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Punishment and the Public Interest

There's an interesting debate going on in the comments section of econoholic's post on Polanski. I started writing a rather longish comment, before deciding just to post the whole thing here. The crux of the debate seems to boil down to those who think that only a crime victim's wishes count and those who think that society has some interest in preventing certain types of crime. But there is a great deal of confusion among those holding these views.

Curunir and econoholic defend (rightly IMO) the view that society has some interest in preventing certain types of crime. Here's econoholic:

On the other hand, if you accept that you personally lose something if other people are regularly murdered in your neighborhood and not just the direct victim, then there is a sense in which he has committed a crime against others as well, and he should be punished for it at the discretion of these others.

This, it seems to me, is another way of saying that certain types of crimes carry a negative externality. Where murder is rampant in a neighborhood, there is a (really high) cost to be paid by the direct victims of murder. But that cost doesn't full capture the total cost of the action. People fear for their lives, refuse to go out at night, purchase home security equipment, etc. Those are real costs, and while they are admittedly far less bad than the cost of, you know, dying, that doesn't entail that those aren't still costs.

If you take this notion seriously, then it's not absurd to suggest that, to the extent you think punishment is about restitution, criminal sanctions will have two components: the cost of making the victim whole plus the cost of the externality. Or, crudely, sanctions S = Restitution of Victim (RV) + Cost of Externality (CE).

Now several people point out that RV is more important than CE. And I don't deny that at all. In nearly every case RV > CE. Moreover, there are probably a lot of cases in which CE is close enough to zero as to be negligible. But it doesn't follow from either of those general observations that CE is always zero. And I don't think it's hard to make the case that, at least sometimes, CE is reasonably big.

In the Polanski case, we have a strange situation. For in this instance, we have a victim stating that RV = 0. It's hard to see how someone could argue with that. Who better than the victim knows what it takes to make her whole? Certainly not I.

But, and here's the rub, that doesn't automatically entail that CE is also zero. So when Micha asks "Does the people's interest outweigh the interest of the victim?" that's a sort of category mistake. The people's interest isn't something that one weighs against the victim's interest. RV and CE are on the same side of the equation. IOW, even where RV = 0, there may still be a good case for having some sort of sanctions.

I think that this case probably is one in which jail is merited, whatever the wishes of the victim. There is something to be said for living in a society in which being rich or talented or famous or a citizen of another country doesn't allow you to harm others and then prance away as if nothing happened. (And, no, I don't think that being forced to make all your movies in Paris counts as punishment.)

But whatever our arguments about the value of CE in this particular case, it's worth being clear on how the logic of punishment works. The cost of the externalities of crimes and the cost to the victim are additive. It's a mistake to think that because one outweighs the other, the smaller value just doesn't matter.


I say he gets an Oscar next

Or maybe a Grammy.

My interpretation:

"We despised the prior president so much that we'll give his replacement our award."


Rape as political sport

Pandagon complains about conservative complaints about Robert Polanski:

I happened to pop on over to Hot Air, and saw that the conservative bloggers are all of a sudden deeply concerned about rape. Was there a moral epiphany, I thought, and can we count on them to stand firmly against rape in the future?

She tries to paint inconsistency here where there doesn't really seem to be any.

Polanski drugged and viciously raped a 13-year old girl. The Duke lacrosse team stupidly hired a stripper. I don't think these actions speak all that well of Polanski or the lacrosse team, but I can understand (even as a feminist, non-conservative) why one is worth prosecuting and the other is not.

Pandagon tries to point to the hypocrisy of conservatives here, and I don't quite see it. Yes, conservatives do make a big deal out of Chappaquiddick, but then again, Republicans seem to be generally willing to roast their own politicians too. Getting caught cheating on one's wife is not exactly a woman-friendly action, but it only costs you your job if you have an (R) by your name. [Update: OK, this may not be true. See comments.] [I do think Chappaquiddick has added relevance for the elephants since Ted was a donkey. I don't mean to say otherwise.]

