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Government, the poor, and driver's licenses - Input Junkie
January 6th, 2015
12:03 am

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Government, the poor, and driver's licenses
http://www.npr.org/2015/01/05/372691918/how-drivers-license-suspensions-unfairly-target-the-poor

If you get caught drinking and driving in Wisconsin, and it's your first offense, you lose your license for nine months. For a hit and run, the punishment is suspension for one year.

But if you don't pay a ticket for a minor driving offense, such as driving with a broken tail light, you can lose your license for two years.

"It's an incredible policy," says John Pawasarat of the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee. It's "a policy of punishing people who can't pay their fines."

The practice – repeated in states across the country – is mostly impacting the poor and creating a spiral of bad consequences.


Anyone know how driver license suspensions are handled in countries other than the US?

More about how normal operations of the US government keeps a good many people trapped in poverty-- basically escalating fines and jail time (and fines for being in jail) for minor offenses.

There are a good many people who mistrust business much more than they mistrust government-- the arguments seems to be that you have better tools for changing government than you have for changing businesses, and that government is motivated by the public good (do I have that part right?) while business is motivated by the desire for profit.

I see two problems with this argument-- one is comparing businesses (in a range between the worst businesses and real world business in general) to a somewhat idealized vision of government, and the other is neglecting the fact that while there are more tools for changing government, in the short and medium run, it's easier to get away from a business. Also, governments specialize in violence more than businesses do. Okay, more than two problems. If you find dealing in money somewhat revolting, it might be worth considering that while governments don't exactly make a profit, they still have a streak of trying to maximize revenue.

As you may gather, I'm not fond of government. However, I'm inclined to think my emotions are not entirely well-calibrated on the issue. What I believe rationally is that government and business are the only methods the human race has developed for doing large projects, and the seven billion of us are dependent on large projects. Neither government nor business are reliably benevolent, but we can't live without them.

Neither of them is completely evil, either.

I wouldn't mind (at least I don't think I would mind) if the world switched over to something friendlier and less hierarchical, but no one has figured out how to make that work stably and on a large scale, and not for lack of trying.

I've wondered whether the steady drizzle of contempt for government (from one set of people) and for business (pretty much from another set of people) discourages conscientious people from going into business and government and/or from being ambitious to do much in business or government.

This entry was posted at http://nancylebov.dreamwidth.org/1060038.html. Comments are welcome here or there. comment count unavailable comments so far on that entry.

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From:agrumer
Date:January 5th, 2015 07:02 pm (UTC)
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First, the drive to balance local municipal budgets on the backs of the poor — through court fees, parking tickets, etc — is a result of a political climate that makes raising taxes nearly impossible. That climate is the product of the very same people who try to tell us that government is the problem and business the solution.

Second, the sharp distinction between government and business upon which these arguments rest doesn’t exist. The wealthy and powerful move pretty much at will between the spheres of government and business.
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From:nancylebov
Date:January 5th, 2015 07:40 pm (UTC)
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I wonder whether the local municipal governments even come out ahead from those fines-- they're losing out on the modest taxes poor people would be paying if they were doing somewhat better, and the jails are presumably a net loss.

On the other hand, the prison industrial complex is making money from the jails, so it could be a situation where the rich and powerful come out ahead and that's a better analysis than splitting things between business and government.
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From:marycatelli
Date:January 6th, 2015 03:40 am (UTC)
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Which taxes? Income is federal, sales is usually state -- and if they are that poor, they're probably not paying property tax.
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From:inquisitiveravn
Date:January 6th, 2015 05:32 pm (UTC)
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Well, not paying property taxes directly. If they're living in privately owned rental housing, you better believe the property taxes are figured into the rent.

Also, it's perfectly possible for states and cities to have income taxes. In fact, only seven states don't. Philadelphia has a tax on wages, and IIRC, a separate tax for dividend income (It's been a while since I had any dividend income to be taxed.)

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From:marycatelli
Date:January 6th, 2015 07:44 pm (UTC)
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Yeah, but income tax means they've got their cut before it hits the pocketbook.
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From:inquisitiveravn
Date:January 8th, 2015 12:27 am (UTC)
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And you're bringing this up, why?
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From:marycatelli
Date:January 8th, 2015 12:53 am (UTC)
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Because it means that the fines are not affecting their taxes.
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From:en_ki
Date:January 8th, 2015 10:25 pm (UTC)
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Sure they are, if they get bad enough.

