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Unequal Protection and its Consequences

Two articles caught my attention recently. In the first one, a journalist recounts how he was caught up in the Occupy Oakland demonstrations and was arrested and mistreated by Oakland Police despite repeatedly showing press credentials. Here's that article. The second describes a bacchanal thrown by super rich financiers in New York where newbie “masters of the universe” are hazed as all involved get wasted and mock the poor and disenfranchised. That piece can be found here.

What struck me is how incredibly different lives are lived by citizens of the same nation and how utterly bankrupt the foundational and fundamental concept of “equal protection of the laws” is in a country where 1% of the population own everything and the rest are clubbed, pepper sprayed and arrested for daring to question and protest that intolerable reality.

Many will read this and protest that anger at the wealthy is nothing more than envy. This is wrong. What pisses people off is the fact that: 1) wealth is concentrated in the hands of a very tiny minority of the population, 2) that wealth is concentrated and protected by a government financed and controlled by the beneficiaries of that system, i.e., the wealthy elite, and 3) for the most part, the wealth concentrated and protected by the government was not earned in the sense that anything of value was produced.

This last point is critical. No one begrudges wealth earned by the production of a useful good or by skill and talent in providing a service, especially not where the wealth is gained from a zero starting point. For example, Steve Jobs was a billionaire many times over and an asshole to boot, but he earned his pay by leading one of the most innovative and beloved companies in the history of the world and doing it from scratch. Such wealth, its product, and its holder is to be admired and others encouraged to follow suit.

However, where wealth is gained by hoarding other peoples money and lending it, at usurious interest rates, that wealth is illegitimate and not deserving of protection or respect. For example, the system of banking and finance in the United States can be summed up as follows: bankers and financiers use other peoples money to make money, such money being gained by proximity and position, either because they are bankers and use deposits to lend money and earn interest or because they have “bought” money for cheap from the Federal Reserve and then turn around and “sell” it at a premium to those of their choosing. The key though is that nothing of value is produced. Nothing whatsoever.

Two evils are born of this. The first is that those bankers and financiers gain so much power and influence through their control of money and the vast sums gained, not earned, from the selective distribution of that money that they tend to become utterly corrupted and intoxicated by that power. As Lord Acton once remarked, power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. I would add that power and wealth gained without effort or merit corrupts most thoroughly of all. Thus the bacchanal mentioned above wherein the poor and powerless are mercilessly mocked by those that should know better and would exercise some discretion if they had a clue.

The second evil derives from the first and is of real concern. That is, that the more intoxicated with power the “masters of the universe” become, the more blatant and corrupt their practices. And the more corrupt their practices become, without consequences, the more the idea of “equal protection of the laws” is exposed for the farce it is; that is, the foundational and fundamental principle of "equal protection under the law" is deligitimized.

Why is this of concern? Because in our undeniably class based society, it is necessary for the dominated to at least have the sense that they are equal before the law with their masters. When this farce is exposed, then the great masses of the dispossessed and disenfranchised no longer feel it necessary to obey the laws which previously bound them. Then, when the tipping point is reached and exceeded, chaos ensues, governments topple and revolutions are born. Depending on what class you may belong to, this may or may not be a good thing.

Categories: Legal Theory, Opinion