one being revenge and the feeling of satisfaction it gives to others. Another reason is to get persons troublesome to power out of society such as political prisoners. However, these latter reasons are such as must be discouraged in any civilized society.

It is worth questioning if human society can greatly minimize the system of imprisonment if not do away with it completely. Other forms of punishment are possible that can be a deterrent as well as reformative while not causing any expense to the public. For examples rapist and sexual offenders can be rendered impotent and non-erective by medical techniques and they can even be castrated to nullify their sexual drive. Financial offenders can be punished financially and in cases of major offenders like Bernie Madoff they can be stripped of all their assets so as to be rendered paupers and then left free. Some think that Bernie Madoff must be made to suffer but dear friends do you think he would suffer more as a penniless pauper on the street or in comfortable prison lodgings paid for by you and me and fed by cooks paid by a portion of our work at our employer rather than line up at a soup kitchen or rummage through garbage bins for food? Once discovered such financial criminals are no longer a threat to society at large. They are rarely violent, just plain greedy like pigs who feast on shit, why not let them feed on that rather than be fed by designer menus paid for by you and me? And the prisoners don't care for Obama-care. The state provides them free full medical treatment. The state shall provide free surgery from a portion of your taxes.

Minor offenders such as those who physically hurt other people or get into physical fights can be sent away to work camps for prescribed periods where they work for their living and suffer similar companions. Minor financial or other offenders can be dealt with fine or public service sentences. There is absolutely no reason why Marijuana related offenses cannot be treated with just a fine that will enrich the state rather than prison sentences that impoverish it.

There is also a need to review if certain things can be removed from the crime list. One is a drug related offense. Until a few centuries ago possession and trade in narcotics was not a crime and there were no drug crimes except national ones like the opium wars. Ever since drugs have become illegal drug related crime has emerged. Mexico and Columbia can be rid of drug wars overnight if drugs are made legal. Portugal has led the way by doing it already. A portion of the law enforcement expenses is then spent on rehabilitation centers and public education about the dangers of addiction. The public of many countries supports the legalisations of drugs such as cannabis however the authorities remain obstinate. Not all the reasons for this obstinacy are honorable. Politicians and law enforcement agencies derive kickbacks from drug dealers in many places around the world, often indirectly round tripped through legal businesses in which the mafia has invested so that the politician can say that he is an honorable man.
It is a well documented, observed and researched fact that a marijuana smoker is not a threat to anyone in society whereas an alcohol drinker often is because of driving, violence etc. If for a moment one believes that marijuana can harm a person who consumes it, then let him be punished through that, why is society wasting time and money by putting him in prison? It defies all logic and good sense to do so. If some feel it is necessary to imprison Marijuana smokers, they may be doing it for criminal reasons ( for example supporting the illegal drug industry) or some form of insanity and perhaps deserve a prison sentence or treatment in an institution rather than the marijuana smoker.
It really is time for society to reconsider the prison option in majority of cases where such sentences are routinely awarded around the world. if Sweden can do it so can other countries. The money saved can be spent much more honorably on reducing public debt and also in creating shelters for the homeless. This blogger intends to write a separate post on such shelters in the near future.

photo from occupy wall street page on facebook
UPDATE: May 2014: Uruguay has won the war on drugs with love and commonsense not guns while others are busy killing each other over it or stuffing their prisons with offenders. Uruguay is the only country in the world where Cannabis has become legal recently while it has a President that gives away 90 percent of his salary to poor and drives a 1987 car while refusing to live in the Presidential Palace. See a connection there friends? There is a separate recent post on that in this blog

UPDATE:  If prisons close down, prison contractors and staff do not have to lose employment. They can be shifted here. Those desperate for a shelter also then need not commit a robbery in our homes to find free shelter. A post on shelters for homeless is here:

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Rule of Ten: How to rid capitalism of huge inequalties

Rule of Ten for greater Equality

Do you know?

That Chief Executives of many corporations make in a month what the lowest paid worker of the same organization would make in a life time (Thirty to forty years of work life)

With the legally binding rule of ten in place, it becomes in the interest of company bosses to increase minimum wages within their organizations to the extent possible, or their own wages cannot be increased, while making it impossible for them to collect huge and obscene compensations. All that is required is a simple law that prescribes the maximum permissible ratio between the highest and lowest compensation that any organization or corporation may have.

Recently there has been a hue and cry about the high salary and bonuses that some corporate executives, especially bankers are drawing. The occupy movement that has erupted in many countries around the world represents this anguish of people. New sources of communication make expressing the anguish public, yet there is a simple way to fix the problem if people can compel ruling politicians to make required changes before it becomes too late even for that. It is called the rule of ten here. If adopted such a rule will not only strengthen non-exploitative capitalism while ending the exploitative kind, it will also strengthen democracy. When capitalism is the benevolent kind, inequalities reduce, when it becomes exploitative, inequalities rise. It seems that in the largest economy of the world, USA, inequalities have been rising for more than three decades now (see this report)

Capitalism is not always exploitative as some claim because the same report shows that inequalities reduced in the period prior to 1978 and everyone got richer. However, for capitalism to continue in a benevolent manner checks have to be put on excess of greed. Unlike lust, the Lord has not put an automatic safety valve to greed that puts an end to lust at a certain peak value. Greed on the other hand, without checks, can grow infinitely, growing stronger with each level of attainment, until it sucks the life blood of society and destroys what it is feeding on, like a horde of marauding locusts that stays in a green field until every thing is wiped out, when people are told to eat cake if they cannot find bread or when a Castro or Lenin arrives to banish the czars.

