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The trick is to rob them in ways that are systematic, impersonal, and almost impossible to trace to individual perpetrators.
May 20, 2012 7:51 AM   Subscribe

How Corporations and Local Governments Use the Poor As Piggy Banks. Barbara Ehrenreich (previously) talks about how the cycle of poverty is perpetuated by wage theft, municipal/criminal fines, and debtors prisons.
posted by desjardins (85 comments total) 61 users marked this as a favorite

 
I just linked to this at my own blog. It's a good piece, and this is the money line that explains so much about how American capitalism works:

"The trick is to rob them in ways that are systematic, impersonal, and almost impossible to trace to individual perpetrators."
posted by gerryblog at 7:54 AM on May 20, 2012 [7 favorites]


This ties in nicely in a few ways with this other recent post, which outlines the way the system has been rigged against the regular worker in favor of those who truly make money.

There are better ways to run a society. We just have to find the collective will to move in that direction.
posted by hippybear at 7:57 AM on May 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


How is charging people for thier incarceration not massively, wildly illegal?
posted by The Whelk at 8:08 AM on May 20, 2012 [16 favorites]


How is requiring employees to be at work but not paying for those hours not illegal?
posted by jeather at 8:13 AM on May 20, 2012 [21 favorites]


How is it that there aren't many many more incidents of people going postal?
posted by MartinWisse at 8:15 AM on May 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


FTA: "If we take an extremely lowball $200 per misdemeanor, and bear in mind that 80 to 90 percent of criminal offenses are committed by people who are officially indigent, then local governments are using law enforcement to extract, or attempt to extract, at least $2 billion a year from the poor." [bolding mine for emphasis]

Er, probably not quite the point you wanted to make there, Ms. Ehrenreich. When railing against how the justice system affects the poor, outing them as the vast majority of criminals tends to diminish the outrage you meant to inspire in your audience.
posted by pla at 8:15 AM on May 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


Someone I know (cough) had their car towed for 3 unpaid parking tickets. It cost ~$100 for the tickets and ~$200 for the towing fee. The tickets were for parking on the wrong side of a residential street that is nearly always empty (it looks like this 90% of the time location obscured by a few blocks). You're supposed to park on the "odd side" on odd days (today's the 21st, so I'd park on the side with odd house numbers e.g. 2135). Basically, my friend fell asleep before moving the car at night, forgot about the first few tickets, and got towed the third time they parked on the wrong side of the street.

Your tax refund can also be confiscated by the city for unpaid tickets.
posted by desjardins at 8:20 AM on May 20, 2012


When railing against how the justice system affects the poor, outing them as the vast majority of criminals tends to diminish the outrage you meant to inspire in your audience.


As she mentions, criminal offenses also include things like littering and public urination, usually not committed by what we think of as hardened criminals.
posted by desjardins at 8:22 AM on May 20, 2012 [19 favorites]


Are the poor the vast majority of those who break the law, or the vast majority of those who break the law, are caught, and arrested/charged?
posted by wikipedia brown boy detective at 8:22 AM on May 20, 2012 [32 favorites]


Tell it, sister.
posted by Scientist at 8:23 AM on May 20, 2012


How is it that there aren't many many more incidents of people going postal?

I think this speaks to the patience and earnestness of the poor. Or maybe their docility is an indication that their spirits are just broken.
posted by Mental Wimp at 8:27 AM on May 20, 2012 [4 favorites]


Enforcement of the law is typically very biased against the poor. Take drunkenness in public. A well-off looking person stumbling around and being loud will likely just have his friends told to take him home (or even put in a cab). Someone who looks poor or homeless might get arrested.

Street drug crime enforcement is notably biased. It's a lot easier to bust street dealers (usually less wealthy) than those who deal out of their homes. Meanwhile middle-class people deal and do drugs at similar rates as poor people.
posted by R343L at 8:29 AM on May 20, 2012 [13 favorites]


Uneven enforcement's a problem, but I'm pretty OK with harsh penalties for littering. I've got more sympathy for murderers than I do for litterers.
posted by asperity at 8:31 AM on May 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


How is charging people for their incarceration not massively, wildly illegal?

Because the people doing the charging have power, and the people doing the paying do not.
posted by tyllwin at 8:32 AM on May 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


Obligatory Louis
posted by hand at 8:34 AM on May 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


Putting the douche in fiduciary.
posted by hal9k at 8:41 AM on May 20, 2012 [19 favorites]


How is all this possible?

The American public has been systematically and effectively cowed, plain and simple.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 8:46 AM on May 20, 2012 [6 favorites]


But...but...but...job creators need that $100 Billion per year to, uh, create...jobs.
posted by sourwookie at 8:48 AM on May 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


Sad to think that people won't read this article with a critical eye, because it's a mishmash of stuff in search of a thesis statement, rather than a thesis statement backed up by evidence. Is it hard to be poor? Yes, that's why it's called being poor. But that's not evidence of a widespread, unspoken conspiracy to keep people poor. What does a feet-up-on-the-subway law in NYC have to do with child-support laws? Nothing. Linking the two is a terrible lack of critical thinking.

