Jarrod Gilbert, the Canterbury University sociologist, reflected recently on the prospect of New Zealand introducing the concept of tagging traffic fines to personal income and assets.
A few progressive nations — principally Nordic — already employ the system, and why not? It makes a lot of sense.
As Dr Gilbert points out, a $180 speeding fine means squat to someone on $200K a year, but the same amount to the factory worker with four kids can destroy the family budget.
The financial punishment can therefore be hugely unequal in its consequences, which also accordingly affects its ability to act as a future deterrent for the well-heeled.
Dr Gilbert gave the 2015 example of a Finnish multi-millionaire fined NZ$91,000 for speeding, but even back in 2010 a leaden-footed, very rich Swede got dunned more than NZ$1 million for doing 180 km/h on a Swiss motorway, and more recently a Swedish heiress was fined about an average yearly salary for drink-driving.
The judgments would have achieved their purpose — giving even top-bracket earners pause for thought over future driving decisions.
Hopefully, mission accomplished.
It's a hard one to argue against. But here in Enzed, we seem to have almost an obverse state of affairs. In matters of justice, the higher socio-economic sector often appears not only to not get proportionately sanctioned, but also to receive special dispensations for their elevated status.
Frequently, derisory penalties are awarded for major transgressions that would see the average Joe or Joan Blow stitched up for lengthy lags.
We see it time and time again, particularly in matters generally termed white-collar fraud. Fraud is theft by any other name, yet repeatedly we see perpetrators of even seven figure thefts exit the system with a penalty not dissimilar to someone copped for, say, a household burglary involving property a fraction of the value of the white collar rip-off.
We've all grown up with old bromides such as "the bigger they are, the harder they fall", and, "they should know better", and so forth. Like most clichés, they contain kernels of truth.
Yes, someone who's had the benefit of a good education and family support, and perhaps gone on to do well in a professional capacity, should know better. They should also realise they have more to lose if they wilfully go off the rails.
Yet our judiciary consistently pumps out mitigations for white collar offenders totally contrary to these home truths.
The bewigged bench beaks have a whole arsenal of rationalising phrases regularly employed to mitigate consequences for those who "should know better". Phrases such as, "unlikely to reoffend", "out of character", "consequences would be out of proportion to the offending".
This type of rationalisation all seems remarkably solicitous on behalf of the offender, given that, say, in a case where retirement finds have been ransacked, the victims are left financially and psychologically devastated.
For Kiwis, it seems the bigger they are, the softer they fall. As with the Finnish millionaire, there's a strong case to be made that consequences should be more severe — not less — for society's more advantaged who should indeed "know better".
It's also remarkable how the expropriation of what may be termed "soft" money is perceived by the judiciary to be of a lesser order than theft of "hard" money.
Simply compare the penalty handed out to a fraudster who, with deft electronic sleight-of-hand illegally rips a million or two, as opposed to that given to the blue collar boy who (non-violently) does the same thing by tunnelling into a bank.
The senior judiciary plead that their hands are tied when it comes to conditions that determine judgments.
Yes, they are to a certain extent. But they still have considerable leeway as to the over-riding stance they can choose to take on many cases.
Sadly, they often seem to be simply pandering to a professional elite, taking public pelf to deliver not real justice, but something that won't scare the executariat horses.