Marginal Revolution, articulated

by on October 22, 2011 at 8:05 am in Economics, Law | Permalink

The minivan driver who knocked Wang down, and then ran over her deliberately, has since surrendered to the police, but offered a curious explanation for his action. He said he had been talking on his mobile phone when he hit the girl, but decided to run her over because it would have cost him less to pay off a dead girl’s parents than to pay for her hospital expenses.

“If she had died, I would have been required to pay only about 20,000 yuan (about Rs 1.5 lakh) in compensation, but if she were injured, it would cost me hundreds of thousands of yuan in hospital expenses,” he said.

Here is more and for the pointer I thank Karthik S.

Andreas Moser October 22, 2011 at 8:40 am

A true homo economicus.

Brock October 22, 2011 at 9:08 am

http://www.economist.com/node/21530078

“Dr Bartels and Dr Pizarro then correlated the results from the trolleyology with those from the personality tests. They found a strong link between utilitarian answers to moral dilemmas (push the fat guy off the bridge) and personalities that were psychopathic, Machiavellian or tended to view life as meaningless.”

lemmy caution October 22, 2011 at 8:12 pm

Utilitarians don’t actually suggest that you should deliberately run over toddlers with your van.

zbicyclist October 22, 2011 at 8:27 pm

Only because there’s a very low utility for actually admitting such sentiments in public?

Lemme Caution 2 October 22, 2011 at 10:19 pm

They don’t just because of the link above i.e. ’cause they are closeted psychopaths and sociopaths and ’cause of the cognitive dissonance but do make good use of the free will of a man to die when not health-insured and blame that on the utility of personal freedom. Nice guys, Utalitarians and their GM breed, the Libertarians, all evolving from the germ of “immanent” greed and egoism. How not to love them all.

Will October 23, 2011 at 5:37 pm

Utilitarianism is awesome, but libertarianism is lame. Personal freedom is not that valuable, but life is pretty darn valuable. Utilitarianism contradicts egoism. Libertarianism also contradicts egoism, though egoists are probably more likely to pretend to be libertarians.

Andrew' October 25, 2011 at 7:30 am

Personal freedom has nothing to do with Life? As in for example when you socialize the medical system it is everyone else’s utilitarianism that says a quick death is better than an expensive convalescence. You can say that utilitarianism can evolve to incorporate a social contract whereby everyone realizes that it is in their best interest to support the convalescence of others, but with respect to things like euthanasias, eugenics and unethical medical testing in the immortal words of Cal Naughton Jr., “that just happened.”

tigre October 29, 2011 at 9:44 pm

Libertarians are just about the opposite of utilitarians.

tomcollins October 22, 2011 at 9:09 am

I remember hearing the “its more expensive to leave them alive” argument(as a hypothetical) on L.A. Law twenty years ago.

Peter October 22, 2011 at 9:28 am

The most optimistic estimate is that the girl will remain in a vegetative state on life support.

Another example of how China is different from the United States. If the child were in America with identical injuries, all the media reports would say that she’s a survivor, embarking on the long road to recovery. No one would even hint at such a grim prognosis even if it were a medical certainty.

D October 22, 2011 at 8:29 pm

Terri Schiavo.

Zubon October 22, 2011 at 9:45 am

Perhaps adding support to the murderous reasoning, here is a story about a $144 million verdict against a hospital. The cost of 24-hour care for 77 years is almost certainly more than the family would have been awarded for a wrongful death.

Richard October 22, 2011 at 9:54 am

I presume that the 20,000 yuan penalty applies only if the victim is killed accidentally. Once the driver went back for the second strike it became attempted murder. I’d hope that China penalizes that at least a little more severely. So was his action irrational after all, or was he just discounting heavily for the probability of being caught?

Michael October 22, 2011 at 10:01 am

A rational, forward-thinking individual trying to maximize his own utility…so mustn’t this be the efficient outcome that maximizes social welfare?

Extra points to those who can set up and solve this cost-minimization problem.

A. October 22, 2011 at 1:30 pm

No.

Richard October 22, 2011 at 1:33 pm

How much welfare do you think the parents will derive from caring for a chronically disabled infant and having a constant reminder of tragedy with them?

