This essay is about justice. As background I will provide a brief summary of the conclusions of the first essay in this “Invisible Hand” series which examined the physical object nature of our money and some of the unfortunate consequences of that nature. I will be concise so this review won’t take long.
All money in history (and pre-history) has been considered to be or to represent physical objects such as a basket of grain, a cow, a coin, or a paper bill. Today most money is in computer accounts and though it zips around the world from account to account at almost the speed of light, it still is treated as if it were a physical object of some sort. Because we treat money as if it were a physical object, anything which is true of physical objects in general will also be true of money. This obvious point is ignored by economists and others who talk and write about money even though it is the most important truth about money. The importance of the physical object nature of money cannot be overstated. What follows are some of the consequences of that physical object nature.
First, money is like other physical objects in that it can be taken from its owner against that owner’s will; by force, fraud, or stealth and it can also be lost or destroyed. This means that you need to suspect almost everyone of trying to get your money by fair means or foul.
Second, money must be amoral because all inanimate physical objects are amoral. Even animals are amoral, in that they have neither an ethical sense nor morality, especially when they are used as commodity money. You can use your physical object money for anything, good or bad.
Third, the money supply is independent of the supply of goods and services for sale because the supply of one physical object is independent of the supply of other objects.
Fourth, money falsely simulates a zero-sum game in monetary transactions because the money gained by one party must be lost by some other party or parties. Money makes us think that other people can gain money at our expense and that we can only gain money at their expense. It makes us treat others as if they were competitors, rivals, opponents, or even enemies.
Fifth, money is almost impossible for a society or nation to control. In every nation that attempts to limit, regulate, or tax trade a black market comes to exist; and organized crime flourishes in all nations.
Sixth, money transactions are two-party interactions. Two-party interaction is inherently unstable because if one party gets an advantage in power such as having more money, the stronger party can use that power to gain still more advantages. This is particularly true of money. The old saying “them as has, gets” is true. Possession of money does make getting more money quite a lot easier. Naturally, the weaker party in such two-party interaction will eventually want to end the interaction. Thus the relationship is unstable.
Keeping that review in mind, let’s consider several ways of looking at justice.
When we turn to Wikipedia, as is our usual practice, we find that there is no particular definition of justice and that justice can be considered in a variety of contexts. For this essay we will take up justice in the legal context. We will ignore poetic justice and special justice.
In the context of the law, justice includes such things as equality before the law and sentencing. We’ll begin with equality before the law. I really like the Wikipedia quote (in this context) from Anatole France, who in 1894 said, QUOTE “In its majestic equality, the law forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, beg in the streets, and steal loaves of bread.” UNQUOTE. As one might easily infer, that’s an equality which benefits the rich and harms the poor. As one might also infer, the rich are the ones who make the laws of almost every nation. Given that fact, one might conclude that the law itself, as it is currently constituted in almost every nation, is inherently unfair and is unjust as a consequence. It appears to be a basic human understanding that unequal treatment of persons is unfair. Even little babies react to unfair events. Therefore, I will make the assumption that the members of my reading audience also consider unequal treatment of persons to be unfair and unjust.
How do the rich manage to control the law? They do so by directly creating the law themselves, as in the Senate of Rome – or in the top levels of totalitarian governments. If that means is closed to them, the fallback position is to bribe in some way those who do make the law. The U.S., for example, allows contributions to the election campaigns of candidates for governmental office.
In general, one might be hard-pressed to make a good case that equality before the law is normal in nations around the world. When we look at the odds that one will be accused of a crime if one is rich or if one is poor we must conclude either that the poor commit far more crimes than the rich or that the police are far more willing to charge a citizen with a crime if that citizen has no wealth. This suggests that regardless of how the law is written, in practice – in the real world – people are not equal before the law.
Once one is brought to court to face charges, the inequality between rich and poor becomes a gaping chasm. Wealthy defendants can hire detectives and expert witnesses to gather and present evidence supporting their innocence. The poor have no such resources, and must rely on the police – who have a vested interest in their being convicted – for all evidence relating to the case. The wealthy hire highly-skilled and successful attorneys to represent them. These experts in arguing the defendant’s case are adept at swaying juries, and at making their clients appear innocent even when they’re not. The poor must depend on public defenders, which tend to be far less skilled and horrendously overworked. The time these counselors have available to spend on each individual case is extremely limited, and they don’t have much incentive beyond their conscience to motivate them to represent their hapless client to the best of their abilities.
