Relevant and even prescient commentary on news, politics and the economy.

Nonviolence

This article by Ezra Klein is excellent.  I can’t do it justice in a blog post, but here is a bit:

This is the often neglected heart of nonviolence: It is a strategic confrontation with other human beings. It takes as self-evident that we must continue to live in fellowship with one another. As such, it puts changing each other’s hearts at the center of political action, and then asks what kind of action is likeliest to bring about that transformation. That its answers are radical and demanding does not make them untrue.

“King thinks human beings are sacred,” says Brandon Terry, a Harvard sociologist and co-author of a volume on King’s political philosophy. “We need, above all else, to avoid preventing them from changing for the better. That’s what the whole ethos is about: trying to see in other people what we see in ourselves — the capacity for growth, self-correction, and change.”

And another:

That violence begets violence is more than a dorm room slogan: It is a much-replicated research finding. A study by the US Justice Department of 11- to 17-year-olds, for instance, found that being the victim of violence was an extraordinarily powerful predictor of subsequently being the perpetrator of violence. “Violent victimization,” they concluded, “is an important risk factor for subsequent violent offending.”

There is much the state does that is meant to protect citizens from violence, including policing, which really does work to reduce crime. But there’s also much the state does that inflicts violence — and that is nowhere more true than in the state’s cramped, self-defeating definition of justice. As Danielle Sered writes in Until We Reckon: Violence, Mass Incarceration, and a Road to Repair, decades of studies find four key predictors of violence in individuals: “shame, isolation, exposure to violence, and a diminished ability to meet one’s economic needs.” Those are also, as it happens, the definitional features of prison. “As a nation, we have developed a response to violence that is characterized by precisely what we know to be the main drivers of violence,” she writes. “We should not be surprised, then, when the system produces exactly the results we would expect.”

And one more:

In restorative justice, the focus is not on what perpetrators have done but on what victims need. In some cases, that is imprisonment. But far more often, it is answers, amends, the kind of visible transformation in a perpetrator that leads to a continued feeling of safety. Sered, who directs the remarkable nonprofit Common Justice, tells the story of a man robbed at gunpoint. Asked if he preferred imprisonment or a restorative justice program, he asked whether the perpetrator could get life without parole for the crime. Told that he couldn’t, the man chose restorative justice. “If he can’t be gone forever, then I’d rather he be changed,” he said.

meta-analysis of 84 evaluations of restorative justice programs focused on juveniles found better outcomes for both offenders and victims. Another analysis of 22 studies examining particularly rigorous restorative justice programs concluded, “restorative justice programs are a more effective method of improving victim and/or offender satisfaction, increasing offender compliance with restitution, and decreasing the recidivism of offenders when compared to more traditional criminal justice responses.”

As they say, read the whole thing!

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Diversity matters. Integration matters.

This article provides powerful evidence of the value of racial diversity and integration.

At the New York Times this past week, it was black reporters who led the newsroom protest over the decision to publish the appalling Op-Ed of Senator Tom Cotton.  Their leadership – based on their different perspective – forced James Bennet to step down as opinion editor.  A similar story unfolded at the Philadelphia Inquirer.

The presence of black reporters has influenced coverage of President Trump.

Mr. Lowery’s view that news organizations’ “core value needs to be the truth, not the perception of objectivity,” as he told me, has been winning in a series of battles, many around how to cover race. Heated Twitter criticism helped to retire euphemisms like “racially charged.” The big outlets have gradually, awkwardly, given ground, using “racist” and “lie” more freely, especially when describing Mr. Trump’s behavior.

It is just so much harder to justify describing Trump’s words and deeds as “racially charged” rather than “racist” when you need to explain your use of language to your black colleague, face to face.

Black reporters played an important role covering the protests in Ferguson, which brought national attention to the Black Lives Matter movement.

The press corps that landed in Ferguson after a black 18-year-old, Michael Brown Jr., was fatally shot by a white police officer, was blacker than most big American newsrooms. That wasn’t an accident — many reporters had raised their hands to cover a story that unfolded, first, on Twitter . . .

