It may be spring for most Egyptians, but this is definitely former Egyptian president Mubarak’s winter of discontent: the deposed dictator and his two sons will face murder charges. We certainly sympathize with Egypt’s determination to hold them accountable; still we wonder whether the precedent is good for the rest of the world.
Yes, we understand that their prosecution could serve as a deterrent to bad behaviour on the part of other tyrants. Probably more important, it will definitely serve our collective sense of justice. The catch, of course, is that it will make wretched leaders in Yemen, Libya, Syria, Zimbabwe and a host of other man-made hells more reluctant to step aside.
Economists who have spent too much time in ivory towers are inspired by Nobelist Ronald Coase and his eponymous theorem. Where others see only conflicting interests, they see opportunity. In theory, there’s room for a transaction in which still-oppressed people (or, slightly more realistically, their champions in the rich democracies) compensate Egyptians for not bringing Mr. Mubarak to justice.
But we’re not quite crazy enough to believe such a deal is possible. For now, we’ll just go on hoping that the victims and the bad guys all get what they deserve.