I probably don't care about baseball and steroids as much as I should -- their game, their rules and all that. But it's fair to say that baseball officials haven't really been serious about stopping the use of steroids, as evidenced by fines that no one took seriously. Now they are getting serious:
Spurred by the threat of federal legislation, players and owners agreed Tuesday to increase the penalties for steroid use to a 50-game suspension for a first offense, 100 games for a second and a lifetime ban for a third.
That's a drastic enough penalty to make the offense go away, and it offers a lesson we can apply to crime and punishment in the real world outside sports. We can tell how serious a given society is about a particular crime by the punishment it sets. Marijuana use, for all the invective against it, isn't taken very seriously, since simple possession is a misdemeanor in most jurisdictions. We can see that sex crimes are taken seriously, since they can get the perpetrators put in Internet databases and hounded for life. Driving-under-the-influence once was punished so lightly that few paid attention, but now the punishments are becoming harsher. We can make a dent in a particular crime by making the pain of getting caught at it not worth the pleasure of trying to get away with it.
Of course there are limits. Someone once said of drug use -- I think it was William F. Buckley -- something to the effect that we could end it as a social problem rather easily and rather quickly. Just take the next five drug users caught -- whatever the drug, whatever the amount -- and put them in front of a firing squad on national TV. He went on to add that no civilized society would or should tolerate such a draconian solution. We have to decide, crime by crime, how beneficial we think it is to try to end it and what we're willing to accept to end it. That's what baseball has just done.