I like to think I despise politicians more than 99.9 percent of the population. Even in my kindest moments, I see them as occasionally well-intentioned souls who are easily corrupted. Most of the time, they are a plague on society, as this cartoon illustrates.
So you might think I’m in favor of throwing them in prison on the slightest pretext. That’s surely an appealing thought, but one of the main traits of libertarianism is a belief in the rule of law. Arbitrary arrests, trumped-up charges, and unjustified imprisonments should not exist in a civilized society (though I’m ashamed to admit that such things are happening with increasing frequency in the United States).
I raise this topic because of a story I saw in the EU Observer. The former Prime Minister of Iceland is on trial, but as far as I can tell, his only crime is to have been in charge when that nation’s financial bubble expanded and popped. Here are some details from the story.
Iceland’s former Prime Minister Geir Haarde on Monday (5 March) became the world’s first leader to be put on trial on charges of negligence over the 2008 financial crisis. Haarde, who was a premier from 2006 to 2009, is being accused of “gross negligence” in failing to prevent the collapse of Iceland’s top three banks – Glitnir, Kaupthing and Landsbanki – all heavily involved in risky investments on the US real estate market. One of the main architects of Iceland’s transformation from a fishing nation into a financial services hub, Haarde is also accused of failing to control the country’s fast-growing banks and of having withheld information indicating the country was heading for financial disaster. He faces a sentence of up to two years in prison if found guilty. “None of us realised at the time that there was something fishy within the banking system itself, as now appears to have been the case,” Haarde told the Reykjavik court on Monday. He denied all charges and said that “only in hindsight is it evident that not everything was as it should have been.”
So what crime did he commit? If economic mismanagement and/or bad timing are crimes, can we make a citizen’s arrest of Obama? Of the entire Congress (other than Ron Paul and a small handful of compatriots)?
It is a good idea to hold politicians accountable for their actions, of course, but isn’t that what elections are for?
The bottom line is that politicians are despicable creatures and part of me wants to throw most of them in jail for the things they do to reduce freedom and undermine prosperity, but after-the-fact trials are not right unless real evidence exists of a law actually being broken.
So this is one of those cases where I’m conflicted. My emotions lead me one way, but I can’t overcome my belief in the rule of law. I don’t know if Iceland uses jury trials, but I’d be a not-guilty vote unless somebody showed evidence of genuine criminal behavior on the part of the former Prime Minister.
If you enjoy pondering this type of moral dilemma, here are some previous posts dealing with rather thorny topics:
o Jury nullification, and
o Vigilante justice (again).