Liberal Democracies and Authoritarian Regimes: The Case for Law Enforcement. (Part 7 of 12)

Of course, for this hypothetical example to have an acceptable degree of relevance, a distinction must be made between highly probable consequences and merely contingent consequences. It is highly probable that a greater application of the norm will generate a change of behavior on the part of the public and that this will translate into fewer infractions. However, the fact that this lower number of infringements produces a relatively negative tax collection result is a matter of fact on which no nexus of necessity or probability can be predicated. An increase in the levels of regulatory application may result in an increase, in a reduction or neutral to the collection purposes, the final result depending on a multiplicity of circumstances. Notwithstanding this, the mere possibility of having a collection failure already represents a negative incentive for the government that is considering investing resources in increasing the degree of application of the regulations.

Another means of increasing the deterrent power of traffic regulations without incurring the costs of greater supervision of the streets and enforcement of fines is the expeditious solution of maintaining the level of regulatory enforcement but increasing the face value of the penalty. If with an application level of 1%, a fine of $1,000 – generates the same conditioning of conduct as a fine of $10, – with a 100% probability of application, then it is expected that the same fine will be increased to $80,000 obtain the same deterrent result as a fine of $1,000 – with 80% application. Thus, the government would obtain the same behavioral results of raising the level of regulatory enforcement without investing any additional resources, beyond the announcement of the new fines. Furthermore: if in fact the behavior modification were not so successful, since the level of infractions did not drop as expected, then the government would obtain a collection award, since they would mean an increase in its income from fines.

Thus, we see how, in terms of collection costs and benefits, faced with the dilemma between increasing the level of application of the rules or increasing the value of punishments (years in prison, fines or compensation in favor of third parties), incentives operate so that the governments decide for the latter type of solutions. Moreover, a low level of normative application generates the social unrest typical of any system of coexistence rules that does not work, which leads, in a kind of positive feedback mechanism, to a demand for an increase in the severity of the punishments. It is for this reason that, when there is evidence of a low level of regulatory compliance, governments find themselves in a trap, since the very dynamics of incentives induce them to increase the severity of sanctions instead of increasing the level of enforcement of the law.

However, although the behavioral effects of both models (low punishments with high application vs. high punishments with low application) could be quantitatively similar, they are not similar in terms of long-term social and political dynamics: societies with a High law enforcement tends to be democratic and liberal while low law enforcement societies tend to be opaque and authoritarian. The biggest trap that both governments and civil society can fall into is to attribute the consequences of low regulatory enforcement to cultural factors. Such a culturalist explanation definitively closes off any possibility of finding a reasonable solution and avoiding the trap of systematically increasing levels of authoritarianism.

This tendency to increase authoritarianism on the part of governments and societies manifests itself at various levels. One of them is the aforementioned increase in prohibitions and punishments. But another factor of authoritarianism is also represented by the wide margin of discretion that a low level of law enforcement grants to governments, since they are empowered to raise said levels of application at their own will.

To continue with the example with which the exhibition has been illustrated, although a fine for passing a red light of $80,000 that has an application of 1% is experienced by the population as a fine of $800 – with 100% application, nothing prevents the government from deciding to activate a mechanism for the control of infractions that raise the application to 50%, for putting a case, which means having fines of $40,000 in practice.

[Editor’s note: this is Part 7 in a 12-part essay; you can read Part 6 here or read the essay in its entirety here.]

Liberal Democracies and Authoritarian Regimes: The Case for Law Enforcement. (Part 6 of 12)

It could happen that a government feels very comfortable collecting a certain amount of money in traffic fines for crossing a red light. For example, the fine amounts to $1,000 – and the probability of application is 1%. In this way, drivers have little experience of having been fined despite the fact that they know better than the government itself that on numerous occasions “they crossed in the red.” Compliance with the traffic light becomes purely optional, left to the moral criteria of each driver and the immediate conditions of time, people and place that he perceives at the time of crossing (many or few pedestrians on the streets, cars crossing on the other side of the road). the street). If a fine of $1,000 is interpreted as a risk of $10, it is not necessary to have great reasons to decide whether or not to violate the norm. However, 1% of those who crossed with the red light did indeed receive a fine of $1,000, to be executed, let us suppose, by the public authorities on the occasion of renewing the driving license, under penalty of denying said renewal, some years after the violation occurred (with which, the present value of said fine at the time of the event would be even lower). With a minimum expenditure of resources, this particular government would achieve a substantial fundraising, since also the number of transgressors and fines in absolute terms would be much higher than under the circumstance of a greater application of the norm. However, the social purpose of the repressive system is not fulfilled: fines applied in this way do not have a dissuasive effect that contributes to ordering traffic and guarantees the safety and physical integrity of passers-by and drivers.