The article also skims over that most of these issues have an element of choice involved. Paying for prison? Unlikely. No, you're paying for diversionary programs to keep you out of a general population situation. That's a deal you're getting offered as part of sentencing. Is it a profit-center for government? That's a completely different story of malfeasance, and one that I would like to read.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 8:50 AM on May 20, 2012 [4 favorites]


Seriously though, seems to me one way to reduce the onus of local governments using law enforcement and victimizing the poor to cover budget shortcomings would be to enact a way to collect sales tax on online purchases. Amazon can really put the hurt on at city, county, and state levels.
posted by sourwookie at 8:51 AM on May 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


When railing against how the justice system affects the poor, outing them as the vast majority of criminals tends to diminish the outrage you meant to inspire in your audience.

That famous Anatole France quote about how the law in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, beg in the streets, and to steal bread -- that one just went whizzing over your head, didn't it?
posted by PeterMcDermott at 8:52 AM on May 20, 2012 [46 favorites]


I think it's called the "fuck you I've got mine" theory of justice, Peter. It's the lesser known cousin of the similarly named economic theory.
posted by Talez at 8:58 AM on May 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


hippybear: "This ties in nicely in a few ways with this other recent post, which outlines the way the system has been rigged against the regular worker in favor of those who truly make money.

There are better ways to run a society. We just have to find the collective will to move in that direction.
"

"Will" as in "Triumph of"?

"Collective" as in "Collective Farms"?

NO THANKS COMRADE HITLER!

(IOW - I think that's how a sizeable percentage of Americans think when they read that).
posted by symbioid at 9:01 AM on May 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


When railing against how the justice system affects the poor, outing them as the vast majority of criminals tends to diminish the outrage you meant to inspire in your audience.

I guess it depends on how educated you're assuming your audience actually is.
posted by hermitosis at 9:01 AM on May 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


Thanks symbioid. I think that's the first time a comment of mine has been Godwinned. I feel like I've achieved something today.
posted by hippybear at 9:05 AM on May 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Poverty is not a choice.

Poverty is not a crime.
posted by what's her name at 9:10 AM on May 20, 2012 [7 favorites]


Uh, Cool Papa Bell, the woman jailed for failure to pay a fine? That was explicitly for failure to pay the room and board for her son's juvenile detention, or at least the ACLU release says so. That story also says she was released one day to work and she picked up her check and then the sheriff forced her to sign it over to pay not the debt she was jailed for, but her own room and board. So, yeah, I think we're talking about charging people to be jailed, not "diversionary programs".

Honestly, though, I can't see how paying for diversionary programs would make it any more right. Presumably the diversionary programs are offered to offenders who the judge (or penal authorities) are likely to not re-offend if given the opportunity for training or counseling or whatnot. If the point is to keep people from commiting crimes, then we want anyone who can possibly benefit from them taking them. Forcing a felon to pay for such a program means they either are less likely to go thru the program ... which means society is facing a felon who will be released some day and will more likely re-offend. Or they do go thru the program but get out with a large debt they can't pay ... which again means they are more likely to re-offend.

How exactly is that better than the obviously immoral act of charging people for the costs incurred in their own incarceration (which needless to say few if any would choose and may not even have been properly convicted)?
posted by R343L at 9:31 AM on May 20, 2012 [7 favorites]


Basically, my friend fell asleep before moving the car at night, forgot about the first few tickets, and got towed the third time they parked on the wrong side of the street.

Your tax refund can also be confiscated by the city for unpaid tickets.


I don't have much sympathy for people who accumulate parking tickets. It's an easy thing to avoid having to pay; not that most parking laws aren't some large degree of stupid.

Did you know the state can withhold collected child support to pay fines ?

Hehe. Pigfuckers.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 9:36 AM on May 20, 2012


Also, a quick google shows that charging people for jail fees (so if you're booked into a county jail for some offense or remanded their by a judge rather than to state prison) is very common. Waterloo, Iowa charges $70 per day. Until 2009 Minnesota was charging at least $25/day even for people awaiting trial; it's still allowed for those actually convicted. Pennington, SD is pretty mild and only charges $6 per day. The CS Monitor in 2004 found that a third of county jails levied such fees. No doubt it's gone up since then given the state of the economy.

These are just local jails. What about state prisons? From googling, this doesn't look common though some do. I guess cheers to Massachusetts for forgiving the debt if the inmate states out of prison for two years after release?
posted by R343L at 9:43 AM on May 20, 2012


Also, a $700 fine kept a woman in jail (excuse me "diversion center") for eight months past the end of a 120 day sentence.

So, I would say we've got some pretty awful ways of keeping the poor or criminal from getting a fair shake.
posted by R343L at 9:54 AM on May 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


How is it that there aren't many many more incidents of people going postal?
I've been wondering about that for the past five years. Americans, at least, have been remarkably nonviolent during the Great Recession.
posted by doctornemo at 9:56 AM on May 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Don't fight it son. Confess quickly! If you hold out too long you could jeopardize your credit rating.
posted by hand at 10:05 AM on May 20, 2012 [14 favorites]


I don't have much sympathy for people who accumulate parking tickets.

Fair enough - I just think $300 is excessive for parking on a virtually empty street in front of my house. If I were parked next to a fire hydrant or blocking someone's driveway or preventing others from parking, I'd be more understanding. I'm lucky to be able to afford the $300 and I'm lucky I can take public transport to work. If I couldn't, I'd have no car, my license would be suspended, the fines/fees would accumulate every day, and I'd lose my job. I'd very quickly be screwed over 3 parking tickets. Would I deserve it? I guess, it was my own negligence, but jeez..
posted by desjardins at 10:20 AM on May 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'd very quickly be screwed over 3 parking tickets. Would I deserve it? I guess, it was my own negligence, but jeez..

