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Rich Privilage

January 28, 2013

I largely agree with Jonathan Haidt in that a big part of what makes people ascribe to particular political beliefs is how they react emotionally to various events. One thing that really bugs me on a emotional level is elite hypocracy when it comes to laws. I don’t mind if a Congressperson has an affair or two; powerful people have been doing that for a long time. What really bothers me is when a lawmaker adopts the rhetoric of a moral high ground while advocating a rule which they themselves not only break, but break in a way which suggests the rule itself is a terrible idea anyway. There are plenty of exmaples. Barack Obama’s stepping up enforcement of marijuana after admiting he himself smoked it. Would society be better off if he were in prison right now? Maybe some conservatives might think so, but surely they don’t honestly think that America would be a better place if every single one of the 41% of Americans who have tried pot were incarcerated. David Gregory brandished a highly illegal 30 round magazine on national television, and yet it seems like it’s not even a question that he should not be prosecuted. Did he illegally posess a high capacity magazine? Clearly. Is there evidence that he is guilty? Clearly. Then what is his defense? He’s rich and laws are for the little people. But once again, the whole situation calls into question the law itself. He did not cause anyone any harm by his actions.

So why does this matter? Every human society to some degree has inequality of enforcement of the law, but not to the same degrees. Rich people almost exclusively say what the laws are. Congresspeople are rich and privilaged, the people who influence them are rich and privilaged. If the rich people had to follow laws, laws would be much better. Even if there were a slim chance that they or someone they cared about had to face the consequences for the bloated capricious legal system they have unleashed, they would hesitate before criminalizing victimless behaviors.

Further reading:
Manning and Assange vs. Woodward – To me this case is a bit different since Manning is a soldier and Woodward is a journalist, but one could ask the same question about Assange.
Should Obama be detained for violating the NDAA?
Sumner on drug enforcement and the War on the Poor.

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