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04/01/2007

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Mike

Poodle,
I think we are in basic agreement.
First, honest and dishonest behavior is not *just* a function of incentives. Of course, there are other important variables. But all other variables held constant, incentives will have predictive value. And incentives to be be dishonest probably are more prevelant among the poor, which does not mean that they don't exist among the rich. I don't think Becker would disagree with any of this, and I don't think that he affirmatively believes that poor people are more innately dishonest than non-poor people, even though his precise phraseology suggests otherwise -- which is why I don't interpret it literally.
Most people's experiences are such that they probably believe that the rate of dishonest behavior is higher among the poor than the non-poor. This belief could be true because of (i) incentives or (ii) character. If (ii) one could postulate that the same character defects that incline one toward dishonesty incline one toward poor economic decision-making. Or the belief may be false altogether; for example, the non-poor may just be more skilled at concealing their dishonesty. I'm not aware of any hard data on any of this, and really am not that interested. I just think Becker expressed himself incorrectly -- nothing more -- and for that reason I continue to think that while his literal statement may be "silly" or "stupid," what he really was trying to say, in context, almost certainly wasn't.

Dostoevsky's Poodle

Mike,
That is all well put. Your post deserves to be the last word.
Incidentally, if I had it to do over again I would not have used the word "stupid" because while Becker is publicly sticking his neck out, scribbling stimulating analysis, I am only sniping under the cover of "D's Poodle". Overall, my postings have been gratuitously offensive. In my view, such offensive behavior is not so bad, but only provided one does it like a man, that is, not anonymously, as I have. I've learned my lesson--I have been even more stupid than Becker, really--and look forward to engaging in this blog again, more civilly--but no less stringently.

n.e.hat

Mike, One question, "Which is the greater crime"? A man who steals a loaf of bread to feed his starving family or the man who defrauds thousands of their life savings? Yet, if you look at the sentences of each as handed down, it readily becomes apparent as to who society handles more harshly for the greater crime.

Mike

Poodle,
You have indeed proven yourself a gentleman.
Cheers!

Mike the lawyer

n.e.,
Well assuming no surprising exogenous facts, I think any fair-minded person understands that Jean Vajean's crime, if it is indeed a crime at all, is less serious. That said, I would submit to you that however imperfect our legal system is, it is not as broken as your post assumes. Few American prosecutors would actually prosecute the crime of necessity you describe. Moreover, these types of circumstances arise only very rarely. We live in a country where exceedingly few people actually starve to death absent mental or eating disorders. And the reason for this has nothing to do with the fact that they are successfully stealing bread.
Moreover, prosecutors actually make their bones by going after white collar criminals or criminals from affluent families. I know a young man who participated in a home break-in with two other men. He is white and the son of an attorney and they are black and live in modest circumstances. A rape ensued. My acquaintance left as soon as his two accomplices initiated the attack. My acquaintance was given the harshest sentance. There was no doubt that both the prosecuter and the judge wanted to send a political message.
The bottom line is that you have a very cartoonish understanding of the legal system. It is certainly imperfect, but it does not operate remotely as you seem to think.
Perhaps the better question for raising your point involves the harsh treatment accorded drug offenders, especially crack cocaine, which disproportionately affects poorer violators. Much has been written on this, but the bottom line is that the policy distinctions, whether sensible or not, are probably not grounded in race or class.

n.e.hat

Mike, Cartoonish? Perhaps, but most effective. As for the breaking/entering and rape scenario plus the drug analogy, leastways, they're not being hung or transported. ;)

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