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Edited by Christopher J. Coyne and Rachel L. Mathers
Chapter 7: The Economics of Torture
Pavel Yakovlev 7.1 INTRODUCTION Torture is an act by which severe pain (mental or physical) is intentionally inflicted on a person.1 Although torture is officially acknowledged by virtually all countries to be an extreme violation of human rights, two-thirds of all countries, according to Amnesty International, do not consistently abide by anti-torture treaties.2 Despite being condemned by law and several international treaties, torture is still widely used today by many governments, many of which claim to be democratic (Shue 1978; Neumayer 2005; McCoy 2005; Rejali 2007). Existing research on torture and other human rights abuses is dominated by conflict scholars, political scientists, human rights scholars and sociologists. While their scholarly contributions are very valuable, an economic analysis of torture would be highly complementary, but it is largely absent from the literature. This chapter offers a multidisciplinary literature review on this topic. The review begins with a historical perspective on torture followed by a discussion on anti-torture treaties, some empirical evidence on the determinants of torture, and positive arguments for or against torture. In addition, the chapter develops a simple model that examines the optimal level of torture that will be chosen when the costs of torture are widespread and the benefits are concentrated. The model shows that the optimal level of torture depends on the probability of retaliation from the opposing side in a conflict. 7.2 A HISTORICAL PRIMER TO TORTURE For much of human history, torture has been a legitimate method of coercion, intimidation or information gathering. Torture has...
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