Next we consider sentencing. Having attained a conviction, the court turns to sentencing. Wikipedia describes quite a number of theories of sentencing. They include retribution, deterrence, rehabilitation, incapacitation, reparation, and denunciation. Retribution is making the guilty suffer to get revenge for someone or for the state. Deterrence is intended to persuade the guilty party and others who might be tempted to do so, to not commit such a crime in the future. Rehabilitation changes the guilty party’s way of thinking to prevent future criminal acts. Incapacitation renders the criminal unable to commit the crime again. Reparation involves compensating the victim or the state with money. Finally, denunciation is a strong statement of the state’s or the society’s moral outrage at such an immoral crime.
In practice, there is quite a lot of retribution or revenge in sentences. Politicians like to be seen as tough on crime, and harsh sentences sound good in the campaign sound bites. Of course those long jail terms and those death penalties are very expensive to the government and the tax payers – both in terms of the incarceration expense of buildings, guards, supplies, and administration – but also in terms of disrupted families being denied income and parenting. There are social and economic consequences outside the prison for every person inside the prison. Retribution exacts a high price on everyone.
Deterrence seems more myth than actual fact. Sending people to jail in the War on Drugs does not seem to have reduced illegal drug use or sales or their popularity with citizens, young or old.
Rehabilitation sounds like a nice idea but we don’t actually accomplish that very often. If you put someone back into the same set of circumstances as before it would be shocking if they did not produce the same set of criminal behaviors as before.
Incapacitation definitely works in the case of executions. Dead criminals cannot commit new crimes. Also, while a person is locked in a cell, there are any number of crimes that are simply unavailable. The use of prisons does render some people unable to commit further criminal acts of certain types. But it’s quite an expensive solution.
Reparation actually does benefit the victims of some crime to some degree. Typically, the reparation is provided in money, although it might be carried out through community service or some other action. Reparation is far less expensive to the taxpayers than any of the other punishments/sentences. It also has a much greater chance of having all parties concerned come out of it in the end with a sense that justice was done.
Denunciation sounds good but it’s hard to find any actual benefits from such sentences.
At this point I would like to place an excerpt from the novel “Invisible Hand” which shows how a non-POM economy might handle a court and sentencing.
This is from Chapter 27.
“Later that morning, the cellmates were taken upstairs to the courtroom. The judge sat at her bench near an empty jury box. There were no spectators so far as Niall could see except a couple of idlers near the back of the room.
Whiskey Pete was first. The arresting officer told the judge that Pete had been found on his back in an alley behind a restaurant. Upon investigation it was found that he was “stinking drunk” and unable to walk. The officer had taken Pete to the clinic where he was checked and found to be only drunk. Later the officer had returned and talked to Pete to attempt to ascertain who had given him the alcohol. No bottles had been found near Pete that could not be attributed to those thrown away by the restaurant. The officer had already been to the restaurant to remind the workers there to completely empty all bottles that contained alcohol before throwing them away. They claimed to have done so last night. Pete would not or could not account for the source of the alcohol he had drunk.
The judge commended the officer for his conduct on the case, then turned to Pete. “Pete, why will you not go home when you have a bottle? You know that you could die of exposure out on the streets. You could also be hit by a car. Now I am going to excuse the officer here for disturbing your rest in the alley since it was clear that you were not able to take care of yourself. If you press charges against him, I will rule against you. Do you need help to get home?”
“No, your honor. I can walk just fine now. Thank you.” Pete responded and turned away to go.
Niall was astonished. It seemed that the policeman was the one on trial. Pete had been in jail and the arresting officer was the one who had to justify his actions in dragging a drunk off the streets. What kind of crazy court system did they have out here?
Jean was the next brought before the judge. The arresting officer again stated what he had done.
“Your honor, I was on second shift and making my rounds when I got a call about a trespasser at 432 Winstead. The complainant asserted that he owned the house at that address, and that someone was in the house without permission. I confirmed the identity of the complainant and that he did indeed own the property at 432 Winstead. The complainant accompanied me to the property. We entered the residence and found Mr. Jean Baudin apparently preparing for bed. He expressed outrage and told us to leave the property immediately. He asserted that the house was his. I activated the computer in the living room and pointed out to him that it confirmed the complainant as the owner of the residence. Mr. Baudin continued to assert that the house was his and refused to vacate the premises. The owner asked me to remove Mr. Baudin, since Mr. Baudin was adamant about remaining. I therefore exercised force to remove Mr. Baudin from the premises.
