It may be unlikely, but it isn't impossible- "inspirational power" of a sort inspired the revolutions of 1848 and similiar, after all.

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If your debt contract had an opt-in tickbox for debtor's prison, it would not only be moral, but actually a good idea. Perhaps debtor's prison really is ineffective. All that would happen is nobody would tick the box. This is the real reason slavery was abolished; slaves are non-competitive with free labour. Simply put, the south would have out-built the north, otherwise. Or Hitler would have tried it, and out-built the allies. Or perhaps we'd be communists. North Korea could easily reunify the peninsula. Etcetera.

The real reason for USG's current prisons is that prisoners are being exploited, but at one remove so that the debtor's prison rhetoric won't be repeated. Prisons are privately owned, and the companies essentially get grant money for each prisoner. Regulation keeps competition down, so per-prisoner prices are high while at the same time prisoners live in often squalid conditions. Because if there wasn't regulation, why, those evil private companies would exploit the prisoners even more, right? And trick the government-grant-lending agents, of course, with all their insider's knowledge.

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Ever since I went to jail, my life has been different. I was imprisoned because of child support issues. I told them to automatically garnish my wages and they had an error in their databases and it showed on their side that it was my fault. It's their fault because if they would have set up their computers properly (or whoever is to blame) they would have had the info that my checks were automatically being deducted because of child support.

I only got 30 days but that was long enough to live with filthy, evil, people and I was fed the most disgusting "food" I have ever seen. I had no sleep (because the other inmates stayed up through all hours of the night playing cards and being loud) and I almost lost my sanity. I came out of prison with horrible depression that I can't get rid of. 3 years of therapy down the drain. I hate most human life, and I hope some country blows the world up and eradicates all human life so Earth can start over again with a fresh slate. I hate humans and I have an undying seething hatred for my country and their irrational enslavement.

Keep prisons for the murderers and rapists, stop ruining innocent lives because they broke your laws (which were mostly created because of bible mythologies).

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Something just occurred to me: slippery-slope arguments sound like a species of updateless / timeless / subjunctively reciprocal decision theory (the last one is that advocated by Drescher in Good and Real.

Slippery-slope arguments can be rephrased (with a bit of improvement) as: There exists a symmetry between our situation now, and the situation after we implement a given policy. If our situation now suffices to convince us to implement the policy, the situation thereafter will be parallel and will suffice to convince us to implement the "horrible" policy.

The critical parallels could include our reasoning that "we dont consider the status quo bad, so we shouldn't consider this slight deviation from the status quo", which runs into problems when the new policy *becomes* the status quo, and justifies further deviation. It's similar in kind to those who are expoited by being convinced to have "just one more drink" or make "just one more bet": whatever convinces them this time will remain next time, until it's spiraled out of control.

Of course, this doesn't make a fully general argument against all policies; it just shows that you need to make sure the symmetry breaks somewhere.

I think I'll have to write this up for LessWrong.

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I also often find slippery slope arguments unpersuasive. Eugene Volokh attempts to put them on more solid intellectual foundations here.

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I'm interested in the efficiency and overall effect on our persistence odds with a kind of reverse jubilee, where we all have to buy out the right for us and the people we enjoy or profit from to exist.

Part of the design would be the # of people we determine we want to remain existing after the reverse jubilee, the overall amount of funds we want to see raised, and/or the how high we want the bids necessary to remain persisting to be.

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Your basic point is alright, but it seems to be we should evaluate Hanson's proposal based on what we expect the labor market to be like rather than how high unemployment happens to be at the moment.

Mark Kleiman claims that prisoners would be profitably employed if their employers could be assured they showed up sober everyday. I don't remember what support he offered for that claim. Here's hoping he happens to read this and elaborates on his blog.

To the anonymous responding to Hopefully Anonymous: I suppose the threat of jail is supposed to deter some men from fathering children and incapacitate current deadbeat dads to prevent them from fathering even more children. I'd like to hear someone propose sterilization in exchange for reduced sentencing or access to welfare payments. This private charity is already doing yeoman's work.

