A lesson from Singapore

25 year old Nguyen Van Tuong will soon hang for smuggling drugs to Australia and making the mistake of routing his flight through Singapore (he should have used Travelocity).
TalkLeft has been covering this well, including the strange story of the Singapore hangman.
Over at Crooked Timber, Brian Weatherson questioned Singapore’s justification for hanging and suggested some kind of human rights protest. The majority of the commenters to that post missed the point and mostly seemed to parrot the dual talking points of “Singapore has the right to enforce its own laws” and “If you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime.” (I would guess that you could come up with at least a half-dozen non-drug laws that are enforced in other countries to which those same commenters would vociferously object, like some of the extremist Islamist laws enforced against women).
One of the best comments about this story comes from Glen Whitman at Agorophilia:

But what sprang to my mind was David D. Friedman’s argument in “Law’s Order”: if you impose your legal system’s harshest punishment for a particular crime, you cannot impose any additional punishment to deter related crimes committed by the same person.

In other words, if you know that you face death for smuggling drugs, the law itself provides incentive to kill any witnesses? The law itself provides incentive to shoot it out to the death with the police. This is a lesson to Singapore, but also from Singapore.
The same lesson applies to the drug war here, even though we don’t use Darshan Singh’s services. As we have ratcheted up the penalties for drug trafficking over the years, we have, through the law, added incentives for criminals to use force to avoid capture. This increase in the use of force and the inflation of weapons for protection then encouraged law enforcement to increase their use of force. Now we’re stuck in the middle, dodging the bullets. (Other side effects have included the use of children and the poor as mules.)
Inflation of violence is a direct result of our own laws. This statement is not in any way meant to excuse or reduce criminals’ responsiblity for their own violence, but it is essential to note that there are inexorable forces in criminal justice (as a function of economics) that we ignore at our own peril.
When you are driving and you’re caught speeding, you curse to yourself, think about the delay, and the cost of the fine, and how it’ll affect your insurance, and that you’re embarrassed to be caught, and how everyone’s going to be looking at you pulled over on the side of the road, but you pull over anyway, because in the overall scheme of your life, these are minor indignities that you can face and move past. What if that same situation meant that you would lose everything you own and spend the next 55 years in prison? Would you pull over without hesitation?

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