Tuesday, May 20, 2003

Rights & Reason: Doing Time

Here's a happy thought from our favorite assistant attorney general-to-be:

Hewitt Pate, acting head of the Justice Department's antitrust division, says the new white-collar sentencing law means a price fixer previously eligible for a three-year sentence could now get 23 years if he is also convicted of obstructing justice. Pate says this should get the attention of potential corporate offenders: "Even very large fines imposed on corporations may be seen as a cost of doing business. Prison sentences are the single most effective deterrent."

Prison sentences will do nothing to deter antitrust violations, since no businessman actually knows what conduct will run afoul of the law. Under Mr. Pate's watch, the antitrust laws are violated if two businessmen in the same field merely exchange price information. Few Americans think such behavior warants one day in jail, much less 23 years.

But to be fair, Pate is not responsible for the new sentencing rules. You can thank a panicky post-Enron Congress for that.

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