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.
The most embarrassing part of Thabo Mbeki’s presidency was his bizarre approach to South Africa’s AIDS epidemic. Together with his nutty health minister, President Mbeki refused to dot the lines between the HIV virus and AIDS. The Minister was known to traffic in the idea that beetroots and traditional herbs could confront the deadly virus.
It is thus encouraging that Mr. Zuma, Mbeki’s successor has taken a more rational approach. Mr. Zuma recently declared that he is HIV negative. The country is currently in the midst of a massive campaign to have at least 15 million South Africans tested by June 2011. South Africa has 5.7 million HIV positive citizens, the biggest number of any country.
Mr. Zuma himself is known to have had sex with a HIV positive woman. This particular sexual encounter was the subject of a public trial in which Mr. Zuma was accused of rape. The South African president prevailed in court in a ruling with which many were not satisfied.