Saturday, September 22, 2012

Big business and government unite (again)

Big business loves to gripe about how government unnecessarily intrudes into our lives.  (Agreed.)  However, when big business needs a major bailout at taxpayer expense—a very common and costly occurrence throughout our country’s history—then the government is (temporarily) okay after all.

But big business and government unite in ways other than bailouts.  One way (that I briefly touched on more than a year ago) is for big retailers to sell items to poor credit risks and then use the local prosecutor’s office to criminally prosecute the consumers (at public expense) to collect payment for the retailers.  And it now looks like prosecutors and businesses are uniting to take this practice to a whole new level.

The new practice is essentially a partnership, if not a complete merger, between big businesses’ debt collectors and prosecutors’ offices all across the country.  According to this New York Times article, the way it works, in a nutshell, is this: When a retailer accepts a check from a customer, and that check bounces, the retailer’s debt collector uses the local prosecutor’s letterhead to extort payment.  The option given to the customer is simple: “You bounced a check for X dollars.  Pay us 4x or 5x dollars, and you won’t be prosecuted with a crime or jailed.”

But the problem—other than the obvious one of extorting premiums of several hundred percent over and above the bounced check—is that this system “start[s] from the position that a crime has been committed.”  In other words, people are threatened with criminal prosecution on official government letterhead before any prosecutor even determines if there is probable cause to believe that a crime was committed.  That is, there is no prosecutorial review or determination as to whether the bounced check—often amounting to only a few dollars—was the result of criminal intent, as opposed to mere oversight or even bank error.  (Not every bounced check, after all, is a crime.)

I don’t like prosecutors blindly turning over the considerable, life-ruining power that we’ve vested in them to profit-seeking debt collectors to use however they see fit.  What’s next?  Judges turning over pre-signed warrants letting police enter any house they want for any reason at all?  Oh, wait.  That’s already alleged to be happening.

But here’s the solution to this whole debt collector–prosecutor union.  Big business has to take responsibility for its decisions in extending credit and accepting personal checks willy-nilly.  Just as individuals shouldn’t look to the government to give them access “to healthcare, to food, to housing, to you name it,” neither should big business look to government to collect its debts under the threat of criminal prosecution—especially without any initial prosecutorial determination of probable cause.

So c’mon Big Biz, practice what you preach: Take responsibility for your own actions and decisions, and quit looking to the government for solutions. 

No comments:

Post a Comment