Wednesday, 17 August 2011

A Tit for Two Tats: A More Rational Approach to Riot Offenders

In the back of my mind, I have this idea from the theory of games. In general, there are benefits from co-operation which exceed the benefits from conflict. Most games are not zero-sum games in which my gain is your loss and vice versa.

So when someone who you relied on to co-operate, in a potentially positive sum game, fails to do so, the rational response is to give them another chance - and, if possible, to signal that this is what you are doing. But if they fail to co-operate a second time, then you go into conflict mode and strike back hard. In other words, A Tit for Two Tats.

This "second chance" strategy was the one David Cameron adopted when he appointed Andy Coulson - the known-to-have-been-dodgy News of the World editor - as his head of communications.

Many of the crimes committed during England's recent riots were opportunistic. Many of those who have been caught are the most naive - the people who did not cover their faces or who did not know how to run fast when confronted. Many of them have no previous criminal record. They are the wrong people on which to exercise Tit for Tat. The heavy sentences should be imposed on those who have done it - or something similar - before.

It is foolish to criminalise large numbers of people who you actually need not to be criminals, but to become hard-working and law-abiding citizens. The only rational policy is to give them a second chance. To do otherwise is simply to begin the process by which an offender becomes a repeat offender. And society becomes a zero-sum game.

No comments:

Post a Comment