On The Praxeology of Crime

The laypeople are quite limited in their explanation of the violation of law; they mostly attribute it to sheer evil. We, the scientists, would be grossly mistaken to conform ourselves with such an arbitrary oversimplification. We might disagree on the subject, but we at least ought to have an acceptably plausible theory to improve on. Let it be clear that in this essay I am not to comment on the nature of the violations of the Non Aggression Principal, for that is a subject for a whole nother essay; I am rather to attempt to describe the nature of the violations of the commands enforced through the coercion of the state, democratically agreed upon or otherwise.

A priori

As per established praxeological theory, it is known that human beings are acting individuals, and every action they partake in is an attempt on their part to satisfy their needs, i.e., actions are the means to the ends, and the ultimate end is happiness, though it is defined differently by different individuals. This does not mean they always succeed in doing so, for their internal calculations might fail for any number of reasons.

There is always a wide array of factors which acting individuals take into account when deciding how to act; that is whenever one is awake or conscious. There are some actions which are so tribal that the acting individual doesn’t fully realize a decision has been made. As the complexity of a decision is higher, more meditation is employed, which is an action in it of itself. Time also plays an important role in how much deliberation is possible.

In standard praxeological literature, and for the purposes of this essay, the state is defined as the group of individuals who hold a monopoly on the legitimate initiation of violence over a certain jurisdiction. The law, in this case meaning the statutes, whether considered just through a subjective valuation or not, is enforced ultimately through violence.

The market is the aggregation of all the interactions between acting individuals, whether money is involved or not. The state is the aggregation of legitimized coercive actions committed by individuals who claim to have authority. The state and the market are not equivalent institutions. The state operates within the market, for coercion is a type of interaction. The free market is the aggregation of all voluntary interactions. The latter might be considered the pure version; the one which leads to the optimal results. The state might be considered the cancer, or the error in the code, which leads to sub-optimal results.

Crime

In my opinion, it is most convenient to identify crime by two categories of classification. We ought to distinguish first between violations of the law which also violate the NAP, and violations which don’t, i.e., victimless crime. Further, we shall distinguish between decisions to commit crime which are premeditated, in the passion of the moment, or due to ignorance of the law.

The first classification described is of a lesser importance to the subject at hand than the second one, for a violation of law continues to be so whether it violates the NAP or not, as the NAP is a purely moral stand and there are those who do not suscribe to it. It is important, though, to note that morality is a factor taken into account during decision making. This shall be explored further below.

Thesis

Crime is a market mechanism in place to counter the distortions generated by the state. The existence of crime depends on the existence of the state. In the presence of state intervention, individuals and groups of individuals alike engage in behaviour which fulfills in a sense and to a lesser extent what might have been were it not for the state.

Argumentation

An individual goes about their daily life deciding what to do, and indeed, whether to do at all, i.e., acting, when all of a sudden they come to a point in which they are presented with the possibility of doing something which would violate a statute observed by the state. The individual can choose between committing the crime or not committing the crime. Whichever way they choose, it will be whatever they think in that moment will further accomplish their ends.

There exist certain considerations which will drive the actor to choose in a certain way. In the end it is all a cost/benefit analysis which takes a wide array of factors into consideration, but which yields very different results depending on the circumstances of the second classification, which itself hinches on perception.

The factors taken into consideration by the actor, both in the cost and the benefit sides, are economic, moral, physical, and relational. The previous cover all reasons for all action in general, but in present I shall concentrate on how they apply to criminal acts.

The economic factor is the most widely explored in the presently existing literature. In general terms it can be said that it pertains to money, but more specifically it is about what can be bought with the money that might be obtained through the possible action being considered.

The moral factor is undeniable. One will always try to reconcile their actions with what one thinks is right, or at least permisible. Even when an actor goes against their code, a rationalization will be present, even if the actor repents in the future. Indeed, reason plays an important role determining the particulars of this factor, which is why there is even a case for argumentation ethics.

The physical factor needs not be underestimated. Though human beings can be quite resilient, physical pain and physical urge may in some cases be the determining factor.

The relational factor, which may also be called the social factor, is the least recognized factor in essays such as the present, but it plays a very real role. People do in fact care about other people. Many care about the welfare of their close relations. Many care about what people think of them. This is in fact where love comes in.