Nate October 22, 2011 at 2:32 pm

Deliberate externalization

Nico October 22, 2011 at 8:31 pm

Well, I’d daresay it’s an intertemporal optimization problem, because if the girl survived, he’d have to make monthly payments or something, so it’s a discounted utility restricted by his total life wealth.
Do the Lagrangian yourself.

Sandeep October 22, 2011 at 10:12 am

This “offered a curious explanation” is an a priori very bad way of putting it; according to the link given, the quote was something the driver said “over the phone to the media, before he gave himself up to the police.” For all we know, based on this report alone, he might have said it as a confession rather than as explanation, which comes with connotations of rationalization in the “economic” sense you guys are looking for.

Why do I continue to be amazed by how creative the media is with spinning statements to make sensations?

BTW the “bystander effect”, the apathy of the public, is not peculiar to China – see this link, “Questions about the attitude of Italians to their Roma minority were again being asked yesterday after photographs were published of sunbathers continuing as normal with a day at the beach despite the bodies of two Gypsy girls who had drowned being laid out on the sand nearby.” I do agree that in the US there is a lot of respect for life, but it is a mistake to assume the same for all of west (especially, for no reason other than that European liberals keep making arrogant comments about their own moral supremacy).

dan1111 October 22, 2011 at 11:24 am

Visit the other link given in the post (where it says “here is more”), and you will see the justification for the story.

Sandeep October 22, 2011 at 4:10 pm

Dude, do you really think I did not read that? The china.org link referred to in my post above is the source of the quote in the first post link you referred to. I was criticizing first post for spinning what a priori could be just confession, as “rationalization”. Do you understand or do you want me to explain in even simpler terms?

dan1111 October 23, 2011 at 4:49 am

Sandeep, I apologize for assuming that you had not read the second story. I questioned the interpretation given until I looked at the second story, so I thought that you must have done the same thing.

Looking back at the articles, I see your point. I had assumed the FirstPost article was an independent source of information on the incident. If it simply relies on the china.org article, then the interpretation it gives is unwarranted.

Sandeep October 23, 2011 at 10:24 am

Sorry for having given a snarky reply. These are points that usually escape peoples’ attention, and the only reason I detected the “spin” of first post is that I had an ax to grind (as you can see from the second paragraph of my first comment above) and hence an incentive to scrutinize it more carefully :-)

Leslie Katz October 22, 2011 at 10:13 am

Lawyers’ maxim: “It’s cheaper to kill than to maim.”

Richard October 22, 2011 at 1:34 pm

True, especially when discounting for the probability of being caught, which goes down dramatically with taking out one more eyewitness.

Paul October 22, 2011 at 10:20 am

Though it doesn’t describe this case, there are a great many clever urban scam artists in China, and faking injury, employing a crowd of toughs to surround the samaritan and demand payment is a common trope (or is perceived to be so by Chinese citizens). The linked article mentioned one such case, but this is a widespread fear among citizens, and to me accounts for the lack of assistance in such cases. In conversations on such matters, one is without exception advised not to get involved.

The Anti-Gnostic October 22, 2011 at 10:34 am

We overlook that within living memory, China had an atheistic and socialist regime that continually brutalized and killed its citizens through the 1980’s.

FYI October 22, 2011 at 11:13 am

i thought about that as well. It is not so much about life or death but morals in general. Having worked with a lot of chinese I get the impression that they are still greatly influenced by that period. One somewhat related example was that they cheat on spouses quite openly (both male and female) and don’t seem to care much about it. I am not saying that this is comparable to killing but you get what I mean.

Dr.Nick October 22, 2011 at 10:34 am

Interesting. I’ve heard in Thailan US GIs were told not to stop after a traffic accident as under Buddhist ?(or Thai) teachings they were responsible for the family of whomever they had injured.

Sergeant Tomato October 22, 2011 at 10:51 am

The Catholic church constantly rants about how society is more narcissistic today than ever before. Is the church right?

Sam October 23, 2011 at 7:58 pm

No. Where’s the historical comparison?

jpd October 22, 2011 at 11:03 am

“markets in everything”

Nick October 22, 2011 at 11:19 am

I wonder if they would’ve behaved differently if it were a boy…

RZ0 October 22, 2011 at 12:11 pm

If markets were efficient, this would not be a story.