While conservatives may be accused of bias, unfortunately it is liberals who must be charged and convicted of outright hypocrisy on this matter. It is liberals who are signing this disgusting petition to free an admitted, unrepentant child rapist and concocting supporting arguments on the internet. Unfortunately, Polanski's identity as their respected artist and/or friend has led them to abandon their respect for the personhood of women.

I am happy to see that feminist bloggers generally see the light. This includes Pandagon herself, Latoya, and Jill. Even among feminists though, not everyone is on board:

"My personal thoughts are let the guy go," said Peg Yorkin, founder of the Feminist Majority Foundation. "It's bad a person was raped. But that was so many years ago. The guy has been through so much in his life. It's crazy to arrest him now. Let it go. The government could spend its money on other things."

I think though, that feminists largely understand the issue and support bringing Polanski to justice.
Q: What about all the others?

A: I think what is going on is that class and racial identity has trumped feminist concerns. When the Duke case came up, the races and classes of the accused and the accuser took center stage and ended up actually harming the case for women claiming rape to be taken seriously when it turned out that everyone got way ahead of themselves. No one much cared that much about making the public take rape seriously. They instead wanted people to listen to a compelling story about race.

When the Polanski case came up, the class of the accused was what matters most. Yes, he was rich, but he was the right kind of rich, making movies about incestuous capitalists and the like (Chinatown). Once more, the actual interests of advancing women's rights took a back seat.

Many people on this issue and others have sold feminism down the river. It is sad because rape is actually a serious offense. It shouldn't really be politicized by anyone for any purpose. These fair-weather feminists have done much damage.


Seateading Con

I had a good time at The Seasteading Institute's annual conference. I got to hang out with Patri, Mike Gibson, Sean Lynch, and Will Chamberlain (not to be confused with Wilt Chamberlain; similar height and prowess with women), briefly spoke to David Friedman, Michael Strong, James Hogan, and Erwin Strauss, and also talked to Saurabh, Marc, Eelco (who was fascinated by my blonde curls), Eric, Tim, Jeff, and a bunch of people I can't remember.

My impressions are as follows:

  • It's actually happening. There are a bunch of smart, ambitious people from all over the world trying to make this work. Kudos to Patri for putting a dream into motion.
  • I think I 'get' TSI's role. It's a non-profit organization that simply provides information, guidance, and advocacy. The profits will have to be sought by other institutions.
  • The profit-seeking entities are in their infancy. There's still a lot of work to do.
  • The vast majority of people there were libertarians. I made it a point to ask people what their interest was in Seasteading. Almost everyone was in it for the freedom aspects (except Will who was in it for the babes). Almost nobody I spoke to was in it for the engineering or ocean-loving, or even to stake out their progressive utopia on the ocean.
  • The view of San Francisco from the Bay is incredible.

Olympics: Who Cares?

I admit it: I'm usually out of the loop in social and entertainment developments. I didn't know about Jon and Kate until after they broke up. I don't understand the point of Twitter; I don't text message. I still don't understand why so many of my friends were excited about the premiere a new show (Glee) I had literally never heard of.

So maybe I'm just not that connected, but could someone please tell me when the announcement of the Olympics host city became such a big deal, especially outside of sports media? I can see why it was important in my current hometown in Chicagoland. But outside of that, what's the big deal?

Is all of this hoopla because of Obama? If so, I find that pretty sad (why should people care so much what he does), but also fairly hilarious (that it went so poorly for him).

Or am I just totally wrong, and this announcement has always been so major?

(For the record: I'm delighted not to have to deal with the mess Olympics bring.)


Female Unhappiness and Revealed Preference

At Double X, the womens-interest section of Slate, Sharon Lerner argues that America's workplace policies are responsible for a decline in happiness among women:

The United States is a glaring exception in the developed world and beyond in having no mandatory paid maternity leave, no nationwide childcare system, few flexible work options, and, as we’ve heard lately, no universal health coverage. So while mothers in the Czech Republic can choose between having their paid leave stretch either from one to three years after giving birth, and every French parent can count on low- or no-cost preschool, women in the United States are bearing the brunt of working motherhood with far fewer supports.

