Rewarding bad behavior? There’s a lot of talk about that in America these days: condemnations of not only the bailed-out titans of Wall Street but also the homeowners victimized by unscrupulous lenders and the greedy house-flippers who stand to benefit from the Obama Administration’s mortgage reset program. A welcome perspective comes from Joseph H. Cooper, a Quinnipiac University professor of media law and ethics, who journeys off campus every week to hold classes for those whose bad behavior has earned them ten- to twenty-five-year stretches in state-funded housing. Here are their remedies for what ails the American economy.
My economic advisers do not have PhDs; a number of them, however, do have GEDs.
My economic advisers do not know from MBAs; most of their dealings have been with DAs.
My economic advisers have not dealt with Fortune 500 CEOs and Wall Street CFOs; they know from COs–Corrections Officers in a Connecticut prison.
The “résumés” of many of these advisers (inmates studying public speaking and public presentation as part of a community-college outreach program) record some experience in “street” commerce:
Got an idea of how we get some of that money back from those Freddie and Fannie guys, but I don’t want to **** my chances of getting parole. If I packaged people into the mortgage foreclosure, putting them out into the cold, I’d be on the lookout for people who be packing heat.
More typical were expressions of disbelief and indignation, injustice, what might even be considered the moral superiority of those who had come to terms with paying a debt to society. These inmates wonder: will the financial dudes who duped homeowners get to walk away from their crimes? No arraignment, no lineup, no booking, no holding pen, no interrogation, no prison jumpsuit? Will their punishment be no more than having to suffer a bit of embarrassment, which they can probably tolerate, socially and financially?
Some members of the class spoke of a hard line. One of the “rap sheets” they produced went something like this:
Take out severance fury,
With verdicts from a victims’ jury.
But when it came down to a vote, few inmates called for jail time. They were unanimous, however, as to paying the debt; they were for restitution, if not confiscation:
Better than time
for sub-prime crime,
Make ’em relinquish
every last dime.
Another recitation called “Billionaires Behind Bars: A Little Rap on Big Bankers” proceeded with this:
No golden parachutes
For misleading lenders
Commissions and bonuses
They ought to surrender.
Once divested of rhymes, earnest discussions about foreclosure plights took over. Not surprisingly, the verdict was unanimous: Those who profited extravagantly should have to help the people they hurt. Somehow, they should be “sentenced” (obligated) to work with the people who are losing their homes, to figure out ways for them to keep their homes.