Loren Fryxell of Northwestern is a creative thinker

Here is his home page, here is one abstract:

A Theory of Criminal Justice

Abstract: I propose a general framework with which to analyze the optimal response to crime. Each criminal act, detected with some probability, generates a random piece of evidence and a consequent probability of guilt for each citizen. I consider a utilitarian planner with no artificial moral constraints. In particular, I assume no upper bound on punishment—such a bound can only rise endogenously from the utilitarian objective. I consider three types of “pure” responses—deterrence, rehabilitation, and incapacitation—along with general sentences combining any of the three. If citizens are expected utility maximizers, a repugnant conclusion is reached—it is optimal to punish only with the realization of the most incriminating evidence. Allowing for more general behavior yields a weaker but more satisfactory result—optimal punishment is always decreasing in the quality of evidence. (Rehabilitation, incapacitation, and general sentence results coming soon.)

Here is his job market paper:

A Theory of Experienced Utility and Utilitarianism

Abstract: I present a theory of measurement of preference intensity and use this measure as a foundation for utilitarianism. To do this, I suppose each alternative is experienced over time. An individual has preferences over such experiences. I present axioms under which preferences are represented by an experienced utility function equal to the integral of instantaneous preference intensity over time and unique up to a positive scalar. I propose an ethical postulate under which social preferences are utilitarian in experienced utilities.

Job candidates with ideas can be difficult to come by, so I wanted to highlight his work…


My object all sublime
I shall achieve in time—
To let the punishment fit the crime,
The punishment fit the crime.

Different societies choose different ways to do that.


The planet of Lockmania, inhabited though it was by intelligent beings that looked like large wombats, had adopted the American legal system, and Ferdinand Feghoot had been sent there by the Earth Confederation to study the results.

Feghoot watched with interest as a husband and wife were brought in, charged with disturbing the peace. During a religious observation, when for twenty minutes the congregation was supposed to maintain silence, while concentrating on their sins and visualizing them as melting away, the woman had suddenly risen from her squatting position and screamed loudly. When someone rose to object, the man had pushed him forcefully.

The judges listened solemnly, fined the woman a silver dollar, and the man a twenty-dollar gold-piece.

Almost immediately afterward, seventeen men and women were brought in. They had been ringleaders of a crowd that had demonstrated for better quality meat at a supermarket. They had torn the supermarket apart and inflicted various bruises and lacerations on eight of the employees of the establishment.

Again the judges listened solemnly, and fined the seventeen a silver dollar apiece.

Afterward, Feghoot said to the chief judge. "I approved of your handling of the man and woman who disturbed the peace.“

"It was a simple case,“ said the judge. „We have a legal maxim that goes, ‘Screech is silver, but violence is golden.’“

"In that case,“ said Feghoot, "why did you fine the group of seventeen a silver dollar apiece when they had committed far worse violence?“

"Oh, that’s another legal maxim," said the judge. "Every crowd has a silver fining."

Good one.

Isaac Asimov will, of course, be sentenced to be bitten by a large shaggy dog.


He waved goodbye to all hope of leniency with that one.

Job candidates who over-use italics are apparently very easy to come by.

Northwestern FTW!

John Rawls is dead, but he lives: https://newrepublic.com/article/155294/john-rawls-missed-create-just-society

'three types of “pure” responses — deterrence, rehabilitation, and incapacitation'. I suspect that the evidence that rehabilitation is common may be pretty weak. How should that be allowed for?

No, I think that posting to an econ blog that no one reads -- under 15 different pseudonyms -- is a much better way to affect change.


1) According to experts, Marginal Revolution is one of the most influential economics blogs out there: https://onalytica.com/blog/posts/top-200-most-influential-economics-blogs/
2) I don't know what you are talking about. I am Mr. Lincoln, a shopkeeper.

Just don't go to the theatre.

Oh, no, I am not that Mr. Lincoln, our 16th President. I am Mr. Lincoln from Upstate New York.

I hope they didn't include parking tickets.

The conclusion could be restated as "punish only when proof is beyond a reasonable doubt," which doesn't sound so repugnant. This of course depends on how we interpret "the most incriminating evidence" and "reasonable doubt." But I'm not just being snarky. The intuitions that led people to propose the "reasonable doubt" test might be reflected in the utilitarian calculations.

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