It's certainly a plausible-seeming theory. But it directly contradicts the paper from which the factoid about womens' happiness is taken. Justin Wolfers and Betsey Stevenson are quite explicit about their findings:

There are no statistically significant differences in the trends for women with and without children nor are their differences between these groups in the trend in happiness for men (or the subsequent trend in the happiness gap). Along with the decline in marriage has come a rise in single parenthood, both through growth in out-of-wedlock births and through divorce. Thus, we disaggregate the fertility results to consider trends in happiness separately among single parents and married parents, and, to account for the duel burden of working parents, between employed parents and non-employed parents. Once again, we see similar trends in happiness across these groups, casting doubt on the hypothesis that trends in marriage and divorce, single parenthood, or work-family balance are at the root of the happiness declines among women.

Moreover, it's a bit strange to look to this study for support for European policy. Virtually the same trends are observed in Europe as in the United States. (Note: While women in the U.S. report a slight decline and women in Europe a small increase, I would caution against reading too much into that; for one thing, the questions asked in the surveys are not identical.)

These increases in subjective well-being have been experienced to a greater degree by men, leading to a pervasive decline in well-being among women relative to men. Indeed, women’s happiness fell relative to men’s in all but one of the countries in the sample, and while the pattern is by no means uniform, the magnitudes are remarkably similar. The only exception to this rule is West Germany, although even there, the data are not clear cut.

The Stevenson-Wolfers paper is fascinating and well worth reading. The cause of this gender gap in happiness is an interesting discussion to have. But this paper doesn't lend easy support to any side of the political debate, weak attempts to do so notwithstanding.

But there's an even more fundamental question I'd like to ask: Is it really true that the United States is hostile to working mothers? The question itself seems ridiculous, in light of European family policies. And yet, here's an interesting tidbit from Lerner's article:

While an American woman still typically has around 2.1 children over her lifetime, in other rich countries, family size has dropped significantly as women have gained access to jobs and education. More than 90 nations throughout Europe and Asia now have fertility rates well below ours. Second, even while we’ve continued to raise sizable families, American women have achieved the very highest rate of full-time employment in the world, with 75 percent of employed women working full-time.

So while the United States is supposedly so bad for working mothers, the women (1) have more kids, and (2) work more. At least superficially, then, it seems as though the U.S. is better for working mothers, not worse.

Now, one can certainly argue against this behavioral argument. Maybe men in the U.S. are so poorly paid relative to Europeans that the women have to work. (I think this is clearly untrue.) Or maybe the lack of universal health care means people don't want to risk only having one person with employer-provided insurance (more plausible to me). But the burden of proof is clearly on those who claim the U.S. is on a whole worse for working mothers, since so many more of them seem to be choosing the lifestyle. And the question of how the U.S. might really be better for working women is an interesting one, but one I think I'll defer, since this is getting long already.


Recession Mentality

From the Freakonomics Blog:

If you’re wondering how the recession is affecting today’s young adults, a new paper (abstract only) by Paola Giuliano and Antonio Spilimbergo may have the answer. The authors found that people who grew up during a recession “tend to believe that success in life depends more on luck than on effort, support more government redistribution, but are less confident in public institutions.”


Roman Polanski deserves what he gets

I can't be the only person who's surprised that so many people are rallying behind Roman Polanski, a man who drugged and raped a 13-year-old and then fled from the jurisdiction of the country that was going to prosecute him. I know that in the movie industry, where people are completely detached from reality, they might actually believe that his artistic contributions outweigh a crime he has already admitted to, but there can't be people in the real world who think the same. Maybe I'm wrong.


At The Seasteading Institute Conference...

...Peter Thiel asks a question--

In the year 1945, there were about 50 countries and marginal tax rates in the US were 90%.
In the year 2009, there are about 200 countries and marginal tax rates in the US are 40%.

In the year 2050, how many countries will there be? Will the number be closer to 5, 200, or 1000?