Why Is it So Hard to Send a Rich Person to Jail?

There are two sets of rules in any society, one for the rich and powerful and another set for the rest of us.

You know it. I know it. Everybody knows it. Let’s talk about it for a minute.

For just a minute, maybe three, let’s discuss how this effects you and me. If we fail to report our measly income, if we lie on the stand, if we grow and sell a little pot, if we drive over the speed limit, if we break the rules and get caught, our reputations may be ruined while punishment is doled out.

And, our comrades cheer on the sidelines.

We’re angry at our own kind for breaking the rules and want to see justice served. If the punishment meted out is too harsh, we don’t object and if it’s too lenient, we’re furious. We want to see swifter and harsher punishments for our fellow citizens. No one in our class system is above the law. No one!

Ahhhhhh, but there’s another crime story that we follow as well.

One that takes years and years to play out, while investigations produce no results, but ends up costing lots of money. It took decades before the country caught up with these scoundrels, the perpetrators of fraud, scams, tax evasions, cheating, lying, unpaid debts, and questionable business practices.

These grifting mafia bosses and rich robber barons built entire kingdoms on the above lack of principles and yet escape prison.

Their heirs to the shady thrones that they sat upon carried on their legacy. The more money and power they had, the more rules they could break without punishment.

No one seemed able or willing to stop them. No one.

Even the regular guys, people like you and I, who served as a small link in the big guys food chain, remained closed mouthed and unwilling to bring the scoundrels down. The closer a person was to the rich and powerful, the less likely they were to squeal. Their livelihood was dependent on allowing the corruption to continue.

I have this theory that humans cheer for the demise of the small-time crook because they feel vindicated when someone, anyone pays a debt to society for the big crimes that go unpunished.

That’s why during any investigation of a powerful but corrupt individual, the courts always start by cleaning out all the small, insignificant accomplices, but often are never able to reach the dark king occupying the throne.

Who knows what goes on in our puny brains when we beat the drums and dance around our fires after a “poor” bastard gets caught and punished.

I certainly have no faith in the power of our dysfunctional brains to fairly mete out justice. We accepted our roles in this shady domain centuries ago. Maybe it’s in our DNA. Maybe our ancestors passed the pain they endured while standing outside the castle walls from one generation to the next.

Maybe all we really care about is getting inside the castle walls where we can suck up to the king and his nobles in hopes that a few crumbs will fall from their tables on to our laps.

After all, the nearer one could get to the king, the better their lives became. Those outside the castle walls struggled to put food on their tables, toiled in the fields for the king and his men, and fought in bloody wars to protect the king. For all their hardships and service, the poor never accrued any wealth of their own and thus no power.

They were beholden instead to the king who showed no mercy and demanded total loyalty.

Fast forward a few centuries and we’re still playing our parts in the big scheme that the rich and powerful have always controlled. Nothing has changed. The landscape may look different. We might own a bit of land that we pay for all of our lives. The castle isn’t the center of the world, but multiple mansions and luxury beyond our imagination still separate us from those wielding the power, controlling the kingdom.

There are still two sets of rules.

One set for the rich and another set of rules for the rest of us. We still fight wars to enrich the coffers of our lords. We long to sit close to the king’s table. We’d sell our own kind down the river for the chance. It’s always another poor bastard who lights the stakes, roasting a fellow poor bastard alive for stealing a loaf of bread.

We’ll watch them scream in pain and cheer because we love seeing justice in action.

We feel vindicated. The poor bastard is nothing more than a human sacrifice that calms the rage we carry within us. Someone must pay for the unfairness of society.

Am I being too dramatic?

Maybe. Maybe not. There could be another way to explain this recurring social phenomenon. Yet, I read the news this morning and once again, it looks like another scoundrel will get off scot free. Go figure. Right?

Oh, well, my three minutes is up. Carry on, my wayward sons.



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Teresa Roberts

Teresa Roberts


Teresa is an author, world traveler, and professional myth buster. She’s also a top writer on climate change and the future.