The 1st of Gandhi’s Seven Social Sins: Wealth without Work.

Once upon a time in this great country, a model for attaining wealth and a set of rules to accomplish this objective stemmed from 3 basic beliefs.  These were:

  1. You worked hard, long and industriously.
  2. You attained as much education as you could absorb and afford.
  3. You treated all of your engagements with absolute honesty and scrupulousness.

Somewhere during the later 20th Century these 3 Cardinal beliefs (Above) about attaining great wealth were replaced by the following beliefs:

  1. Wealth can be attained at a gambling casino or by winning a lottery if you are lucky enough.
  2. Wealth can be attained by suing someone and with the help of a lawyer who will thereby gain a percentage of your lawsuit.
  3. Wealth can be attained by finding some means of attaining a government handout for the remainder of your life.

Admittedly, not all Americans subscribe to the second set of beliefs and fortunately there are many who still subscribe to the first. Nevertheless, I think you would be hard pressed to argue that gambling, casinos, government handouts and lawsuits have not multiplied exponentially over the past fifty years.  The following are some charts which I think illustrate my points rather graphically.

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The nature of human beings is to want things fast and with a minimum of effort.  This is normal and not to be thought of as deviant or unusual. However, as we age and develop more self-control and wisdom over our daily affairs, we learn to temper our desire for “Instant Pudding” with a more mature perspective.  Noted quality guru, Dr. W.E. Deming maintained that people wanted “Instant Pudding.”  For Deming this meant, change without effort, quality without work and cost improvements overnight.  Added together, “Instant Pudding” was Dr. Deming’s metaphor for the desire to obtain results with a minimum investment of time and energy.  Dr. Deming continually warned his clients that there was no “Instant Pudding” and change would take years of hard work and could not be accomplished without continued dedication and focus.

Unfortunately our media and even schools today seem to emphasize the possibility of achieving success and wealth overnight.  Sports stars are depicted as suddenly being offered incredible contracts. Movie stars are shown as going from unknown to overnight fame and fortune. Singers and musicians seem to suddenly achieve fame despite being barely out of their teens and in many cases barely into their teens. It would appear that everywhere we look fame, fortune and success happen overnight. All it takes is to be discovered. This might happen if you can get on American Idol or be found by the right booking agent or obtain a guest appearance on the Oprah Winfrey show.  In some cases, all it takes is the right YouTube video to accomplish overnight success. One day Psi was an unknown Korean musician and in a few short weeks, he was celebrating success by a dinner in the White House and appearing on the Times Square New Year’s Eve celebration.  How can anyone dispute that all that is required for fame and fortune is to be in the right place at the right time?

You may be asking “yes, but what exactly did Gandhi mean by this “sin.”  The M. K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence gives the following explanation:

Wealth Without Work: This includes playing the stock market; gambling; sweat-shop slavery; over-estimating one’s worth, like some heads of corporations drawing exorbitant salaries which are not always commensurate with the work they do. Gandhi’s idea originates from the ancient Indian practice of Tenant Farmers. The poor were made to slog on the farms while the rich raked in the profits. With capitalism and materialism spreading so rampantly around the world the grey area between an honest day’s hard work and sitting back and profiting from other people’s labor is growing wider. To conserve the resources of the world and share these resources equitably with all so that everyone can aspire to a good standard of living, Gandhi believed people should take only as much as they honestly need. The United States provides a typical example. The country spends an estimated $200 billion a year on manufacturing cigarettes, alcohol and allied products which harm people’s health. What the country spends in terms of providing medical and research facilities to provide and find cures for health hazards caused by over-indulgence in tobacco and alcohol is mind-blowing. There is enough for everyone’s need but not for everyone’s greed, Gandhi said.

There is a visual problem here that perhaps underlies much of the current thinking about success. The media loves to trumpet short success stories that will grab anyone’s attention. We are constantly bombarded with headlines such as:

Each of these sites (click on to hyperlink to the actual site) promises you overnight success or at least success in a much shorter time span than is realistic. These ads are in the news, checkout stands, on TV and just about anywhere you turn around. The constant daily bombardment of such ads creates a zeitgeist in which overnight success not only seems to be possible; but it actually seems to be the norm.  If you are not an overnight success, if you cannot become rich in days rather than years, if you contemplate a life of hard work to attain your fame and fortune, than something is wrong with you.  Anyone subscribing to the first 3 sets of beliefs I mentioned in the opening is a peculiar species today.  The most common belief about success in the new millennium can be summed up as:

I don’t have time to wait. I don’t have the patience to wait.  I don’t want to spend my life waiting.  I am entitled to success now.  Why should I have to wait?  I am as good as any of these rich successful people. If only everyone could see how good I really am, I would get the fame and fortune I deserve now.  If you expect me to shut up and work hard, I will leave and go elsewhere. You need me more than I need you.