Pay your fine, miss rent: now you're evicted and not contributing to property taxes.
Don't pay your fine, go to jail: now you're in jail and not contributing to property taxes and also you cost money. Also, you lost your job, so when you get out of jail, see above.
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From:nancylebov
Date:January 6th, 2015 05:43 pm (UTC)
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If they have more money, they buy more stuff, and therefore more sales taxes.
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From:marycatelli
Date:January 6th, 2015 07:44 pm (UTC)
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Goes to the state.
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From:inquisitiveravn
Date:January 8th, 2015 12:32 am (UTC)
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Ah, but AFAIK, business privilege taxes go to the municipality, and they're based on sales, which is relevant to local retail businesses. So poor people buying more stuff = more business privilege tax.

From my brief period of work in the mortgage industry, property taxes are county level which is something that hasn't been taken into account.
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From:marycatelli
Date:January 8th, 2015 12:54 am (UTC)
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Except that they get every penny of the fine, not just a percentage. So it's more money.
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From:malkingrey
Date:January 5th, 2015 07:22 pm (UTC)
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I sometimes think that at least part of the problem lies in the fact that for a couple of decades back in the '60's and '70's, politics was not something that the cool kids aspired to do. So all the cool kids from those generations went off and became rock stars or software moguls, and the entry levels of the cursus honorum were left to the student-government types, and now it's years later and we're still stuck with them.
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From:elenbarathi
Date:January 5th, 2015 08:22 pm (UTC)
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There has been NO distinction between government and business in this country since Citizens United won corporations the legal right to buy elections outright.

People have actually devised three methods of handling large projects: business, government, and religion. These three are well enough in their own spheres, but when they start crossing the lines, there is invariably corruption. We will never have honest government until we get the corporate money out of our electoral and legislative processes and stop giving the churches a free ride on the taxpayers' backs.

No system is 'evil', just as no machine (even a nuclear bomb) can be 'evil'. Good and evil are words that properly apply only to the choices of human individuals, and they're pretty vague and murky even then - which is why religions generally state up-front that only a god who can see into the human heart can ever sort them out.

Help and harm are a lot less murky, since actions are a lot more observable than motives. Corporate money in our government is demonstrably causing a great deal of harm to the citizens of our nation. Religious influences in our government are clearly causing a great deal of harm. Both of those need to GO, and then honest, rational people may have reason to believe they could make a difference.

As it is, what honest intelligent person knowingly gets involved in a crooked game? The reasons why politics attracts narcissists are extremely well-documented, and that "steady drizzle of contempt" you mention is only the logical consequence of We, the People having been screwed over too many times. But I don't think the contempt is what keeps conscientious people out of business or politics, or causes them to keep a low profile once they're in. I think it's because they realize that their fellow businessmen and politicians will happily eat them alive and flush their bones down the toilet if given any chance at all.
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From:madfilkentist
Date:January 6th, 2015 12:49 am (UTC)
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Repeat nonsense often enough, and it remains nonsense. The anti-Citizens United people claim that people do not retain their right to free speech when they form corporations and that the right to free speech does not include the right to spend money promulgating it. Taken consistently, this means that free speech rights are limited to standing on a street corner and talking.

The idea that free speech by corporations is equivalent to a license to buy elections assumes that people will base their vote on whoever spends the most money. If people are so lacking in judgment that they make their decisions that way, then expecting intelligent voting from them under any circumstances is unrealistic. If it's not the person who spends the most money, it will be the one who offers them the most handouts, or makes the best speeches, or something comparable.

Actually, that is pretty much how people vote; few people give in-depth consideration to the candidates. Given how tiny the marginal impact of a vote is, it's questionable whether it's a good use of their time to study the candidates in detail. But censoring speech can only make things worse.
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From:whswhs
Date:January 6th, 2015 06:02 am (UTC)
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That's really not an accurate account of the Citizens United decision. At best, it's a major oversimplification of its content.

In the first place, you use "corporation" to refer to big businesses. But there are a lot of other sorts of corporation. Small businesses are corporations; in most jurisdictions I believe even a single person can be a corporation. Labor unions are corporations. Nonprofits are corporations. Churches are corporations, for the most part. Universities are corporations. I'm president of the Libertarian Futurist Society, which gives awards annually for best libertarian science fiction novel; we incorporated a number of years ago. The organization Citizens United was not a profit making business, but a political advocacy group.