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Except they've already reproduced.

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sounds eugenic.

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A voice of sanity.

I dont understand why all these economists, who think of themselves as hard-headed realists, feel free to just make shit up and ignore actual human motivations. "Prisoners would still have freedom of contract"! Why? Because you are pulling policy out of your ass. In the real world, policy gets made by the powerful and supports the interests of the powerful. There's no incentive for the powerful to grant convicts freedom, so it would never ever happen.

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Look at the California prison system for an example of what lobbying by the prison industry can do. The PAC of the prison employees is the largest and most powerful PAC in California.


They lobbied for the “three strikes” laws. They are a large part of why drug offenses are punished so harshly, why there are so many people in California prisons and why there is no money for prison health care.

I am not sure where the author and readers of this keep themselves informed of current events. There is currently ~10% unemployment. There is not a “shortage” of workers such that employers would consider setting up special prisons/manufacturing facilities and then bidding for prisoners to staff them to produce products there currently is no demand for. They would only do this if prison labor was cheaper than the labor of non-prisoners, cheaper than minimum wage and didn't have the additional costs of housing, guards, higher levels of supervision. Cheaper than wages in places like China.

I suppose you could get a subsidy from the state, it costs more to house a prisoner than they could possibly earn in a minimum wage job. But then the value of the subsidy is more than the value of the labor, and is in cash. Any business model of using prison labor will maximize profit by maximizing subsidy which means maximizing n times time, the number of prisoners and duration of prisoner incarceration.

If you compel prisons to warranty the prisoners they release, they will never release any, they will continue to collect the subsidy the state is paying them, so long as the subsidy is less than the cost of maintaining the prisoner. When the cost exceeds the subsidy, they will let the prisoner die from lack of medical care.

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Presumably this discussion is about non-violent, financial crimes, e.g. Bernie Madoff and not violent crimes per se. After all, a family whose member has been murdered can't be repaid. I personally piss on a Libertarian notion of "blood money" in which a wealthy person may buy freedom by writing a cheque to the victim's family.

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Since most people aren't Jewish it's not going to happen.

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We're talking about debt because we're assuming that the laborers have incurred civil or criminal liability which they now need to pay off.

As for converting debt to equity: it happens all the time, but usually we call it "going bankrupt". Bankruptcy is fine when it's part of a voluntary debt contract, but tortfeasors and especially criminals may need stricter standards.

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Make the private prisons offer a "warranty" for their inmates. If a released inmate offends again and returns to the same prison or a different one, the original prison has to cover a percentage of the cost, based on how long the prisoner was in. This gives the prisons an incentive to offer rehabilitation and training.

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"I don’t want prisoners to suffer, I just want to them repay their debts. The current system of muted torture doesn’t seem to accomplish this."

Prisoners can't repay their pecuniary debt to society largely because convict labor is worthless. We are working convicts right now, but these are people that generally 1. Aren't very skilled, 2. Aren't very good workers, 3. Have costs other workers don't, IE guarding them, and 4. have a social stigma around them. It is just too hard to make a profit with prison labor.

The systems where prison labor have been profitable, like convict leasing, have been systems where prisoners could be overworked, underfed, physically abused if they didn't work hard enough, etc. In the south convict leasing was, more-or-less, an extension of slavery.

I'd also add that for prisoners with skills and with a low chance of escaping or getting violent -- white collar prisoners -- we often let them work in the community during the day, raising a good chunk of change for both the state and themselves.

Anyways, my overall point is that the status quo eagerly takes advantage of convict labor, and does so in a manner that has historically proven to be the least abusive. It is true that no one has ever tried a system where convicts can pick who gets to use their labor, but it is also true that historically it is difficult to enforce that sort of situation. You can give an indentured servant the right to report his master for beating him, but so long as his master can beat and imprison him, he may not get the opportunity or the psychological wherewithal to enforce that right.

Generally I think our society right now does a pretty good job with convict labor, and the solution to our horrible prison system is to thin out the number of prisoners by ending the war on drugs without lowering funding.

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