It is seldom the case in which an action results from a single factor. It is way more common for it to result from an uneven combination of several of them. It is important to note that some reasons for some actions may appear to fall under a different factor than the one they actually pertain to, e.g., a religious argument may apear to be a moral factor when in some cases it might be a relational factor which is taken into account due to social pressure. It does really depend on each person and in some cases the person might even fool themselves.

The main deterrent of crime is the threat of violence, which might fall under the economic or the physical factors. The moral and the relational factors may also here play a role, depending on the moral code of the individual and how crime is perceived by society.

Taking the previous into consideration, it is interesting to see that the main causes of crime can also be economic and physical factors, e.g., an individual might commit a crime to gain money or they might satisfy a physical urge by illegally consuming drugs. The moral and the relational factors may also here play a role, e.g., the actor might consider committing the crime ‘the right thing to do’ or they might be trying to get money in order to save their child’s live.

As it is evident, the four factors of action may manifest themselves in both sides of the argument, i.e., the cost or the benefit. The context considered in the second classification of crime is crucial to how the manifest themselves and in what magnitudes.

If the actor is ignorant of the law, and therefore unaware of any possible deterrent, it is clear that the they will act as if there was no law against their action. Thus, none of the standard reasons that are taken into consideration when committing a crime would affect their decision whether to commit the crime or not. No further consideration to this type of situation is proper in the present essay.

If the crime is premeditated, depending on the amount of time allotted for deliberation, the actor will have quite a clear idea of the reasons to go forward with the crime, as well as the reasons not to do so, thus reducing the probability of error on their calculations of the results, though not extinguishing them completely.

If the crime is committed in the passion of the moment, there is a higher probability of the actor repenting the act, for when there is little deliberation and the heat of the moment distorts the weight an individual assigns to each factor, it can be said he is of a different mind than when he is in full command of his emotions and his senses. The previous applies for all the cases when it is said that one’s judgement is impaired, be it because of emotions or influential substances. At this instances the perception of reward is overestimated and the perception of the probability of punishment is underestimated by the individual.

Let us concentrate in premeditated crime, for the aggregate of type of crime is the one which resembles other market mechanisms analyzed in the literature the most. Nevertheless, let us not forget that crime is not the only type of action which can happen in the heat of the moment or with incomplete knowledge. In this instance, as in the majority, we take premeditated action as the central object of our analysis for the sake of abstraction.

The amount of premeditated crime committed is proportional to the amount of statutes in existence and to the average perceived cost to the individual which following such statutes represents, and is inversely proportional to the average perceived probable punishment which infringing such statutes represents. That is, of course, ceteris paribus.

Note that it would be useless trying to precisely quantify the previous in cardinal quantities, for cost and punishment are matters of value, of which there is no exact common unit from individual to individual. On the other hand, a qualitative quantification taking into account currency might serve as some indication.

When it comes down to a single individual deliberating upon a single statute, they’ll choose to infringe it every time the perceived cost is grater than the perceived probable punishment. Here note again that cost and punishment are not only about money but include the economic, the moral, the physical, and the relational factors. And note too that I refer specifically to the perceived probable punishment because the chance of getting away with it too play a role.

As the state enacts more statutes, and as its interference generates more cost, crime will rise. As the state increments the punishment, crime will fall. It is self evident that in the absence of the state, as there would be no statutes, there would be no crime per se. It also becomes apparent that as the state intends to control more aspects of life, the punishment has to be more severe in order to be obeyed even in the simpler things.

A good example of the previous is the Soviet Union. When it came to things the comrades could get away with, they would not hesitate in trying to take advantage. Most only worked because they feared being sent to the gulag. When Gorbachev implemented “humanitarian socialism”, i.e., continuing to plan the economy without sending people to the gulags, the Soviet Union economically collapsed. Then they were not only behind in productivity, but most people stopped working, thus generating massive shortages.

Furthermore, note that as the state control, the intervention, the regulation increases, the black markets flourish, thus fulfilling the wishes of the consumers against the state’s commands.

Conclusion

Crime is not caused by evil. Crime, especially the premeditated, is a market mechanism that counters the distortions generated by state intervention. The economic, the moral, the physical, and the relational are all factors taken into account when deciding whether to commit crime. The existence of crime depends on the existence of the state.

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