If there's a way to blame the victim and absolve the system, people will find it.
posted by tyllwin at 10:34 AM on May 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


It's all about consistency, see. They can come to your home, drag you out forcibly, incarcerate you against your will, and then charge you for the privilege. All hunky dory. But do not dare to require you to carry health insurance or pitch into mandatory system under threat of fines, because that's just fucking with your freedom, government overreach, lack of free choice, government should not make you pay for anything against your will. Pay against your will for incarceration, yes, health no. If you're a conservative, you'll simultaneously support both positions without least trouble. Because violent authority is to be worshiped, but attempting to use government power for the common good is communism. Bitter ranting? Exaggerated over the top satire? Why, no - this is what libertarians tell me all the time - government is OK to provide policing and military, but anything else is anti personal responsibility, so there. Tax the poor for the endless growth of military and internal repressive power, and let the poor starve to death. Exaggerated? Not when I look at Republican budgetary proposals for the military and security complex vs social services.
posted by VikingSword at 10:35 AM on May 20, 2012 [47 favorites]


Seriously though, seems to me one way to reduce the onus of local governments using law enforcement and victimizing the poor to cover budget shortcomings would be to enact a way to collect sales tax on online purchases. Amazon can really put the hurt on at city, county, and state levels.

There's a bill in Congress right now to do just that, and Amazon supports it. (It's called the Marketplace Fairness Act.) One of the biggest challenges in implementation is that sales tax codes are so complicated, with each jurisdiction (city, county, state, etc.) levying taxes at different rates with different rules about what products get taxed. States need to streamline their tax codes to make collecting online sales tax possible.
posted by misskaz at 10:42 AM on May 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Are the poor the vast majority of those who break the law, or the vast majority of those who break the law, are caught, and arrested/charged?

They also probably don't have the money for a lawyer, or even a nice suit to wear when going before the judge. The clean cut, nicely dressed person is likely to get the charge lessened to a ticket or something more than the somewhat worn out look of someone whom doesn't have the same resources.

I don't have much sympathy for people who accumulate parking tickets.

I guess you haven't heard of all the cars that are essentially ticketed for no real reason? Or the assholes that take the tickets from cars? (assuming the latter are dopey kids/teens). Yup, parking in NYC and the boroughs I totally have sympathy for those with parking tickets.
posted by kellyblah at 10:47 AM on May 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


One of the biggest challenges in implementation is that sales tax codes are so complicated, with each jurisdiction (city, county, state, etc.) levying taxes at different rates with different rules about what products get taxed.

In this day and age of computerization of everything, especially online commerce, why is this a problem? If locales want to make sure taxes are fairly levied on online purchases, they would submit the appropriate data in whatever form is required by the system collecting the taxes, and the appropriate amount would be added onto each purchase as determined by ZIP Code.

This isn't that complicated, and there is no streamlining which needs to take place. The only reason this hasn't been implemented yet (aside from legal reasons) is lack of will. Business deals with much more complicated issues than "what is the tax rate for this locale, and what items does it pertain to" all the time.
posted by hippybear at 10:51 AM on May 20, 2012 [4 favorites]


If inmates are being charged for being in jail then... where do our taxes go? Wisconsin spends $1.1 billion on prisons ( 8.8 percent of the state budget). That doesn't include local spending as far as I know.
posted by desjardins at 10:58 AM on May 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


desjardins: Being charged for jail time appears to be a largely local/county jail thing and given the amounts I doubt it really covers the full cost anyway. So your tax dollars are still being spent on jailing people, don't worry!
posted by R343L at 11:20 AM on May 20, 2012


I've been wondering about that for the past five years. Americans, at least, have been remarkably nonviolent during the Great Recession.

Americans internalize all setbacks as personal failings, everything bad that happens is somehow your fault and you should shut up and take it.
posted by The Whelk at 11:45 AM on May 20, 2012 [11 favorites]


How is it that there aren't many many more incidents of people going postal?

They'd love to go postal. Against those goddamn liberals who wanna take their guns away!
posted by telstar at 11:53 AM on May 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


Minor point; while I wholeheartedly agree with this article overall, she shouldn't water down her case with things like criminalization of littering and putting your feet up on subway seats, as they're not IMO assaults on the poor, they're examples of preserving the public good against assholes, judging by what I see every day, are not especially likely to be poor. Now if they'd just do the same for spitting...
posted by George_Spiggott at 12:27 PM on May 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


f inmates are being charged for being in jail then... where do our taxes go? Wisconsin spends $1.1 billion on prisons ( 8.8 percent of the state budget). That doesn't include local spending as far as I know.

jail: a local lockup operated at the city/county level lower level crimes (misdemeanors)
prison: a state or federal lockup reserved for larger crimes (felonies)

But it seems ludicrous that a room and board is charged in jails. Being thrown in jail is supposed to be the punishment for the crime, charging the offender room and board on top of seems to be a giant fuck you to the poor offender.

"The system" does unfairly punish the poorer people in society. You might have legally parked but because your shitty car won't start you might have to leave it there. Then it gets towed and in addition to the repair cost, the poor bastard has to pay fines, towing and impound fees. And if he can't pay the daily increasing impound fee, they'll sell his car off and then he's even more fucked.

