Saturday, June 29, 2013

Sgt. Grover, USMC

In his entertaining memoir, A Personal Odyssey, Thomas Sowell relates something he learned while in the Marine Corps in the early 1950s;
Some people were surprised that I dared to give Sergeant Grover a hard time, on this and other occasions, especially since he was a nasty character to deal with. Unfortunately for him, I knew that he was going to give me as hard a time as he could, regardless of what I did. That meant that it didn't really cost me anything to give him as hard a time as I could. Though I didn't realize it at the time, I was already thinking like an economist. Giving Sergeant Grover a hard time was, in effect, a free good and at a zero price my demand for it was considerable.
The anecdote came to our mind this week while watching testimony in the George Zimmerman case in Florida. The prosecutor has been parading witnesses in front of the jury for several days, ostensibly to prove his theory of the shooting of Treyvon Martin; it was murder. However, every witness was turned by the defense, under cross examination, into supporting the defense's contention that it was a case of self-defense.

Presumably, the prosecutor, being intelligent enough to get into law school, pass his courses and also the bar exam, can see the logic of the evidence he himself has brought into the courtroom.  In fact, the first prosecutor to evaluate this evidence declined to bring any charges against Mr. Zimmerman for this very reason. It was only after a firestorm of racial animosity--the young man who was shot being African American, the shooter not--erupted, fed by some opportunistic attorneys and television commentators, that that decision was re-evaluated and Mr. Zimmerman was indicted on a charge of murder.

That that charge is a 'free good', at a 'zero price' from the perspective of the prosecutor has become painfully obvious to any objective observer. In fact, it's even better than a 'free good', since to decline to prosecute would have subjected him (and his political/legal career) to the same barrage of racial venom seen after the initial decision. A 'price' he has apparently decided is higher than the damage to his professional integrity from bringing a case to trial he knows he will lose.

The suspicion can't be ignored that the judge presiding in the case has also made a similar decision. Though clearly not as intelligent as the prosecutor and the defense attorneys, and a very weak personality--she appears to be a mere spectator in her own courtroom, while the attorneys control what goes on--she has to see that the prosecutor is not making a case at all against Zimmerman.  Certainly not one even close to being beyond a reasonable doubt--his legal burden of proof.

There are however costs to these decisions, probably in the millions of dollars.  But, these costs are borne by the taxpayers and Mr. Zimmerman, not by the decision makers themselves. The incentives facing the prosecutor, the judge, even the defense attorneys who are being paid to exercise their skills in the courtroom are at odds with whatever benefits the people of Florida are getting from this farcical show trial now playing out over national television.

Speaking of which, the television networks covering all this have their own incentives not to spoil the fun. They're getting free programming material. Better than a soap opera that they'd have to pay someone to write and act out on camera. Which, we suspect, would come as no surprise to Thomas Sowell.

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