Benjamin2009-12-03
Cheap Talk: Why is Blackmail Illegal?

Awesome short article on Cheap Talk looking at blackmail from an economist\'s point of view, and asking why it\'s illegal (granted that it\'s not a nice thing to do... but what\'s the legal theory behind it?) and how it even works in the first place.

Comments
DavidC2009-12-03
Yeah, kinda weird. Related to thinking I\'ve been trying to do about \'coercion\' generally (including coming up with a good definition). E.g., take rape: Certainly the society and the law should take rape more seriously than they do. Threats of physical violence, for example (even implicit), make for rape and should be prosecuted as such. (Or should they just be prosecuted as threats of physical violence, without it mattering that they were used to commit a rape? But I think it does matter what the threat is used for. Seems like \"I\'ll kill you unless you give me a dollar\" should be prosecuted differently from \"I\'ll kill you unless you have sex with me.\") But there\'s a whole range of ways to coerce people-- and I don\'t think all of them should be illegal. What\'s the picture of furious green ideas like?
DavidC2009-12-03
Oh, and the reasoning at the end of that article about getting the blackmailer to give the blackmailee dirt on hirself (as insurance that the blackmailer will actually destroy the information as promised) seems kind of stupid:

(1) Once the blackmailee has this dirt, it can be used against the blackmailer to its full advantage, whether that is more, less, or completely different from, getting the blackmailer to destroy the original information. There\'s nothing connection it to its purpose.

(2) The usefulness of a threat depends on trust. The threat only works if the blackmailer trusts the blackmailee to carry out the threat if necessary. (Just as blackmail only works if the blackmailee trusts this of the blackmailer. And also trusts not to...) So the idea of giving the blackmailee dirt on the blackmailer just shifts around the need for trust to a different kind of trust in a different place. Which could be useful, but it\'s not some magic cure that removes the need for trust, like the author of that article seems to think it is.

DavidC2009-12-03
...clarification: Even if I don\'t think all means of coercion should be prosecuted, I do use the word \'rape\' for all coerced sex. (Err, all sex one person is coerced into having with another, by that same other.)

Maybe this will this work? I wish your blog would interpret my carriage returns, though!

DavidC2009-12-04
There\'s a problem with the order, right? If I tell you I voted for LaRouche before you give me $20, then you won\'t have to give me the $20. If I\'m supposed to tell you after, maybe I won\'t. But I\'m pointing out something a little different, too: Your knowing I voted for LaRouche is only useful if I believe your threat that you\'ll tell everyone I voted for LaRouche. The weird thing about threats is what\'s incentive to follow through? If the threat fails and I do email everyone that you voted for Bush... what do you gain by telling them I voted for LaRouche? The incentive to follow through is probably just wanting to be trusted that you\'ll follow through with future threats, right? But there\'s the same incentive to be honest about this stuff in the first place, so I don\'t see the point.
Whirr2009-12-04
Well, but once the blackmailee has dirt on the blackmailer, assuming that the dirt is of equal nature, the power is equalized, right? So, if you find out that I voted for Bush in 2004 and threaten to tell everyone unless I pay you $20, there\'s no guarantee that after I pay up you won\'t just laugh and send out a mass email. But if on paying you the $20, you tell me an equally injurious secret about yourself (perhaps you voted for LaRouche?) then we both have holds on each other. I know that my $20 was well spent, since you\'ll never tell about my shameful voting history because I\'ll be able to retaliate with your own. Of course, if a third party ever finds out about either secret, all bets are off...