This is how this “hypothetical government” finds itself in the following trap: the low application of the norm causes that the regulation destined to order the traffic is not effective. In our example, it is common for cars to not respect the red traffic light and consequently accidents occur, resulting in the crossing of streets, both for pedestrians and drivers, dangerous and a source of large losses for individuals. But, at the same time, such an ineffective system to control traffic not only finances itself with fines, but also generates a surplus that represents a source of income for the government to cover other types of expenses. Of course, accidents and danger on the public highway are costs to be assumed by the government and society, with which such a de facto collection system is very likely to be highly inefficient, since it ultimately generates net losses or losses for the government or for society or for both.

However, if a ruler decided to invest resources to increase the degree of application of fines for violations of traffic regulations, it would be found that, in the short term, such a decision would lead to financial loss. Such would be the costs and consequences of increasing the level of application of the rules: if technological devices such as cameras were installed, with expert computer systems that processed the information properly, not only in terms of speed but also in terms of precision on the identity of the offending car, the fines would reach the owners of the vehicles a few days after the occurrence of the offense and the process of discharge and execution of the fine was relatively agile, the drivers, in a short time, would become much more scrupulous in the face of to a traffic light. With all security it could be said that accident rates would drop drastically, resulting in a direct benefit for society and direct and indirect benefits for the government. However, there is an element at the level of government incentives to take into account: obtaining a higher level of regulatory enforcement requires a greater investment of resources and, likewise, will likely result in a drop in the aggregate collection of fines, since it will be processed a greater number of fines for an offense actually committed, but this will generate a change in behavior on the part of the public that will reduce the number of infractions and, consequently, the number of fines in absolute terms.

[Editor’s note: this is Part 6 in a 12-part essay; you can read Part 5 here or read the essay in its entirety here.]

Liberal Democracies and Authoritarian Regimes: The Case for Law Enforcement. (Part 5 of 12)

Increase punishments or increase the application of the norm

As has already been pointed out on multiple occasions by various authors, when the utility maximizing agent makes the decision to transgress a norm or not to do so, the punishment provided by the norm is not represented (prison, fine, or indemnify a third party), but that multiplied by the probability of being effectively persecuted and convicted. As illustrated in the previous paragraph, a fine of $1,000 – whose probability of application is 80%, represents a risk equivalent to $800 – and the latter will have to be the magnitude to be taken into account by the agent. at the time of making your choice about complying with or transgressing the norm.

On the other hand, this too must be contextualized within a given political regime. Modern and liberal democracies have as a guiding principle to extend as much as possible the spheres of autonomy of the will of individuals and this includes leaving open the possibility that a given subject freely chooses to transgress the norm in exchange for receiving the punishment provided by it – But no more than that. The restriction of freedoms for the sake of preventing the commission of crimes is only allowed in cases in which the compromised legal interests are of the highest value, such as life, personal liberty or public safety. Outside of these cases, the only mechanism to prevent citizens and inhabitants from taking certain actions resides in the incentive system that imposes dissuasive penalties and compensation, preserving a wide margin of decision on the part of those on whether to comply with the norm or assume the cost. of the consequent punishment for the case of his transgression.

Therefore, if governments want to increase discouragement towards a certain type of behavior, they can either increase the penalty or increase the degree of application of the rule. To continue with the previous example: either the amount of the fine is increased or the probability of being fined is increased. Of course, the second option entails additional or marginal costs: greater resources must be allocated to the supervision and execution of penalties, fines and compensation. For this reason, in certain cases, it is more efficient to maintain the same level of application of the rules and increase the penalties.

In general, society already takes for granted that the prosecution of homicides, ravages, and other serious crimes require an investment of resources for which there is a wide margin of consensus, so the decision to increase the penalties or increasing the degree of law enforcement will have to be done paying attention almost exclusively to the results to be obtained. However, for cases of minor transgressions, such as traffic fines or mere contractual breaches of insignificant figures, a “self-financing” component of the punitive system itself comes into play: the fines are expected to finance in full or at least largely the monitoring system deployed in order to enforce the standard. The problem is further complicated when governments see in the fines and justice fees charged in order to make use of the judicial system a collection instrument to defray the expenses incurred by other areas of the state. In the latter case, regulatory compliance may conflict with the collection purpose that is awarded to fines and fees. For this reason, it is inadvisable for governments to see these instruments as a source of resources for expenses unrelated to the punitive system of fines itself.

[Editor’s note: this is Part 5 in a 12-part essay; you can read Part 4 here or read the essay in its entirety here.]