A Modest Proposal

With our attention increasingly drawn to violent crime, and the realization that not all of our colleges can readily be converted to prisons, the idea of alternative punishment for white collar crime is gaining currency. Instead of confining the miscreant to one of those golf and tennis clubs the government maintains for well-connected criminals, they now propose to fine him a few cents of every dollar he has stolen, sentence him to a good turn daily for a week or so, and call his debt to society paid in full.

For the record, there are a few skeptics who will argue that this practice satisfies neither of the three objectives, by which the utility of a penal system may be measured:

  1. It will not reform the felon;
  2. It will not serve to deter others from similar misdeeds;
  3. And it will not appease society's thirst for appropriate vengeance.

For the benefit of these skeptics then, I propose a sentence – which may vary in duration as the venality of the crime dictates – of complete freedom of movement, while living solely from the subject's earnings at a minimum wage job. He may work as many hours as he feels are necessary, and may receive time-and-a-half for overtime. But he must feed and clothe himself, and pay for his rent and transportation, as well as all medical and dental expenses solely from his wages. Furthermore, his earnings would be subject to withholding of federal and local income tax and FICA contributions.

The subject would bear full responsibility for finding and keeping his job, and, if he should be fired C with or without cause C whether or not he may be entitled to unemployment benefits C he should receive no more help than would be available to any other minimum wage worker.

I don't suggest confiscation of his property, beyond what may be required for restitution to his victims, but I would place his assets in trust to ensure that he would neither enjoy the comforts nor wield the power that may derive from them.

Finally, I would hold out the threat of imprisonment in a maximum security facility if he should violate any of the terms of his sentence. And I further propose prosecution, for obstruction of justice, of anyone who knowingly ventured to provide him additional assistance or privilege.