End All Crime the Easy Way
By Bryan Caplan
As you may recall, Scott Alexander recently argued that seemingly silly crime prevention policies could have great – and cheap – effects. I say his mechanism, though theoretically sound, is empirically irrelevant. Along the way, though, Scott helped me see a theoretically sound way to end all crime at near-zero cost.
Here’s my proposed panacea:
Step 1: Credibly announce that all levels of government will mercilessly prosecute the first crime committed in the nation each day.
Step 2: There is no Step 2.
What makes this crime policy so effective? Simple: Once you adopt it, no one wants to commit the first crime of the day. After all, with the resources of an entire nation arrayed against you, you’re almost sure to be caught and harshly punished. And if every potential criminal sits around waiting for someone else to commit the first crime of the day, the first crime of the day never happens. This in turn means that the second crime of the day never happens, the third crime of the day never happens, and so on. Welcome to your crime-free nation!
On reflection, of course, it would be better to switch to an even cheaper panacea:
Step 1′: Credibly announce that all levels of government will mercilessly prosecute the first crime committed in the nation each year.
Step 2′: There is no Step 2′.
Which quickly leads us to the cheapest panacea of all:
Step 1”: Credibly announce that all levels of government will mercilessly prosecute the next crime committed in the nation.
Step 2”: There is no Step 2”.
Now I’m the first to admit that this approach wouldn’t work in practice, for all the reasons I previously mentioned. But if you think Scott’s magic bullet in the War on Crime is good, mine’s bulletproof.
HT: My idea is inspired by this passage in David Friedman’s micro textbook:
You are a hero with a broken sword (Conan, Boromir, or your favorite Dungeons and Dragons character) being chased by a troop of bad guys (bandits, orcs, . . .). Fortunately you are on a horse and they are not. Unfortunately your horse is tired and they will eventually run you down. Fortunately you have a bow. Unfortunately you have only ten arrows. Fortunately, being a hero, you never miss. Unfortunately there are 40 bad guys…
Problem: Use economics to get away.
The solution is to shoot the bad guy in front. Then shoot the bad guy in front. Then shoot the bad guy in front. Then the bad guys start competing to see who can run slowest.