- Politics and Social Issues
Time to Occupy The Supreme Court?
Justice: The Rioters and The Rich
Many who are rich and powerful share something important in common with those who riot in the streets, and we should not ignore this insight into our species. The biggest research project into riots to date says that “opportunism” was “a significant factor”. Britain’s Guardian newspaper and the London School of Economics were responsible for the study, and one of the key findings was that rioters felt that they were no longer bound by our culture’s normal codes and laws. They said that they saw “a perceived suspension of normal rules” and the riots presented opportunities of obtaining goods and luxury items. Perhaps other readers as well as I might wonder how the behavior of the rioters differs from the everyday behavior of some of those at the apex of our culture. Their behavior often suggests that they too act as if they are entitled because normal rules do not apply to them. The main difference is that we punish those who are poor although those who behave like there has been a suspension of normal rules at the other end of the social spectrum usually act with impunity when they ignore these rules. We look upon the rioters as criminals; the elite who ignore our laws and codes of behavior do so largely without consequences, particularly if the offenses involve many kinds of financial wrongdoing.
Equal Justice Under Law
Equality before the law is certainly one of the crucial components of democracies – "Equal Justice Under Law" is written on the Supreme Court Building. This notion of equality is meant to separate and distinguish the US from countries such as China and other communist countries, oligarchies and dictatorships. The notion that even monarchs were not above the law had become part of Britain’s code by the 17th century! Also, the notion that those at the apex of a culture should receive greater rather than lesser punishments because they were expected to set an example used to be an axiom – even if it was ignored more in the breach than the observance. Increasingly, it seems that there is just an acceptance that wealth buys soft sentences in the unlikely event a culprit is even bought before the courts. If the “crime” involves financial offences totaling millions of dollars, it is extremely unlikely there will even be criminal charges. If O. J. Simpson had made a lot of money in some questionable financial transaction, he would not have found himself in court. And even in the question of murder, many still regard Simpson’s ability to purchase a dream team to defend him as the reason for him being found innocent rather than the trial yielding a verdict that was related to the kind of justice a poorer man in his circumstances might have expected.
Is It Justice Without Equity and Fairness?
What is shocking is the way we have come to accept the workings of a justice system that is blatantly neither fair nor just in the way that laws are prosecuted. It seems disingenuous not to prosecute those who are in the position to purchase luxury items simply because their wealth is achieved in questionable or illegal ways in the murky worlds of finance, banking and large corporations rather than in the streets in a riot. It is one of a number of ways that our culture is moving backwards rather than forwards. Wall Street and other streets where great wealth is made are safe for their residents as long as laws favor them and those entrusted to applying existing ones fail to prosecute them. We know that whether we are rich or poor, many of us will behave badly if we perceive normal rules do not apply to us.
"Poverty wants much; but avarice, everything"
The flaw is in our humanity; most of us are greedy. Eventually, there are few who will not give in to improper financial gain in a similar way to those in the financial industry and many other spheres have. The importance of applying all laws equally suggests that symbolic courts should be occupied as well as Wall Street; inequality in the application of the law and laws and an unwillingness to prosecute those guilty of crimes in the financial sector damage the US and its future as much as any other crisis. And there is a crisis in the way laws are written and applied. Laws that govern our large corporations and an unwillingness to prosecute those who violate even those laws that are on the books are of particular concern. The Supreme Court’s recent ruling that corporations now have the status of ‘corporate personhood’ makes it an excellent symbol to occupy protesting all of the inequalities before the law – the favored status of corporations and those who work for them at senior levels, in particular. It is time to Occupy the Supreme Court (OSC)!
Sources and Some Pertinent Links
theguardian, 5 December 2011, published “Reading the Riots”. One main finding:
Many rioters conceded that their involvement in looting was simply down to opportunism, saying that a perceived suspension of normal rules presented them with an opportunity to acquire goods and luxury items they could not ordinarily afford. They often described the riots as a chance to obtain "free stuff" or sought to justify the theft.
Dylan Ratigan, MSNBC, in an article dated December 2, 2011, entitled Insider Trading in Congress: No Wonder They’ve Been Trying To Keep it a Secret, says:
It has recently been highlighted that if you or I were to make stock market trades based on non-public material information that altered the prices of those stocks, and we knew it, we’d be thrown in jail. But, our friends in Congress are 100% excluded from precisely such laws.
White Collar Crime: Robert Keel in his lecture notes onSociology and Deviant Behavior discusses the Savings and Loans Scandal and says the following:
The Garn-St. Germain Act of 1982 failed to take into account the human factor of greed. It made the assumption that the entrepreneurs, who borrowed money from savings and loans, and the officers of the thrift institutions themselves, were honest and could be trusted to conduct business on the honor system.
At the time, Mr. Keel says: "The largest monetary theft in history. The total amount of money stolen was six to seven hundred times that which is taken in all the robberies that occur in the United States each year."
The notion that "greed is good" is simplistic unless it is merely stating that greed is good for the greedy.
The OECD50 report "Society: Governments must tackle record gap between rich and poor" published on December 5, 2011 notes:
The gap between rich and poor in OECD countries has reached its highest level for over over 30 years, and governments must act quickly to tackle inequality, according to a new OECD report.
“Divided We Stand: Why Inequality Keeps Rising” finds that the average income of the richest 10% is now about nine times that of the poorest 10 % across the OECD.
The income gap has risen even in traditionally egalitarian countries, such as Germany, Denmark and Sweden, from 5 to 1 in the 1980s to 6 to 1 today. The gap is 10 to 1 in Italy, Japan, Korea and the United Kingdom, and higher still, at 14 to 1 in Israel, Turkey and the United States.