Bryan Caplan  

Escobar's Dilemma

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Suppose you want to murder a lot of innocent people, but you also want to be widely loved.  What's the best way to achieve both goals simultaneously?

Pablo Escobar's approach is probably the most effective: Kill freely, but also give freely.  Loudly help the poor, and psychologically normal humans will struggle to condemn you for the most blatant and brutal of crimes. 

Indeed, the best way to make sure people do condemn mass murderers is to make sure people never hear about their charitable activities.  And the second-best is probably to loudly publicize the mass murderers' luxurious lifestyles so people picture them as playboys rather than philanthropists.  Tales of Communist leaders' dachas and limousines probably did more to discredit them than enumeration of their executions and slave labor camps.  And if Westerners knew anything about Nazi internal social and economic policies, they'd feel much cognitive dissonance.

Challenge: Name any group of mass murderers that did not loudly help the poor.  I can think of several candidates, but all of them pre-date the 20th century.  In the age of global media, ambitious killers seem to know - almost by instinct - that conspicuous do-gooding is the best way to get away with murder.




COMMENTS (13 to date)
Pajser writes:

It seems to me that these days majority, maybe almost all organizations perform some charitable activities and they do it pretty loudly. They do it, partly, to improve their public image. Mass murderers are not exception, I guess.

Do you claim that mass murderers give for charitable purposes more than non mass-murderers?

JLV writes:

I mean, Pinochet comes to mind, right?

The Reagan administration come to think of it.

Matt Simpson writes:

I doubt modern mass murderers know to be generous in order to get away with their murders - it's probably a selection effect. You don't get away with it in the first place if you didn't do something to placate those who would depose you.

Martin writes:

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RPLong writes:

The first group that came to my mind was the Khmer Rouge.

Matt Skene writes:

I think the bankers involved in causing the financial collapse qualify as mass murders in the same way that Mao would qualify as a result of his economic and agricultural policies even without the actual executions he performed. I'm not aware of them giving lots of money to charity to make people okay with this. Of course, this could be aided by the fact that neither they nor the public seem to think of those responsible in this way.

ryandaza writes:

Manson Family

Hana writes:

How about Pol Pot?

Justin Ross writes:

Al Capone's mob seemed to be popular benefactors in Chicago, if I recall correctly.

dadanada writes:

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khodge writes:

I think the question is mis-worded. Money (i.e. "helping the poor") is only one incentive. Economics demands that we examine the choice of incentives.

I do not believe that either Maoist China, North Korea, or Cuba trumpeted their helping the poor to the extent that it would cause them to support the revolution. Likewise, Venezuela is no longer helping the poor. In each case, however, there is some sort of tribal/city-state/nationalism that is in place...not too different from "Truth, Justice, and The American Way" that inspired America during the World Wars.

Miguel Madeira writes:

Khmer Rouge/Pol Pot claimed that their goal was to help the poor.

Possible examples: Yahya Khan, Suhuarto, the military governments of Guatemala, Franco

Putin seems to get away with a lot by tagging whales with crossbows and riding horses topless.

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