by Doctor Science
This article about Finnish traffic tickets has been viral on tumblr in the last few days:
Finland's speeding fines are linked to income, with penalties calculated on daily earnings, meaning high earners get hit with bigger penalties for breaking the law. So, when businessman Reima Kuisla was caught doing 103km/h (64mph) in an area where the speed limit is 80km/h (50mph), authorities turned to his 2013 tax return, the Iltalehti newspaper reports. He earned 6.5m euros [$7.2M] that year, so was told to hand over 54,000 euros [almost $60K]. The scale of the fine hasn't gone down well with Mr Kuisla. "Ten years ago I wouldn't have believed that I would seriously consider moving abroad," he says on his Facebook page. "Finland is impossible to live in for certain kinds of people who have high incomes and wealth."Finnish tumblr user Iokheiaira explains further:
Sure, an EUR 54K fine seems high, but consider that for truly egregious speeding, if you’re earning 2100 euros/month after taxes [$2315, or about $28K/year, about the median US individual income] and have no dependents, you might get slapped with a fine to the tune of 360 euros [about $400] (according to the Finnish Police’s Sakkolaskuri in Finnish), which is about 17% of your total income that month, and while doable, will not be fun at all.Iokheiaira is referring, of course, to the fact that in Ferguson the municipal court was out to make money for the city, and its decisions were motivated by this goal versus public safety and that this burden falls disproportionately on the poor, who can afford it least.
But that 360 euros for Mr. Kuisla? Petty cash. He might think it money well-spent for a fun joyride, and go on speeding with a smile.
Incidentally - charging larger fines from richer people probably helps the cops to go after all people equally, instead on focusing on poor people less likely to make a big fuss or throw their weight around. Finnish traffic cops are unfortunately underfunded and overworked anyway - and the money from the fines goes directly to the State treasury, not to the police’s own budget or the local budget (which I think helps to prevent situations like Ferguson, USA, where fines are used as a form of additional taxation/extortion).
Americans of all political parties agree that separating revenue generation from law enforcement is really important. But is it important enough that Republicans will be willing to raise taxes to make up for lost revenue from fines?
Or, if raising taxes is impossible, how about copying the Finnish model? -- where fines can be used for revenue, but not in any way that connects the enforcer with the money. And what about also making fines a flat percentage of income? -- which is still harder on the poor than the rich, because 10% of a month's income when you're poor is much more difficult and painful than 10% when you're rich. But at least it's not as regressive as a flat fee.
While people can and do argue about the finer points of proportionate fines - one of Mr. Kuisla’s arguments was that the lines drawn are somewhat arbitrary, and if he’d driven a mere 5 km per hour slower, the fine would’ve been only a fraction of what it was… people in general consider that a) if you play by the rules, you don’t need to pay fines and b) it’s always nice to see that rich people are not above the law, after all.I wonder if that last point isn't the real sticking point in the US -- lots of Americans admire people who "aren't afraid to break a few rules", who "are willing to go outside the law to do what they have to." Compared to Scandinavians, I don't know if Americans in general really do like seeing rich people obey the laws the rest of us do -- or if Americans prefer to aspire to scofflaw wealth.