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Rich People Behaving Badly

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A couple of news articles recently pointed to some of the awful class differences we're facing. The most egregious was the front page piece in the New York Times. In California, if you're crime is not too serious, you can pay around $100 a day to stay in a considerably nicer jail cell, separate from the general population. The unfairness of this should be obvious- rich people are doing easier time. Two people, convicted of the same crime, given the same sentence, and the one with more money in a nicer, safer cell. Separate, unequal.

Administrators for the prisons say they need the money. In California we lock up too many people, the prison system is stretched to capacity. In fact, well beyond capacity. So what should we do?

The solution is simple. Anybody financially eligible for the nicer jail cells, with a sentence of less than a year, should have to pay $100 a day during their incarceration, but stay in the same cells as every one else. "What!" you say. "That's unfair!" Yes, it's unfair, but it's unfair against the rich for a change. It's unfair that they're currently serving softer time. Think of it as special punishment for people who have the resources to know better. If we're going to have unequal incarceration based on financial status, maybe it should go the other way for once. (I do understand that not everyone in this situation qualifies as rich and given the same circumstances I'd hit up everybody I knew for the funds to keep me out of the general population, but still...)

An alternative offered by Tom Kealey is that inmates ("clients") eligible for nicer prison cells would have to also pay for a nicer cell for the poorest inmate.

Now, I don't have anything against rich people per se. I'd very much like to marry one. But everybody saw American billionaire Charles Simonyi recently spent $25 Million to go into space for thirteen days. When he came back he made this beautiful statement, "It was worth it."

Really? It was worth $25 Million Dollars to go into space? I know it's a cliche to say people are starving but... people are starving. I know a lot of people want to say, "But he worked hard for his money and should be able to spend it however he wants." Well, your gardener works hard too, but we're not sending your gardener into space. And really, can a person actually earn a billion dollars? Don't you have to step on someone at some point to make that kind of scratch?

Anyway, I'm not a communist. I believe in regulated capitalism. But how about a 100% luxury tax on all personal purchases over $10 million dollars? I mean, if you've got $25 million to blow having a good time for a two weeks, then you've surely got $50 million. It's like if they doubled the price to see Grindhouse (which was, after all, two movies for the price of one)(which, by the way, was an awesome film) I wouldn't be happy about it, but I would pay the money. It's my entertainment. I might see fewer movies, and billionaires might make fewer trips into space.

My friend ___, who I love, said I was talking about punishing the rich. But I don't feel that way. Are we really punishing people who already have enough money to spend $10 million on a house? Do we really believe those people wouldn't try as hard if that house suddenly cost $20 million? Would we be stifling innovation?

I don't want to punish the rich. I want to honor them by initiating programs helping them to give back to their communities. Imagine the "Charles Simonyi Went To Space Center For Early Childhood Development." Or the "Nicole Richie Got Busted Drinking And Driving Again Middle School Scholarship."

- Stephen Elliott

See also The Child In Hard Time