Simply stated the rule of ten states that within any corporate or government organization the cumulative annual benefits (that include salary, bonuses, shares and all other benefits) of any individual within that organization shall not exceed  a legally prescribed and defined ratio of the total benefits of the lowest paid individual. This will immediately put a cap to the high bonuses and perks some individuals are enjoying in various organizations while compelling them to increase wages of the lowest paid in order to maintain their own high wage. The rule has to be corporation wide not country wide in order to allow corporations to compete and also because the financial conditions of businesses vary. The rule shall be applicable to include severance and retirement benefits too.
The rule of ten is simply a way of stating and ensuring that a sense of balance and proportion is maintained when wages and compensations of employees from top to bottom are decided within an organization. This rule would not have been necessary if organizations and businesses did it on their own but very few do, rather many have begun to violate it massively especially over the last three or four decades.

Rule of Ten
It may be noted that with the rule of ten in place it becomes unnecessary to prescribe minimum wages. They rise automatically to the extent the finances of a business permit. The basis of this rule is that no individual is less than ten times as capable, hard working or talented than the most capable individual in any organization. In case he or she is, he/she should be in a care home instead. It is only just that the salary structures reflect this reality. Some number such as 10, 12, 24, 30 or even fifty has to be chosen and a round number is simple to implement. The real and evident reason for these gross inequalities is that those with advantages have exploited their positions to maintain their advantage since the dawn of human civilization, to different extents at different periods of history. The present one is particularly bad with less than 100 humans owning a wealth equal to that of half the humans on the planet as per reports from Oxfam International..

No doubt, if instituted, corporations would devise ways to get around this rule but it shall be a beginning and in any case it will make the kind of rip offs possible now impossible.
Countries not used to this sort of rule will find it rather extreme, but they can make a beginning by a  less severe ratio then 10, say 50, even 100  to prevent a few individuals from ripping off the voiceless shareholder and the shirts off the back of the poor and pushing some corporations to the point that they require a bail out from public funds. Under the present rules of the game nothing prevents corporate bosses from walking away with hugely unfair compensations and indeed some such thing is happening in many places.

Extracted from: The Pinch of Poverty by Thomas B. Kennington

How will such a rule strengthen democracy? If a referendum is to be called for such a law, an overwhelming majority shall support it. Any rule or law that is in accordance with the just aspirations or wishes of the people and is workable strengthens democracy. What about the argument being put by some bankers etc. that this will lead to a flight of talent. That is just nonsense but if there is capital that leads to exploitation of 99 percent of people it is best that it flees and flees fast.
Such a rule will not lead to a flight of talent or capital that benefits society as a whole although it will lead to the flight of talent and capital that destroys society out of greed gone haywire. It shall lead to a flight of greed and exploitation instead.
What will happen to the campaign contributions of political candidates if some individuals and corporations are not allowed to get disproportionately rich? No just human society needs campaign contributions that ride on the back of the homeless and the struggling while the likes of Berlusconi have perhaps taken off to their island spa for another bunga bunga party. Quite likely he has enough room for other leaders to join him as other economies around the world collapse under the burden of debt.
Unless the presently prosperous economies of the world take steps towards abolishing exploitative minimum wages and limiting high executive rip-offs both two sides of the same coin along with irrational debt, they appear headed for economic doom. Current measures as being adopted around the world only kick the can down the road, a road in which the pits get deeper as one moves further.
A year or so ago when the CEO of a Swiss drug major was walking off with a 78 million severance package, as approved by a board of directors whose compensations he had approved (it is the you scratch my back, I scratch yours story in corporations) the Swiss public woke up and forced in a new law to prevent this sort of rip offs by companies. The legislators cried foul and the companies cried foul but the public had their way because of the unique sort of democracy the Swiss have. In other countries the public does not have a similar say.
The rule of ten is far more business friendly than increasing minimum wages because a  struggling business can then survive lean periods by cutting salaries across the board until it recovers which is not possible with regulated minimum wages and at times when no job is available even a low paid one is better than being kicked out to homeless street.
Many Slaves at work make many dollars for a few rich persons
NOTE: A less severe version of the rule of ten is one applied to ratios of maximum to average salary in place of minimum salary within organizations. Such a rule also controls runaway compensations but does not contribute as much to automatic increase of minimum wages.

This post and its reprints elsewhere on the net has resulted in the Swiss 1:12 initiative presently underway and scheduled for a vote this Sunday. The design of flag for their movement has been inspired by the logo in this post. Understandably there is much opposition to it from the same quarters that uphold the 1 per cent dominance in the world and it is possible that it may not win just right now but it is clear that the idea has arrived. Similar moves are underway in other nations too, albeit in their infancy just now. Read more about this here:

While the Rule of ten prevents a few in control of corporations from exploiting its employees and share holders, it does not prevent a corporation from exploiting the society at large. For that we have the rule of ninety described here -
The rule of ninety prevents corporations automatically from becoming too big to fail unless they are working for public good, prevents excess profiteering and encourages competition.