Game theory and economics feature a famous scenario known as the "prisoners' dilemma." This is a situation in which if two people agree to cooperate with one another they'll both be better off than if they both refuse to cooperate, but where each individual faces a strong incentive to refuse to cooperate. These issues arise all the time in life, but the classic illustration involved a plea-bargaining scenario. I thought of that because Michelle Alexander's interesting op-ed on crashing the justice system is basically a nonmetaphorical prisoner's dilemma and yet she doesn't use the phrase.
The basic point is that the operation of the criminal justice system is only feasible because so few criminal defendants insist on a jury trial. If all defendants cooperated and insisted on a trial, it would in practice be necessary to let a huge number of them go free. Holding all the trials would overburden the system. The problem, in practice, is that as more and more defendants insist on going to trial, prosecutors will start offering increasingly generous plea bargains. It's true that all defendants, as a class, would be better off if they all hung together and refused to bargain. But each individual defendant has a strong incentive to cut a deal. So the deals will be cut.
TODAY IN SLATE
Blacks Don’t Have a Corporal Punishment Problem
Americans do. But when blacks exhibit the same behaviors as others, it becomes part of a greater black pathology.
I Bought the Huge iPhone. I’m Already Thinking of Returning It.
Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.
Lifetime Didn’t Think the Steubenville Rape Case Was Dramatic Enough
So they added a little self-immolation.
Two Damn Good, Very Different Movies About Soldiers Returning From War
The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola
The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.