For best experience please turn on javascript and use a modern browser!
You are using a browser that is no longer supported by Microsoft. Please upgrade your browser. The site may not present itself correctly if you continue browsing.
'I eat fines for breakfast', Dutch rapper Lil Kleine provokingly posted on Instagram, stating his parking tickets don’t bother him. But it might be a different scenario if those fines were based on income and wealth. Researcher Giuseppe Dari-Mattiacci took a closer look at these so called ‘day fines’.

Day Fines

Fines are usually fixed. A speeding ticket is an x amount of euro, as is a parking ticket. Day fines work a differently: they are based on the violator’s wealth or income. ‘They are called day fines because you pay a certain number of days of your income for your violation. Wealthy offenders end up paying higher fines than people with less money’, says Dari-Mattiacci.

Why should we consider using day fines?

‘A big argument for day fines is that it’s unfair and inefficient to have everyone pay the same fine. Wealthy people may not be bothered so much by a fixed fine and, for instance, may choose to speed on the highway. But if cars are going at very different speeds on the highway there is a higher chance of accidents. When the rich can buy the right to speed up, they increase the risk of accidents for everybody else too. You will have to fine the rich in a different way to prevent that. People with more money shouldn’t have the right to create harm, simply because they can easily afford a ticket.’

Isn’t it unfair to punish people for their wealth on top of paying for a violation?

‘This is a much-heard argument: you are being punished because you are rich. A millionaire might pay 100 thousand euro for speeding in Helsinki. That may seem unfair. Yet, we need to consider the effect that the fine has on the violator. Very poor individuals may experience much greater discomfort for minor fines. If you are on a tight budget, even a 20-euro ticket may completely upset your monthly expenses.’

Copyright: ACLE / FEB
People with more money shouldn’t have the right to create harm, simply because they can easily afford a ticket

Do you think it’s a good idea for all countries to implement day fines?

‘No. If there is not much inequality, day fines are not very useful. Despite that, Scandinavian countries were the first to introduce day fines – even though they score relatively well on equality. They do have efficient tax systems, and that is another requirement for successfully implementing day fines. You need to be able to assess an offender’s wealth in order to determine how high the fine should be without spending too much time and money on it. Unfortunately, societies that are very unequal usually also have inefficient tax systems. In a loosely regulated tax system, tax evaders will also be able to avoid high fines. It is also generally more likely that rich people avoid taxes than poor people do, which further discourages the use of the fines.’

Wouldn’t day fines be a perfect fit for the United States as they have relatively high inequality and a strict tax system?

‘You would think so. But we found that “common law” countries, such as the US, Australia, and the UK, don’t use day fines. The dominant ideology in countries whose laws are historically based on common law is that punishment should be tough. If you violate tax law in the US, you go straight to prison. There is also a big belief in the idea that if you work hard, you succeed. Meritocracy is a common justification for inequality. There is simply no big desire in these countries to redistribute wealth more through, for example, day fines.’