“Upon reaching the street, I released Mr. Baudin. The owner had brought Mr. Baudin’s suitcase and clothing to the street. Mr. Baudin then packed his clothing and some toiletries in his suitcase and headed for the house again. It was apparent to me that unless physically restrained, Mr. Baudin intended to continue to trespass. Therefore, I brought him to jail to await the opening of court this morning.”
The judge turned to Jean and inquired if the officer had correctly described the events of the preceding evening.
“Pretty much, your honor,” Jean replied.” But I want to assure you that there was nobody living in the house when I got there. It was empty and there was no food or clothes or even trash in the trash bins. Nobody was living there and I had every right to move in. I was not bothering anybody. He had no right to have me evicted. I don’t have any money and I needed a house. This house was empty so I took it.”
“Mr. Baudin, the house was owned, and still is owned by Mr. Kitrell. That house is his property. He may leave the house empty if he so chooses. You have no right to use Mr. Kitrell’s property without his consent. In fact, you attempted to use Mr. Kitrell’s property over his objections, expressed directly to you upon the premises in the presence of a witness. Despite being lawfully removed from the premises, you attempted to return to those premises over the expressed objections of Mr. Kitrell. Therefore, it is clear that the officer acted within his duty in arresting you and bringing you to jail. You had given every indication of intent to repeat your offense if given the opportunity.”
“You mean, was I going back into my house?” Jean burst in. “You’re darn right I was! I got a right to have a place to live. It’s right there in the Ten Rules. It says ‘Necessities are free to all as needed’ and I sure needed a place to spend the night. Besides, I was there first. There was nobody there when I got there.”
The judge finally rapped her gavel to end Jean’s advocacy. “Mr. Baudin, you will be silent for a moment and listen to me. The Ten Rules describe the money we use and what it is able to buy. That rule, ‘Necessities are free to all as needed’ means that money is not able to buy necessities. It means that if no one gives you a necessity you have no right to take that necessity. If someone does give you a necessity for whatever reason and that necessity provides you some benefit, then the person who gave it to you will be paid by a payer if their actions result in a net benefit for that pay period. There is no requirement on any individual to provide you with any particular item or service. If someone gives you bread, or a shirt, or allows you to use a building of theirs… it is because they willingly did so. There is no requirement that anyone give you anything unless their actions have prevented you from being able to gain access to necessities. For example, your arresting officer placed you in jail. This was done by the use of force, for you did not go willingly to jail. Having placed you in jail, he was then required to provide you with necessities for your health and well-being while you were so confined. I believe that you were provided with breakfast this morning?”
“Yes, your honor,” Jean admitted.
“Then the officer did his duty toward you. So far as I can see the officer did his duty in every respect. He released you once you were no longer on Mr. Kitrell’s property the first time and it was only when you insisted on returning to that property that he resorted to bringing you to jail. He brought you to this court at the first opportunity so that your case could be adjudicated. The owner and the arresting officer were both acting well within their rights and duties.”
“But your honor, there was nobody in the house. It wasn’t doing anybody any good. And I needed a place to live. It isn’t fair that he should have an extra house when I need a house and have none.” Jean was obviously quite convinced.
“Mr. Baudin,” the judge said, “it is clear to me that you either do not understand or do not wish to admit your guilt in this matter. Therefore, I must ask you whether you will accept my judgment or prefer another court.”
“I don’t understand, your honor,” Jean replied, apparently uncertain for the first time that day.
“The officer brought you to this court because he was the one who had to defend his actions in using force to arrest you. Unless he could show that you were going to continue to use force or were not able to care for yourself, then you would be released immediately. In your case, your persistence in returning to the property of Mr. Kitrell indicated that the officer had to use force to prevent your using force toward Mr. Kitrell in using his property without consent.”
“But you are guilty, it would appear, of a crime against Mr. Kitrell. Therefore, as the defendant, you have the opportunity to choose a court in which your case will be tried. That is, we will attempt to find a court that both you and Mr. Kitrell agree upon as appropriate and hold the case there. Mr. Kitrell has indicated his willingness to have my court try the case. Now I am asking if you also are willing to have my court try the case. If you agree, we can proceed. If you do not agree, then you may select from the available courts in this jurisdiction.
