Thursday, 8 September 2016

More on Fines

A week and a bit ago my bad feelings about frustrating others with my inability to remember appointments culminated in me giving up on everything, but in particular, on my relationship with my therapist. A big part of that was my dislike of charges for missed appointments, which I see as unjust insofar as they are a subset of fines.

Fines usually penalize you in inverse proportion to your income. Capitalism is discrimination against people based on how little capital they have and fines are a way of enforcing that. Fines tend to become more expensive the less you are able to afford them in an absolute sense as well. A wealthy person who has their car towed may be out a few hours of their life. A very poor person who has their card towed may be out a car, which may mean they are out a job, and you might have to throw in a job, a marriage, access to their children, and who knows what else. Capitalism tells us that a poor person's life is worth less than a few hours of a rich person's time, but I think it's fair to reject that as obviously monstrous.

In Finland fine amounts are determined by disposable income. Very poor people are asked to pay very small amounts that nonetheless affect them while very wealthy people are charged up to $103,000 for a speeding ticket. That's a considerably more fair system, unsurprisingly, from a considerably more fair country.

But my dislike of having people pay for mistakes goes beyond the income inequality unfairness. Fines for parking and traffic violations are a significant part of municipal revenue where I live and in a lot of other jurisdictions. This National Post article from a couple of years ago talks about traffic fine declines in Toronto and speculates about the cause. While politicians speculated that police may be issuing fewer tickets as a retributive action for having their budget frozen, a spokesperson for the Toronto Police service had alternative explanations:
She pointed to a number of factors, including the declining number of police officers and the fact that officers have been encouraged to issue warnings instead of writing a ticket on a first offence. The service also has new computer system that has taken some getting used to. It takes longer to process a ticket, leaving less time to issue them, according to Mike McCormack, president of the police union.
Police putting public safety in the back seat so that they could make a point in response to budget cuts was a plausible theory. Changes in police behaviour, new computer systems and fewer police are another.

In a story about a mysterious decline in revenues, though, no politician, police officer, reporter or editor thought to themselves, "What if people are just committing fewer traffic violations? What if the threat of receiving a fine affects people's behaviour and people are trying to avoid them?"

There are a number of things people take into account when they decide whether to obey the law. Generally people obey the law to the extent that they buy into the fairness of the law.  Possibility of getting caught plays in there somewhere. Severity of punishment is somewhere down on the list, but as we've seen from failed "Law and Order" agendas, it's pretty far down.

In fact, apparently the City of Toronto can't possibly afford to have people start obeying traffic laws. They can't afford to have people stop parking illegally. This isn't much different than regional or state governments that can't afford to have their citizens stop smoking or to stop gambling. When we have sin taxes for dangerous behaviour or fines for bad behaviour we create a situation where the government doesn't actually want the behaviour to stop, or even to decline by 10%. We supposedly created those financial disincentives to reduce the behaviour, but the real result is implicating the public in the behaviour. It's the equivalent of catching someone running a scam and demanding a cut instead of reporting it to the police. You smoke, you gamble, you drive recklessly and everyone gets a kickback. When I walk down the publicly paved street or go to my publicly paid doctor I am doing so on the back of a fatal car accident that hasn't happened yet.

The only part of this that relates back to paying for missed appointments is the discrimination based on income part. Payment for a missed appointment is there to directly cover loss of income that resulted from the behaviour. That's why in my earlier post I said that me being upset about it wasn't really about experiencing injustice even though it is unjust.

Still, can't I be upset about it about unjust things that happen to other people? It's not like systems are fair just because they produce desired results.

I'd like to know whether charging for missed appointments even does produce the desired results. Or does it, like traffic tickets, just become another line item on a budget while the problematic behaviour just continues?

1 comment:

  1. I missed a dentist appointment 8 years ago. Out of fear of having to pay a fine for missing that appointment I stopped answering the phone when they called and let my teeth rot.