FBI Foils Its Own Plot!

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That’s a more accurate headline than the Washington Post’s “FBI Foils Elaborate Bomb Plot.”

If the police lower the perceived cost of committing a crime, then more (or greater) crimes will be committed. This is an application of the law of demand: other things equal, more of a good will be demanded at a lower price. For example, the New York Times of March 6, 2007 reported that “the New York City Police Department planted unattended bags in various locations in the city’s subway system. They waited for people to take the bags, then arrested them.”

Having made it easy to find loose bags with no apparent owners (i.e., having lowered the cost of finding an apparent unowned good and appropriating it), the police expected travelers to appropriate more bags. Any genuine economist would have predicted the same. As the police expected, people picked up more bags. These people were deceived. Police were watching. The Supreme Court has tried to separate criminal intent from police deception via entrapment. This can’t be done because the police stings often, as in this case, lower the cost of committing a crime. If the police tempt, encourage, or cooperate with someone in crime, they are changing the probability of acting upon whatever “intent” or “motivation” is supposed to be.

2:24 pm on November 28, 2010