If a person can't pay his bills and is served a civil court summons to appear and the person misses the appearance because either it wasn't correctly served or the person can't take time off of work to appear, he's thrown in jail until he can pay? So while he's in jail, he's not earning any money and when he gets out, he'll get fired for not showing up? And the icing on the cake is a bill from the county for his room and board? And to top is all off, the original debt he couldn't pay is still there and he if he can find work again, his wages will be garnished.

Suggestions ilke "he shouldn't have taken out the loan in the first place" or "he should just get a better job" are unrealistic. I also don't want to see people committing parking violations, littering and other minor offenses either. The punishment needs to fit the crime and be adjusted to the ability to pay. I saw a $100K Mercedes with a parking ticket on his windshield. The $40 ticket doesn't dissuade him from parking illegally at all like it does poor folk like me.
posted by birdherder at 12:40 PM on May 20, 2012 [7 favorites]


Lost in the heat and smoke are the bones on which theory is based. In capitalism, people are not equal. If they were, wealth would not flow in any direction. Any analogy will do: hydraulic pressure, batteries, capillaries. Capitalism is not simple--many countries employ socialistic programs to take up some of the slack. Under capitalism, the money goes from the many to the few. This is not a moral issue, it's just a technical thing.

The moral part comes with justifications, enforcement tactics, related delusions. You may notice that America (in particular) has elevated capitalism to patriotic, even religious, heights. Newspeak has evolved to the extent that people don't have to think about it, don't need to understand it. They take capitalism on faith. Capitalism is good. All else is bad. Once you are in that camp, you can ignore any problems associated with it. We are divided into many camps, but we all are on the same team. We struggle for a position of a little more wealth, another bucket of money, and we not concerned about any kind of meaningful reform. We may pretend or even be sincere in our efforts to help the poor, but we never even think of trying to eliminate poverty.

Pogo said it: We are the enemy.
posted by mule98J at 12:42 PM on May 20, 2012 [7 favorites]


re: George_Spiggot above: Yes, but the poor are more likely to walk or take a subway as they are less able to own and run a car. Hence they are more likely to commit these lesser crimes.

USA! USA! USA!

Seriously America, wtf?

As to why more people haven't gone postal, well we poor people (in England at any rate) are now working longer hours for less pay then 30 years ago. We are too knackered to stand and fight, and this is the way the rich want it.
posted by marienbad at 12:45 PM on May 20, 2012


she shouldn't water down her case with things like criminalization of littering and putting your feet up on subway seats, as they're not IMO assaults on the poor,

Not directly, but indirectly. If I got fined for one of those, I could afford to pay the fine, or I could afford to take the time off and fight it, and neither choice would have much impact on my life or my budget in the short or long term. (I'm assuming the fine is around 100, not around 1000.)

But if I were poor -- well, see her article for stories of people who are jailed for not paying these sorts of fines.
posted by jeather at 1:08 PM on May 20, 2012


Yes, but the poor are more likely to walk or take a subway as they are less able to own and run a car.

That's not entirely the same thing as the well-known Anatole France observation quoted above, where stealing bread and sleeping under bridges truly are genuinely the province of the poor. The sidewalk and the subway are public goods, and any given poor user is not more likely to mistreat it than a not-poor user. Quite the reverse; I don't see homeless people littering but I see ordinary middle class people. I see garbage flung from the windows of late-model cars. I see poor people riding the MAX but they don't have their feet on the seats, it's the professionals in their late twenties wearing expensive casual doing that.
posted by George_Spiggott at 1:13 PM on May 20, 2012


Americans internalize all setbacks as personal failings, everything bad that happens is somehow your fault and you should shut up and take it.
posted by The Whelk at 2:45 PM on May 20 [1 favorite +] [!]


This is not entirely accurate, from a sociology standpoint. We view the failings of others as personal because when we look at them, we see, well, them. Our own failings, however, we attribute to our circumstances. Why? Because when we view our own lives, we look out, at our lives. At our circumstances. We are not trained to be introspective!

Interestingly, the tendency with success is opposite. If I get a raise at work or land a job or get an A on an exam it is because I am awesome. Not because my boss got an extra lump of cash to add to the employee budget, or because my grandma is the next door neighbor of the CEO, or because I was well rested and happened to draw the essay question on that exam that I had already seen before. Rare is the person who stands on the podium to thank his/her parents (and the Academy, and the fans) and really really really understand and mean it, that without all those other forces and benefits, they would not have gotten near a camera. Just as an example.

There is a whole branch of sociology that deals with how and why these attribution errors occur. But in general sociologists seem to agree that when someone you encounter has experienced a failure, looking at the situation is going to get you a better, more accurate explanation of why the failure happened.

But, the pattern is still to believe that the guy avoiding his child support is a fucking jerk, and not that he just doesn't have a job. Of course, he might be a jerk. The guy driving like a maniac on the highway might be rushing to the hospital to meet his wife who is in labor at the hospital. Of course, he might be an inconsiderate driver. The guy who is parked on the wrong side of the street, in desjardin's example might be really really sick or inside nursing his sick dying mother. Or he has no respect for the social norms of parking...I can't make that example reasonable as a personal failing. I just can't.

