I had heard of off-duty police in Brazil executing random sleeping street-kids. I had thought it was opportunistic and driven by the same esprit de corps that causes them to beat & kill when on the job, with perhaps peer support substituting for hourly wages. It was only recently I read that they are hired by local businessmen and charge “$40 to $50 for killing a street kid and as much as $500 for an adult”. That’s understandable for targeted killings, like rubbing out a snitch or someone who just knows too much (alleged to be a source of work between drug gangs and death squads), but that article also says (with a note from the executioner corroborating) that some are killed just because they are street kids. But simply decreasing the supply of street kids is a public good for all Fine Upstanding Hardworking Taxpaying Adults in the vicinity (just the kind of people who support the crackdown). Each of them should have the incentive to hold back and try to free-ride off others. Granted just as an assurance contract doesn’t have to be theoretically dominant to succeed, maybe those hiring death squads really are so full of public spirit that they chip in (works for churches, while synagogues have a different model). The alternative story I’d heard is the John Robb one in which paramilitaries are entrepreneurial stationary bandits who monopolize territory and tax it. In that case their revenue should not be contingent on the number of children murdered, which they might due on their own initiative to cement their control.
Hat-tip to I forget which blogger, having rechecked both McArdle & Cowen.
On a not very related note, Steve Walt recently identified and linked to his brother-in-law/colleague Christopher Stone, who specializes in comparative criminal justice issues. Checking out some of his listed publications, I was not impressed by A tale of two cities, a lame apologia for the continued success of New York’s gauche crime-fighting strategy compared to Boston’s more liberal-weenie (if not community) pleasing approach. Would he have written something differently if the Times rather than Globe were the publisher? I will give him credit for providing graphs to back up his argument in Measuring the Contribution of Criminal Justice Systems to the Control of Crime and Violence: Lessons from Jamaica and the Dominican Republic that police killing criminals is not very effective at reducing aggregate crime levels.