“Do you agree to have your case tried in this court?” the judge repeated the question.
“I guess so.” Jean was uncertain still.
“Do you wish to have an attorney represent you in this matter?” the judge asked.
“Yes, your honor, I do.” Jean now was certain.
“You may leave the courtroom to obtain the services of an attorney. Please return within one hour. There is a terminal just outside the door that you can use. Bailiff, please escort Mr. Baudin to the terminal and see that he is able to use it to get an attorney.”
Niall’s case was the last of the three. He accompanied the arresting officer to the bench to stand before the judge.
“Your honor, I was working the second shift on patrol when I got a call from Mau’s bar on 7th Street about a disturbance. When I arrived, I found the accused being restrained by two other men. The bartender was behind the bar where there was a considerable amount of broken glassware and bottles on the counter behind him. The bartender was also still bleeding from the nose and lip and had some cuts on his back and head from the broken glass. The patrons of the bar asserted that the accused, one Niall Davitt Campbell of Los Alamos, had struck the bartender in the face with his fist one blow, which had caused all the visible damage to the property of the bar and to the bartender’s person.”
“Mr. Campbell was unsteady in his walking and slurred in his speech. The two men holding him had also obviously been drinking but said that they had each had several drinks at several bars. They asserted that Mr. Campbell had been angered when the bartender had refused to sell him further drinks and had punched the bartender once on the face. Mr. Campbell said, ‘That will teach him to refuse me a drink.’ and did not deny having struck the blow. When asked if the bartender had made any move to strike Mr. Campbell, all witnesses agreed that far from having struck Mr. Campbell or having tried to strike Mr. Campbell, the bartender appeared completely surprised when Mr. Campbell struck him. Being thus unprepared for the blow, he had lost his balance and fallen backward into the glassware.”
“Inasmuch as there was considerable evidence that Mr. Campbell had inflicted intentional bodily injury upon the bartender, and given Mr. Campbell’s continuing belligerent attitude, I brought Mr. Campbell to jail pending the opening of court this morning.”
The judge turned to Niall, “Do you wish to correct or amend in any way the testimony of the arresting officer?”
“No ma’am. So far as I can remember the officer was completely correct to bring me to jail and used no undue force,” Niall said.
The judge turned back to the officer and asked, “Does the bartender wish to prefer charges against Mr. Campbell?”
“No, your honor. I don’t believe so. I think Ricardo is more embarrassed than anything.”
“You will go contact Ricardo and make quite sure, officially, that he is not pressing charges. I want all the specifics recorded so there is no doubt.”
“Yes, your honor. I would have gotten them last night, but Ricardo needed to get his cuts seen to at the clinic.” The officer hurried out of the room.
“Now then, Mr. Campbell, you understand that you are in a very serious situation here whether Ricardo presses charges or not. You have admitted to striking someone who was not threatening you. You did enough damage to him by that attack that he needed medical attention. You also caused some damages to the property in the bar. Let us dispose of the little matters first. Are you prepared to buy all the destroyed property in the bar?”
Niall did a rough calculation and said,” I believe that I have enough money and I am quite willing to buy everything I broke in the bar, especially if someone will dispose of it properly for me.”
The judge smiled. “In that case, let’s get that done while the officer checks with Ricardo about those charges. Bailiff, a terminal, please.”
The bailiff brought out a tablet computer and set it on the judge’s bench.
“Contact Mau’s Bar and ask to speak to the owner of the broken glassware and bottles.”
In a few moments the voice of someone on the terminal responded, “Yes, your honor?”
“I understand that there were significant damages to your property behind the bar last night due to the actions of one Niall Campbell in assaulting your bartender. Is that correct?”
“Yes, your Honor, it is.”
“Do you have a total cost of the damages to the luxury items destroyed?”
“Yes, your Honor. We were expecting your call. We’ve calculated that the damages come to $638.44 and have so informed the accounts computer, complete with scans of the damage.”
“Mr. Campbell, do you agree to buy the items you damaged in the amount of $638.44?”
Niall intoned, “Your honor I wish to buy the items so described at the price of $638.44. Please debit my account accordingly.”
After the usual confirmations from the computer and the bar’s agreeing to dispose of the broken materials, the judge resumed.
“Why did you strike the bartender?”