Ultimately, we can't usually know, without investigating. I find it's better for my own sanity if I give more people the benefit of the doubt.
posted by bilabial at 1:27 PM on May 20, 2012 [14 favorites]


she shouldn't water down her case with things like criminalization of littering and putting your feet up on subway seats, as they're not IMO assaults on the poor

The problem is that these laws do, in fact, disproportionately hurt the poor. An investment banker can litter as he likes, and park where he wants: the fines are beneath his notice. A poor man may have to decide between buying food and avoiding a bench warrant.

If the law were no respecter of wealth -- if rich and poor litterer alike were dragged out into Central Park, and spanked with a newspaper while a bailiff shouted "Bad human! Don't make messes in the street!" -- it would be a different matter. When the rich guy and the poor lady have to spend their Saturday together scrubbing subway cars, then it's about teaching people not to be assholes. So long as the rich man laughs and the poor man weeps for the exact same crime, it's about social justice.
posted by tyllwin at 1:32 PM on May 20, 2012 [19 favorites]


And to some extent those "quality of life" laws are not enforced uniformly because ... well, people with means who do them are exempt. They are not really bad people, y'know, and their shoes are likely to be clean. But people who are not exempt need to be punished because if you let them put their feet on the furniture they might be emboldened enough to rob and murder. And we can't have that.

Watch out for those broken windows.
posted by bfister at 2:28 PM on May 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


If locales want to make sure taxes are fairly levied on online purchases, they would submit the appropriate data in whatever form is required by the system collecting the taxes, and the appropriate amount would be added onto each purchase as determined by ZIP Code.


It's not quite that simple, as zip codes can cross municipal boundaries. Localities also vary on what goods are tax-exempt and when. You would need to link addresses to a database coded by every relevant level of government instead of by zip. This can still be easily overcome. It is not a technical hurdle, it's a political hurdle.
posted by Hollywood Upstairs Medical College at 2:56 PM on May 20, 2012


tyllwin : If there's a way to blame the victim and absolve the system, people will find it.

Getting a ticket for failing to legally park does not make you a victim. It makes you a scofflaw.

Spending a few days in the county lockup on a warrant for - Not just for failure to pay a growing collection of such tickets (which "only" makes you a conscious repeat offender), but for failure to even show up in court when summonsed? Sorry, I can't think of too many flattering words to put here, but "victim" doesn't even share the same chapter in a thesaurus.

Perhaps most importantly (to the point of TFA) - Of all the possible offenses you could call unfair to the poor, you want to press the issue on the one where the cop writing the ticket never even meets the recipient? Rich or poor, black or white, atheist or Jewish, male or female, you don't get many laws as discrimination-neutral as parking regulations.
posted by pla at 3:01 PM on May 20, 2012


Rich or poor, black or white, atheist or Jewish, male or female, you don't get many laws as discrimination-neutral as parking regulations.

No, but the punishment is severely regressive.
posted by dixiecupdrinking at 3:06 PM on May 20, 2012


Regarding the derail on the impossibly difficult job of determining sales tax on an online purchase, that must be why WalMart, CVS, JCPenney, Bed Bath & Beyond, etc. don't sell online... oh, waitaminute, THEY DO.
posted by oneswellfoop at 3:10 PM on May 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Rich or poor, black or white, atheist or Jewish, male or female, you don't get many laws as discrimination-neutral as parking regulations.

Now that would be an interesting experiment. I don't think you know this to be fact though. If you do, please link, of course!
posted by Chuckles at 3:24 PM on May 20, 2012


" I saw a $100K Mercedes with a parking ticket on his windshield. The $40 ticket doesn't dissuade him from parking illegally at all like it does poor folk like me."

One of the things that is done in other countries is to make fines proportional — say, .001 of annual income for 20 miles over the limit, etc. I feel like a shift to progressive fining would both make the social effects of fines better distributed and make it worth prosecuting richer people for more minor infractions, making it less necessary to gouge the poor.
posted by klangklangston at 3:30 PM on May 20, 2012 [10 favorites]


"Spending a few days in the county lockup on a warrant for - Not just for failure to pay a growing collection of such tickets (which "only" makes you a conscious repeat offender), but for failure to even show up in court when summonsed? Sorry, I can't think of too many flattering words to put here, but "victim" doesn't even share the same chapter in a thesaurus."

Failure of imagination is a poor justification for judgmental dismissal, Pla. For example, missing a summons is sometimes unavoidable, whether due to lack of permanent address or failures of process servers (the "sewer service" mentioned in TFA).

So, perhaps use a moment of reflection to avoid so perfectly illustrating Bilabial's point.
posted by klangklangston at 3:35 PM on May 20, 2012 [4 favorites]


But that's not evidence of a widespread, unspoken conspiracy to keep people poor.

I think that's a misreading of the article. She doesn't imply there is some evil backroom plotting to strip the poor of what little wealth they have, but that capitalism, by its nature, will seek to extract any wealth it can from those who have it and the poor are especially victimized by this behavior because they have so little power to resist it. It's a double whammy. Not only do they have low incomes, but they are charged more for services and feel the brunt of fines and assessments more often. Though I agree that a few of her examples are weak, most of them are pretty good illustrations of that point. I think it's healthy for those among us who aren't poor to remember the impact of these policy decisions on the poor. A shining example is the removal of barriers to charging exhorbitant interest rates to those who are least able to afford it. We used to have caps, mostly to protect the middle class, but banks over the last few decades have successfully lobbied (i.e., contributed massively to politicians) to overturn many such regulations. It is fair game for Ehrenreich to point the disproportionate price paid by the poor for this policy change.
posted by Mental Wimp at 3:43 PM on May 20, 2012 [8 favorites]