Kitty_T October 22, 2011 at 12:22 pm

I had a childhood friend and an uncle who lived in southern China for several years. They both commented on this phenomenon multple times. My friend estimated he saw half a dozen pedestrians or scooter riders intentionally mowed down while he was there. He said it was the police who explained to him why drivers sped up, or backed up, when an accident seemed inevitable.

This was in the very early 90s.

k October 22, 2011 at 12:44 pm

I am rather impressed with the knowledge of these laws, and what it says about the people exploiting them. Maybe markets do make you moral. A test of this would be to see if younger chinese people would be as willing to take this choice (of killing versus letting them live).

question the question October 22, 2011 at 12:53 pm

As Alex might say, “We have much to learn from the Chinese when it comes to maximizing traffic accident outcomes.”

JSA October 22, 2011 at 3:09 pm

@question the question

LOL!

Neeraj Krishnan October 22, 2011 at 5:21 pm

But, killing with intent provides for death penalty!
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Murder_(Chinese_law)

And possibly hundreds of thousands of yuan in legal fees?

Sam October 23, 2011 at 8:01 pm

If and only if you get caught. Bringing her to the hospital is equivalent to turning yourself in; dropping her at the stoop is a cost.

Ian October 25, 2011 at 7:56 pm

He turned himself in, which is also equivalent to turning himself in.

TallDave October 22, 2011 at 6:32 pm

China is still a Third World country.

msgkings October 24, 2011 at 12:25 pm

This.

David Welker October 22, 2011 at 7:37 pm

This is what happens when you cultivate a society to value money too much.

Sad.

Vernunft October 23, 2011 at 8:57 am

LOL

David Welker, of Volokh, The Corner, and apparently Marginal Revolution fame.

Give him a hand, ladies and gentlemen.

David Welker October 22, 2011 at 7:46 pm

From Adam Smith:

“[H]e is in this, as in many other cases, led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention. Nor is it always the worse for the society that it was not part of it. By pursuing his own interest he frequently promotes that of the society more effectually than when he really intends to promote it.”

And apparently, by pursuing self-interest, one frequently also hurts the interests of society. This case is a good example of why we should not be very accepting of selfishness. Greed is not good.

Veridical Driver October 23, 2011 at 1:16 am

The aggregate of pursuing self-interest benefits society. The capitalist nightmare scenario of a driver running over a kid is absolutely nothing compared to the nightmare of tens of millions of people murdered in the name of altruistic socialism.

Andrew' October 25, 2011 at 7:43 am

If I were head utilitarian in charge of maximizing happiness I’d round up all the saddest people and shoot ‘em.

Vitalie Spranceana October 23, 2011 at 12:15 am

It is, in my mind, the banality of evil that Hannah Arendt was talking about: heinous crimes are being committed not by wicked or monstrous people but by normal individuals inserted in banal situations and taking decisions…

This guy did little math in his head and just decided to make a “rational choice”…A lot of bystanders out there, also making “rational choices”.

Fascism arises, indeed, in the very moment we do price a thing over the human life. Welcome to the desert of real.

anonymous October 23, 2011 at 11:48 am

The articles are out of date: the girl died yesterday.

Will October 23, 2011 at 5:40 pm

Which price is too low? Are drivers unfairly punished for minor injuries, or unjustly let off the hook for death?

doctorpat October 23, 2011 at 10:14 pm

If someone can, under any circumstances, calculate that it’s economically worth killing someone. Then the price for murder is too low.
Assuming of course he was correct in his calculation. He may have just been wrong, you can’t outlaw stupid (however much we would like to).

marris October 25, 2011 at 12:42 pm

I don’t think we should run this experiment, but I wonder what the reaction from the other citizens would be if this girl had been run over during the Cultural Revolution. Would the responses (“mind your own business!”, crossing the street) have been very different? I’m not sure that “more free exchange” is the underlying cause of the horrible behavior.

Ken October 28, 2011 at 5:21 pm

Reminds me of this.

Regards,
Ken

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