Equality under the law

Cool, the Finns have progressive traffic fines; i.e. the fine is proportional to your income. I’d love to see more examples of that!

The Robinhood question has been the fundamental dialectic in politics. The power of government can be used to make the lives of small economic actors better, or it can be used to make life easier for large economic actors. There are of course plenty of other disputes going on at the same time, i.e. the power can take sides between subgroups of the large players or subpopulations of the small ones. Those disputes provide a bit of color to what is otherwise pretty black and white.

At the heart of the progressive movement was a choice to weigh in on the side of small economic actors. This was a direct fall out of the shocking discovery of just how much wealth and power the large actors had accumulated during the industrial revolution. Marx, in particular, was so shocked by the distribution of wealth that he presumed the small actors would rise up and institute forms of government to look out for their interests. That coordination problem is a lot harder than he thought.

The progressive project has lead to a vast array of programs that aid the small actors with funds taken from the large actors. We have a broad program of cutting the little guys some slack which unsurprisingly large actors sometimes abuse. What the Finns are doing is an example of how you can refine the system to work around that.

In the US in the late 1950 through about 1975 we had a strong consensus that the progressive movement had won. The political debate became much more colorful, less black and white. That’s over. In the last few decades the economic right has broken away from that consensus. They can’t win elections without votes so they formed an alliance with a TV watching evangelical segment of the population. These alliances are all fake, since the right’s actual allegiance is to large economic actors. The so-called rightwing cabal hides behind propaganda necessary to keep their voting electorate polarized. This is populism of the worst kind.

Taking for granted that there is a consensus around the progressive movement is now dangerous. One of the two parties no longer accepts that consensus. A friend pointed out how Lawrence Lessing has decided that his time would spent to the issue of corruption in politics rather than IP rights and their relationship to the commons. I don’t disagree in that switch of emphisis, but I think he somewhat misunderstands what the problem is; what he has been working on is a natural subplot of the progressive movement. I.e. the presumption that giving the vast population of smaller economic actors access to ideas is a good thing. What he has discovered is that there ain’t any consensus about the advantages of that sharing in our political house at this point. Large economic actors want their property rights.

This entire rant was triggered by this posting by Chandler Howell musing about how these issues arise around the management of security and risk; with his particular examples being the Finnish parking tickets and an emerging trend that allows prisoners to purchase better accommodations. Talk about a throw back to pre-progressive times! He starts out by mentioning a principle, i.e. equality before the law. My reaction to that was, no. No, governments work by deciding how to balance the inequality that exists. That’s what politics is about. The default state is extremely unequal and you can assemble governments that accelerate or temper that.

During the Civil War, before the progressive era, it was common for well-off young men who were drafted to hire somebody else to fill their place in the Army.  It’s delightful that the Finnish system creates an incentive for the wealthy to hire somebody else to drive for them.

Mr. Rytsola, who was issued the $71,400 speeding ticket in October and another $44,100 ticket in August for zigzagging in downtown Helsinki, says he supports income-based penalties, but with a cap on traffic fines. Under the present system, he says, “if you earn enough you shouldn’t even touch a car,” noting that accidentally driving too fast could cost the richest Finns hundreds of thousands of dollars.

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