I got a new ticket today, so I was reminded about my complaints regarding America's system of fines. For the general premise, see this comic I saw on Tumblr:
As I've gushed about before, Sweden (for example) scales the cost of their tickets both on the severity of the crime, and on the income of the accused. Here's an example, a world-record 1.1 million dollar fine, for a very rich person, driving very fast. They had to get special equipment to catch him.
Let's assume, for the sake of argument, that the amount of money I got fined ($62, rounding to $50 for convenience) is appropriate for someone at the lowest rate of income. Let's also assume that everyone has the ability and opportunity to work for the lowest rate of income, full time: 40 hours a week at $7.25 per hour, 52 weeks a year, totaling about $15 thousand.
The fine, $50, is about a third of a percent of that.
Now, let's compare that to someone whose annual income is $400 thousand -- because that happens to be the group on whom we've just let the Bush tax cuts expire, so it's a good indicator of 'has loads of money.'
The fine, $50, is just over a hundredth of a percent of that.
If, however, we assume that the fine on the lowest possible income (in the weird parallel world where everyone has access to reliable, constant, legitimate employment) is appropriate, in the degree to which it's a punishment, and one third of a percent f annual income is an appropriate fine for this crime, the fine on someone who makes $400 thousand a year would be $1,320.
Now, I would ideally prefer that fines on the lowest earning citizens be lower, but for a number of reasons, the fines should obviously be scaled to income.
For one thing, it would encourage police to crack down on irresponsible driving among wealthier people, who can usually lawyer up and get themselves out of it anyway. For another, it would increase the amount of money state and local governments would have as a result of fines. (I think it's pretty easy to agree that it would be good if state and local governments had more money.) And another, corresponding to thing one, it would reduce the pressure of police action on poor people, who are most in need of a break, because they're the most likely to be put in awful positions where obeying the law means giving up a job opportunity or access to food or any number of other important things.
Finally, it would encourage better driving on all levels, because (though the punishment would still always affect the poor more seriously) fines on rich lawbreakers would be non-trivial.
I'm pissed off right now, and there's not much I can do about it at the moment.