Carping Already

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In general, I try to be a positive person. Left unchecked, my skeptical side can turn quickly into cynicism. Which is why I was trying to be positive when I read that DeLong and Stiglitz were putting out a new pub called The Economists' Voice. Aside from my distaste for the punctuation choice (really, putting that thing after the second "s" just makes hissing sounds, and places everyone into a group that I find odd -- but then, I'm a bit of an obsessive about those things), I thought it sounded like a fine idea, if only to give economists a chance to write for a less technical audience. (Let's be honest -- one large reason that economists are losing "mindshare" is that many of them are awful, awful writers. Not just because of the piles of charts and a tendency to use greek letters like Aristotle was about to grade their homework.)

Here are the inagural articles. The first three "columns" are all well done, and provided excellent reading. While I tend to disagree frequently with Prof. DeLong, let it not be said he doesn't write a compelling article.

But then I read the "Feature", and was promptly disappointed. Why is it that so many of the lawyers that enter into "law and economics" do the second part of it so poorly?

I'll let you read the article for yourself, but want to mention a few things here.

The point of the piece is to say that the Bush policies towards crime have been a direct reversal of Clinton's, and have thus eroded the gains made in crime rates under Clinton. Now, I've not followed much of Bush's policies on crime, and have enough other issues with our current president to occupy my time. My issue isn't with Bush v. Clinton, but rather the absolute paucity of validity in the article.

First of all, the trends in violent crime, property crime and more don't really show a huge increase under the Bush administration. The movements have all been small, some up, some down. However, I will concede for the moment that the discussion in the paper is more about policies than anything else.

Why then, do all the charts presented show declines starting in 1999? Bush didn't take office until 2001. At best, the argument could be that Bush didn't see the gains Clinton had made and push hard to get funding levels back up to 1997-8 levels. But in every chart the precipitous drops in cops and funds started in 1999. I can't tell if I'm supposed to infer something from that, understand some sense of history that would indicate why the funding was slipping under Clinton, etc. Moreover, the level of Hiring Funds from 2001-2002 looks pretty steady. In the meantime, I do seem to recall something in 2001 that might have cause some dollars to shift in the 2002 budget. Now, you can argue that the presence or more police is necessary during a time of potential terror strikes, but that's not what the author does. Other funding reductions are discussed, and may well be accurate in defining Bush weaker on crime. But the charts presented are almost laughable.

The other issue is the odd argument about the assault weapons ban. As we should know now from the news coverage, that ban didn't end until recently. Up until then, there's no way to say losses in crime reduction were because of Bush's stance on the ban. Even if Bush had come out screaming at the outrage of such a ban, it wouldn't make a difference until it was gone. Of course, he didn't, and has said he would sign it if the bill was put in front of him. And as we all know, the president doesn't write laws, the Congress does. Sure, Bush could have sat on a couple of Senators to sponsor a renewal, but since this is published in an econ journal, I'm assuming Donohue's familiar with the concept of opportunity costs.

1 Comment

I agree that it is more of a partisan than thoughtful article. It leaves out a more possible cause -- the downturn in the economy!

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This page contains a single entry by published on September 22, 2004 10:06 AM.

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