Monday, March 23, 2009

3-23-09: Diminishing Returns

When I heard about how the Mexican government is offering cash rewards for any information that could incriminate the country's top drug lords, I was reminded of the time when I was in high school and asked my dad why nobody had tried to turn in Whitey Bulger despite the sizable cash reward offered by the FBI for any information that could lead to his arrest.

My dad's answer was simply this question: "How quickly could you spend the money?" He was referring to how dangerous it would be for any informant; you could be dead the next day if they found out quick enough.

But upon hearing the story today regarding Mexico, I thought it might be interesting if there were some sort of study done that looked in to how well cash rewards work, mostly along the lines of how much is enough? If you think about the simple logistics of it, you physically can't spend money quickly enough for some of the amounts. And the relationship is probably exponential (falling rapidly as amount of reward increases): the larger the reward, the less time you'd probably have to spend it.

I wonder if every one thinks about this. I'm sure there are still plenty of tips submitted daily to the FBI and other law enforcement agencies by people with no credible evidence. But are the people with valuable information simply smarter and know the stakes against them? Perhaps. But I'm not really interested in that.

I'd just like to see a study done to determine which rewards would probably be worth it to go after. If you're the FBI, knowing how much is enough to offer (why offer $1,000,000 when $500,000 will do?) and letting people know the "safety factor," you might just get more information. The toughest part is objectively determining which wanted criminals are more dangerous than others, from the point of view of an informant. It would ultimately be focused on how well-connected the criminal is. So, if you have information on some idiot who performs a single heinous act, like an assassination, they're probably just a lunatic and aren't well connected. So, despite the fact that you're dealing with a seriously violent criminal, if you have information, you're probably safer when they're caught. So, offering a substantial reward for those criminals might make more sense, as the "safety factor" would be higher. But then again, most of the time the whole point in capturing the criminal is to take down an organization, so it's a tough call.

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