What’s Yours is Mine :)

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As an undergraduate student in a social work program, I had become accustomed to sharing ideas and conceptions about our society, its ills, their causes, and their remedies, with many of my liberal peers. Many of those beliefs were reinforced by our professors, including the virtue of wealth redistribution. What’s more American than paying taxes?

One day, our Social Welfare Policy professor decided to challenge us and our vehement convictions. Walking to the front of the class, he began writing a string of numbers: 99, 92, 87, 84, 76, 51, etc…

Turns out they were grades from our last test. When he turned to us and said we were going to have an experiment I knew I didn’t like where it was going. He then tallied up all of the points we had cumulatively scored on the test. Let’s call it 2400. He then posed the question to the class: How do you want to distribute these points among the class? I will accept whatever decision you make“.

After a moment of tittering among us, he continued. “There are 2400 points here, you could say, divide them evenly and make sure everyone gets a 76no one does really well, but no one fails either“. Or, we could decide to just take points from the top performers and award them to the lower scorers. Yet another option would be for everyone to contribute some of their points to a pool, and then assign them according to need. Finally, we also had the option of keeping things as is: we could just keep our original scores.

Instantly people began talking, and asking questions of him. “No, no” he said, “You all are a group, you decide what you want to do“.

It was a telling process that followed, as those who performed poorly on the test began talking about being fair, and suggested that those of us who did well should share some points, etc. Those of us who did well (myself included) objected. Why should we do worse on our test than we deserved? It wasn’t my fault others didn’t do well! Then the low scorers began cajoling us “what about your social work values?”, “don’t be greedy!

As one of the top performers on the test I was conflicted. For a while I had unquestionably believed that those who did better in society (financially) had an obligation to share that wealth to help others who were less fortunate. Now I was that rich person who didn’t want to give up my hard earned salary to support others! It was quite a difficult situation to be in, and really challenged my assumptions about the validity of wealth redistribution.

At the end of the day, I came to the conclusion, that the exercise wasn’t fair- it presupposed that my relative success on the test had in some way caused others to do worse. I strenuously rejected this notion. Perhaps I have been lucky to have generally performed at a higher academic level than some of my peers, but it certainly didn’t mean that I should have to sacrifice my success!  Some time later (since I thought about this for quite a long time), I realized that this example was closer to real life than I had wanted to admit.

In the same way that I did not believe that it was my fault that others did not do as well on the test, many in our society do not believe that it is their fault that others do not do as well economically. Why should they sacrifice their hard earned income just because others don’t do as well? I could point out that our society is full of historical inequity, male privilege, white privilege, heterosexual privilege, nepotism, and structural barriers that do in some way both contribute to the success of some and the failure of others. But, many do not see this connection- do not want to see it- or do see it and simply shrug it off. In the same way, I did not consider how privileges I have had in my  life (male status, excellent primary education, etc) might have inherently positioned me to perform better on the test than others- and so I really didn’t see why I should give up my points.

It is interesting in  retrospect to consider what I would do. Would I advocate for absolute communism in the class? Everyone gets equal points despite  unequal contributions? Would I push for a highly progressive tax system? Virtually no taxes on the “poor” and lots on the “rich”? Would I support a regressive tax system? Tax those at the bottom at relatively higher rates than myself? Would I fight to protect the status quo? Let the points lie where they may and to hell with the failing students?

I’m not sure what the answer is, but the experience does give me slight pause when I talk about wealth redistribution. Given all of the social factors that contribute to wealth inequity, surely some equalizer needs to be introduced- but where do you draw the line? Do you give food stamps to the poor- but only just enough so they don’t die? Do you seize the assets of the rich- and simply give them to the needy?

More than likely, we simply elect others year after year to struggle and fight over the answers so that we don’t have to.

-kd-

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Service Interruption

I had to take a break from the serious, and post this message a friend forwarded to me:

serviceinterruption

Dear World:


We, the United States of America , your top quality supplier of the ideals of liberty and democracy, would like to apologize for our 2001-2008 interruption in service. The technical fault that led to this eight-year service outage has been located, and the software responsible was replaced November 4. Early tests of the newly installed program indicate that we are now operating correctly, and we expect it to be fully functional on January 20. We apologize for any inconvenience caused by the outage. We look forward to resuming full service and hope to improve in years to come. We thank you for your patience and understanding.


