It really seems like a significant portion of the American intelligentsia just doesn't understand—or wont admit—that in every society a small but non-trivial minority of men are both (1) highly prone to violence and causing havoc and (2) can't be "fixed" or rehabilitated and must be sequestered from society in one way or another.

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‘The interesting question here is why people are so resistant to the idea that the crackdown is working. I think there’s a common mental trick where analysts are uncomfortable with the existence of a tradeoff, so they pretend it doesn’t exist.’

This is v true, but I suspect another aspect of this is the decidedly midwit love of ‘counter intuitive’ thinking of the sort you find in pop psychology/Freakonomics-style books, and which is inculcated in elite universities etc.

Saying ‘put the criminals in jail and crime will go down’ just doesn’t satisfy that itch, despite it being obvious (in addition to having the potential to remove job opportunities for policy wonk/social worker types).

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I think you've nailed it. The pundit class in the Anglosphere simply doesn't do tradeoff thinking when it comes to issues that they find emotive. Civil liberties are a prima facie good, and since they're good they can't contribute to anything bad, and crime is bad, so civil liberties have no relationship with crime. That really is the sum total of the thought process.

You can apply it to so many things. COVID lockdowns. An unalloyed good. Their proponents wouldn't even countenance the damages to education and to the mental health of those who need high levels of socialization. It wasn't even "we are making this temporary tradeoff - there will be some costs, but the benefits outweigh them."

Politically this makes sense. Pointing out the flaws in your own plan is seen as weak, even if you believe your plan to have benefits that far outweigh those flaws. But I think because we don't speak this way and because we're not expected to speak this way, we also don't bother thinking this way. (Maybe this is backwards and the thought precedes how we speak.) My point is that I think much of our pundit classes and political classes have actually lost the ability to think about these tradeoffs at all, and that they are acting in the service of 100% good, 100% of the time, and that they genuinely can't anticipate any downsides to their chosen courses of action. It's a holy crusade all of the time.

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I love the midwit meme so this is a great post in my opinion.

This same "midwit effect/tradeoff denial" exists in nearly every issue or area of politics.

"Climate change": People deny that fossil fuels have any benefits, and instead prefer to pretend that "green alternatives" are actually more efficient options for energy generation.

Abortion: People deny that unborn children are in fact human beings so they don't have to feel bad about destroying them.

Taxes: People deny that higher taxes have any negative economic effects, and instead say that higher taxes will actually cause more economic growth because there will be more public services.

Welfare: People deny that welfare may incentivize its recipients to not work, and instead say that it will actually lead to more jobs because people will be able to pursue their dreams or something.

And so forth and so on. Always and forever, people must have their cake and eat it too.

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Yglesias, king of the midwits.


Yglesias says that the pre-civil rights era was terrible, police killings of blacks was 5x what it is today.

Of course:

1) Gun wounds result in death 80% less today then in the 1960s (improvements in trauma care), so its probably unchanged absent technology change.

2) Even if we increased police killings of blacks 5x compared to today, it would still be worth it to achieve 1960 level crime rates and its not even close.

Every single Yglesias article is exactly the same. Smart...if you ignore horribly incorrect base assumptions.

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Empathy prevents the analysis of tradeoffs. I view Liberals/progressives as being crippled by being overly emotional and empathetic and cannot accept tradeoffs which harm whatever group they are devoted to protecting. What is best for society writ large can't ever come at any expense of anyone.

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One thing that hasn't been mentioned is that, beyond Miranda and the will to combat crime, in El Salvador, gang members (MS 13) tattoo their bodies profusely. It is very easy to identify and immediately haul that guy to jail. El Salvador isn't concerned with charging them with a crime and giving them their day in court. It is all out war made easy by the tattoo ID. I also think thousands of them have emigrated to the USA in order to evade prison. It's our problem now.

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In the first week of Criminal Procedure class, the quite liberal-on-crime professor, to their credit, Socratically problematized for us the idea that civil liberties are the most efficient or effective way of solving or "dealing with" crime. They pointed out that (rather obviously) the principles undergirding the American idea of civil liberties do not actually get us closest to the truth of the matter nor ensure that all crimes are most accurately solved or redressed. Ergo, there must be some other principle or goal behind not just the Warren Court's concoctions but the Bill of Rights themselves.

Because they are a criminal defense lawyer, the professor is presumably pretty comfortable with the idea that it is the mark of enlightenment for a society to let criminals walk free, but I imagine the layperson does require the mental trick of tradeoff denial which Hanania mentions to square it with themselves.

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You probably want to be highly suspicious of a template (meme) that explains that even though your intellectual allies are largely morons it’s simply because they’re on the other end of a horseshoe parallel to you.

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Having represented numerous criminals over the years, I can attest that a credible threat of being in jail does have significant impact at deterrence.

Most criminals have low-impulse control issues, so they are not too focused on consequences. Most criminal acts take place when the criminal is under the influence. Even so, knowing they have a huge chance at jail does deter even their short term thinking.

Now if we had harsh jail environments, this would work better.

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> As in many other Latin American countries, mano dura (iron fist) is enduringly popular, offering voters the assurance of unsparing punishment and mass incarceration for criminals even though it repeatedly fails to curb violence over the long run.

You could also translate "mano dura" as "steady hand", or "hard grip". Not a literal translation, but neither is "iron fist".

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I think another reason people are reluctant to acknowledge this is that it’s easier to adhere to a “one-size-fits-all” ideology rather than admit that the world is complicated, and that different situations might necessitate different policies. Crime is a good example: it makes sense that Norway and El Salvador should have different practices here, but people find it easier (for both ideological and cognitive reasons) to impose simple models that can be applied universally.

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Having represented many criminals over the years including murderers up for the death penalty, I can attest that criminals hate going to jail and a credible threat at jail can

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“The assumption that ‘things tend to revert to the mean’ is a much better assumption than ‘trends continue until they reach numbers never seen before.’”

Tangential, but does this do to arguments of the sort that OSHA was not responsible for decline in workplace accidents because the trend line preexisted the establishment of that agency?

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But consider a broader perspective: despite mean reversion, we've seen steady progress on all sorts of measures, including violence (Better Angels and all that), since through programs such as the British Hanging Cure we've shifted the mean over time. It is not unreasonable to think that we could remove the 1% of 1% of 1% of the population with strong criminal propensities from the breeding pool and see enduring beneficial effects, albeit at the expense of some libs and NGO's getting their hair tousled and eyes wet for a news cycle or two.

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Is it worth mentioning, that:

a) The end-result isn't known yet, only the short-term. Short-term definitely matters.. but long-term is what the post is about. Remember, return to mean as the default assumption.

b) In the short-term, murders down, prison up. At a per 100,000 rate:

2015: murders 100, imprisoned 400

2018: murders 51, imprisoned 600

2022: murders 8, imprisoned 1,666

There's also some numbers not mentioned in that (8). I've heard it does not track anyone killed by police. Does it track killings that happen in prison?

For the most recent 2022 spike that kicked of the newest crackdown, the set of victims were apparently random, some kind of sick gang terrorism. But for prior numbers.. how many were gang on gang violence? 2015 was mostly blamed on gang vs gang and gang vs. police https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jan/04/el-salvador-violence-deaths-murder-2015

That's not to say in any way that that type of rate of violence isn't a problem all it's own, but it certainly does bear a different lens when comparing against the costs of imprisoning much larger numbers, especially if you stop tracking that they may have died in the process of being imprisoned or after being imprisoned.

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