I believe that Gandhi and many of my generation would find such ideas very peculiar not to mention that they contradict certain universal principles. Every time I hear of a new terrorist attack in this country or a new massacre at some workplace, I wonder how much the instigator was influenced by his or her desire for overnight fame and fortune.  In some bizarre out-of-this-world thinking, these maniacs equate their picture on page one of the news with a sort of glory that is accomplished by their bizarre and cruel rampage. The more they kill or maim, the greater they think their glory will be.  We can look for all the “reasons” why but we will never find any “good” reasons for anyone to take such anti-social actions against others. The paradox is that often the very people they hate are the ones they wanted attention or recognition from.

Ok, time for questions:

Have you raised your children to believe in hard work?  Are you one of the parents who want to make sure their kids have it easy?  How do you know how much hard work is enough?  Do you think you are entitled to success because or if you work hard?  What other factors play a role in success?  Is it fair that some people do not seem to have to work hard and yet still reap big rewards?  Do people today have it too easy compared to the immigrants that founded this country?

Life is just beginning.

The Law Enforcement Legal-Judicial Correctional Complex

The Law Enforcement Legal-Judicial Correctional Complex is an interlocking and interdependent set of institutions whose avowed purpose is to 1. Protect Americans from crime.   2. Fairly punish wrong doers.  3. Provide rehabilitation for errant citizens and 4. Return them as productive members of society.  If we take these as the four main objectives of the system, in actuality, the system accomplishes very little of these objectives.  What it does accomplish, it does so at a high cost to our country.  The system is a gross miscarriage of justice whose complexity, cost, processes and outcomes cost Americans billions of dollars of year with little appreciative results for the money.  True, crime is down in the US for the past ten years but at what cost?  Furthermore, do you or any other Americans actually feel safer in your home or on the streets at night?  In what large American city would any man or women simply take a walk at 10 or 11 PM?

In this blog, I want to dissect each of the components of what I am calling our Law Enforcement Legal-Judicial Correctional Complex to demonstrate the monstrous dysfunction of the system and to show how each part feeds off of and helps to sustain dysfunction in the other parts.  Let’s start with the Correctional System.  No doubt you have heard some of the statistics that demonstrate how expensive this system is but a short review might help.

The Correctional System:

The following table shows the number of Americans in jails in the US as of 2010:

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http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Incarceration_in_the_United_States

“The cost of the American prison system is enormous.   It is estimated that the yearly cost of over $74 billion eclipses the GDP of 133 nations. What is perhaps most unsettling about this fact is that it is the American taxpayer who foots the bill, and is increasingly padding the pockets of publicly traded corporations like Corrections Corporation of America and GEO Group. Combined both companies generated over $2.53 billion in revenue in 2012, and represent more than half of the private prison business.”   http://www.smartasset.com/blog/news/the-economics-of-the-american-prison-system/

The United States has the highest documented incarceration rate in the world (743 per 100,000 population),  Russia has the second highest rate (577 per 100,000), followed by Rwanda (561 per 100,000). The United States has less than 5% of the world’s population but 23.4% of the world’s prison and jail population.  As far as rehabilitating prisoners, a 2002 study survey showed that among nearly 275,000 prisoners released in 1994, 67.5% were rearrested within 3 years, and 51.8% were back in prison.  Most studies support a high recidivism rate.

What are you going to do in today’s recession era economy with no job skills, a felony conviction and the past four or five years out of the labor market?   If you tell me you are going to get a job, I will give you one hundred to one odds against it.

However, we are simply looking at one part of the dysfunctional system that I am labeling as the Law Enforcement Legal Judicial Correctional Complex.  The costs of the Correctional system alone are staggering both in terms of financial costs and human lives not to mention human spirits.   But the system is interlocking and like the military industrial complex, each part feeds into and off of the other institutions. Most studies do not show the true cost to the American taxpayer since few take into consideration the cost of courts, lawyers, judges, parole officers, correctional officers and police departments.

