Wednesday, May 04, 2016

The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap

Rich investment bankers can defraud the world of billions of dollars and get away with a slap on the wrist. Poor inner city residents can spend time in jail merely for standing in the wrong place. Mega banks are "too big to fail" and thus can get away with badness, while smaller ones are taken to the cleaners to "set an example". There does seem to be a good point there, but it suffers from being heavy on one-sided anecdotes. The "big bankers" do have many people that depend on them (including family, community organizations, etc.) The inner-city guys? Well, even the anecdotes given in the book were mostly single people without a lot of people that would care if they were gone for a while. From a pure calculus of the situation, the banker has done the "bad" and is likely to do more good than bad for the community in the future. The inner-city guy? He'll probably be neutral at best. He may work a job. He may get in a little scuffle. How do you balance the situation? Equality does sound nice. But, our world is not equal. True equality would result in a drab existence. While some of the "less equal" situations are outside a person's control (ethnicity, upbringing), others are within their control (drug use, work ethic.) How do we ensure equality in "uncontrollables" but still have accountability for things within somebody's control?

Another area indirectly touched on by the book is imbalanced assumptions of risk and reward. A corporate trader can make big gambles with the company money. If we wins, the company wins and he gets a big bonus. If he loses, the company takes the loss, but he doesn't lose. Similarly, if a corporation gets great gains through nefarious activities, the current employees will profit. However, it is the stockholders of the future that will suffer. How can we properly align the risks and rewards? We see something similar with sports. If a college team breaks the rules to win a championship, the rule breakers will enjoy their championship. The college itself will receive the punishment at a later date - impacting athletes and coaches that had no part in the rule breaking.

How do we reign in big institutions? How can we prevent the collective abrogation of responsibility, while still protecting the livelihood of the innocent? These are important questions that need answers. The mistreatment of the impoverished in the criminal justice system is also something that needs to be addressed. (How do you balance just treatment with fairness for all of society?) However, in the end these are very separate areas. Combining them makes for good stories, but not a good solution.

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