Chocolate and Gold Coins

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

When There Should Be No Deals

Marginal Revolution has a recurring post called “markets in everything.” These posts show humorous examples of odd markets that most people would never have guessed existed. Sadly, though, there are markets in things that should never exist: deals by criminals with the victims or the victims’ families. This doesn’t happen in the United States but it is all too common in the Indian subcontinent.

In Pakistan, it is traditional for a person who rapes and murders a young girl to offer “blood money” to the victim’s father to avoid punishment. The logic is that the victim is like the father’s property ― like his car. “Oh, I’m sorry I damaged your car. Here’s some money and let’s keep the police out of this.” That this is “traditional” and therefore not uncommon shows that this tradition creates all of the wrong incentives to prevent the crime in the first place.

Amit Varma of India Uncut has a similar story from a court in New Dehli, India. A convicted rapist named Bhura, (apparently his family was too poor to afford a second name), offered to marry the victim to avoid jail time. If you read the account, he did not just rape the victim, he blinded her by gouging her eyes out when she tried to resist. Bhura gives his reasons for wanting to marry the victim:

In his application, Bhura pleaded the court to take a lenient view as he is now a reformed man and said since no one would be ready to marry the young victim due to the stigma, he would like to tie the knot with her. [Emphasis added by me.]

He could have added that he has a strong desire to help her become a mother. Such a humanitarian! The disgusting part of this deal is that he might succeed because the victim is “damaged goods.” But how does this deal protect the public at large?

The judge in question delayed sentencing to ask the victim whether she would agree to Bhura’s proposal. Why victimize her again?

Maybe she could deal too. “Can I have your eyes?” Is that too much to ask? Sometimes there can be no deals.

I wrote to Amit Varma:

I am all for free markets but sometimes you need to say: "All deals off." Society needs protection from this violent criminal.

The judge should have just sentenced him without bothering the poor victim again.

Amit wrote back:

That's what bothers me. Not the stupid offer, because some regressive idiots will always be there, but the fact that the judge assumed that the victim might want to accept that offer, and that he ― a judge, not some uneducated lumpen fool ― implicitly thought it reasonable. [Emphasis added by me. By the way, “regressive idiots” does not refer to economists.]

That’s the point. If the judge thinks such a request is reasonable, is he any better than the criminals he is supposed to sentence? It’s the judge’s duty to say “No deals.”


The criminal got life.

Amit writes:

The Indian Express (IE) spoke to the victim, and her reaction is:

This is so bad that I cannot begin to describe it. I have waited so long for him to be sentenced. Instead, they want me to say whether I am willing to marry him. I will definitely appear in court with my parents, and I will tell the judge to hang him, so that what has happened to me might not happen to anyone else.

Amit writes in the comments below that it is unfair for me to characterize this event as anything other than extraordinary. The press only writes about buildings that burn, as the saying goes. A westerner could get the wrong impression about India. Fair enough. An Indian might read the Washington Post and conclude that high school students shooting up their classmates is common in the U.S., when we know it is rare.

On the other hand, it is fair to say that the U.S. has a problem with high school students shooting their classmates and India has at least one judge with astoundingly poor judgement. Economists have a saying: "The plural of anecdote is data."


  • Um, Michael, one more thing. I don't quite see the connection between free markets and making deals with criminals. Those two matters are separate. You're impying that all proponents of free markets would favour such deals with convicted rapists, which is not the case.

    Also, such deals are not quite so common in the Indian subcontinent; this case was written about purely because it was so unsual, and the "deal" is unlikely to come through anyway.

    By Blogger amit varma, at 10:08 PM  

  • I agree that most libertarians would have enough sense to see that no deal should happen here. My point was that in a free market, people should be able to make a mutual beneficial trade, and no one should object. Here the criminal wants out of jail and the victim might want to be cared for. However, allowing this (potentially) mutually beneficial deal would create the wrong incentives to prevent this terrible crime in the first place. This is a market with serious externalities, and society has the right to step in and say "no deals".

    I hope you are correct that such a deal is uncommon in India. It is shocking that the Judge would even consider it. Sadly, these kinds of deals are not at all uncommon in certain parts of Pakistan. It's another country, I know, but still in the neighborhood.

    Thanks again, Amit, for your inputs.

    By Blogger Michael Higgins, at 8:37 AM  

  • I agree about the externalities. Look, in civil cases, deals can be done, but in criminal cases involving offences such as rape, robbery and murder, it would be ludicrous to do deals, because the matter being discussed involves more than just the two parties concerned. So obviously there is a larger interest there. I think no credible libertarian would dispute that.

    I can't comment on Pakistan, but I would say that it is the unusual cases which get reported and the regular ones don't, so there might be five cases out of 84,000 that involve such deals, but those five are the only ones that would get reported in the Western media, so it would be 100% of your sample size. So unless one goes to a place and knows it well, it is dangerous to generalise from media reports. I'm not saying that you are wrong; just that the truth is sometimes hard to get at from afar, as we both are from Pakistan.

    As for this particular case, the victim (obviously) turned down the offer, and the fellow got life. Updates on my post that you linked to.

    By Blogger amit varma, at 8:56 AM  

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