Pictures with Giants

On Saturday I attended a Mercatus Center reception at the American Political Science Association in honor of Douglass North's new book, Understanding the Process of Economic Change. Doug is an intellectual hero of mine, and I was delighted to finally get a picture with him.

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(You can check out my review of Understanding the Process of Economic Change in the Cato Journal here. [.pdf])

And, as a bonus, I had to opportunity to get a snap with Elinor and Vincent Ostrom, two more heroes of mine.

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If you read and understood everything Doug North and the Ostroms have written (something I certainly haven't done), you would know about as much about the nature of economic and political instutions as anyone alive.

  • Bruce Bethany

    In response to the civil-rights upheavals of the 60’s and 70’s the U.S. government
    enacted draconian laws against the use, possession, and sale of numerous “drugs” . This
    policy was designed to restrict activities among young minorities. To insure the success of these
    punitive measures gov’t agencies (the CIA, e.g.) imported and distributed drugs in center cities across the country. People were locked up for minor infractions so that prison populations swelled. A network of
    private for-profit jails were built and thrived on lucrative government contracts. These measures insured that
    a large percentage of young blacks and latinos were taken off the streets. This is clearly a policy of political
    repression well known in regimes like fascist Germany, the USSR, and China. The U.S. has now joined
    this infamous claque.

  • jailer

    The cognitive connection between behavioral choices and outcomes is exactly what is missing in many inmates. Come back and talk to me when you have an answer for that.

  • Jim

    Take the profit out of drugs, build factories in the ghetto, stabalize the family and provide vocational training.

  • Jim

    Take the profit out of drugs, stabalize the family, provide vocational training and build factories in the ghetto.

  • Dougie

    So which particular black murder or rapist would you want let out?

    • I’m for keeping the murderers and rapists in. Even the white ones!

  • lyca

    Loury and Lott are bound to be talking past each other because Loury is starting from first principles and Lott is jumping to practical recommendations. To oversimplify the debate, if Loury says, “We incarcerate too many people,” Lott replies, “What would you want to do, let criminals go free?”

    Well, no. We can quit incarcerating non-violent drug offenders, which, as several folks have pointed out, is a practice that creates more criminals and destroys communities. We can also do something about the hard problems, particularly de facto residential and school segregation.

    Loury’s main point is philosophical, and it’s that societal trends (such as the patterns of dysfunction and civic exclusion that result in an 8:1 incarceration ratio of blacks to whites) can constitute an injustice, even if each individual action that went into the trend was pretty much blameless. We can talk about social injustice, or collective injustice, or a collective responsibility for the problem of crime and incarceration. Loury, as a liberal, finds this natural and pretty easy to justify. I’m some kind of a libertarian (liberaltarian?) so I accept it grudgingly — I think it’s true, but it’s troubling that it’s true, because it puts a dent in the notion of individual responsibility.

    It runs counter to the Nozickian idea that the distribution of resources in society must be just unless someone engaged in force or fraud. I think that’s more of the standard libertarian view. If nobody used violence on you, you’re responsible for your choices, and having a lousy draw in the economic lottery earns you no claim against the property of your fellow citizens.

    (Of course, there was both force and fraud in urban housing during most of the twentieth century. Blacks who moved into white neighborhoods in Northern cities were routinely bombed. Douglas Massey and Nancy Denton have a great study of residential segregation that makes it clear it was no accident.)

    The thing is, I’m fairly mistrustful of the idea that “we’re all in this together” (if you don’t have individual responsibility, you don’t have individual autonomy.) But there’s also an intuition that a caste system is unjust no matter how it came about; that civic exclusion is an illiberal thing.

  • Tracy W

    We can also do something about the hard problems, particularly de facto residential and school segregation.

    Why do you believe that this will have an impact on crime? Given that most people commit crime against people who live near to them, wouldn’t ending residential and school segregation merely mean that the victims of crime become more ethnically diverse?

