Again, no need to get political; stick to an economic discusion of incentives and what you expect to happen in various circumstances.
President Bush, Dick Cheney and others who support the use of torture by the United States and its agents usually rely on the ticking time bomb argument. Sometimes torture is necessary to prevent a greater evil. I accept this argument. If my kid were kidnapped and the suspect was refusing to talk, I'd want Vic Mackey to do the questioning.
But it does not follow from the "ticking time bomb" argument that torture should be legal. The problem with making torture legal is that the government will abuse its powers. I do not trust the government, any government, to use this power responsibly. Leviathan must be heavily restrained, especially when it comes to torture.
Here is where economics can make a contribution. By making torture illegal we are raising the price of torture but we are not raising the price to infinity. If the President or the head of the CIA thinks that torture is required to stop the ticking time bomb then they ought to approve it knowing full well that they face possible prosecution. Only if the price of torture is very high can we expect that it will be used only in the most absolutely urgent of circumstances.
Tuesday, November 15, 2005
Economics of Torture Policy
A big news item of late is the debate over whether to make torture illegal that has involved Dick Cheney and Congress. Alex Tabarrok posted a very interesting point on how the debate over whether to make it illegal is not a debate over whether to never use torture, but rather on how high to make the price of torture: