Lunch Links

Tuesday, February 14th, 2012

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58 Responses to “Lunch Links”

  1. #1 |  albatross | 


    Yes. For example, I’m okay with embezzlers getting jail time (in humane jails, not supermax 23.5 h/day solitary, or someplace where they’ll get raped twice a week) entirely for the deterrent effect, because I think we will have a lot more embezzling going on if the penalty is limited to, say, a big fine and a lawsuit. Many crimes are rational ones requiring some premeditation: stuff like embezzling, wire fraud, insurance fraud arson, identity theft, etc. Many of these are also fairly hard to catch in practice. So we probably want the punishment to be unpleasant enough to deter the crime.

  2. #2 |  Jim Wetzel | 

    I have to disagree with you there. If punishment exceeds what is actually deserved for the offense committed, the punishing entity is itself criminal. Just think: if ten-year prison stretches deter a certain amount of embezzling, wire frauds, and so forth, won’t twenty-year stretches deter even more? Maybe twice as much? How about life (in humane prisons, of course)?

    My point is: if the imprisonment is “entirely for deterrent effect,” as you put it, there’s no particular reason to imprison the person who actually does the crime. Imprisoning me, or you, will work just as well. Entirely for deterrent effect, that is.

    Unless the state owns you, it is completely wrong for the state to coercively use you for any purpose not your own. Deterrent, organ donor, or pistol practice target for cops — the principle’s the same. Or so it seems to me.

  3. #3 |  StrangeOne | 

    #49 albatross

    There is no such thing as a long lasting deterrent effect, for any crime. All crimes are committed with the assumption of not getting caught, from the guys who plan their crimes meticulously to the guys who are simply too stupid to think ahead, no one ever runs a cost profit analysis on the payoff of a criminal act vs. the probability of capture and average jail time. Look at our current system, American prisons are horrible and (some) drugs produce ludicrous sentences for selling them. But we still have crack-dealers, and crack dealers don’t even make that much money. The street peddlers usually make less than minimum wage. Even in less civilized societies where the death penalty was abundant for a variety of crimes, we still saw such criminal activity.

    The simple truth is that human are not psychological disposed to making those kinds of long term calculations. Human behavior is far more dictated by the immediate surroundings and circumstance of a crime than anything else. For instance, did you know that in many psychological studies its been shown that people are far less likely to cheat at games if a pair of eyes is watching them, even from something like a movie poster? You could do more to deter theft by painting a pair of eyes in a changing room than you could by giving the death penalty for shoplifting. It’s almost kafkaesque, but sadly that’s just the way people are.

  4. #4 |  supercat | 

    #51 | StrangeOne | “no one ever runs a cost profit analysis on the payoff of a criminal act vs. the probability of capture and average jail time.”

    People probably don’t run such an analysis accurate to five significant figures, but there is a definite consideration of which risks are worth worrying about and which risks aren’t. The fact that many criminals will abandon a crime in progress if they sense they might get caught demonstrates that they have a desire not to get caught. Such desire is almost certainly motivated by a belief that being caught will have unpleasant consequences. If criminals knew there wouldn’t be any unpleasant consequences for their actions, they wouldn’t have to abandon a crime in progress to avoid it.

  5. #5 |  albatross | 


    What’s the right level of deterrence? What’s a just length of time to be put in jail for, say, identity theft and fraud that involved you getting $100K and another $500K loss being imposed on everyone else as a result? I don’t think there’s any clearly-right way to get to an answer here.


    Do you have evidence for this? Because it seems like an extraordinarily strong claim, to me. For example, if the penalty for drunk driving increases dramatically (say, from a fine to mandatory loss of license and a much bigger fine), is it really the case that the rate of drunk driving will stay unchanged?

  6. #6 |  albatross | 


    David Friedman runs through some calculation like this in _Law’s Order_ (which is a wonderful book you should go read), webbed here.

    One thing I’ve always wondered about: Would it be possible to replace parole boards entirely or mostly with insurance underwriters? I visualize something like this:

    Fred committed an armed robbery at age 18, and he is now 24–probably six years in prison is more than enough deterrence for almost any crime committed by an 18 year old. So what we really want to know is whether releasing this guy back into the world makes sense. That centers around three questions:

    a. How much is his continued confinement going to cost us taxpayers.

    b. How much other damage/harm is done by his continued confinement (mainly to him, but also to his family).

    c. How much damage/harm is he likely to do if released?

    Now, (a) can be calculated directly, and the prison system has people who know that number. (b) is impossible to calculate objectively, but we can surely come to some kind of reasonable notion of what another year of confinement is worth, probably something that’s just $X/year or something.

    (c) is the sort of question you’d like to answer by getting someone to write an insurance policy for it. Let’s say the total cost of keep him confined (including the cost to him) is $Y per year, and we have someone willing to write an insurance policy to re-emburse both the state and his victims for any crimes he commits after he’s released (probably for some limited time, like three or five years) for less than $Y. Then, we buy the insurance policy and release him.

    The advantage of this is that insurance companies would be betting their own money on getting the answer right, and they would get and incorporate feedback from their decisions over time into future decisions. A second advantage is that there’s a mechanism for re-embursing victims of recidivism. A big potential downside is that there would be a financial incentive for blaming the recent ex-con over the new criminal for some crime–the new criminal is likely judgment-proof, whereas the recent ex-con has an insurance policy that will pay for whatever harm he has caused.

    I imagine that to work at all, this would need to happen within some sentencing limits–you get sentenced to A-B years in prison, and after A years, the insurance companies can decide to write an insurance policy on you or not, and you go free as a result. The minimum sentence is to ensure meaningful deterrence (and might be 0), the maximum sentence is to ensure some limit to your confinement (and might be life).

  7. #7 |  Deoxy | 

    I was referring to Deoxy’s attitude that it’s okay if prisoners are victims of violent crime because as long as it stays in prison it won’t happen to him.

    The “meh, if prisoners brutalize each other, it don’t affect me” attitude is what I was deriding, not the specific conclusion that dangerous people need to be controlled.

    Actually, I’d rather the crimes not be committed at all, but to achieve that would require simply killing certain individuals who keep committing them, or otherwise completely removing them from all human contact for the rest of their lives. As neither of those is really on the table (perpetual solitary is viewed as cruel, libertarians in particular are largely opposed to the death penalty, for at logistical reasons – the state does the job poorly), such crimes WILL continue. As such, it’s best if such people perform said crimes ON EACH OTHER than on anyone else (who would YOU prefer, Stormy Dragon?).

    That’s not only what I meant, it’s a reasonable reading of what I wrote, as I said “keep them away from the rest of US” not just “me”.

    Having checked your link, I would point this out right here:

    Because of this level’s “nature of self before others”, the behavior of post-conventional individuals, especially those at stage six, can be confused with that of those at the pre-conventional level.

    This would be why many principled libertarians are viewed are simply selfish bastards (“pre-conventional”). The more I am around libertarians on the web, the more I find that they tend to view those whose principles they disagree with in the same fashion. Thanks for helping to clarify that.

  8. #8 |  Deoxy | 

    Bloody crap, I screwed up the blockquoting there. Is there some mod who can fix that? Duhhh, I really can do this inter-web thingamajig sometimes…

    There is no such thing as a long lasting deterrent effect, for any crime.

    HA HA HA HA HA HA!!!!!!!

    Tell me another one!

    Seriously, “crimes of passion” are not as deterred, sure (that’s the whole point of the designation – letting your emotions overcome your mind at the time), but even those have been going down in recent years. Either it’s because we’ve locked up most of the people who do them (an argument no one here really likes) and they can be “deterred” by just removing those people from society, or SOMETHING else is deterring them.

    It’s particularly easy to see in what kinds of crime get committed where, and how that changes as laws change. The most obvious example, in my opinion, is how self-defense laws change the nature of burglary.

    “Home invasion” style burglary, that is, breaking into a home when the residents are there, is vanishingly rare is some places in the world. It’s utterly and amazingly commonplace in others. In fact, some of those places have changed in the last 20 years… want to bet on where?

    The UK has an ENORMOUS problem with that now, and they didn’t 20 years ago. What changed? Self-defense laws. Well, that, and how likely people are to actually go to jail for it.

    Check the stats on home invasion burglary in the US, in particular as states have adopted “Stand your ground” type laws. Spoiler: the rates go down. A lot.

    SOME things the rational mind thinks should deter criminals certainly don’t, but your quote at the top is just laugh-in-your-face wrong.