Setting Moral Priorities

Justice is moral. When government metes out punishments that far exceed the crime, the government itself is immoral. At least, the government is immoral in my book. Some of you may differ on the subject.

Some people ascribe to a different philosophy of law. Wrong is wrong and the government is entitled to do whatever it takes to get people to shape up. I’ve heard this argument from drug warriors who inflict life sentences on third time caught drug dealers and from left wing environmentalists calling for draconian fines for polluters. Zoning police and homeowner’s associations levy astronomical daily fines to force compliance with mailbox color standards and such like. In Saudi Arabia they cut off the hands of thieves.

This philosophy is not only brutal, it is impractical in a democracy. When law enforcement departs from justice, people lose respect for the law. Juries hang. People openly defy the law. People refuse to cooperate with the police. Police work degenerates into paramilitary occupation. Simply consider the ludicrous warnings that precede most paid videos. Who celebrates when the Hollywood lawyers threaten a smalltime teenage pirate with a quarter million dollar fine and five years in jail? Indeed, the very notion of copyright is losing respect among the younger generation because of such heavy handed enforcement.

The subject is worthy of an article of its own, or even several. For now please at least entertain the possibility that it pays to set moral priorities, to make penalties at least somewhat proportional to the underlying crimes. Today, we have lost that proportionality. Child molesters get shorter sentences than petty criminals caught for “three strikes.” Murderers often get shorter sentences than drug dealers. Abortion is a Constitutional right while smoking in restaurants gets banned in many states.

If these examples fit your notions of degrees of evil, then the system works. If not, let us spend some time sorting our moral priorities.

The Moral Priority Quiz

Below is an alphabetized rogue’s gallery of evil “businesses”, ranging from small time operators to giant corporations. Your task is to sort them from most evil per dollar of business to least. I say “per dollar of business” since these “businesses” vary widely in scale. Also, evil/dollar provides some guidance for reasonable punishment per infraction. For some multi-faceted businesses just consider the subset of that business denoted in parentheses.

To make the quiz easier to take, I recommend you print out this article and cut the boxes below into individual slips of paper. (Fear not, I have set the style sheets to hide the banner and navigation buttons when you print saving you ink. Do a print preview to verify.)

A Brothel

A Casino

A Cat Burglar

A Crack Cocaine Dealer

A Holdup Robber

A Kidnapper

A Marijuana Dealer who deals to teenagers

A Marijuana Dealer who deals to adults only

A New Age Bookstore

A Nude Beach

A Pizza Delivery Company which Encourages Speeding

A Powder Cocaine Dealer

A Shoplifter

A Spammer

A Striptease Bar

An Abortion Clinic

An Online Poker Web Site

Archer Daniels Midland (for high fructose corn syrup)

British Petroleum

Halliburton

Hooters

Jack Daniel Distillery

Kiss (the band)

Martha Stewart (for insider trading)

Monsanto (for GMO foods)

Phillip Morris

Playboy Enterprises

Proctor and Gamble (for hydrogenated vegetable oils)

Quentin Tarrantino (for sick movies)

Ultimate Fighting Championship

Wal Mart (for whatever you think Wal Mart does bad)

Warner Music (for rude lyrics)

OK, now that you have taken the quiz (you did take it, didn’t you?), how many of the rogues were falsely accused in your mind? How many are immoral, but not immoral enough to justify legal action? Which simply deserve to pay some sin taxes? Which deserve fines or jail?

Compare your answers to the current law of the land. If they diverge greatly, maybe a call to your friendly neighborhood politician is in order. Or maybe we should delve into why the government does such a bad job of setting moral priorities, and investigate what we can do about it.

Read the Book

Do you want to start a new political party? Or are you simply interested in what that would entail? Check out my new book: Business Plan for a New Political Party.

People wanted an ebook version of the Plan here on this site. So I started cleaning up, reformatting, and adding a huge amount of content. The book is about three times the length of the free online version -- and easier to read.