If you care more about the results than the method, the answer is obviously yes. I see anger/revenge types of emotions as an imperfect tool for reducing bad things, but since we're smarter than evolution, we can do better.

If you see your anger as an end in itself, then they might disagree. However, I think very few people would be happy getting their car stolen just so they can be angry at the thief.

It seems much more likely that most people don't take the time to think about it. If the costs of something is hidden and it's being paid for by the community anyway, you can't assume that the bulk action of the community represents it's utility function- the incentives are not set up for people to act that way.

The Wrath of Kahneman

by steven0461 1 min read9th Mar 200920 comments


Cass Sunstein, David Schkade, and Daniel Kahneman, in a 1999 paper named Do People Want Optimal Deterrence, write:

Previous research suggests that people’s judgments about punitive damage awards are a reflection of outrage at the defendant’s actions rather than of deterrence. This is not to say that people do not care about deterrence; of course they do. Our hypothesis here is that they do not attempt to promote optimal deterrence; for this reason they do not make the kinds of distinctions that are obvious, even secondnature, for those who study deterrence questions. Above all, they may not believe that in order to ensure optimal deterrence, the amount that a given defendant is required to pay should be increased or decreased depending on the probability of detection, a central claim in the economic analysis of law.

If we're after optimal deterrence, we should punish potentially harmful actions more if they're hard to detect, or else the expected disutility of the punishment is too small. But apparently this does not accord with people's sense of justice.

Does this mean we should change our sense of justice? And should we apply optimal deterrence theory to informal social rewards and punishments, such as by getting angrier at antisocial behaviors that we learned of by (what the wrongdoer thought was) a freak coincidence?