Or "...point out the..."
posted by Mental Wimp at 3:44 PM on May 20, 2012


Rich or poor, black or white, atheist or Jewish, male or female, you don't get many laws as discrimination-neutral as parking regulations.

having funds for off street vehicle storage vs on-street overnight parking has nothing to with economic status. Not having a quarter to plug the meter as you respond to your summons vs having monthly contact parking is entirely free from bias. Not giving a shit if you receive a parking ticket (as it is such a paltry amount of money) so you can rush in and grab a sandwich vs a parking ticket equaling half your weekly food budget... absolutely the same!
posted by edgeways at 3:45 PM on May 20, 2012 [10 favorites]


"Rich or poor, black or white, atheist or Jewish, male or female, you don't get many laws as discrimination-neutral as parking regulations."

"The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich and the poor alike to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread." - Anatole France

This applies to parking in the street during a snow emergency as well.
posted by Mental Wimp at 4:27 PM on May 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


Chuckles : Now that would be an interesting experiment. I don't think you know this to be fact though.

Please, do elaborate as to how a random meter maid can reliably tell the financial well-being of the owner of a given 2003 Ford Focus. Do you hypothesize that she makes it so obvious as to ask her dispatcher how much the owner makes, or do they have code-words for "poor, screw 'em" and "good white boy, pass it by"?


klangklangston : missing a summons is sometimes unavoidable, whether due to lack of permanent address or failures of process servers (the "sewer service" mentioned in TFA).

The "sewer service" mentioned in the article described debt collectors deliberately failing to serve a summons in order to get a default judgement - And I will absolutely, positively join you in calling that not just reprehensible, but one of those situations that should result in long, long prison sentences for anyone caught doing so.

I do wonder about your other point, though - How many homeless people (as in long-term, not a week between apartments) own cars and drive regularly? Serious question, I'd never considered that before.


So, perhaps use a moment of reflection to avoid so perfectly illustrating Bilabial's point.

Right - Because parking tickets just fall out of the sky onto otherwise legally-parked cars. Repeatedly. And the owner "forgets" to pay them. Repeatedly. And then forgets to show up in court. Clear proof of confirmation bias on my part, right there.
posted by pla at 4:31 PM on May 20, 2012


I think the problem with parking fines/fees is that, while they may be the same amount for everyone, that amount is not experienced the same way by everyone. So, say, a $50 fine could be devastating for someone making minimum wage, while a top executive could see paying that much per week as similar to renting a parking garage, perhaps even more convenient.

If we really want parking enforcement to be felt equally by everyone it should be done the way Finland handles moving violations: on a sliding scale.
http://www.stayfreemagazine.org/public/wsj_finland.html

HELSINKI, Finland -- Jaako Rytsola, a 27-year-old Finnish Internet entrepreneur and newspaper columnist, was cruising in his BMW one recent evening. "The road was wide and I was feeling good," he later wrote. "It's nice to be driving when there's no one in sight."

But this road wasn't empty; a radar-equipped police car was clocking his speed. The officer pulled over Mr. Rytsola's car and issued him a speeding ticket for driving 43 miles an hour in a 25-mile-an-hour zone. The fine: $71,400.

The staggering sum was no mistake. In Finland, traffic fines generally are based on two factors: the severity of the offense and the driver's income. The concept has been embedded in Finnish law for decades: When it comes to crime, the wealthy should suffer as much as the poor. Indeed, sliding-scale financial penalties are also imposed for offenses ranging from shoplifting to securities-law violations. "This is a Nordic tradition," says Erkki Wuoma, special planning adviser at the Ministry of Interior. "We have progressive taxation and progressive punishments. So the more you earn, the more you pay."


This way, if we really want traffic and parking laws to be punitive, we can do so, so that the well-to-do don't see it as just a fee, but are actually hurt by it.

(However, something tells me this wouldn't fly in the US. I wonder why...)
posted by dhens at 4:54 PM on May 20, 2012 [29 favorites]


Please, do elaborate as to how a random meter maid can reliably tell the financial well-being of the owner of a given 2003 Ford Focus.

They can afford a car.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 5:05 PM on May 20, 2012


Bunny Ultramod : They can afford a car.

<facepalm>
Seriously? Okay then - Would you care to explain how the poor get parking tickets without a car? Because I have to admit, a good answer there would instantly win me over.
</facepalm>
posted by pla at 5:22 PM on May 20, 2012



Seriously? Okay then - Would you care to explain how the poor get parking tickets without a car? Because I have to admit, a good answer there would instantly win me over.


