Enlightened Capitalism

Essays about how to harness people's natural desire to create wealth and improve their quality of life to solve global problems such as war and poverty.

Friday, April 29, 2005


It is easy to get trapped by our own notion of fairness. Someone does something we don't like, and apparently profits by it, and we want to punish them.

We want to punish bad behavior partly because it stops that person from continuing in that behavior, and partly because it deters others from engaging in similar behavior.

The problem is, this is not always the best thing for US. The whole point of punishment is to make life unpleasant for the punished, not to make life better for the punishers.

The trap is believing uncritically that punishing the criminal is the best thing we can do for ourselves. That is like automatically going on the same vacation every year, without considering other options.

We have the ability to sit down in each situation and consider our best course of action. It will probably be different for every single criminal, and every single crime. Our legal system does not appear to do this. Instead, we fall back on the notion of fairness, like every person doing a certain thing should be treated the same way by the law. Unfortunately, this is not always the best thing for us. So we inadvertantly continue the damage which the criminal started.

There are hundreds of ways to deter people from committing crimes. Severe punishment is not necessarily the best way. There are hundreds of ways to stop a person from committing further crimes, once we have caught them committing one. The way our society does it now doesn't work very well, and it's expensive, and not very fun. We are a very creative people, we can come up with much better solutions.

What if it were your job to ensure that no crimes happened today in your city? If you were mayor and had a budget of $1 million, what kinds of things could you try? What if it were your job to make sure a convicted murderer didn't kill again? How many ways could you think of to accomplish this? Be creative.


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