Technocratic: Moral Punishment
FC worries about how our is giving a pass to corporate giants because of their economic importance
"There is an increased reluctance to bring criminal charges that ultimately have the effect of killing a company that otherwise employs a lot of innocent people and has lots of value to it," says Michael Gass, an expert on SEC enforcement at Palmer & Dodge, a Boston law firm. "Instead, there is an increased focus on the individuals responsible."
This disturbs some I’m sure, but it’s how I really wish the rest of us were able to think about punishment. In this case, our government/public opinion/enforcement has problems in that it needs to deter crime, but harm upon the agents responsible (the company) creates a lot of arm overall (such as job losses for everyone in the company). And we don’t want to cause harm to those many people.
Contrast with our punishment decision-making for individuals who commit crimes. Our society wants to deter future crime, and also relishes causing the offendee pain. I know the importance of deterrence (and also prevention simply by having them locked away), but our desire or willingness to cause pain to these people does not make me happy. We’re all sinners, or automatons that lack free will, or sources of hedons, or whatever. Causing pain to someone is a bad thing, a negative, a cost, independent of what actions they have taken. It’s worth it perhaps to further other practical goals (deterrence), but still a cost not a benefit. And while I think most moral philosophers in our country would pay lip service to that, it is certainly something our justice system has trouble enacting.
In this corporate world, we can understand that. We know we need to deter companies from doing evil things, but we’re also sad at the prospect of thousands of people losing their jobs. From this we determine more valid punishments, than we do from bloodlust.
Of course I recognize that in practice, our enforcement against corporations is riddled with cronyism and delays, or at least appears that way to the public (the most important part of any deterrent). I also understand the temptation to focus all the blame for wrongdoing on individuals, but FC rightly points out how easy it is to spread the blame to the whole company, both legally and logistically.