US Politics and the Economy

Their Crimes and Our Punishments

By Bonnie Weinstein

To state that there is a double standard of justice for the wealthy, capitalist elite (a tiny minority of the world’s population) and the rest of us is a monumental understatement. Corporations and their executives get away with murder and grand theft routinely, while the rest of us—the vast majority of humanity—sometimes pay, literally, with our lives for the “crime” of being poor.

Capitalist society equates poverty with stupidity and general unworthiness while, ironically, the possession of wealth—even when simply inherited—insures a place among the ruling elite and immunity to punishment.

There is method to the madness of capitalism. The method is “law and order”—their laws, their order. The madness is tyranny—our enslavement by those commanders of capital—by any and all means necessary.

Capitalists get away with murder and mayhem

According to a September 11, 2014 New York Times article by Hiroko Tabuchi titled, “Air Bag Flaw, Long Known to Honda and Takata, Led to Recalls,”

“Today, more than 14 million vehicles have been recalled by 11 automakers over rupture risks involving air bags manufactured by the supplier, Takata. That is about five times the number of vehicles recalled this year by General Motors for its deadly ignition switch defect….

“The danger of exploding air bags was not disclosed for years after the first reported incident in 2004, despite red flags—including three additional ruptures reported to Honda in 2007, according to interviews, regulatory filings and court records.”1

Clearly, these auto manufacturers did nothing to prevent injury and death to motorists. Millions of us are still in danger while paying for the privilege of driving around in these defective vehicles. But have any of these corporate bosses been arrested? Hell, no! And they won’t be!

They get away with grand theft, too

According to a August 28, 2014 article by David Gelles titled, “Businesses Are Winning Cat-and-Mouse Tax Game,”

“By exploiting existing loopholes and devising new ones, some of the country’s best-known companies are making it harder than ever for the federal government to replenish its already depleted coffers. As a result, business income tax revenue remains stagnant at about two percent of gross domestic product even as corporate profits hit records. Business taxes now make up less than ten percent of federal revenue, and in some years as little as 6.6 percent. That is sharply down from the years after World War II, when about 30 percent of federal revenue came from corporate taxes….”2

Corporations hire giant law firms whose job it is to devise laws and buy politicians to allow corporations to get out of paying taxes and/or to hide trillions of dollars in profits off shore in “private banks” in order to avoid taxes.

Everybody knows if we try to cheat on our taxes we go to jail. Basically, the capitalist class owns and controls the laws while we have to find ways to abide by them, or else!

Getting robbed in Missouri and in your home town

In an August 26, 2014 article by Campbell Roberts and Joseph Goldstein titled, “In Aftermath of Missouri Protests, Skepticism About the Prospects for Change” that appeared in the New York Times, reported that,

“…just a few hours after Michael Brown was laid to rest, an amiable judge sat in the City Council chambers here and weighed in on the traffic violations and petty crimes, one by one, of more than a hundred people. At least two-thirds of those waiting were Black, roughly a reverse racial image of the demographics of Maplewood itself…

“Young Black men, who in many towns in St. Louis County are pulled over at a rate greater than whites, routinely find themselves in the patchwork of municipal courts here, without lawyers and unable to pay the fines levied for their traffic violations. Many end up being passed from jail to jail around the county until they can pay their fines and in some cases other administrative fees, a revenue source on which some towns are growing increasingly reliant.

“‘It angers people, because it seems like they’re just messing with you,’ said Cameron Lester, a 22-year-old college student who knew Mr. Brown, and days earlier was protesting his death. He described how an unpaid $75 ticket once turned into days behind bars in two different police stations and hundreds-of-dollars in fees…

“When a person fails to appear and pay, here as in many other places, a warrant is issued and that person’s license is suspended….In Ferguson, more than one-and-a-half warrants have been issued for every resident. And as the warrants stack up, so do the fines: Not showing up to pay a $90 taillight violation means a failure-to-appear warrant with its own fee of $100 or more; each successive failure-to-appear warrant adds to that; and if there is a stop, there are incarceration fees and towing fees.

“In the end, said Brendan Roediger, an assistant professor at St. Louis University Law School, a person who had trouble coming up with $90 might owe a jurisdiction well over a thousand dollars.”3

These practices aren’t limited to Missouri; they are routine in poor communities across the country and common experiences for all working people.

What could we do with the money spent on incarceration and fines?

Consider this, tuition and expenses for the 2014-2015 academic year at Harvard is $43,938; room and board is $14,669; estimated personal expenses (including $800-$1200 for books) is $3,643; estimated travel costs range from $0-$5800; for total billed and unbilled costs of $62,250-$68,050 for the year. In addition, health insurance is required at a cost of $2,366 unless you are covered under your family’s plan.4

It would be cheaper to send inmates to Harvard!

It would make much more sense to utilize the billions of dollars spent to incarcerate inmates, instead, to provide free healthcare, education and housing and to create jobs for those in poverty. It would make much more sense to have progressive taxation, i.e., to get rid of the tax loopholes for the rich and tax them at a progressive rate—the more money they have the higher rate of taxes they pay.

Why do they do what they do?

It makes no sense to jail someone for an unpaid taillight ticket unless you are a capitalist.

The purpose of inflicting fines, mass incarceration and regressive taxes (the poor pay more), is not only to fund the capitalist class’s government—its police, military and jails—but to weigh-down and oppress the working class in order to prevent revolution.

They make the rules; they make the exceptions for themselves; they keep the profits we create; they control the police and military apparatus—all to convince us there’s nothing we can do about it.

Putting our money at work for us

But there are many things we can do about it. We can demand a progressive tax structure where the wealthy pay more with no cut-off at the high-end, and no taxes at all on working class people. We can demand free, universal healthcare and education from cradle to grave. We can demand a living wage for all—as determined by us, not them. We can demand a ceiling on profits and CEO pay—determined by us. We can demand a shorter workweek with no cuts in pay in order to put everyone who needs a full-time job to work.

We must find a way to exercise our right to determine, freely and democratically, how our tax dollars will be spent. Tax money is our money and we should have the ultimate say on what we want to spend it on.

We must insist on democratically determining all of the policies that we feel should be carried out for the good of all of us.

Democracy isn’t being free to vote for one privately well-financed liar over another. Democracy is the right to determine how we—the overwhelming majority—want to live and how we want to distribute and use our common resources. We can do this. We are the majority. All it takes is our solidarity and our determination to make these decisions for ourselves—that’s socialism.