The biggest problem with our legal system and how our country is run, is people’s stubborn refusal to admit when they are wrong and continuing to do things just because that’s how they’ve been done in the past.
For example, it is possible to buy a tax lien on a property from the government for a couple of thousand bucks and if the person ends up not paying you back, you have the opportunity to foreclose and get the property. So you can in theory end up with someone’s house because they were late on their taxes and didn’t respond in time. If they also owed a bank, the bank gets shafted and the person with the tax lien gets the property free and clear.
Naturally this kind of obvious weakness in the law is something people actually have systems to take advantage of. Like looking for tax liens on properties where the owner lives in another city. Of course, as interesting as that might be the key point is that if there’s a $1000 tax lien and a $100,000 mortgage, there’s no way that the $1000 should trump that $100,000 for who will be compensated first… except that that is how things typically work. Insanity? Insanity with hundreds of years of legal history upholding that kind of precedent? Are these people human?
The problem is that these people have no appreciation for what they are dealing with or the fact that money is a currency for exchanging services between people – it is not meaningless!
A lack of respect for money and the effort it represents, by our ruling class and the bungling morons making the laws have led to some rather interesting problems. Because reality moves and all actions have consequences.
So what happened was:
- Lack of respect for money led to truly unreasonable judgments being made as punishment for actions that were often accidents. Mistakes that are often unavoidable in the normal course of life.
- Because punishments were often disproportionately harsh and the problems not necessarily avoidable – especially with predators around taking advantage of this kind of flaw in the system – people and companies adapted in the following ways:
a) Being more risk averse. I know people who won’t help up a kid that falls because they worry that a crazy parent might blame them for the kid being hurt and sue them.
b) Creating contracts that won’t let you do business with that a party without signing away all your rights. This means that they aren’t accountable, and sooner or later people realize that if the contract makes them unaccountable or if its fuzzy and unenforceable, they only need to be fair in their dealings if they want to be. Theoretically your reputation could be hurt but few people take the right action to make that happen and there are ways around that.
c) Insurance companies… a necessity in some professions – reduce your personal responsibility. Lets consider the case where someone really hurt someone through serious negligence. If insurance pays for it and that person isn’t punished, he only has to change as much as he himself feels like it. He doesn’t necessarily learn much nor does he become a lesson for others either – especially when few people ever hear about what happened.
- Basically, excessively harsh punishments have forced adaptation that make people themselves a lot less accountable or punishable. It has created more people who play the system and win.
Generally, the first step to improving after making a mistake is admitting that you made the mistake in the first place. Another major side-effect of this system is that the system actually promotes people not admitting to their mistakes. Because if they admit they made a mistake they become liable and they can’t afford that.
Its not even hard to rationalize why you shouldn’t be admitting fault and taking disproportionately excessive punishment. The livelihoods of many people you care about might depend on your business.
Here’s a story for you: A friend of mine has a relative in jail who is probably innocent of the crime she was accused of. She was torn from her family and her children have spent years without their mother.
Now lets assume that it was in fact a miscarriage of justice. Part of the fault lies in a prosecutor too keen on keeping his reputation and winning and a trial focused on expedience instead of the truth.
But there is also another issue. If they admit fault and allow a redo of the trial or let her go: That means that they are at fault and that they are liable.
So aside from risk to people’s reputations – lets say they get sued for $20 Million for the years that she has spent in prison and for what her kids have suffered. That’s enough to pay for roughly two hundred and fifty cops being on the street paid at $75K per person for a year. Would the state or police department be paying for that lawsuit from their own budget when they already don’t have enough money? What about the sharks that would smell blood and start lawsuits on similar or related cases – maybe other cases that that same prosecutor tried?
If I look at it that way, its not hard at all to rationalize that giving her justice is not for the greater good. But that is greater good as defined by the limitations of a flawed system. Because its not that she doesn’t deserve justice or couldn’t have had it, its because we built the system wrong, and because we won’t admit that what we thought in our brilliance was a good idea, was actually a horrible mistake.
Our mistakes as a society are piling up and starting to pull us down because - forget correction and improving – we don’t even admit that we make mistakes.
What we need are new, better, and also more practical principles. In the end, the point is to try to make people’s lives better – Not hold onto the mistakes of the past. And we have to do it in an intelligent way so that our new changes don’t just sound good like many half thought out ideas do, but rather that they actually do good and create lasting positive change.
So how should we try to make things better?
I’d say the right direction is to separate correction of the criminal and the compensation of the victims, in a way that the system is less given to excesses and less likely to invite the attention of people who would twist things to create personal advantage because the potential rewards of abuse are just begging for it.
If someone commits a crime, he shouldn’t be able to just settle if he has money or some other way. If this person is a problem he either needs punishment or he needs guidance to change his behavior – either way something needs to be happen because he is someone who has shown a willingness to commit crimes. He can’t be allowed to get away with the crime or be seen by others as an example of the fact that people do get away with crimes (Gives ideas to bad people and promotes feelings of injustice in good people). The punishment or means of giving guidance obviously also have to be something reasonable.
As for the victim, this is more the domain of insurance – possibly some state sponsored insurance for emergency situations. Responsibility for making things better for a person is probably better off here on this side. Especially because people are more likely to take productive action if they believe that the responsibility for making their lives better, is theirs. Buying insurance falls under that. If your arm got broken, you need some medical help, you might need some employment compensation, and maybe you should get to buy something nice to offset your pain. If you get too much, that’s detrimental for your growth as a person. But also on the other hand, even if the criminal can’t compensate you or if it was just some random accident that hurt you, that doesn’t mean that you don’t deserve some compensation or help so there has to be a reasonable system for that.
We can’t have systems that solve problems by creating long term harm. We can’t go on without reviewing the consequences of our actions. We can’t have a justice system that itself promotes injustice.