NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - "Somebody needs to go to jail." That's become the mantra for every congressman, analyst and regulator these days following the WorldCom (and Enron and Andersen and Adelphia and Dynegy and Global Crossing and ... etc.) debacle.
Sure, that's a traditional, time honored approach. But I have something different in mind:
You know caning, right? A criminal is bent over and given whacks, usually by a martial arts master, across the buttocks with a stick of bamboo.
Now, caning wouldn't work for all classes of criminals here. If you are unlucky enough to grow up with abusive parents and violent street gangs, getting hit with a bamboo rod may not be that big a deal.
But tell some upper-class, Ivy League desk jockey that he is going to get flogged across his behind if he plays with the books and watch how quickly he walks the straight and narrow. Certainly CEOs and CFOs would be less inclined to hide debt and misdirect costs if they knew real pain was the penalty for the crime. Getting smacked across the derriere doesn't mix well with Lear jets, limousines and fine art.
And yes, the humiliation is part of the punishment too.
Jail time just doesn't seem enough of a disincentive. White collar criminals, out of concern for their safety, typically get sent to minimum- or medium-security prisons. If they go at all.
Caning, of course, is big in Singapore. You may recall a big controversy a few years ago when an American teen-ager was sentenced to five whacks for vandalism. You'll notice Singapore doesn't have a big vandalism problem. That nation doesn't seem to be terrorized by its young people as much as the U.S., either.
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A milder variation of caning has a long and cherished history here in the United States. At the tender age of eight I once stole some maps from a gas station. My Dad found out and subsequently administered a Traditional Spanking. Guess what? I didn't steal again. (Of course, there are psychologists who think my psyche is probably twisted because of that incident. Maybe so. But I don't think it is because of spanking).
I wish the parents of our current crop of CEOs had administered such punishment. But the state of the business world indicates they didn't. Most of these guys cheat at golf, for pity's sake, a game where you are essentially playing against yourself.
Cheating at games deserves a spanking and ridicule.
Cooking a company's books, deceiving investors, jeopardizing employees and wrecking livelihoods deserves something more serious. While Amnesty International and others decry caning as cruel and unusual punishment, in the case of white collar robber barons affecting so many out of greed and self-interest I have to disagree. This is our leadership class. Our model citizen class. They should be held to a higher standard, both in terms of reward and punishment.
Allen Wastler is managing editor of CNN Money and a morning commentator on CNNfn. He can be e-mailed here.