“Your honor, I believe it was a combination of things. First and most important, I’d had too much to drink. Had I not been drunk, I don’t believe I would have struck him for such a minor matter. Second, I was embarrassed because my friends were laughing at me over something silly. Finally, he was refusing to sell me any more drinks. Naturally I took this as criticism of my behavior in having drunk so much. I struck out at him simply because of my mental state. Though this may explain my action, I do not think it in any way excuses it.”
“I see. I hope you understand, Mr. Campbell that we cannot allow, we cannot tolerate one person physically attacking another person except to defend himself or his property.”
“I do understand that, your honor. I would not have it any other way.”
“I am glad to hear that because if you accept this court you may find my judgment harsh. Are you willing to accept this court?”
“Yes, ma’am. I am prepared to accept this court’s judgment without reservation.”
“Do you wish to have the representation of an attorney?”
“Your honor, I am guilty of unprovoked assault. I have observed your judgments and feel yours will be just in my case. Unless you advise me otherwise, I will forgo an attorney in this case.”
“Very well. Mr. Campbell, yours is a particularly serious case for several reasons. First and most obviously, you have inflicted bodily harm on a fellow citizen working to serve you and you did so without provocation. That alone warrants a strong response from this bench. Secondly, you have revealed a weakness with respect to alcohol that makes the offense even worse. Alcohol is readily available in this community. There is no reasonable way that you can be prevented from acquiring alcohol, as a case earlier this morning made abundantly clear. Your weakness, therefore, can be expected to result in further such attacks on your fellow citizens. Finally, the sheer irrationality of the action, its lack of warning signs for the bartender, indicates that there is some other factor that is putting you under considerable stress at what may be a subconscious level.”
“Therefore, Mr. Campbell, these are the alternatives I will present to you.”
“Your first alternative is banishment. You will take yourself from this community and never return. Your reputation will include your actions and a warning from this bench about your unpredictable violence. Few would want to risk working with you. If you return, you will be considered a dangerous outlaw and any citizen may reasonably expect to be attacked by you at any moment. Therefore, your mere physical presence will be considered as a threat to attack.”
“Your second alternative is to wear a collar that will introduce into your blood stream a chemical tranquilizer whenever your emotional State becomes excited. This will prevent you from having any strong emotion, whether good or bad. It is only half a life but it will protect others from your irrational attacks.”
By this time Niall was in a cold sweat. His decision to trust this judge appeared to have been completely wrong. His expectations concerning the sentence had been perhaps a 30-day jail term at the worst. But she was talking about lifetime sentences and all for one stupid, heedless punch.
“Your third alternative is as follows. You will give up drinking altogether for the rest of your life. Now I realize and understand that there is no way we can monitor your behavior in this regard. If you choose to go back on your word in this matter, you will be able to drink and we may not find out. But we will add a prohibition on buying alcoholic beverages to your account. This should alert any who would otherwise sell you alcohol.”
“You will also attend Payer School for a full term of instruction, beginning as soon as a replacement can be found for you at your workplace, or one week, whichever is sooner. At Payer School you will be under observation and you will have opportunities to drink and to lose your temper. Should you do either, you will default to the first alternative above of banishment.
In the event you successfully complete the course of instruction at Payer School and I get good reports on your behavior there, I will remove all restrictions from your account and your record will be cleared in all public records. Of course, should you later appear in court, the judge will have your complete record available.”
“Your honor, the third alternative, Payer School, seems to me the most attractive but I don’t know what Payer School is.”
“Payer School is a school that persons who wish to become Payers are advised to attend before actually becoming Payers. Attending this school is not required for prospective Payers because any mentally competent adult is acceptable as a Payer. You will not be required to become a Payer even if you complete Payer School successfully.”
“You should also understand that you will not be financially compensated for any work you do while in Payer School. Therefore, in effect, by taking this option you lose the opportunity to earn money while in school. Naturally, work you did before entering the school will continue to be considered for payment and your account may grow while you are there.”
“While in Payer School, you will not be allowed to have luxuries nor to spend money. You may not give luxuries to others who are also attending Payer School. They may have some other restrictions but I believe those are the main ones.”
“Your honor, I believe those restrictions are quite acceptable to me. I would like to accept your third alternative as my sentence,” Niall said and bowed his head to the judge.”
That’s just an example of how a courtroom might function with a non-POM economy. You will note that the judge is not forced to ignore justice and has the flexibility to do what’s best given the situation.