On the value of an education in economics

You live in a state where the most severe criminal punishment is life imprisonment. Someone proposes that since armed robbery is a very serious crime, armed robbers should get a life sentence. A constitutional lawyer asks whether that is consistent with the prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment. A legal philosopher asks whether it is just.

An economist points out that if the punishments for armed robbery and for armed robbery plus murder are the same, the additional punishment for the murder is zero–and asks whether you really want to make it in the interest of robbers to murder their victims.

David Friedman.

17 comments on “On the value of an education in economics

  1. We might have known it for years but do the daily Mail Tendency, and the politicians that lust after their votes, pay it any attention? No.

    Of what use is knowledge that is never put in to practice? You might argue that merely gaining it is a good in its own right (but one of negative value as is pointed out here) but stuff that is so commonplace that it has its own cliche?

  2. And do you think they will listen now just because an economist has brought it up? The DMT will probably dismiss it because it is from an economist.

    It says more about the lack of leadership from our political class than about the education system. I’m reminded of those union leaders of the 70’s who were seen running to catch up with the crowd so they could pretend to be leaders.

  3. Recently saw a post elsewhere criticising libertarian blogs for (inter alia) being boring and unoriginal. Well yes, and this one falls into the category- but at least we have a lot of interesting and original errors to correct.

  4. Thomas More made the same observation about theft, murder and hanging in Utopia. As I recall, he was both lawyer and philosopher, but his point was the same as the economist’s.

  5. The discipline is so lacking in content that it makes takeover bids for the most pedestrian pieces of folk-wisdom – is that what you’re saying?

  6. You live in a state where the most severe criminal punishment is life imprisonment.

    The sentence for murder may be “life” but only a small percentage of murderers are actually imprisoned for life. I’m sure the robbers are well aware of this.

  7. May I suggest an revoluntionary idea. By all means give a mandatory life sentence for armed robbery but we introduce the death penalty for thise found guilty of capital murder (which would of course include murder in the course of robbery- armed or otherwise)

  8. An Economist would actually point out whatever the person he was working for paid him to point out as we have seen . The advantage is a jumble of soft science jargon with which to make the ensuing incantation sound as if it were more than blinds man`s buff.
    Even if that were not the case , the comfort of convenience of everyone else is not the chief function of the justice system .

  9. @8, true for less serious crimes, but irrelevant at the level of armed robbery or murder. If you’re an armed robber or a murderer, then you’re vastly more likely to get caught than not.

    @9, 100% of convicted murderers are subject to criminal penalties for life. The only question is the proportion of the sentence served in prison, versus the proportion served under regular supervision and threat of recall to prison (and as it happens, if an adult murders someone in a robbery in the UK, they will spend at least 30 years in actual prison before they face any prospect of parole – that is the law).

    @10 …now think of the incentives that places on people who’ve committed murder and are now being pursued by policemen. Not so easy?

  10. @12, if it’s not to try and set some general rules that allow society to work (ie “the convenience of everybody”), then what the hell is the point of the legal system?

  11. The point of the judicial system is to supply the justice John .

    Justice would otherwise be the moral province of revenge . Revenge has obvious draw backs in that it tends to escalate That is why revenge was limited to a proportionate degree by the proverbial plea for clemency “an eye ( only an eye ) for an eye etc.” . In our own society revenge is exceptionally absent from an early stage , law exceptionally present .
    It might be more convenient to remove money from the law abiding to invest in rehabilitation , to lavish educational opportunities and therapy on ‘murderers’ and make them into happy well adjusted citizens . When murderers are , for example ,to be given the vote , their progress as poets horticulturalists and model citizens is often mentioned . The rotting corpses of their victims pass fewer O levels in sociology and on that basis the principle of justice is sometimes outweighed by the principle of social convenience .

    I can see the force of the argument obviously , if we could only enforce some sort of lobotomy on the grieving relatives then all the loose ends would be tied up .

  12. Incidentally what about outsourcing our prisons to India say .Why not works well for call centres ? It’s a highly educated and civilised country which would run them cheaply and well. We would the be spared much of the horrific cost and free to apply truly deterrent penalties which at the moment we do not , that would reduce crime .It would additionally remove perpetrators from our sight and interest .My only concern is that the agonies of remorse I might suffer from ignoring the the EU/ HRA diktat about family life might be unbearable .

  13. Thomas More made the same observation about theft, murder and hanging in Utopia. As I recall, he was both lawyer and philosopher, but his point was the same as the economist’s.

    It was a satire of course …

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