Why is Kasparov still alive?

One loyal MR reader wrote in the comments:

He’ll [Kasparov] be fine. Killing him would be too bad a move in terms of PR.

But that is exactly my worry.  Putin has many would-be enemies.  What better retaliation than to do something evil and make it look like Putin is possibly at fault?  (That is in fact one theory about the polonium poisonings.)  Maybe you think Putin has already signaled credibly that he wouldn’t kill Kasparov, but if that is the case then he could in fact turn around and order it done and not take the blame.  Either way the equilibrium looks like assassination.  The going rate for an assassin simply isn’t that high and surely somebody has at least that much at stake in the outcome.

When I was a little kid I saw TV coverage of the assassinations of Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King.  I recall wondering why every famous politician, or at least every reachable famous politician, isn’t assassinated.  Or why isn’t the equilibrium quantity of product sabotage — accompanied by options trading of course — very high?  The sabotage doesn’t have to hurt people to lower share prices.

If some people find it worthwhile to send spam, why don’t many more?  Is the cost structure really that heterogenous on the production side? 

I might add these are important questions for understanding a future of extreme nuclear proliferation.


I've always found it surprising that Supreme Court justices aren't being knocked off. Maybe people are less crazy than I thought.

"When I was a kid... I recall wondering... why isn't the equilibrium quantity of product sabotage ... very high?"

That is a remarkably clever thing for a kid to wonder.

Assassination is less popular precisely because it makes a martyr out of the person killed, and frequently strengthens the movement that person was a part of. Far more effective is somehow exposing the person as a fraud or betrayer to the cause.

Having said that, I think the reason why GWB hasn't faced many serious attempts despite widespread antagonism towards him and his policies is because Dick Cheney is so much more despised. I'm sure it's no accident that in times of crisis Cheney is the one on lockdown in some undisclosed location.

Christina's comment reminds me of Chris Rock's very funny bit about why there won't be a black vice president...

I have a hard time understanding how MAD functions
after someone pushes the button. Once one party’s missiles are in the
air, wouldn't the pareto optimal outcome be for the recipient to grin
and bear it?

It the taste of vengeance really so sweet?

If the goal of Putin, as explained by Kasparov in some interviews, is to keep world energy prices high and thus Russia relatively prosperous (which is supported by his efforts to stir trouble in the Middle East by means of an extremely friendly relationship with Iran - side benefit being he appears important by defying the United States) he is quite unlikely to kill Kasparov. It gains him little but makes Russia appear lawless and might scare away foreign capital.

Most assassins, at least in the United States whose history I am more familiar with, are lone nuts. An economic model that does not take notice of that is going to be quite off.

This is exactly the same rationale that Putin gave when journalist Anna Politkovskaya was killed: Why would Putin have such a thing done when it would mean nothing but bad PR? It might be more likely that one of his opponents did it, knowing Putin would be blamed, directly or indirectly.

As much as I think Putin is corrupt scum, he's a good enough politician to realize you can't just go killing journalists, or Kasparov.

Kasparov is nice for Putin to have around, much as Bhutto is nice for Musharraf to have around. Putin and Musharraf can point to their existence and say, "See, we tolerate dissent!" But they are ineffective and impotent opposition, more useful alive than dead.

You make a good point, maybe then offer Kasparov state protection then?
Not sure he'd accept it.

The thing that pops to my mind thinking about what you're talking about are anarchists. They existed and flourished around the late 1800's early 1900's. They killed top politicians acros the Western world. They disappeared completely after World War I if I'm not mistaken. Probably something to do with the general populace experiencing the horrors of warfare, and just lost support for more voilence. People were probably drained, obviously only 20 years laters people's batteries recharged enough for another round of world war. But I digress.......

OK, maybe K. is helpful to Putin, but in the argument that is *exactly why someone else might want to kill him*!

