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This House would make fines relative to income
This House would make fines relative to income
Most countries impose fines rather than jail sentences for low-level criminal offences. (Often, much larger fines are used alongside jail sentences for ‘white-collar’ crimes, e.g. fraud, but these are less relevant to the debate in hand.)
In some places, (e.g. Switzerland, Norway, Sweden and some other European countries1,2) fines are given relative to the offender’s income: so if you earn more, you pay a larger fine. Ordinarily, there is a minimum fine, with an additional ‘day fine’ or ‘unit fine’ above that amount, where the offender is fined a given number of days-worth of income.3
This debate is, in essence about two things. First, a question of justice, and how we create a system that is fair for all, and second, how we create a system that is likely to lead to the best outcomes (in terms of deterring people from criminal behaviour).
1 ‘Traffic Fines Proportional to Income’, Hubpages, http://blissfulwriter.hubpages.com/hub/Traffic-Fines-Proportional-to-Income
2 Jordans, Frank, ‘Speeding fines being linked to income in Europe’, SFGATE, 11 January 2010, http://www.sfgate.com/news/article/Speeding-fines-being-linked-to-income-in-Europe-3275939.php
3 Salinger, L.M. 2005. Encyclopedia of White-Collar and Corporate Crime. (Vol 1, p24). USA: Sage Publications.
|Points For||Points Against|
|Rich and poor now face equality of impact of punishment||A flat rate is more just|
|The rich are now also deterred||The rich will resent this|
|Creates the perception that the rich are not immune to the consequences of their actions||Creates the perception that fines are like taxes, rather than a punishment|
Remember to choose a winning argument!
Rich and poor now face equality of impact of punishment
The purpose of a fine is to ensure that the offender faces the consequences of their actions. The extent to which a financial penalty feels like a negative consequence is relative to the amount of income someone has, not to the simple amount that the fine is. That is, if someone earning £200 per week is fined £100, that will feel more severe than a £100 fine would feel to someone earning £2000 per week.
Therefore, if you make fines proportional to the income someone has, all people feel the impact of the punishment equally, rather than the poor facing a punishment with a harsher impact on them than on the rich.Improve this
Even if a fine is made proportional to income, you will not get the equality of impact you desire. This is because the impact is not proportional simply to income, but must take into account a number of other factors. For example, someone supporting a family will face a greater impact than someone who is not, because they have a smaller disposable income. Further, a fine based on income ignores overall wealth (i.e. how much money someone actually has: someone might have a lot of assets but not have a high income).
The proposition does not cater for these inequalities, which may well have a much greater skewing effect, and therefore the argument is being applied inconsistently.Improve this
The rich are now also deterred
Another purpose of fines is to provide a deterrent. If fines are applied at one rate regardless of income, they must be low enough not to be un-payable for those who do not earn much money. Consequently, they are set so low that they fail to have a deterrent effect on the richest in society, who are easily able to afford to break the law.
This is especially the case when you consider the sorts of crimes that are punishable by fines, e.g. illicit parking and littering. These crimes have an indirect harm, and thus it is easy for the rich to consider that once they have paid the fine they have paid for the damage done, even though in reality this is not the case.1
1 Gneezy, U., Rustichini, A., 2000. ‘A Fine is a Price’. Journal of Legal Studies., vol. 29 pp1-17Improve this
This motion will have no impact on that problem. Fines must be set at a low percentage of income so that the people earning the least do not find themselves going without essentials (a fine for speeding that caused you not to be able to heat your house in winter would seem, with good reason, disproportionate!)
Consequently, whether the fine is £60 or £6000, there will always be some to whom paying the fine is not a problem, and who will happily pay in order to flout the law.Improve this
Creates the perception that the rich are not immune to the consequences of their actions
Fines that are not proportionate to income may create the perception that the rich are immune to the consequences of their actions. This is because people see those earning the least struggling to pay a fine, whilst the rich are able to pay that fine easily, without making any significant sacrifices. Canada is an example of this being the case with two thirds of respondents on surveys saying that the Canadian justice system is unfair because it provides preferential treatment to the rich compared to how harsh it is towards the poor.1
Making fines proportionate to income would change that perception. People would then see the law being applied in such a way as to punish all, not just certain sections of society. This will improve perceptions of (and consequently, relations with) the justice and law enforcement systems.
It is important that justice is seen to be done, as well as occurring (sometimes referred to as the Principle of Open Justice), for several reasons. First, we operate a system of government by consent: people’s opinions of the justice system are deemed an important check and balance on the power of the law-makers. Consequently, if they are seen to ‘abuse their power’ by imposing a law seen to be unfair, they have an obligation either to adequately explain and defend the law, or change it.
Second, people’s perceptions of law enforcement in one area spill over into other areas: it is the same police force enforcing all aspects of the law, and so the differences in policy origin are obscured. Consequently, if people deem law-enforcement to be unfair in one regard, they are less likely to trust it in other circumstances.
Third, it is important that the justice system is seen to be impartial, rather than favouring any particular group, because it is only under such circumstances that its designations of acts as ‘crimes’ can be seen as a true reflection of what you ought and ought not to do, rather than just what would be in the interests of a given group.
1 ‘Justice and The Poor’, National Council of Welfare, 10 September 2012, http://www.ncw.gc.ca/l.3bd.2t.1ilshtml@-eng.jsp?lid=96&fid=4Improve this
Whilst this may well appease some sections of society, it comes at the cost of resentment from the rich.
This resentment will be magnified by media response: some newspapers and news outlets will choose to report this as an attack on the rich.
