Friday, May 27, 2011

The New Deterrent?

Yesterday, I scoffed about the possibility that EU conditionality was all that important in the arrest of Ratko Mladic, even though the EU re-issued some threats quite recently.  Today, I scoff at the impact of the arrest.

The NYT editorial: "The arrest should be a warning to other butchers that they, too, will be caught and held to account, no matter how long it takes."

Um, about sixteen years after the fact? If one knows that one will be captured almost two decades after the crime, will that serve to deter?  This is especially questionable for middle-aged folks, as Mladic is now, apparently, far more impaired by health than by prison.  Heart attacks and strokes (too much fatty food while on the "run"?) have proved to be more punishing than the international community.

Sixteen years? Political scientists tend to assume that folks focus on the short term, not the long term.  I am pretty sure 16 years is the long term, and Keynes was right about what happens in the long run.

The funny thing is I am pretty sure that if we dig up enough NYT editorials, we might find one or more on how the US death penalty is not a deterrent precisely because it takes so long. 

I am not saying that picking up Mladic is a bad thing.  Not at all.  I am just saying we should not exaggerate how it will impact future genocidal types, who themselves are not known for engaging in long-term utility calculations.

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