One in two hundred Georgians is behind bars.  If you count the people who got probation instead of jail, that number skyrockets to over one in fifteen.  That's 6% of the population ...  The US has the highest percentage of its people in jail in the world. Hard to believe, but we even beat out free societies like Russia, China and Iran. 

One in fifteen Georgians are convicted criminals currently serving time.

I was about to become one of them.

I drive a collection of aging Porsches that blow through the posted speed limit in third gear.  I do so unapologetically, and only on open Interstates, but it makes me a target for Georgia's new police-collected taxes.  If you are ticketed at over 85 MPH in Georgia, you have to pay your fine and then pay another $200 to the state as a Super Speeder fee.  It's taxation, pure and crooked.

The Interstate highway system was designed in the 1950's to be driven safely at 70 MPH by cars of that era. 1950's cars had solid axles, soft suspensions and were nowhere near the competent road machines that the cheapest Korean econoboxes are today.  At club events, people pit their family sedans against sports cars on the track and do just fine to well over 100 MPH.  It's in the 120-160 range where the Porsches, Ferraris and Jags really start to show off.  160 MPH: not a drama Auf Deutsch, but I-75 isn't the Autobahn.  I-75 is wider, smoother, has gentler curves and much less traffic.  It's also populated by revenue collectors with guns.

Holly Springs, Georgia is two exits of speed trap on the run between Ellijay and Atlanta that's posted at 70 everywhere else.  You see signs for Holly Springs, you slow down because locals know the city balances its budget on the Interstate.The cop who pulled me over was polite, educated and clearly not in favor of his job assignment, but he had a job and he did it.  He also told me to go to court and get it reduced.  He signed up to Protect and Serve and was clearly a little disillusioned collecting taxes from people who missed the one sign indicating the speed limit drops for no reason.  I won't mention his name here since good cops are worth a lot and his job is tough enough already.  It doesn't help when people see a police car and think "shakedown" because the people who put themselves in harm's way to protect us are being press-ganged to collect unpopular taxes thinly camoflaged as law. 

My court date was an unexpected circus chock full of surprises...  Roughly a third of the people in traffic court were illegal Mexicans caught driving without a license.  The aren't here legally, so of course they have no passport, no visa, no SSN and no driver's license!  They pay the fine, and go on about their business.  Not a drama.  Just a small, quiet, very sucessful  invasion. Since all but one of these folks needed the court supplied interpreter, they all went first whilst we legal citizens waited two and a half hours for the court to collect money from them.  No one was asked about their immigration status, of course.  This isn't Arizona.

Five hours later, when I spoke with the prosecutor, he suggested I plead No Lo Contendre to keep the points off my license, and that we reduce the speed by 1 MPH to avoid the Georgia Super Speeder fine. If Holly Springs gets the $280 they want, I can cruise.  This is why we're here, after all. So, I paid up and took off.

All was well until the note came in from the State of Georgia.  The prosecutor forgot to alter the facts and reduce my speed, or someone forgot to type it in, and I now owed the state another $200!  No recourse at this point.  What's done is done, and I've just got to pay it. Which I did.

So:

I'm a criminal.  I was made a criminal in my own state by driving past an exit with a speed limit lower than the one before or after it.  No changes in terrain, visibility or traffic density.  Just pure greed.  $280 is a pretty steep fine for speeding, but almost $500 bucks and a day of lost work?  That's beyond insane, and isn't even a good value for the money.  In Nevada you can be charged with Drunk and Disorderly for the same fine and, I have it on Unquestionable Authority, it's a lot more fun.

There's something inherently wrong with a system that blurs the demarcation between law enforcement and revenue generation.  In Asia we see it and call it corruption.  Here, we've come to accept it as part of America, albeit not the America I grew up in.  Holly Springs is both clean and pleasant, although the customary statue of Justice was conspicuous in her absence from their court building. I suppose they couldn't find one with her blindfold askew and her thumb on the scales, but I'm sure they make them somewhere.

Organizations grow until they become parasitic and have to be pruned back.  Anyone who's ever run a company of significant scope knows about the fifedoms that grow around once small departments, and the evils of incremental budgeting.  When government ceases to serve as an organizing force in society and becomes parasitic it needs to be pruned.  There's got to be a better way to collect revenue than extorting it from 1 in 15 of your citizens on various frivolous charges.  Are they really THAT much more law-abiding in Vermont and New Hampshire?  I think not.

I shouldn't have to be wary of random speed limit changes on a homogenous stretch of highway. 

I shouldn't have to waste an entire day sitting in front of a long-winded judge who asked me if I could read and write.

I shouldn't have to wait hours while the State processes foreign nationals before its own citizens.

I really shouldn't have to pay the State another huge fine because the state needs money to grow its scope of unwanted services.

The cop who pulled me over wasn't real thrilled with running a speed trap, which is a good thing.  We both knew that he was assigned to do a dirty  job, but we both knew he was going to do it.

What is the right and proper place of government?  Is it to extort money from its citizens and incarcerate an ever-growing percentage of them?  I'd say not, but at least we've got something to be proud of:  We're finally beating China at something.

 

Copyright @ 2010 Greg Richter / IFR Music