What if the Jena six was a civic case?

The current American legal system distinguishes between civil and criminal law. Civil law is the realm of torts and lawsuits. Charges are pressed from one person against another while criminal law is filed by the state against a criminal. As a general exercise, when I read the news I like to think what if this crime was handled as a civic offense?
Take the Jena Six case for example. The major issue behind all the media attention is racial prejudice — prejudice of the attackers, prejudice of the instigators, prejudice of the school, the courts, and the criminal justice system. Not a single participant is immune from being accused of racial prejudice. So how would this issue of racial prejudice be different if this were a civic case?
Each party’s racial prejudices would have to engage each other. The court would take second seat compared to the prosecutor’s. But the prosecutor’s would be victims of violent attack in this case. Would as many people be willing to face off against the families of victims and call them prejudiced? Would prosecutors be willing to levy cases that were prejudiced, knowing they would attract this much attention? Would courts be willing to levy rulings that seemed prejudiced knowing they could be held in alternative civic courts? It seems everyone would be much more inclined to be on their best behavior compared to the current system.

Another quote of the day

Taken from National Economic Planning, What is Left? by Don Lavoie (1985),

[W]hat is wrong with these policy debates is precisely that they do not dare to be utopian enough. that is, they confine their attention to minor modifications in the established and badly rusted out political machinery instead of trying to imagine the substitution of a fundamentally different approach altogether. What is needed is a radical perspective, both in addition to a sceintific perspective and as a logical consequence of it. We need to locate the root cause of the social maladies we have endured and stop combating their symptoms (ibid., p. 16)

Quote of the day

From page vii in the preface to Restitution to Victims of Crime by Stephen Shafer,

“The guilty man lodged, fed, clothed, warmed, lighted, entertained, at the expense of the State in a model cell, issued from it with a sum of money lawfully earned, has paid his debt to society; he can set his victims at defiance; but the victim has his consolation; he can think that by taxes he pays to the Treasury, he has contributed towards the paternal care, which has guarded the criminal during his stay in prison.” These were the bitter and sarcastic words of Prins, the Belgian, at the Paris Prison Congress in 1895, when during a discussion of the problem of restitution to victims of crime, he could no longer contain his indignation at various practical and theoretical difficulties raised against his proposals on behalf of the victim.

and on page 12:

History suggests that growing interest in the reformation of the criminal is matched by decreasing care for the victim.

Tasering, a consequence of the ratchet effect?

In Crises and Leviathan, Robert Higgs argues that times of crises are breeding grounds for the expansion of state power and authority. During the great depression, during times of warfare, during natural catastrophes, etc. citizens are desperate for solutions and the state is more than willing to offer proposals. Policy changes are drafted quickly with less attention to their long term consequences, and the public is more willing to accept them because “something has to be done — anything.”
Just a few days ago Andrew Meyer attended a lecture by John Kerry at the University of Florida. After being obnoxious and refusing to leave, several police officers restrained Meyer and tasered him several times.

This has caused quite a news splash, but amidst the litany of comments, I have yet to come across anyone mentioning that college campuses are on heightened alert ever since the Virginia Tech massacre.
In the first weeks of my semester, I can remember several long emails from our campus authorities describing additional standards and protocols that were being taken to “ensure our safety.” Maybe I was cynical but when I read the notice I thought it was mostly lip service — the illusion of security. Campuses weren’t repealing their gun control policies, instead they were telling students how to report possible threats. I assume that campus security officers were probably told, “better to be safe than sorry?” I’d bet they were instructed to take more intensive action at earlier stages because who knows what could happen otherwise. I’m not necessarily saying that these additions are bad, but they feel like they lack a real link to deterring actual acts of violence. They seem more aimed at making students feel safer, rather than actually making them safer.
As time has passed we forget how scared and helpless the VT event made us feel and the brief solace that those extra precautions gave us. But now we want to get back to using our universities for their intended purposes of discussion and debate. Those additional policies and precautions remain, and in some instances may conflict with the greater purposes of the institutions that they are designed to protect. The campus security officers don’t suddenly forget the techniques that they were taught to use. Every event gets treated as a potentially serious altercation.

