A cost-benefit approach to the crackdown in El Salvador
Excellent analysis as ever, Richard. One thing I'd emphasise is the unique savagery of the gangs in question, which I think has an important bearing on this argument.
Following this story on Twitter, I keep seeing affluent American liberals complaining about 'creeping fascism' etc. receiving replies from actual Salvadoreans saying things like, 'Shut the fuck up, these people cut off my uncle's head for not paying extortion money and left it in our doorway.'
Bukele hasn't mass arrested a bunch of muggers and low level drug dealers; what he's done is more akin to putting ISIS in a giant prison complex, and the blessings of Allah be upon him for doing so.
"If a developing country sees violence skyrocket to the point where citizens can’t live normal lives, we generally consider that an internal political issue, invisible to the rest of the world. If the same nation becomes too zealous in fighting crime, however, human rights goes to the top of the agenda as an international concern that brings with it diplomatic and economic pressure" - Boom, nailed it.
The danger I see in Bukele's move is that it gives cops a huge amount of power and creates a danger of them acting like gangs. If a cop here in Canada decides to shake me down, he can arrest me for nonsense, but I get a defence lawyer and there's a whole process etc. and he might get in real trouble. Let's say a bunch of cops in El Salvador decide to start taking protection money from the neighbourhood. Apparently they can just throw you in prison, and there's no due process to protect you*
*Maybe if you don't have tattoos this is harder. I guess if criminals all agree to tattoo themselves you need less due process.
At any rate, Bukele's ideological predecessor here was Duterte, and I remember reading about police shakedowns and arbitrary detentions in the Philippines in his rule. The funny thing is there was a lot of press coverage of his very popular war on crime (which was also interesting because there was no racial angle, a nice disproof of the idea that all resentment of crime was code for racial resentment) and then the press got bored of talking about him after a year or two. Did everything become safer in the Philippines, or did police extortion gangs become common? What happened? Anyone know?
We have a serious under-incarceration problem.
The only other analysis I’ve seen of the total cost of crime was on the EA forum, which arrives at 7-11% of US GDP. These analyses also don’t factor in negative externalities like NIMBYism and ensuing economic potential from density, which I’ve seen estimated as costing potentially a trillion dollars annually.
The biggest problem with the current approach is that when Bukele leaves office, another administration might release a lot of these thugs and things will go back to it was before. The "three strikes" laws in the US worked for a while and then it didn't because prosecutors stopped enforcing those laws for "diversity, equity, and inclusion" reasons.
Using the death penalty on all the gang members will make sure these people never come back and never have children that will follow in their father's footsteps. But this is probably not on the menu even for Bukele.
A twitter commenter @ItsTheLawForYou replied to your tweet with this:
"Left wing America has a terrible problem of centering all issues as if they were
happening in peaceful rich America. It
seems like El Salvador knows what it needs."
Very true. Also sad that poor minorities in the US basically have to suffer through depolicing when they'd be better off with police cracking down on criminals. But those are the policies they want so 🤷.
At least here in Mexico, I know plenty of people who closed their business due to extortion from the cartels. You're basically taxed twice.
I'd never thought in these terms until this article, that we regard the outrageous levels of crime and murder in places like South Africa and (until recently) El Salvador as a purely internal issue - very sad, something to deplore, but not something that awakens the ire of Congress or arouses NGOs. Only when the rights of the accused as at stake does the West get involved.
This seems very backwards: it's not to say that habeas corpus and a right to a fair trial shouldn't be protected (they should), but before that happens the rights of the majority, law-abiding population to live without an undue risk of murder and crime are also key human rights. Aside from murder, this article mentions extortion - extortion is primarily an economic crime but to live under it is so much worse than just losing money. It's never knowing when the amount due will change, or when you'll be "billed", and it's knowing that there's no point in saving or opening a store because it'll all be gone, and unless you can get your kids to El Norte it's just going to happen to them as well.
I am uncomfortable with locking up accused people, not yet guilty, indefinitely. I think limits on being held without bail are appropriate. But it's clear from the West's reaction to El Salvador that we're due for a correction. If such draconian action correlates with improvement in society to such a vast extent, it's clear that the rights of the majority to live in a society not riven by crime have been breached for too long. Where we're Amnesty and Freedom House then?
12 of the worlds 50 most dangerous cities are in america. What do they have in common? It starts with a capital D: https://yuribezmenov.substack.com/p/how-to-visit-karenland-fupaz-part-e69
>The point here is that much of what sounds like reasonable advice in a first world nation is simply unrealistic in a country in the position of El Salvador.<
It seems like it is increasingly unrealistic for first world nations as well--or at least, for large cities in the United States (I admit to neither knowing nor caring very much about how other first world nations stack up). If El Salvador was able to lower its murder rate well below that of Detroit, one wonders why the same policies shouldn't be applied in Detroit. Of course, if we are being honest, I think we all know why they won't be.
>Is the Bukele crackdown justified in cost-benefit terms? One can’t answer this question from first principles in the way that human rights activists and many in the media would like.<
Well, you can if you consider "the human rights of criminals" to be of infinite benefit, such that any amount of cost incurred is always acceptable. "Human rights" activists and those in the media (but I repeat myself) will tend towards this single-factor analysis of the situation, with their views based on US race politics (the idea being that it is wrong to treat criminals harshly because they are likely to be black) and then simply transposed into any applicable situation without thought.
You are correct to point out that an all-or-nothing single-factor view of the world is typically not the one that actually makes the most sense, but we human beings struggle with nuance. If we are asked to weigh between two competing considerations, that is much more difficult than simply knowing ahead of time based on first principles which one is always correct. There is the added problem that those most likely to be politically active are those most likely to be, well, activists. And activists by definition are motivated by some sort of single-issue worldview, i.e. environmental activists, who are immune to any cost-benefit analysis of fossil fuels and face no countervailing group of "fossil fuel maximalists" to balance out their zealotry.
The crackdown is obviously right, and there is absolutely nothing to discuss. People who are conflicted about this are reprobates. What is more worth discussing is what made the crackdown *feasible*. The answer is that crime got so out of control, and so monopolised by one paramilitary gang, that you could just go around looking for anyone with this gang's tattoos on him, put him in jail without trial, and no-one else cares. Anti-gang policing in America is chronically hobbled by the "he a good boi, he was gonna turn his life aroun' problem. In El Salvador, it looks like people hate MS 13 so much that they don't care if their own son gets interned without trial forever.
So in short, a case of the worse the better. The question now is how to create similar conditions of popular support for an anti-gang crackdown before letting your entire country go to hell. (Spoiler, you can't without regime change, so political punditry is all grift).
I don’t think any analysis of El Salvador’s experience with crime is complete without explaining what happened in the 5 years before Bukele. That’s where the action was. Does anyone know?
“In a first world country where crime is manageable, maybe you can tolerate such blatant mockery of the larger society...”
“First world” is just a proxy for race. If the West ends up with even more crime and lost GDP, it will be due to unwise immigration.
Looking at that murder graph it's interesting: Bukele was elected in 2019 but the graph shows homicide peaking in 2015. What's the story behind that?
Liberals don’t worry about injustice. They worry about injustice done by men in suits and uniforms
For me, that explains why the international outcry has been far greater against the government crackdown than against the original gang violence the government was opposing. NGO’s don’t get mad at gangs for mistreating innocent women and children. They just get mad when States do things like that.
Could anyone enlighten me on why that is the case? Maybe it feels more achievable to influence a state than a criminal organization...