The Legal-Judicial System:

Americans are treated almost monthly if not weekly to a real life courtroom drama.  The trial of OJ Simpson and other high profile cases has catapulted crime front and center into part of the American entertainment experience.   There is hardly a day that goes by when we cannot follow a new courtroom drama.  Trials such as the Casey Anthony case, Travon Martin case or the Jodi Arias case occupied front page news and TV time for months.  Even as I write, I am sure that some new bizarre case will soon grace our TV and newspapers.  Judges, lawyers and defendants become actors and Hollywood entertainers as they sacrifice justice for ratings.  The trials may go on for months and the news is quick to pounce on the most titillating and sensationalist elements of the trial in their efforts to increase ratings and advertising revenues. Where once sex reigned supreme to sell ad space and capture viewers, real life crime (often with elements of both sex and violence) are guaranteed to keep viewers welded to their couches.  The secondary effect of this massive bombardment of crime and court time is to persuade us that we are surrounded with and inundated with crime.  Go to Amazon.com and type in Serial Killers and you will find a total of 14.460 books dealing with the subject. Go to your local supermarket and look at the paperback books on the rack. Probably a third will deal with some aspect of murder or mayhem.

What does all this cost Americans in dollars?  It is estimated that the high profile murder case of Jodi Arias has reportedly cost Arizona residents well over $1.5 million to finance her aggressive state-appointed legal team, as well as the continuance of her extensive trial.  Ironically, after months of witnesses in what most thought would be a “slam dunk” case, the jury deadlocked on a verdict and now there must be a retrial.  If you were running the courts and making a fortune off of the advertising, news and TV broadcasts can you think of a better outcome?  More testimony from witnesses, more nude pictures, more sex and more violence; is anybody concerned about justice or the obscene costs of such performances.

Most costs that we associate with these “Hollywood” trials primarily calculate the costs of lawyers, but to obtain “Total Judicial Costs”, we must also include the costs of the courtrooms, the bailiffs, the juries and the judges as part of the entire system.  According to the US Chamber of Commerce, America’s civil justice system is the world’s most expensive, with a direct cost in 2010 of $264.6 billion, or 1.82% of U.S. GDP.  Add to this cost, the cost of the US criminal justice system (well over 300 billion by many estimates) and you now have $76 billion dollars for prisons, $265 billion dollars for civil trials and $300 billion dollars for criminal trials for a total of $641 billion dollars.  BUT WAIT!  We have not included the cost of the US Law Enforcement System.

The Law Enforcement System:

To obtain “Total Costs” we must also include the costs of state, county, municipal police departments, security departments and also such Federal Agencies as the FBI, ATF, and ICE which perform law enforcement activities.  Let’s look at the annual budgets of the three largest Federal agencies first:

  • ICE requested an annual budget of more than $5.8 billion for FY 2012.    ICE
  • The FBI’s fiscal year (FY) 2012 budget request includes a total of $8.1 billion in direct budget authority.  FBI
  • ATF had a fiscal year budget of $1.2 billion dollars.  ATF

Now to include costs of police departments across the US: 

According to the Bureau of Justice, the operating budgets of local police departments totaled $55.4 billion for fiscal year 2007—14% more than in 2003 after adjusting for inflation (Bureau of Justice Statistics)

A more recent report by the Justice Policy Institute for 2012 notes that:

“Despite crime rates being at their lowest levels in more than 30 years, the U.S. continues to maintain large and increasingly militarized police units, spending more than $100 billion every year.  Police forces have grown from locally-funded public safety initiatives into federally subsidized jobs program, with a decreasing focus on community policing and growing concerns about racial profiling and “cuffs for cash,” with success measured not by increased safety and well-being but by more arrests.”

So to our former Total Costs of $641 billion dollars we must now add:

  • $5. 8 billion dollars for ICE
  • $8.1 billion dollars for the FBI
  • $1.2 billion for the ATF
  • $100 billion dollars for police departments across the USA

This brings our Total Costs for The Law Enforcement Legal-Judicial Correctional Complex to $756 billion dollars and I have not calculated the costs of private security systems or private security agencies which by some estimates now include more total employees than in the US Law Enforcement system.  I have also not included other government agencies or state agencies such as Natural Resources which also have a law or code enforcement function.