But there's a huge risk. Putin is not without investigative and intelligence resources. So someone plans to kill Kasparov to embarrass Putin. The conspirators are discovered by Putin. Whether they are caught before or after the attempt, they face unpleasant personal consequences on top of which Putin is strengthened by showing that he is vigorous even in the defense of his opponents.

In fact, suppose Putin tries it, as Tyler suggests. Presumably there will be various cutouts and levels of security in the plot. Surely someone down the ladder might suspect that Putin prefers the outcome described above to a successful assassination.

Wheels within wheels.

Since even the United States was heavily infiltrated by Soviet spies, most people will believe Putin has a high degree of domestic intelligence. No matter what the outcome, people will think Putin knew and/or directed events, and almost any scenario becomes plausible.

Like 50,000 monkeys at a keyboard typing Shakespeare, with enough comments we could write the next Tom Clancy novel.

"But that is exactly my worry. Putin has many would-be enemies. What better retaliation than to do something evil and make it look like Putin is possibly at fault?"

Anyone got a decent opinion on whether this happens in politics. A democrat pretends to be a republican but bastardize the ideas to make them look bad, or vice versa?

I have a hard time understanding how MAD functions after someone pushes the button. Once one party’s missiles are in the air, wouldn't the pareto optimal outcome be for the recipient to grin and bear it?"

Yes. If the enemy missiles are going to destroy you, then your threat to shoot back has failed as a deterrent. There's no point in shooting back. But if your enemy is aware that you do not intend to shoot back, then your ability to do so will not be a deterrent at all.

Therefore, in order for nuclear deterrence to work, you have to make a credible commitment to launching a devastating counter-strike, even if doing so would be the pointless slaughter of millions. This why the acronym MAD is so appropriate. You have to commit to madness in order to prevent it.

One way to commit to retaliation is to make it somewhat decentralized and automatic so it's out of the hands of any single person who could stop it. I've heard that U.S. nuclear forces can launch a counter-strike on their own authority.

"One way to commit to retaliation is to make it somewhat decentralized and automatic so it's out of the hands of any single person who could stop it."

You got "When Johnny Comes Marching Home" playing in my head now.

Following the Putin example: who would gain from a scenario where a nuke went off in the US and we assumed it was Muslim extremists?

I do tend to think that even in an age of proliferation, nuclear events will be rare.
I also suspect biological weapons are more worrisome. Potentially much more destructive and they'll eventually be much easier to produce than a nuke. Isn't the anthrax mailer presumed to be a lone nut?

First of all, I am surprised to be called "a loyal MR reader". I am indeed, but I've only started commenting some five months ago (yes, I've checked with google), so how would you know?

More to the point: I think with the polonium killings having happened, it has been firmly established that it is the Russian government, and not some loan sharks, who kill critical voices in Russia. I'll admit that this had to be pointed out to me by some radio journalist who informed me that poisoning someone with polonium costs about 500 000 Euros (or so) - much more expensive than hiring a killer for 10 000 Euros (or so). But critical Russians think much harder about these matters than I do.

I get the idea that by killing Kasparov the Russsian gouvernment could signal that "even if you're famous", etc. But I think this would by no means outweigh the bad PR. In these terms, the difference between killing, say, Politkovskaya and killing Kasparow is like the difference between Tyler Cowen and Brad Pitt divorcing their respective wives. It would be a huge issue in the western media and would thus have negative political repurcussions for Russia.

If Putin is a clever guy - and I'm pretty sure he is - he is going to leave Kasparov alone.

His opponent keeps missing Qb6#.

Most people are to squeamish (or unable) to assinate someone personally. And if you hire a hitman then there is a good chance he'll talk.

Pretty obvious really.

on a related MAD :) note, see my essay which discusses some of the reasons why China may at some point (perhaps soon enough) deem nuclear war with America a sensible proposition

Because they all have secret service, ever since Bobby K. assassination JFK started assigning secret service to every person that ran for presidential office

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