This is from Alex Tabarrok over at MR:
Our focus on prisons over police may be crazy but it is consistent with what I called Gary Becker’s Greatest Mistake, the idea that an optimal punishment system combines a low probability of being punished with a harsh punishment if caught. That theory runs counter to what I have called the good parenting theory of punishment in which optimal punishments are quick, clear, and consistent and because of that, need not be harsh.
We need to change what it means to be “tough on crime.” Instead of longer sentences let’s make “tough on crime” mean increasing the probability of capture for those who commit crimes.
In my public policy class this semester we read the sad story of Thabo Mbeki’s capture by “dissident” scientists who sold him unconventional policy approaches to South Africa’s AIDS epidemic. The lesson was that we should always be wary of allowing experts too much leeway in deciding actual policy. This means more debate (both among experts and by the public) and routine rigorous evaluation to strengthen the quality of feedback after policy rollouts.
Social Science is awesome. And may the credibility revolution live on. But the world certainly needs more humble social scientists.