$756 billion dollars is admittedly a rough estimate.  I would not stake my name or reputation on this figure.  However, the point of this exercise is to demonstrate that we are looking at a huge cost to achieve the aforementioned objectives of:

1. Protect Americans from crime.

2. Fairly punish wrong doers.

3. Provide rehabilitation for errant citizens

4. Return criminals as productive members of society.

At a rough cost of $5000 dollars per every America taxpayer per year, this might not seem like such a high cost if we could actually say that we are achieving our objectives.  But by no stretch of the imagination could anyone think we are actually doing a good job on any of the four objectives I described.  I could write volumes on the unfairness of prison sentences, the injustices in the court system, the unfair rates of incarceration for minorities, the lack of effectiveness of capital punishment to deter crime and the useless war on drugs which nets billions for the Law Enforcement Legal-Judicial Correctional Complex but has been zero percent effective in decreasing drug use.  No doubt though, you have heard these statistics and facts over and over again.  So the question really is where can or should we go from here. We know the system (if not irreparably broke) is in need of major repair.  What should these repairs be and how do we go about instituting them?

Caveats:

I want to clarify a few issues before I move onto my suggestions for change.  First, I do not want to nor do I think it possible or desirable to eliminate police, FBI and even the ICE group.  We need protective services and the world will never be a perfect place with perfect people. There are too many immoral and unethical people to expect that society will self-organize into peaceful crime free communities.

Second, the workers in the system are doing their best but as Deming often said, it is the fault of the system not the employees. The police, judges, lawyers, correction officers, parole officers, administrative people and security services are all doing the best they can in systems that are basically dysfunctional.

Third, we need to change the hearts and minds of Americans who stubbornly think that more prisons, more police, more trials, stricter sentencing and more guns will lead to a safer community.  This is a fallacy that empirically has little support. Wherever it is true, the cost in human lives and spirit not to mention the costs in dollars is not worth the results.

We need to fundamentally change our attitudes about the causes and solutions of crime.  We need to take the same scientific approach to crime that we take to physics, biology, chemistry and genetics.  Too much of our criminal justice system is based on superstition, intuition and emotions.  No doubt crime is a tragedy but the solution must be as analytic as Sherlock Holmes.   Punishments and sentencing based on political and emotional appeal to the populace have no place in the system.

Changes Needed:

 There are a plethora of crimes that need to be decriminalized.  Many crimes should not be felonies and could be resolved with the use of fines or some type of community service.  Once we stamp someone with the mark of felon, we can almost guarantee that we will create someone who can no longer fit into society.  Some types of crimes that could be dealt with without resort to prisons or felony convictions include prostitution, drugs, white collar crimes, domestic and sexual abuse crimes.  In cases where the offenders pose no threat to the physical well-being of others, we should avoid prison sentences and felony convictions at all costs.  Think of a system wherein we declared “War on the Abuse of Women” and put the same amount of money into efforts to stop violence against women as we presently are spending to stop drugs.  We need a multi-national and multi-cultural offensive against the abuse of women which (while needing funding) also needs intelligent interventions to stop abuse.   We do not need most of the men involved in violence against women labeled as felons and sent to prison for long sentences.

Do away with mandatory sentencing guidelines.  These guidelines increase the incarceration rate without any real impact on long-term crime.  Drug sentencing is one example where mandatory sentencing laws have had little or no impact on drug use in this country.

Review trial and court records for evidence of adverse impact and discrimination against minorities.  Change laws and policies which show a disproportionate number of convictions or longer sentences for any income, ethnic, age, or gender groups.

Eliminate the use of past criminal records in hiring for Federal, state, county and municipal jobs.   Allow ex-felons the same voting rights as regular citizens in all states.  Once a person has served his/her time, they should be allowed the same rights that all other citizens have. Their past records should not be used against them.  The only exception I can make here would be in cases involving child abuse and jobs wherein the ex-offender would potentially be working with or around children.

 Time for Questions:

Do you feel safer today than you did ten years ago?  How much are you willing to pay for more security?  Are you willing to give up your freedom for security?  Do you know any criminals? Have you ever been convicted of a crime?  What “second” chance do you think you should have been given?  Do you think others deserve a “second” chance?  Why or why not?

Life is just beginning.

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