Which view of deterrance exlpains OJ?

Becker (1968) began the investigation into the economics of crime by modeling criminal behavior as rational. Criminals respond to incentives in much the same way consumers respond to price. Raise the costs to crime and criminals will commit less crime. At first it seemed that the length of a prison sentence and the harshness of a penalty were the most accessible forms of control that state planners had to influence the way criminals perceived crime.
In recent years scholars seem more interested in the probabilities of punishment instead of its degree. In other words, if a criminal is unlikely to get captured, unlikely to get prosecuted, unlikely to get convicted, and unlikely to serve a full jail sentence, then even the longest prison sentence seems insignificant compared to a big criminal score. In the probability model of crime fixing inefficiencies in the criminal justice system can do better to deter crime than raising punishments.
But OJ’s recent arrest has me baffled. Did he really think he would get away with anything? His probability of success has to be near zero. And the value of the stuff he was stealing wasn’t very high.
Is OJ rational? Maybe he’s just calling the justice system’s bluff, after all they’ve demonstrated an unwillingness to apply harsh penalties to him. Maybe he’s being compelled. His actions would appear rational if he was trying to avoid some imposed cost. Maybe he’s just nuts?

Bob Higgs never fails to impress.

Taken from page 96 of Against Leviathan:

If the total incarcerated population were to continue to grow by 7.3 % annually, it would double approximately every ten years, whereas the total population, growing at 1 percent annually, would need some seventy years to double. Hence, in the decade of the 2080s, within the lifetime of many people already born, the prison population would overtake the total population, and the immigration barriers would have to be removed in order to let in enough foreigners to fill the cells. I leave it as an exercise for the reader to determine who will serve as guards.

Do wars increase the anti-foreign bias?

Nick Snow and I have been wanting to write a paper on the skinhead youth movement in England. We are interested in this topic because we’ve read and heard stories that described the first so-called skinheads to have inter-mingled with black Jamaican immigrants in British dance halls during the late 1970s and early 1980s. Jamaican immigrants and white dock workers, worked and played side by side. The popular British soul music of the time matched well with the blue beat ska music that the Jamaicans brought from their home land. The fashion emblems of the skinhead subculture were functional responses to their modes of employment. Dock workers faced a high threat of catching lice while unloading freight so they shaved their heads, and steel-toed boots helped avoid broken toes and foot injuries on the job. The empirical puzzle that remained was, when and why did the image of skinheads come to signify racial hatred, intolerance, national socialism, and fascism?
Our proposed description of this history is inspired by Butler Shaffer’s pamphlet, Violence as a Result of Imposed Order. We guess that governmental policies and economic controls of the time created zero sum games across race lines. Whites were pitted against black and Pakistani immigrants for financial and employment privileges. After reading Thomas Leonard’s paper on eugenic ideology in early unions, we’re suspicious that a similar racial hostility was cultivated in English labor unions during this time.
The newly successful film, This is England shows exactly what we were thinking of elaborating on.

Quasi-spoilers ahead…
A group of young kids including a Jamaican friends identify themselves as “skins” by shaving their heads and dressing alike. This solidarity serves useful at fending off aggression from other gangs of kids. When an older member of the gang gets released from prison he introduces the group to racial intolerance fueled by an dissatisfaction over the economic condition of whites.
In the film, the racist skin heads feel a sense of entitlement to wealth and priveledge above immigrants because they have either served in recent wars or lost family members who served.
This sounded similar to a factoid I heard recently — in WWII more Italian Americans than any other group volunteered for service. Despite being proud of their immigrant parents and grandparents, Italian Americans today appear to me to be more against immigration than the average American. Could this be a similar entitlement phenomenon? If a demographic group disproportionately serves in armed combat during a war, will they be more anti-immigration in upcoming generations? Would this also imply that forced conscriptions invoke anti-foreign bias more than voluntary service?

