Let's Take the "Con" out of "Consequences"

I've never seen the film or read the book Sophie's Choice, but I do know what choice the title refers to. Namely (SPOILER):
While being unloaded in Auschwitz, Sophie was asked to choose which of her children would live and which would die.
Being the cold-hearted calculation machine that I am, I almost immediately said to myself when I first read about this: Take a step back and that's easy: The one should survive that has the higher quality-adjusted life expectancy; rule of thumb: the younger one. So it was a bit of a deja-vu when I came across this, from Garett Jones:
Economics: The discipline that gives people practice making Sophie's Choice.
Me, I'm no economist, but it's safe to say I've had more exposure to the economic way of thinking than your average university graduate, and I've taken some of it on board.

So here are two more interesting questions, or one, depending on how you look at it: How come that around the world (a) the sentences for homicide do not, or at least are not supposed to, vary with the victim's age and (b) the sentences for attempted crimes are much lighter than the sentences for the same crimes carried out successfully, which amounts to a penalty on competence. Hail to someone who can answer those two in a satisfactory manner. More hail to someone who can show how the two stem from the same principle.


Anonymous said...

No wonder you never get any comments: your questions are too damn hard. Any thoughts yourself?

LemmusLemmus said...

If I had them I'd post them.

Acilius said...

Assuming that one of the goals of punishment is to reduce the level of fear among law-abiding people, it would make perfect sense to penalize criminals for being competent at crime. I'd suspect that an inept criminal is likely inspire more amusement than fear among the public at large.

A second reason why it makes sense to me to penalize competence among criminal is that criminals who are intelligent enough to succeed in their crimes might be intelligent enough to be deterred by the threat of punishment. It might be a waste of resources to bring a threat of heavy punishment against incompetent criminals.

Third, the police don't solve every case. The more competence a criminal has shown in the crimes for which s/he was caught, the likelier it is that s/he is responsible for other, still unsolved, crimes.

Bernard Guerrero said...

Three possible reasons I can think of to penalize "competent" criminals more:

a) The law takes motive & mens rea into account, regardless of outcome. One might kill without intending to kill, or take action which might kill despite not intending to kill, etc. Hence "attempted murder", "aggravated assault", "manslaughter", etc. It makes sense, I think, to allow for various gradations. While the criminal outcome might be identical (i.e. a death), the stated goal of rehabilitation implies that mens rea needs to be taken into account when looking at severity of punishment.

b) Gradations also allow for an intelligent criminal to "pull back" from actions that presumably would cause greater harm. i.e. A guy insults my wife and I get into a fight with him. While I'm probably already on the hook for assault, the consideration that kicking him in the head while he's down might raise things to "attempted murder" might slow me down. Likewise, the thought that the next blow might actually kill him might stay my hand and prevent a murder, even though I beat him badly enough to qualify for "attempted murder".