[FOUNTAIN]Korea’s not-so-fine decisionScene 1: In 399 B.C., after Socrates was indicted on the charge of corrupting young Athenians, he proposed a fine of one mina of silver. It was a wage a skilled artisan could earn for 100 days of work and about one-fifth of Socrates’ net assets. He could afford to pay such a sum, but more importantly, he thought such an amount would not damage his philosophy.
Plato wrote in the “Apology” that Socrates said, after being ruled guilty, “I thought that I could afford a mina, and therefore I proposed that penalty: Plato, Crito, Critobulus and Apolodorus, my friends here, bid me say 30 minas, and they will be the guarantor.” His friends urged Socrates to raise the fine he suggested, fearing a rejection by the jurors.
Thirty minas was considerable amount, but not enough to impress the jurors. After paying the penalty and getting out of the court, they reasoned that Socrates would surely continue his impious conversations with the youth in Athens. In the end, Socrates was sentenced to death.
Scene 2: In the 1910s in the United States, Fiorello LaGuardia was working as a judge in the summary court. He was a legendary mayor of New York City, and the city’s LaGuardia Airport was named after him. One day, an old man who had been caught for stealing a loaf of bread appealed, telling the court his family was starving. Mr. LaGuardia decided, “I can do nothing but sentence you for breaking the law. The fine will be 10 dollars.” As he spoke, he took out money from his pocket. “Here is the 10 dollars to pay the fine. It is a penalty on my side for having not been considerate and living comfortably. And I am going to fine everyone in the court 50 cents for being a member of a town where a man has to steal bread to eat.”
A bailiff passed around a hat to collect the fine, and the stunned defendant left the court with $47.50 in his hand.
Scene 3: At present in the Republic of Korea, members of a women’s club in a rural village are facing a fine of more than 1 million won, about 970 dollars, for violating election law by eating a free dinner. It is not just a matter of money, because the incident stirred the quiet village and created troubles among families. Their crime is out of neither political conviction like Socrates’ nor desperate destituteness.
Instead, it’s frustrating because the offense reflects the backward political reality of Korea. It is about time to be reminded of the adage, “There is no such thing as a free lunch.”
by Lee Hoon-beom
The writer is the head of the JoongAng Ilbo’s weekend news team.