The letters depict a man who, but for his insider-trading conviction, has led an exemplary life.Miles D. White, the chief executive of the pharmaceutical giant Abbott, wrote, “Rajat’s contributions to global welfare — in business, in philanthropy, in education, in civil society — have been rivaled by very few people.” Mr. Gupta’s leadership on global health issues has “made a real difference in the lives of literally millions of people around the world,” Mr. Gates wrote.
The rich and the famous are rallying to one of their own, begging the judge to let Gupta get off easy.Average Americans are not in the habit of writing letters to judges on sentencing questions, but if they did, the mail would run a million to one against giving this liar and thief any kind of a break.Via Meadia doesn’t think that he should be punished beyond the limits of the law or that rich people deserve fewer procedural safeguards than anybody else. Gupta shouldn’t be punished for being rich and successful—but being rich and successful shouldn’t get him off, either.Given the serious nature of the crimes for which he was convicted after a full and fair trial with the best legal assistance money can buy, Gupta should go to jail—and for a long time. He was trusted with high business positions of great dignity and he betrayed a high trust. He had made millions of dollars and had no need to cheat or bend the rules to enjoy a lifestyle that most people can only dream about. But he was greedy and unprincipled, and he betrayed the trust of his business partners and all those who hailed him as a role model.People all over the country need to see that powerful people who commit crimes suffer serious penalties. Gupta, an immigrant from India, benefitted from every opportunity his adopted country offered, and he repaid that hospitality with a total betrayal—greed unbounded.The rise of a new class of super-rich Americans has profound implications for our society; it is more important than ever that the rule of law be, and be seen to be, one and the same for the rich and the poor. That means Mr. Gupta must go behind bars; he deserves it because of the crimes for which he was convicted, and the health of our society and the faith of the people in our justice system demands that his punishment be exemplary.And it isn’t just ordinary Americans who need to see that our system retains the ability to punish the rich and the powerful. Rich businessmen and politicians need to know that if they break the law, they can face personal ruin—shame, disgrace, untold suffering for their families, and prison. They need to know that letters from rich, famous and prominent associates won’t help—that Lady Justice is in fact blind, and that a rich and famous defendant can’t use the business cards of big name friends as get out of jail free cards.It’s natural to ask for mercy for a friend in trouble, but those who wrote letters for somebody like Gupta need to rethink their actions. They don’t just have an obligation to help their powerful friends, they have an obligation to the country at large to support the operation of our justice system.Let Mr. Gupta’s friends show their sympathy and support for him by visiting him in jail and showing kindness to his family while they await his release. Otherwise, they should stay out of the process and let the judge think about the honor and dignity of the law and make the appropriate sentencing decision.The rise of a class of super-rich Americans is one of the profound shifts taking place in this country in the last thirty years. At Via Meadia, we don’t hate rich people or want there to be less of them, and we don’t even blame them for being rich or think that there is something unfair about success.We do, however, think that the rise of this new class demands some reflection. The point made above, that the super-rich have to be seen to be punished when they do wrong, matters more in a world in which the super rich are growing in numbers and power than in a world in which they are disappearing. As this new social reality makes itself felt in America, we have to think about how we do or don’t change the rules of the road. Many of our more liberal friends come up with unrealistic approaches to this issue that will hurt society as a whole rather than help it, but that doesn’t mean that the rise of this new elite is something that Americans don’t need to think through.Our print colleagues at the American Interest have been following this subject for some time, and have just collected some pieces on the topic into an ebook, Plutocracy and Democracy: How Money Corrupts our Politics and Culture, featuring pieces by Francis Fukuyama, Tyler Cowen, Robert Reich and myself on exactly this topic. As you might expect from that list of names, more than one point of view is represented in the collection and you will find some essays engage you while others are more provocative, but we hope they will help promote a smarter national conversation. Click here to buy and download a copy; this is a subject we all need to think about.