Sincerely,

THE  UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

Too Late, New York

346px-crimesvg Today the United States Supreme Court upheld a ruling on the statute of limitations. The case in a question- a double homicide, kidnapping, rape, molestation, embezzlement, and grant theft auto, was originally brought by the New York City District Attorney against “John Doe” late last year.

On October 1st, 2008, Mr. Doe, allegedly rushed into the Federal Reserve Bank of Manhattan wielding semi-automatic weapons. Apparently Mr. Doe had been embezzling money from various charities, and was seeking to destroy the financial records of the money transfers to his account.

After storming through the front door, and being told by the teller that she “didn’t have access” to his records, he shot and killed her. The security guard, too fell victim to Mr. Doe, as he unleashed a barrage of bullets at him. Mr. Doe, unsatisfied with his inability to erase his records, in a fit of rage demanded that the manager empty the contents of 6 drawers into his canvas bag, before ordering the manager out of the bank and onto the street at gunpoint.

Once he was outside the bank, Mr. Doe then pulled over a vehicle, firing 3 shots through the windshield at the elderly driver, Ms. Patterson, an 80-year old resident of Manhattan, who suffered minor injuries, described the criminal as “a crazy young man”. Authorities say, that Mr. Doe then forced the manager to drive to his home, where Mr. Doe then allegedly raped and molested various members of the manager’s family, whose names are not being released at this time.

The saga finally ended just over a month later, in November when authorities were able to track down and arrest Mr. Doe, following a tip from a neighbor who was worried by the the “bloodied clothing” she saw Mr. Doe disposing of. The various victims of Mr. Doe’s crime scheme were later shocked though, when the NY District Attorney’s case against Mr. Doe was thrown out of court by the judge, because the “statute of limitations bars the bringing of any civil or criminal charges against Mr. Doe; despite the seemingly heinous nature of his actions”.

It turns out that New York had an old, obscure law on the books that prevents the bringing of civil or criminal charges by the state against any resident for actions that took place over 30 days prior to their arrest. This little known law, referred to as Code 47-32, is an egregious example of statute of limitations gone wrong.

Despite the lives he destroyed on that fateful October day, Mr. Doe is apparently set to walk free next week, with the Supreme Court ordering not only his immediate release, but also compensation for the time he was “unlawfully incarcerated”. As charges cannot be brought against Mr. Doe, authorities have cautioned against using the 35-year old’s name in print, as his lawyers are expected to bring a defamation suit against the state.

Okay, so if you’ve read this far, you are likely floored by the absurdity of a known criminal who wreaked so much havoc through his actions, being allowed to walk free after 30 days because the “statute of limitations” have expired.

Before you get up in arms, I caution you, you will not find this story elsewhere online because I made it up. But, before you put your arms down, I say to you this is simply an exaggeration to demonstrate a very real problem with our judicial system.

Today on NPR I heard a story about a rabbi who molested a young boy twice a week for over two months. Years later when the boy told his parent about the abuse, the parents confront the school officials, who agreed to fire the rabbi.  However, 1 week after the boy turned 23, and the statute of limitations for civil or criminal suit expired, the school hired the rabbi back. I was dumbfounded by the absurdity of this, and then I thought of Lilly Ledbetter.

At the signing of the new anti-wage discrimination bill, I was struck by how ridiculous the whole situation was. There, on national T.V., at the White House, the President of the United States of America acknowledged that Goodyear had wronged her, broke the law even, but that there was nothing he, or anyone else could do about it (the supreme court really threw out her case due to the statute of limitations).

How can our system of justice protect wrong doers from prosecution simply because of a statute of limitations? If someone commits a crime and hurts another, it makes no sense to release them from liability because a certain amount of time has passed. Essentially the message here is- breaking the law is a crime- unless you get away with it for “x” years.

While the story I told above is a dramitization, the implications are real. We need to reform our penal code to protect victims of crimes, not the perpetrators.

-kd-