The opening gambit of the book is surprisingly simple: If you were sentenced to five years in prison but had the option of receiving lashes instead, what would you choose? You would probably pick flogging. Wouldn’t we all?

I propose we give convicts the choice of the lash at the rate of two lashes per year of incarceration. One cannot reasonably argue that merely offering this choice is somehow cruel, especially when the status quo of incarceration remains an option. Prison means losing a part of your life and everything you care for. Compared with this, flogging is just a few very painful strokes on the backside. And it’s over in a few minutes. Often, and often very quickly, those who said flogging is too cruel to even consider suddenly say that flogging isn’t cruel enough. Personally, I believe that literally ripping skin from the human body is cruel. Even Singapore limits the lash to 24 strokes out of concern for the criminal’s survival. Now, flogging may be too harsh, or it may be too soft, but it really can’t be both.

The article is an excellent example of how considering an alternative (flogging replacing prison) which despite being non-serious still makes you think about the status quo in a new way.

If we could calibrate the number of lashes so as to create an equal disincentive but at a tiny fraction of the cost that should be a Pareto improvement right? Somehow that doesn’t seem right.  I think the thought experiment reveals that one important part of incarceration is just to prevent the criminal from committing more crimes.

If N lashes is just as unpleasant as 1 year in prison what exactly does that mean? It says that N lashes plus whatever I decide to do during the next year is just as unpleasant as being shut in for a year.  It will quite often be that the pivotal comparison is between prison and N lashes plus another year worth of crime.  In that case we certainly don’t have a Pareto improvement.

(hoodhi:  The Browser.)