"What confuses you, when you look out your window what confuses you with the world, what, what do you walk around going, “Oh, that’s a bit weird.” I remember, ahm, when you were in, uh, Edinburgh, you were confused ‘cause you someone putting a parking ticket on some rubbish. Which confused ya."

source
posted by gyc at 5:41 PM on May 20, 2012


In Seattle there have been cases where local ordinances forbid overnight parking or long-term (72 hours) parking, resulting in ticketing and towing of motor homes that people are living in.

http://www.realchangenews.org/index.php/site/archives/4875/
posted by bq at 6:22 PM on May 20, 2012


I live in a nice house in a low crime neighborhood and I park my car in my own garage every night. But not long ago I lived in an apartment building with limited underground parking in a not-so-good neighborhood, and two days a week all of my neighbors and I would play a version of musical chairs as we all tried to park on one side of the very crowded street to avoid getting a ticket in the morning. If you had to work late (as I often did, and some of my neighbors did, probably also for no overtime) there would be no spaces left and the nearest parking might be many blocks away. I was a single woman back then and sometimes I would illegally park just to stay close to my apartment, betting that I would beat the street sweepers the next morning. I didn't always. I wonder how some of the families near me managed. At any rate, it wasn't rare to see the tow trucks come, or see somebody's tire with a boot- both very expensive and time consuming to get fixed.
Also, when you park on the street all the time you discover the otherwise hidden economy revolving around stolen car parts. Which is just another thing that makes being poor in a shitty neighborhood so much less nice than living among the oblivious well-off.
posted by biddeford at 7:31 PM on May 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


Yes. Actually. I have witnessed meter maids ignoring tryi g really hard to pretend they don't see the fancier cars that have obviously parked without paying the meter. I watch a Mercedes park, the driver gets out and spends 20 minutes in a coffe shop before the ticket dispensing public employee arrives.

I've not once witnessed a jalopy gettin the same pass.

Re: speeding. A friend of mine in high school drove a mid 80s 4 door Mercedes sedan (in 1998/99). She once explained her comfort driving....pretty fast....through Big Pine Key (a key deer zone, low speed limit). "Cops see me cruising in this and they think, 'she's got someplace to be!' They see someone in a mustang or a beat up van and they think, 'Im gonna nail that jerk!'"

She never got a speeding to ticket that I know of.
posted by bilabial at 7:45 PM on May 20, 2012


"The "sewer service" mentioned in the article described debt collectors deliberately failing to serve a summons in order to get a default judgement - And I will absolutely, positively join you in calling that not just reprehensible, but one of those situations that should result in long, long prison sentences for anyone caught doing so."

Yes. It's also indicative of a fairly reasonable inference: That not everyone who misses a hearing or a judgment does so out of intentional neglect.

"I do wonder about your other point, though - How many homeless people (as in long-term, not a week between apartments) own cars and drive regularly? Serious question, I'd never considered that before."

Quite a few, actually, at least here in California. And back in Michigan, there were regular reports of homeless people freezing to death in their cars.

However, that's outside of the broader point that I was making, especially since the bit I quoted was mostly about you declaring your lack of sympathy for anyone locked up. Which is that you're overattributing their position to choice in order to justify treating them as out-group.
posted by klangklangston at 7:55 PM on May 20, 2012


A friend of mine in high school drove a mid 80s 4 door Mercedes sedan (in 1998/99). She once explained her comfort driving....pretty fast....through Big Pine Key (a key deer zone, low speed limit). "Cops see me cruising in this and they think, 'she's got someplace to be!'

Well, they certainly don't think that about a red BMW unless that "someplace to be" is on the side of the road.
posted by desjardins at 8:00 PM on May 20, 2012


Perhaps most importantly (to the point of TFA) - Of all the possible offenses you could call unfair to the poor, you want to press the issue on the one where the cop writing the ticket never even meets the recipient?

I don't call the concept of punishment for parking violations unfair. I call the specific method of "fixed monetary fines with more fines for those who can't pay the initial one" as the punishment unfair. Punish it in a way that deals out equal pain to rich and poor, and I'll shut up.

But that doesn't happen because too many cities view these fines, not as a legal punishment, but as a revenue opportunity.
posted by tyllwin at 8:16 PM on May 20, 2012


How is it that there aren't many many more incidents of people going postal?

It's insidious ... they all become addicted to latte and they lose the will to rebel
posted by hand at 8:23 PM on May 20, 2012


Having a car does not mean that you can afford a car. In the area that I live (Southern Cali.) a car is more vital to being able to work than any other factor. I have friends that need support and charity from myself, other friends and their family and the first priority is having a car or similar transport.

I grew up in a suburb of San Diego, a city called Carlsbad. Neighboring Carlsbad there is Vista, and Oceanside. Carlsbad acre for acre is higher income. There are know street sweepers or tickets for being on the street during street sweeping. In Vista, and in Oceanside (I live in Vista now, and lived in Oceanside) They have street sweepers. I was ticketed 6 times in 5 years of occupancy (I paid the tickets, and it was laziness usually that allowed them to accrue).

The streets in Carlsbad are no dirtier than the streets in Vista or Oceanside.
posted by Drumhellz at 1:47 AM on May 21, 2012


Well, they certainly don't think that about a red BMW unless that "someplace to be" is on the side of the road.

Depends on the plates.

Vaguely related story. I have had my new car for, oh, three-four months. It's a beautiful day, top's down, music's loud, and I'm heading to Cincinnati from Chicago, and about 90 minutes in, I see blinking lights behind me. I look down at the dash and my spirits fall.

I am doing 80 in a 65 in Indiana with Illinois Plates. I have just volunteered to contribute significantly to the Indiana General Fund. I am guilty as I can be, and there's nothing I can do. I turn on my blinker, start to slow down, and pull into the emergency lane when I drop to about 40.

I get down to, about, oh, 20ish and about to stop when this black BMW 7series, I think, goes by and I swear I hear the limiter making cylinders skip. It was moving, and if it was truly hitting the limiter, he's doing 155. He's certainly moving vastly faster than anything else on that road.

