Corruption, Wealth, and Consequences

Everyone’s heard about the “Golden Rule,” but there’s a variation on it that I often heard from the boss of the consulting firm I worked for years ago in Washington, D.C. – “Those who’ve got the gold make the rules.”

Along those same lines, the sixteen century poet Sir John Harrington wrote, “Treason doth never prosper, what’s the reason? For if it prosper, none dare call it treason.”  That quote was co-opted and often cited by the far right in the 1960s as the result of a book with a title of  None Dare Call It Treason, but unfortunately the principle still applies today, except in a far different context, as a result of the “second” golden rule, except it might be entitled Law by and for Affluent White Males.

By that, I mean that whether something is a crime or not, legally speaking, depends on what the law says, and the laws in the United States have been drafted, almost entirely, by affluent white men, except, to some degree as one reader pointed out, recently in California.  Now, it’s definitely a crime if someone takes a gun and steals your wallet.  Likewise, it’s a crime if someone physically assaults you for no reason, or if someone hacks your bank account and drains it.

But what about laws and a legal system that affect poorer people more than richer ones?  Or ones that use laws to transfer money from poorer people to richer ones?

It’s a crime for two parties to collude to force people to pay more for a product, unless one of those parties is a pharmaceutical company and the other is the Social Security/Medicare/Medicaid Administration, because the government, thanks to a special law passed some fifteen years ago, is expressly forbidden from negotiating lower drug prices.  In effect, it’s a form of price-fixing, and it’s taking money from the pockets of every health care consumer and putting it in the bank accounts of all the pharmaceutical companies… and adding to executive and CEO bonuses.  Those higher costs pose a far higher burden on the poor and elderly than on the rich and famous. Right now, hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of diabetics are having trouble paying for insulin because the pharmaceutical industry keeps jiggering the formulations so that a basic medication more than fifty years old can cost diabetics almost $6,000 a year, up from $2,800 seven years ago. The cost of one Advair asthma inhaler has gone from $316 in 2013 to $541 this month.

Robbery and embezzlement are both forms of theft.  Most robberies are committed by poorer members of society, and most embezzlement by those better off.  According to Federal sentencing reports in 2016, the average sentence time for embezzlement was eight months, but half of those convicted were sentenced to no time in jail; the average sentence for robbery was six years. By comparison, another study showed that the average sentence for fraud of less than $5,000 was five months, while the average sentence for greater amounts averaged twenty-two months, but burglary/breaking and entering, which also doesn’t involve violence to others, has an average sentence of 4.6 years.

So, the poor and disadvantaged criminals steal less money and spend more time in jail.  Part of that is, of course, that more affluent clients can also afford better attorneys.  Now, if that embezzlement actually hits the rich and famous, as in the case of Bernie Madoff, then the gloves come off.  That’s why Madoff is facing 150 years in prison. 

But my former boss’s “Golden Rule” also affects how new laws are made as well.

For example, recently the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell didn’t break corruption laws when he pulled political favors for a big donor in return for lavish gifts and personal loans. That kind of “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” behavior was not barred by current corruption laws, the Court decided, despite the tens of thousands of dollars McDonnell and his wife received in gifts, cash, and loans.  This decision was the result of small changes in the laws over the years that now allow corporations and the rich to literally buy politicians legally, as also reflected in the Citizens United Supreme Court decision.

And conservatives wonder why minorities are often skeptical of the laws and the legal system?

3 thoughts on “Corruption, Wealth, and Consequences”

  1. Jim Elliott says:

    not just minorities…

    1. Hannabel says:

      Maybe, still mostly minorities though

  2. R. Hamilton says:

    The rich and lawmakers will always have options to transfer expenses to others that the poor and even the middle class will not. I think the lawmakers _could_ be dealt with, if extreme transparency were required and if compromised, punishable by removal AND severe sentences. Naturally, they’d never pass such laws though.

    IMO, the rich having more options to make everyone else pay CANNOT be changed without a level of government intrusion so severe as to leave no liberty undamaged. If you want to be privileged, get rich or suck it up and recognize that not being taken advantage of will be impossible, and keeping that to a minimum will be more difficult alone than the rich keeping and increasing their wealth with a small army of advisors.

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