Eric Lewis {"Why the Rich Go Free," Outlook, Jan. 17} argues that "our current system of criminal sentencing blatantly violates {the} principle of proportionality," comparing the three-year sentence given Ivan Boesky with the 45-year sentence given a PCP drug dealer. Mr. Lewis argues that "violent or drug-related offenders . . . are punished with savage rage" and that "white collar criminals are, relatively speaking, getting away with murder."

The whole point is that, in the large, they are not getting away with murder. It's all very well for Mr. Lewis to complain about the fact that "the undermining of public confidence in the marketplace or democratic institutions is trivial when compared with violent or drug-related crime," but the fact is that, for almost everyone, this is a fair statement of priorities and, hence, is the collective judgment of society. Most Americans would greatly prefer to have their confidence undermined than to be murdered, mugged or have drugs sold to their children.

Consider a hypothetical set of choices:

1) You can be locked up in a room with Ivan Boesky plus his weapon of choice (a telephone), and he will be rewarded when he ravages your stock portfolio.

2) You can be locked up in a room with a violent criminal plus his or her weapon of choice (a gun or a knife), and he will get a big reward for ravaging your body.

In short, the seriousness of a crime and the appropriate penalty are measured in general not by hand-waving arguments of sociologists aboutabstract damage to society but bythe degree of hurt to the victims of crime.

Is that so unreasonable?

JOEL S. DAVIS

Albuquerque, N.M.