Suddenly those blinking lights move to the left, the police car (IN state police, I think...I had gone from very kicking myself for being stupid to very confused by the BMW at Warp 4.) whips by me and I never see him again. I get up to 50mph, pull back in, get up to about, oh, 68, click the cruise control in, and pull off at the next ramp to put the top up, fully expecting the next IN state police car to come and finish what was begun.

Never saw one again. Never saw that BMW again. I did see a black BMW pulled over, but I really think it was a different car -- it was clearly a 3 series, and they're much smaller than the 7 series.

But it's a rule every driver in the midwest knows, and I'd somehow broken it badly and not paid for it -- don't go fast in a shiny car in another state.

But most importantly, black and grey sedans usually get lost amid all the other cars. Bright red cars say "Look at me!" Do you want the police to be looking at you when you're driving? Well, depends, are you doing 85? So, fast cars should be stealthy -- but stealth is only good for so much. Silver convertibles with the top down? Not stealthy at all....

My only theory that would explain why that didn't end up on the news was that BWM 7 series had diplomatic plates. And finally, when I'm in IN, all hail the cruise control, preventer of stupid tickets.

(Who knew you could be comfy in a convertible at 85? Go Volvo!)
posted by eriko at 6:57 AM on May 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


How is requiring employees to be at work but not paying for those hours not illegal?

I'm not sure, but even a lot of decent-paying hourly jobs (manufacturing, delivery, etc) require you to be at work 15 minutes before the start of your shift. You're supposed to put on your uniform, get your supplies together, use the bathroom, etc. during that time. If you're even 30 seconds late you get in serious trouble. I even know people who make $30 an hour who get that kind of treatment. It seems bizarre to treat your skilled employees like that, but hey, I'm not an MBA.
posted by miyabo at 9:51 AM on May 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


I am doing 80 in a 65 in Indiana with Illinois Plates.

Not surprising; we target FIBs up here in Wisconsin too. I'm pretty sure that the Racine and Kenosha county budgets are at least 50% funded by the Illinoisans driving on I-94 up to the B&Bs in Door County. (Full disclosure: I married a FIB).

Color definitely matters; he has a grey BMW and has never been stopped. Collectively we've gotten 4 tickets in the red one (all richly deserved). Our mechanic says my car is "arrest-me red."
posted by desjardins at 11:09 AM on May 21, 2012


Please, do elaborate as to how a random meter maid can reliably tell the financial well-being of the owner of a given 2003 Ford Focus. Do you hypothesize that she makes it so obvious as to ask her dispatcher how much the owner makes, or do they have code-words for "poor, screw 'em" and "good white boy, pass it by"?

I don't know why I'm bothering to reply, but I guess you should take it as a sign that you are good at what you do. But anyway..

First off, you can tell by what neighbourhood they are in, of course. In fact, I would venture that parking rules make a lot more sense in well off neighbourhoods, and parking rules in poor neighbourhoods are a lot more arbitrary. And then there is how much enforcement there is in which neighbourhoods. You can look at the make, model, and general state of good repair of the car. I don't know what preferences meter maids have in that area, but you better believe there will be some bias one way or another. Finally, and this comes up in Toronto specifically for sure, if you higher somebody to go down to city hall and dispute the ticket, you almost always get off. All the big delivery companies and taxi companies have these paid lackeys. Even though I don't drive, I've personally watched these lackeys in the ticket line up at Metro Hall. So if you have money and influence, even after the meter maid has ticketed you, you can still get out of it relatively easily.

And just to be absolutely clear, exactly how all that breaks down is something to be researched, it is not something I claim to KNOW.
posted by Chuckles at 11:28 AM on May 21, 2012


Putting the douche in fiduciary.
posted by hal9k at 8:41 AM on May 20 [19 favorites +] [!]


Hey! That's mine!
posted by vitabellosi at 6:17 PM on May 21, 2012


It doesn't make any sense to target poor people for parking tickets since they're the least able to pay. And down here in America, parking in wealthy suburbs (or rich city neighborhoods) is WAY more restrictive. Most suburbs have no parking at all. I could leave my car for weeks in a poor area (well, a red BMW might get stolen) with no ticket because cops have better things to do and parking enforcers target areas where people are more likely to complain about problem cars.
posted by desjardins at 9:56 PM on May 21, 2012


It doesn't make any sense to target poor people for parking tickets since they're the least able to pay.

I think the point is that poor people are less likely to have off-street parking and reserved spaces in ramps. Thus they end up paying most of the parking fines, because they need to park on the street more often.
posted by Mental Wimp at 7:45 AM on May 22, 2012


Right, but that's a structural deficit, not a "fuck you I hate poor people" bias from the parking enforcement agent as mentioned above, twice.
posted by desjardins at 9:28 AM on May 22, 2012


I once had a terrible shouting argument with someone who decided that Ehrenreich obviously wasn't smart enough if she couldn't survive on entry-level wages in the US.
posted by clvrmnky at 10:20 AM on May 22, 2012


Right, but that's a structural deficit, not a "fuck you I hate poor people" bias from the parking enforcement agent as mentioned above, twice.

Yes, well, there is a tendency to target crappy cars as well as fancy ones, in my anecdotal experience. Since there are many more crappy than fancy ones, this again disadvantages the poor. I drive a Honda Accord and realize that it is the least noticeable car around. I no longer get speeding tickets for barely exceeding the limit. Also not a chick magnet.
posted by Mental Wimp at 1:49 PM on May 22, 2012


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