The story of the LA Clippers owner, Donald Sterling, apparently making racist comments in a recorded telephone message is the sort of outrage du jour that I don’t usually comment on here at The Glittering Eye. For more details see Joe Gandelman’s post. As usual, he has an extensive media and Internet roundup of comment on the incident. In this particular case I have a slant that I’m not seeing elsewhere so I thought I’d pass it along.
If you’re looking for an example of the problems money inequality in the form of unthinkably enormous wealth presents to a free and egalitarian society, look no farther. Mr. Sterling’s net worth is estimated to be in the billions. His views are scarcely a secret—some years back he was taken to court for them in a suit in which he prevailed, which may say more about our standards of justice than it does about the merits of the case. Other incidents, mostly on the public record, are being trotted out dutifully in the wake of the release of the tape.
Let’s consider for a moment what a just outcome would be. Mr. Sterling’s suspension, being forbidden to attend games or even go on the club’s premises, is scarcely a punishment at all. Inducing him to sell the franchise which he bought thirty years ago for something in the vicinity of $15 million and is now believed to be worth forty times that is even less of a punishment. The sale would net Mr. Sterling a neat half billion dollars. If that is punishment, I’ll have some.
The only punishment worthy of the name that the NBA can mete out is loss of the franchise, something that can be effected, reportedly, by a three-quarters vote of the owners. That appears to be off the table and the reasons reflect the NBA’s relative priorities. In the final analysis the NBA is much more concerned about a likely lawsuit, i.e. money and scandal, than it is about Mr. Sterling’s views. Large, wealthy institutions acting reprehensibly to preserve money and avoid scandal is something we have seen far too frequently in recent years.
What kind of freedom is it when you’re afraid to speak out for fear of loss of your livelihood, views that would have serious repercussions for someone of modest means have none for the wealthy, and there are different justices for the rich than for the poor? That’s the very definition of a class system.
Jefferson’s dream for the young United States was of a country in which most people did not have to depend on a by-your-leave from the lord of the manor for their daily bread and everyone was subject to the same law. How far we’ve strayed from that dream!
My dream is that we figure out how to reform our institutions in a way that more clearly reflects Jefferson’s dream rather than learn to accommodate to a class system.