Sunday, April 15, 2007

Three Unproductive Drains of Value: Part 4

What to do about theft.

I have shown that theft is something that is done both by people we traditionally recognize as criminals, as well as by government. The question at hand is: what can be done about theft, both by your regular pickpockets, burglers, muggers, and such, as well as by the grand extortion ring we call "government?"

The simplest one to solve logically is also the most difficult politically. Let us make the assumption, for the moment (an assumption I will attempt to flesh out in part 6) that there is a source of sufficient revenue other than arbitrary taxation which can be used to support government. Assuming that is true, ending institutionalized theft is simply a matter of ending that arbitrary taxation, and switching over to that untapped source of public revenue. (Again, I will discuss that in detail in part 6.) We'll take the "magic wand" approach to government theft for now, and move on to noninstitutional theft.

I think the best way to reduce regular theft, vandalism, and other crimes of property is to reverse it wherever it is found. In other words, restitution should be our primary model in dealing with crimes of property. Did a kid spraypaint your wall? I say give him a chance to fix it himself, whether that be by acquring the paint and painting it personally, or paying someone else to do it, or paying the equivalent money directly to the owner of the wall. Wallet get stolen? Make the thief give back an equal amount. Something taken from the house? The thief should have to give it, or its monetary equivalent, back. Murray Rothbard wrote an excellent article on how, and why, restitution would work, but here is my stab at explaining my take on it.

However, just that amount is not enough. Money in the thief's hands is money you can't spend just yet. It's a kind of "forced interest-free loan" if he only has to pay back what he took. I am inclined to use the Book of Exodus as a model as to what must be paid back in addition to the base amount. For things that are replaceable on a one-to-one basis, such as "silver or goods for safekeeping," televisions, jewelry, and anything still in the thief's posession and intact, the thief should have to pay back double what he took. However, for things which have irreplacable qualities which were either sold or damaged beyond recovery before the thief was found, the thief should have to pay back four or five times as much. Biblial examples include oxen and sheep. I might include such things as personal computers, since at times, the value of such a thing includes data. Folks should be paid back not only for the machine itself, but also for their digital photo albums, personal writings, and other things which can be lost if such a machine is lost. I'm not certain about that, but any living thing which is stolen and/or killed should be replaced double.

In the event that the thief is unable to pay, the thief should be required to work to pay it back. The system I prefer is a system of indentured servitude. The victim would be permitted to work the thief, keeping all the proceeds but providing room and board to the thief, for a period of time not to exceed six years. After the term is served, the servent would be given a statuatorily determined amount of money and supplies and sent on his way. (Once again, I model it after the system given in the Bible--Deuteronomy 12 in this case.) Because not everybody is likely to desire--or even be comfortable with--the responsibility of overseeing the indentured servitude of one who previously victimized them, the servant's term would be transferralbe; he could sell the term to someone else. This system would have numerous advantages.

First off, I think the requirement for the thief to pay back twice as much is much more just than the way we currently do things. These days, if a thief is caught, he is incarcerated. The victim, who has already lost money to the thief, is now among the many who will lose yet more providing the thief room and board in exchange for nothing. Double restitution, I think, would be a sufficient deterrant, and it would restore the victim's fortunes, rather than hurting it further.

For those who are unable to pay the required restitution, indentured servitude would ensure that the victim still got something back. As for the thief, he would spend the next few years not only paying the victim back, but also accumulating job skills, a work history, and finally capital to get him started once he regains his freedom. I can imagine companies arising whose business is purchasing indentured terms, and then maximizing the return on their investment by attempting to get maximum value out of their servents, which means discovering their talents, developing them, utilizing them. In the end, not only is the former victim better off than he started, so is the former thief! The best part: no tax dollars need go toward incarceration.

Then there is battery (which is separate from assault, here in California). I think that the accused should be given a choice between two options: suffering injury equivalent to what was suffered by the victim, or paying for medical care sufficient to restore the victim to full health, and paying it twice over (to compensate the victim for lost time). In other words, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth... unless they can pay the doctor for a new eye or a new tooth. Servitude would not be an option for someone who was unable to pay doctors fees. (Note that the flat doubling of medical expenses, rather than evaluating for "lost time" ensures that all victims are compensated equally--a CEO is owed nothing more than a minimum-wage burger flipper.)

This would extend to murder: I am a firm believer that if a life is taken, a life is owed. The victim himself should have first claim on what is to be done with his murder--if his will specifies that anyone who kills him shall also be killed, then the murderer should be killed. If nothing specific is in the will, then the life of the murderer falls into the hands of the next of kin.

Now, all that said, I do believe that the victim should be in control of what punishment is exacted--not the state (other than ensuring punishment does not exceed a maximum limit). While restitution would be the right of the victim, so would forgiveness. If the victim does not wish to punish the perpetrator, then the perpetrator should not be punished. Someone who did not want to throw some twelve year old shoplifter into six years of servitude could waive that penalty. Someone who does not believe in the death penalty could waive the death penalty. If two men fight, each causing the other injury, they would have the right to call it quits, rather than having both of them suffer yet more injuries under the "eye for an eye" clause.

Thus, the demand for double resitution would reduce theft both by refersing previous thefts (we can count them as "not commited" for the purposes of analyzing how much thefts go on), and would act as a deterrant. For those who could not pay it back, the period of indentured servitude would provide not only a reversal and a deterrant, but also a certain amount of rehabilitation. The complete lack of prisons for crimes of property (other than jails where the accused can be held for trial), reduces the necessary amount of government revenue greatly, which has the potential to significantly reduce governmental theft levels, even without the ideas I will introduce later.

No comments: