Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Variable Spotting, graveyard shift

"Our hypothesis is that a greater incarcerated population as a proportion of the total population indicates a stronger or more effective system of catching and apprehending those engaged in crimes against property. It seems reasonable that states with a well-functioning criminal legal system with respect to property crimes would also exhibit a well-functioning civil legal system."

It's late. I'm caffeinated. And I found this irresistible quote in the Journal, Land Economics, in a paper titled "Property Rights by Squatting" which was published in 2001.

Silly land economists. It seems rather unreasonable, au contraire, to assume that states with a high proportion of incarcerated citizens would exhibit a well-functioning civil legal system to deal with other crimes. To use the highly unjust and discriminatory US prison system as a variable for a study that attempts to estimate the efficiency of adverse possession seems patently naive. Nonetheless, the overall argument of the paper is a reasonable one, that squatter's rights are efficient ways of transferring property titles from previous title-owners to newer owners like squatters who value the land more and hence use the land more efficiently.

However, the higher the prison population simply reflects, at minimum, the willingness of the state to prosecute. It does not reflect any sort of "developed" legal system. One historian at my school studied the increase in juvenile crimes in England after World War II, and concluded that the increase was directly attributable to increased state funds to prosecute, not, as many thought, due to an increase in juvenile delinquency and pot-smoking after the war.

Perhaps a more efficient legal system is one in which settlements take place out of court and not arbitrated by the state. Did the authors ever consider that? The less reliance on legal arbitration there is, assuming non-violent and non-coercive means, the more efficient the overall system of bargaining would be. Communities can have greater gains to efficiency through established customary laws without relying on legal arbitration methods. Their extraneous assumption about legal efficiency would have been better off if it was left out.


Muser said...

What an odd thesis these economists have. One would think they'd first define what makes a justice-system good, beyond a high conviction-rate, especially when the evidence from Texas and elsewhere suggests a high percentage of incorrect convictions. Also, what behaviors in a given society are criminalized and why?

Tony said...

GooD Job! ;)

Acumensch said...

Those are all really good questions that the authors are not prepared to answer. It's a crappy variable that assumes "harm" is adequately addressed by the current - flawed - justice system. Bad move if you ask me!