Sunday, November 8, 2015

First versus Second Degree Murder

noun: murder; plural noun: murders

      First degree: the unlawful premeditated killing of one human being by another.
                        synonyms: killing, homicide, assassination, liquidation, extermination
      Second degree: the unlawful non-premeditated killing of one human being by another.
      Negligent Homicide: the causing of death through criminal negligence. The charge does not involve premeditation, but focuses on what the defendant should have known and the associated risks.

When car manufacturers discover a flaw that affects millions of vehicles out on the highways, they are ethically obligated to recall and repair.  Of course.

There are problems with the law, however, and it's difficult to criminally prosecute the executives that make life-ending decisions.  GM delayed recalling their flawed ignition switch for years, and folks died, including sixteen year old Amber Marie Rose.  Her family is devastated.  GM paid fines and settlements, but the decision makers who caused the 200+ deaths were not held accountable.

It was a scandal, and not the only such.

A similar case of responsibility but with thousands of times greater impact has gone unremarked.  The collapse of the financial market in 2007-8 resulted in the death by starvation of more than 1,000,000.

The collapse, caused by Wall Street and the derivatives marketplace, cost trillions of dollars in the U.S. alone.  It came out of the pockets of every person in the country.  Moving to the E.U., trillions more was drained from national economies, with recovery expected to take six to ten years.  In the developed world, the impact of the event was harsh.  In the developing world where few families have any financial cushion, the market upheaval meant they couldn't afford to feed their children. The WHO estimates that 400,000 children died as a result in eastern Africa in the first year.

The practice that precipitated the collapse was deliberate and documented.  Bundled financial obligations were sold as secure, A rated, but they were junk, and the sellers knew it.  Hundreds of decision makers were involved.  The result was deadly.

What degree of separation exists between the marketplace decision makers and their victims?  They didn't intend anyone's death, so first degree is out.  They did cause death, however, but the question of 'unlawful' is vaguely addressed by regulation.  Criminally negligent?  Perhaps.

There are problems with the law.  Indeed.  Regulation and oversight are inadequate and continue with little change.
Globalization will be more difficult than we thought.