    While I’m all for racial equality, I’d prefer it to be in the form of everyone not being robbed, murdered or raped, rather than equal portions of each ethnic group being robbed, murdered or raped.

    We can talk about social injustice, or collective injustice, or a collective responsibility for the problem of crime and incarceration.

    We can talk about all sorts of things. But how does talking about your list of 3 things actually help? Let’s say I’m collectively responsible for the problem of crime and incarceration. What do you expect me to do? And why do you think that thing will work?

    Loury, as a liberal, finds this natural and pretty easy to justify.

    I think this is a general problem for people of all political persuasions, it is easier to talk about something than to actually do something. While I am harsly critical of Dr Loury, I don’t think it’s fair to single out liberals as committing this fault. Indeed, I’m doing this myself – talking not doing – but at least I’m willing to admit that I don’t know how to prevent crime and I don’t go around self-righteously castigating society for failing to do some unspecified things to prevent crime.

  • lyca

    Hi Tracy,
    just a few responses.

    1. The point I was trying to make was that segregation creates conditions that promote crime. This is a fairly standard view among sociologists. Since blacks are poorer, on average, than whites, residential segregation concentrates poverty. The first result is physical degradation of an all-black neighbohood — crumbling porches, unkept yards, etc. This makes property owners less likely to invest in that neighborhood, businesses less likely to open nearby, school quality to deteriorate. The neighborhood becomes a desert where there are currency exchanges and liquor stores, but no banks or supermarkets. When buildings are boarded up and burned, neighborhoods no longer attract stable families and become a magnet for rats, drugs, crime, and delinquency.

    None of this is inevitable, of course, but it is a recognizable pattern.

    Nobody just wants to spread crime around evenly. The point is to reduce crime.

    2. What should we do? I don’t really know, but one long-term change might be to enforce laws against housing discrimination. Realtors tend to tell blacks that no properties are available in white neighborhoods; they systematically engage in “steering,” blacks to black neighborhoods and whites to white neighborhoods. That reinforces segregation.
    I think we need urban school reform — at the very least, lifting the cap on charter schools, possibly also considering vouchers. Some would say we also need a better social safety net in general, because problems of race are largely also problems of class.

    3. About talking vs. doing: I think you’re being a little harsh. Loury and Lott are professional policy experts. Their job is to talk. You and I are commenting on a blog because we’re interested in policy. We’re doing the kind of talking that citizens should do. It’s not such a bad thing. I don’t think anyone’s being particularly self-righteous.

    I said that Loury, as a liberal, finds it natural to believe in collective social responsibility, because most liberals do believe in it, and many conservatives and libertarians doubt it.

    • Tracy W

      Lyca – thank you for taking the effort to answer me.
      On your points – so if the sociology view is right, then presumably non-segregated neighbourhoods should see less crime than segregated ones. Can you point me to studies looking at comparing similar neighbourhoods?
      Because I can think of another causal relationship – an increase in crime can cause a neighbourhood to detoriate as people become less open to their neighbours. Those who can afford to move away. Those who are left have less money for home repairs, producing crumbling porches, unkept yards, etc. And if your neighbour’s house looks like a shack, what’s the point of keeping your place up, the effect on your property values is reduced. Businesses install bars on their shopfronts, the place becomes more threatening, more people move away, the schools become more violent, so people withdraw their children from it, etc.
      I grew up in a neighbourhood that became more crime-ridden during my childhood. I don’t think the process is as simple as segregation => crime, it can be that crime => segregation.

      As for not knowing what to do – aarrgghh, I hate this – I get told that I’m collectively responsible but no one appears to know what I should do. What’s the point of experts writing articles going on and on about collective responsibility without pointing out the way I can discharge my share of the collective responsibility? Do they just want me to feel guilty with no other purpose?

      As for urban school reform – what effect does that have on crime? I’m in favour of improving schools, the curriculum Direct Instruction has a good research base of improving learning for disadvantaged kids. But how well does that play into reducing crime?