The problem is therefore very similar to the questions posed by taxing the rich more; it may be considered fairer by the rest of society but it is pointless if the rich all simply move elsewhere as they now perceive the justice system to be unfair.Improve this
A flat rate is more just
A fine ought to be proportionate to the severity of the crime committed, not the income of the offender. It is fundamental that the justice system should treat all offenders equally; if two people commit the same crime in the same circumstances but one is richer than the other then they have caused the same amount of harm so should pay the same price for that harm. Having a richer person pay more implies that crimes by the rich are necessarily more harmful to society regardless of what the crime actually is.
Further, this system will cause anomalies, where rich people fined for small offences (e.g. littering) will have much larger fines than poorer people fined for more serious offences (e.g. speeding). This will make people question the fairness of the fines, which will negatively impact their relationship with the justice system.Improve this
Whilst it is true that a crime ought to be proportionate to the severity of the crime committed, there is no reason why that must be the only factor. This motion does not remove the proportionality about which you are concerned, but merely adds an additional factor. If two people earn the same amount, but person A has committed a more serious crime, person A will still receive a larger fine.
Further, it is unclear why people would find this more unfair than a system in which all were impacted equally by the fines they receive.Improve this
The rich will resent this
The rich will feel like they are receiving an unfair, ‘greater’ punishment. This resentment will be magnified by media response: some newspapers and news outlets will choose to report this as an attack on the rich just as is the case with progressive taxation which is often attacked as an assault on ‘wealth creation’.1
This may well increase the extent to which they break the law, because if you perceive the law to be applied unfairly, you are less likely to consider it to be making an accurate assessment of whether an action is right or wrong in any given situation.
That is, in situations where you are unlikely to be caught committing a crime, the deterrent is clearly not the possible punishment (which you won’t face, because you won’t be caught). Rather, the deterrent is the extent to which you believe the illegal action to be morally wrong. If you believe a law is applied unfairly, you are less likely to consider the prohibited action to be actually, morally wrong, and therefore more likely to commit that act.
1 Cianfrocca, Francis, ‘Wealth Creation Under Attack’, Commentary, June 2009, http://www.commentarymagazine.com/article/wealth-creation-under-attack/Improve this
Only a small number of people will act like this. Some people, though rich, are nevertheless capable of seeing beyond self-interest, and will consider the fine to be fair.
This small harm is therefore easily outweighed by the improved perceptions of the justice system by those who currently believe it unfair that the rich can so easily buy their way out of trouble.Improve this
Creates the perception that fines are like taxes, rather than a punishment
If we detach fines from the crimes committed, people are more likely to see fines as unrelated to justice. Rather, they will see fines as another mechanism by which the government makes money, this will be especially the case if as in New Zealand the money goes into government coffers without being hypothecated.1
This is similar to the way in which some people in the UK see speed cameras as less about preventing speeding, and more about getting money from motorists with one poll showing 49% of people believe they are primarily about revenue raising.2
This is harmful because it decreases the probability of people who deem the fine ‘worth it’ nevertheless abstaining from the criminal act.
1 ‘Frequently Asked Questions’, New Zealand Police, http://www.police.govt.nz/faq/items/23159
2 ‘Drivers conflicted over cameras’, IAM Driving Road Safety, 11 August 2010, http://www.iam.org.uk/news/latest-news/577-drivers-conflicted-over-camerasImprove this
Given, particularly, that it is those with the most money who are most likely to deem the fine ‘worth it’, this would be mitigated by the increased deterrent: the rich will now face substantially greater penalties.Improve this
Cianfrocca, Francis, ‘Wealth Creation Under Attack’, Commentary, June 2009, http://www.commentarymagazine.com/article/wealth-creation-under-attack/
Gneezy, U., Rustichini, A., 2000. ‘A Fine is a Price’. Journal of Legal Studies., vol. 29 pp1-17
‘Traffic Fines Proportional to Income’, Hubpages, http://blissfulwriter.hubpages.com/hub/Traffic-Fines-Proportional-to-Income
‘Drivers conflicted over cameras’, IAM Driving Road Safety, 11 August 2010, http://www.iam.org.uk/news/latest-news/577-drivers-conflicted-over-cameras
Jordans, Frank, ‘Speeding fines being linked to income in Europe’, SFGATE, 11 January 2010, http://www.sfgate.com/news/article/Speeding-fines-being-linked-to-income-in-Europe-3275939.php
‘Justice and The Poor’, National Council of Welfare, 10 September 2012, http://www.ncw.gc.ca/l.3bd.2t.1ilshtml@-eng.jsp?lid=96&fid=4
‘Frequently Asked Questions’, New Zealand Police, http://www.police.govt.nz/faq/items/23159
Salinger, L.M. 2005. Encyclopedia of White-Collar and Corporate Crime. (Vol 1, p24). USA: Sage Publications.
Gneezy, U., Rustichini, A., 2000. ‘A Fine is a Price’. Journal of Legal Studies., vol. 29 pp1-17
Bellemare, Marc F., ‘Speeding Fines That Vary With Income: Absolute vs Relative Risk Aversion and Public Policy’, Marc F Bellemare, 27 February 2012, http://marcfbellemare.com/wordpress/2012/02/speeding-fines-that-vary-with-income-absolute-vs-relative-risk-aversion-and-public-policy/
Jpohnston, Philip, ‘Fines-income link, says probation watchdog’, The Telegraph, 12 February 2003, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1421782/Fines-income-link-should-be-restored-says-probation-watchdog.html
‘Norway’s Drunken Driving Fines Based On Income’, NPR, 13 May 2009, http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=104079585
Abuelsamid, Sam, ‘Swedish man may pay largest speeding fine ever’, autoblog, 13 August 2010, http://www.autoblog.com/2010/08/13/swedish-man-may-pay-largest-speeding-fine-ever/
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