In the second place, the central point of the decision was that people as individuals have the right to freedom of speech and of the press; that they have the right to freedom of association, which allows them to get together in groups to advocate their views; and that corporations are simply one form of association. No new rights are being created; what's going on is that the people involved don't lose their right of advocacy when they adopt this form. And that's important specifically because, in today's political climate, there's a danger that people who form an organization to advocate a political position will be sued—and if they haven't incorporated, the damages could take away their houses, their businesses, their retirement funds, their children's college money, and so on. That's a classic example of a "chilling effect."

In the third place, it's perfectly legal for profit-making corporations in particular to engage in political advocacy—if those corporations are the New York Times, or the Wall Street Journal, or MSNBC, or Fox. Media firms editorialize about candidates, and parties, and issues, and ballot propositions all the time. But if you limit that right to only the profit-making corporations that run newspapers or tv stations or the like, then what you have done is to set up a specific privileged group who have officially licensed freedom of the press, and denied that freedom to other organizations. And a licensed, official press is the next thing to no press at all, as far as the goal of having political authorities subject to effective criticism is concerned.

Any of the legal principles on which a decision that went the other way on Citizens United strikes me as opening the door to worse abuses. What you want seems to me to be to deny freedom of speech because you are concerned that the wrong people will use it, and will advocate bad things, and may succeed in convincing the voters. But I think it likely that once freedom of speech is gone, you and the people you agree with will face someone in authority who thinks you are the wrong people and are advocating bad things—and you will have thrown out the principle that protects you. I prefer the old idea that the cure for freedom of speech is more freedom of speech.
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From:whswhs
Date:January 6th, 2015 04:52 am (UTC)
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I look at this business of government from several angles:

One of the oldest puzzles in philosophy is Plato's question, "Do the gods love holy things because they are holy, or are they holy because the gods love them?" It has an exact parallel in political philosophy: "Does the state command obedience to this law because it's right, or is it right because the state made it a law?" I'm firmly on the side of the former. The former also seems to be the foundation of American government, judging not only by the Declaration of Independence—"to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men"—but also by what Madison and Hamilton wrote in the Federalist about the intent of the Constitution. But the dominant legal philosophy of the twentieth century, legal realism, rejects that notion as nonsense—which means that its adherents, such as Holmes, are incapable of understanding the Constitution as its authors meant it.

I think there are actually three basic human associational patterns: the hierarchy, the market, and the community. Community is the least scalable of these; you don't get real community above the limits of the monkeysphere, about 100-200 people. Hierarchy is more so, but I've read of work in human memory that suggests an upper limit of around 50,000. Markets seem to scale to much greater sizes, precisely because they transmit the least information per interaction. (Note that I don't identify "hierarchy" with "coercion." The modern theory of the firm analyzes a corporation as a domain of central planning—that is, a hierarchy—surrounded by market forces.)

At a more basic level, I look at human transactions as involving people either conferring benefits or inflicting harms. Two people each benefitting the other is an exchange; markets are built on exchange. There's a temptation to seek benefits by threatening harms; that's what robbery and extortion are about. But the optimal response to a threat is not to pay off the threatener—that makes the threatener better off and thus encourages more threats—but to offer a counterthreat. Government ideally is there to offer counterthreats; but because it's a concentration of unopposed force, it can also offer threats as a means of enriching itself. It can even enrich itself by effectively hiring itself out to private organizations—by using force and threats to gain benefits for them, or to hinder their competitors (as in established churches, royally granted monopolies, or taxi medallions), or by standing by while private organizations use unchecked force (as used to be the policy of local governments toward lynchings, for example).

My basic view is that any person, group, organization, community, or polity that can forbid people to withdraw from it is on the way to becoming abusive and exploitative. Scale isn't the real issue; what really matters is exit.
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From:bondo_ba
Date:January 7th, 2015 02:25 pm (UTC)
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Hmm. Many (most, as far as I can tell) people in business are extremely conscientious - I've gotten to know a number of CEOs extremely well over my career, and they are often very, very nice, caring people. Sadly, there are always rotten apples. It's a case where a few ruin the reputation of the many.
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