a supposedly fun thing I’ll never do again

You might think that Dealbreaker HQ exists only metaphorically in virtual space, or maybe in the fan fiction you’re hiding in your desk, but in fact Bess and I share a real physical garrett both with our sibling sites Fashionista and Above the Law. Occasionally we even talk to each other. “Talk,” in this context, normally means that Above the Law editor Elie Mystal shouts at us about some outrageous political position. In order to quiet him down a bit, we’ve decided to take it to the internet, thus spawning the first – and maybe last! – Above the Law / Dealbreaker Debate Society.

I have been set the task of defending a proposition like “white collar criminals should not get anything near the jail time they get.” (We are pretty casual with our resolutions here at the Breaking Media Debate Society.) Fortunately I believe that, so here goes.


Let’s start with the basics. It’s not generally a net good to send someone to prison. They have children and friends and dogs who depend on them. So you need a reason to fuck up their lives. The pretty accepted theory is that you punish people to stop them from doing more bad things, to deter others from doing bad things, and/or because you have a moral objection to what they’re doing. The first – “incapacitation” – doesn’t argue much for imprisoning insider traders. It’s pretty easy, once you’ve caught them, to make sure they don’t do it again. Banning them from the securities industry usually does the trick. Everyone in the Galleon case – like almost every insider trader ever caught – is a first-time offender.

The second – “deterrence” – does make sense. People who work at hedge funds really don’t want to go to jail. Compared to their Greenwich homes, jail has worse food, more violence, and fewer golden retrievers. Also they get ordered around by people with less education than them, which is why they left BofA in the first place.
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