The capital structure of security

In my previous post where I described terrorism as modern guerrilla warfare, I argued that the technique of terrorism is in part induced by disparity between the technological availabilities of the two parties involved. In other words, pitting David against Goliath means that David uses the sling and jumps about rather than going head to head with the big brute.
Is there a similar influence on the technology selected by victims of crime when they are pitted against criminal attackers? It seems obvious that guns grant a sensation of power and control to their users. Is that to say that those who buy, own and wield them are those who feel most powerless — those who face the greatest power disparity between their own accessible security and the power of a criminal to inflict harm upon them or take their property? This may explain concealed carry permits, a sound administration of justice does little to help the real pain felt from being the victim of a violent attack. So citizens still want to deter getting attacked, or hurt during an attack. The more someone feels likely to be the victim of a violent attack, the more likely they are to invest in weaponry rather than locks as a security precaution.
What about the technology of punishment? The greater the difference between the likelihood of a victim to regain his wealth and property through the criminal justice system, the less likely he is to invest in security devices that track the specific identity of the aggressor. Why invest the extra dollars to install a video camera as part of your security system if the criminal justice system has no means of restoring what’s yours to you? If yous still don’t get your property back even after the criminal has been caught and prosecuted you have little incentive to make investments in devices that explicitly detect the identity of a criminal. Instead, if victims still feel helpless that their security purchases don’t suffice to deter against crime, they are likely to support harsh punitive measures that specifically inflict loss and suffering upon a criminal. Such is the case in the philosophical justifications of deontological and retributive punishment systems. Punishments are much rehabilitations compared to times of the past, and they are certainly not debt-based sentences, punishment is the response to crime because it is unpleasant because the criminal is said to deserve to be punished.
To sum up, it seems that Dog the bounty hunter gets more business in a retributive justice system, while Sherlock Holmes does more business in a restitution-based criminal justice system. I’m not trying to make an explicit claim that we should move from one to the other, though I think it’s worth discussing. I am willing to say that there is significant innovation and discovery in the technological discoveries of peaceful security strategies that gets inhibited, and a significant degree of relatively violent techniques that get subsidized because of the incentives promoted in the current justice system.

Is Terrorism the New Guerilla Warfare?

With less than an hour remaining in this anniversary occasion I thought I’d put up a relevant post.
I want to write an economic history paper of innovative yet technologically inferior military tactics. Do you remember your history books from elementary school? Usually you would read a chapter about a key moment in history and important words, names, and places would be in bold print. Mesopotamia was always near the front and Eli Whitney and the cotton gin were somewhere in the middle.
In the chapters on the early American wars especially the French and Indian war, I remember guerrilla warfare always being in bold. When the Europeans came with advanced guns and faced off against the Native Americans with arrows and spears they expected an easy victory. But it wasn’t so easy, the Native Americans didn’t form ranks like the Europeans did. Instead of standing in a line and marching to battle, they hid in the forests behind trees and rocks and strategically launched inferior firepower with reasonable effect.
Can we generalize this phenomenon? Are innovations in the techniques of warfare sparked by large disparities in accessible technologies across competing forces? As a combatant in war you can excel on one of two margins, brute force or strategic cunning. When you stand no hope in terms of force you specialize on the only remaining margin.
Now call me a Ron Paulite if you will, but this sounds remarkably similar to “blowback” with an added twist — the form that blowback will come in. Not that it’s a good piece of empirical evidence but the movie Jarhead brings up this point. Technologically speaking, Dessert Storm was nothing like Vietnam. Vietnam was thousands of Marines and Army soldiers schlepping through the jungle combating face to face with enemy soldiers. What causes angst for the Marine soldiers in Jarhead is that they never really get to kill anyone anymore, they just call in the air strikes.
Now imagine your a Middle Eastern soldier, and an enemy of the United States. You don’t have fighter planes. Seems to me like you’d hide behind the rock like the Native Americans until the time was right, then strike back with cunning. Does this give us a unique perspective on foreign policy if our aim is to specifically avoiding terrorism? What is the effect of the marginal dollar spent on American military arms. Doesn’t each dollar widen the gap between our technological superiority and their military ineptitude. Does it make sense that the wider that gap gets the more desperate our opponents will become to make a dent however they can?
Food for thought. I wish nothing but the best for all the friends and families of those who died on 9-11.