      Some would say we also need a better social safety net in general

      It impresses me absolutely zero that some people would say something. You can find people who will say anything. What’s the *evidence* that a better social safety net will reduce crime?
      I’m a NZ citizen. The expansion of the social security net in the 1970s occurred at the same time as an expansion in crime. Correlation does not prove causation of course, I am not saying that the expansion of the social security net caused the expansion in crime, but it rather argues against a better social safety net causing a reduction in crime.

      3)I think you’re being a little harsh. Loury and Lott are professional policy experts. Their job is to talk. We’re doing the kind of talking that citizens should do. It’s not such a bad thing.

      But if all we do is talk, then it’s rather pointless. That’s what I thought you were referring to – that Loury as a liberal prefers only talking.

      As for Loury finding it natural to believe in collective social responsibility, perhaps then I would be better off reading something by someone who really struggled to believe in collective social responsiblity. Sometimes the best teachers are not the ones who are naturally good at a subject but the ones who had to learn it the hard way as they’re the ones who know what problems other learners can have with the subject. Loury’s article shows some massive blind spots that just scream at me that he’s not someone who has really thought about his topic from another point of view (eg his failure to even mention the victims of crime). Can you recommend anyone who argues in favour of collective social responsibility for crime without naturally believing in collective social responsibility in the first place?

  • lyca

    Well, most studies I could find look at the correlation between segregation and crime, not the causation, which probably does work both ways, as you point out. Here’s one paper that shows that segregation is an important predictor of violent crime. But it’s a heck of an endogeneity problem.

    The closest thing to a natural experiment I can think of is Section 8 housing, which is low-income housing that’s scattered throughout a city instead of concentrated in huge housing projects. If integration reduces crime, you might expect Section 8 policies to reduce crime. The Atlantic Monthly article linked upthread examines that and finds that it just spread the crime around. But it’s not a perfect experiment — first of all, Section 8 eligibility has to do with poverty, not race; second, in practice Section 8 is rarely spread evenly around a city, because some aldermen make sure to keep it out of their wards. In Chicago, where I grew up, there’s Section 8 housing in mixed or black middle class South Side neighborhoods like mine, but not in the upper-class, all-white North Side or suburban neighborhoods. (Public choice, folks.)

    So it’s a hard problem. There are plausible feedback mechanisms both ways. It’s nonlinear as all hell. Some economists have tried to model the causes and consequences of segregation using a model of a consumer’s choice of a home to see how segregation affects something like home value, which in turn affects segregation. But they don’t include crime in the analysis.

    I think the logic behind improving schools, or reducing poverty overall, is that illiteracy and poor job prospects contribute to crime. Again, it’s hard to know which way the causation goes — but it’s reasonable to think that you’re not going to pursue a “career” as a gang member if you have better options.

    I know there are serious costs to an extensive social safety net, which is why I said “some” favor it, but not that I favor it. I’m really not sure. (I think Loury does; I believe his main point over the years is that racial problems are really problems of economic inequality, and that the solution is more egalitarian redistribution.) If it is a solution at all, I think it would be a long term and indirect solution, aiming at making sure the next generation of kids don’t get mixed up in crime to begin with.

  • Tracy W

    So lyca, to summarise we don’t know how society can be changed to reduce crime. Under circumstances, I’m rather going to pass on feeling guilty or the idea of collective responsibility, I don’t see any point in it.

    I think Loury does; I believe his main point over the years is that racial problems are really problems of economic inequality, and that the solution is more egalitarian redistribution.

    I am here only discussing Loury’s opinion on crime, as that’s what he wrote about in the essay in question. If egalitarian redistribution leads to a reduction in crime he should show us the evidence.

  • I think that the prison system is a whole needs to be looked at. Many drug users are doing 20+ years while a manslaughter conviction can get you 2 years. Things like that do not make sense to me, and the system needs to take a more personable approach to each case.

    Sincerely,
    Dan Callahan