Not too long ago, judge Aaron Persky was recalled by voters, a feat not accomplished in California for 86 years. At issue is how he sentenced Brock Turner. A student at Stanford University, Turner was caught using his fingers to sexually molest a drunk unconscious woman. Two other students stopped him from taking things further. Judge Persky sentenced Turner to 6 months in jail (3 months credited from jail during the trial), 3 years probation, rehab, and a lifetime as a registered sex offender.

This light sentence outraged social media, outraged activists, and ultimately outraged voters.

Frederic Bastiat: The effects you don't see are just as important as the effects you do see.

Bastiat: not just for economics!

Now Persky has been thrown out of office. Justice served, right? After all, society is better off when people like Turner are not free to roam the streets. Nonetheless, as much as I like seeing politicians thrown out of office, I think some Bastiat economics are in order to understand the answer to this question.

Unintended Consequences

French economist Frederic Bastiat is famous for promoting the idea that we humans tend to make terrible decisions because we look at what is obvious and tend to ignore the not-so-obvious consequences of a decision. Let’s apply that to Persky.

What is the value of tossing Persky to the curb? It doesn’t give justice for Turner’s victim. Turner is still running loose on the streets. At best we can say it prevents Persky from unleashing another sexual predator. This is not the first time Persky did this: there is at least one other similar ruling from Persky, a lighter sentence for a worse sexual crime.

Are there any unintended consequences? What about judges worrying that they sound too lenient and stirring the activists on social media? Is more jail time for criminals in general what this nation needs?

Prison Nation

Which country imprisons the largest share of its population? Putin’s Russia? China? Those oppressive Islamic theocracies like Iran and Afghanistan? It has to be a third world country, right?

No, it’s the United States of America, land of the free, if by “free” you mean “free to go to prison.” While the United States represents about 4.4 percent of the world’s population, it houses around 22 percent of the world’s prisoners. Let that sink in: over one of every five people on this planet rotting in a prison are doing so in the alleged land of liberty. More than China, more than Iran, more than North Korea.

International rates of incarceration per 100,000. United states: 670. Russia: 439. Rwanda: 434. Brazil: 307. Australia: 162. Spain: 129. China: 118. Canada: 114. France: 101. Austria: 93. Germany: 76. Denmark: 59. Sweden: 53. India: 30.Are Americans more evil and violent and our streets more unsafe than every other country in the world to justify this? Obviously not. There is no justification.

The vast majority of imprisonments are for victimless crimes, especially non-violent drug offenders. The fact Persky lets rapists out of jail as quickly as possible while the average sentence for selling a weed is almost three years in a cage shows how screwed up of a “justice” system we have imposed upon us.

Unintended Consequences

Throwing Persky out of office feels good. It won’t result in fewer rapes, but it will likely cause a small handful of sexual predators to face a more just sentencing from a more rational judge. That is a good thing and what is seen.

Land of the free, home of the world's largest prison populationWhat is unseen is it will also likely cause judges across California and possibly other states to start questioning if a lenient sentence on someone who genuinely deserves it might cause a social media shitstorm, and respond by dishing out harsher sentences.

That is the last thing this country needs. The Persky recall would have made more sense if we had a justice system whose chief problem wasn’t over prosecution and excessive imprisonment, but we’re not there yet.

So no, the Persky recall is probably not a good thing in the long run so long as our “justice” system continues caging non-violent people who harmed no one, so long as our rulers insist on America being the world’s most populous prison nation.