“There was a critical mass of black journalists — most of them young — many to most of them steeped in the history of race and the history of police violence in this country,” said Jelani Cobb of The New Yorker, an elder statesman of the group who celebrated his 45th birthday at a wine bar near the Ferguson police headquarters.

Diversity matters.  Integration matters.  We still don’t know all the ways that diversity and integration matter, but if past trends continue, we will find that they matter much more than we currently understand.

John Roberts, take note.

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Initial polling on police accountability and protests

Summary of initial polling:

  • Overwhelming agreement that officers should be fired
  • Strong agreement with murder charges
  • Majority agreement that policing is biased against blacks
  • Majority support for protesters
  • Concern about violence and looting, support for curfews and use of National Guard, and even military
  • Trump net 17 point disapproval of handling of situation

My takeaways – 1) there is real hope for progress here if the protests remain largely peaceful and protesters can separate themselves in the mind of the public from violence and looting, and 2) Trump may have badly misread the situation.  See also here.

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Using insurance to improve policing

There are two insurance-related police reform ideas being discussed.

One approach focuses on municipal liability insurance.  Many municipalities do not purchase liability insurance to cover lawsuits against officers, instead choosing to self-insure.  This is potentially a problem because insurers actually play an important role in loss control.  They provide information and services related to procedures, training, the risks posed by individual officers, etc.

The second proposal would require individual police officers to purchase professional liability insurance, in the same way that doctors and other professionals do today:

In response, we propose an innovative, market-based solution – mandatory professional liability insurance for police officers. Much the way that drivers with terrible records may be forced off the roads by high premiums, officers with the most dangerous histories, tendencies, and indicators might be “priced-out” of policing by premiums that reflect their actual risk of unjustified violence. Potential reductions or increases in premiums would create systemic effects by incentivizing both departments and individual officers to adopt policies, trainings, and procedures that are proven to lower risk.  Insurance companies, an outside third-party removed from local politics, would be in an ideal position to assess indicators of risk actuarially and set premiums accordingly.

My sense is that neither of these proposals are magic bullets, but they may be worth trying.

Under the first proposal, municipalities that buy insurance would have less of an incentive to prevent lawsuits than they do when they self-insure.  The loss control expertise of insurance companies may offset this, but municipalities that self-insure can (I assume) purchase loss control services today.  They may choose not to do so, presumably because of pressures from police officers and unions, because “loss control” includes things like getting rid of problem officers.  This is the heart of the political problem, and insurance will not make it go away, though it may help create pressure for reform if it makes better information about the costs of poor policing available.

Forcing municipalities to purchase insurance may also help if municipal governments that self-insure do not put aside adequate funds (“reserves”) to pay for wrongdoing by police officers that occurs today.  By under-reserving for today’s wrongful behavior by police, city officials can pass the costs of poor policing practices on to future officials and taxpayers.  If municipalities purchase reasonably full insurance, the expected costs of lawsuits from current policing practices will be reflected in the current insurance premium.  This will increase the incentive of city officials to reduce behavior that leads to lawsuits.  It seems to me that this may be the main advantage of both proposals.

The same problems would arise under the second proposal.  In addition, the prices charged to individual officers would quickly be politicized, just as they are in many other areas of insurance.  More subtly, full experience rating of officers may not be desirable because it exposes officers to too much risk.

 

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Public opinion and police reform

From Cato:

  • 79% of Americans support having outside law enforcement agencies investigate police misconduct, rather than leave it to the department to handle. It may surprise some readers to learn that most jurisdictions in the U.S. allow police departments to investigate and discipline their own officers. Instead, most Americans think having some outside oversight could enhance accountability. Majorities across racial groups support this: 81% of whites, 82% of blacks, and 66% of Latinos support outside investigations of misconduct.
  • 65% of Americans believe racial profiling is commonly used, but nearly the same share oppose it. 63% oppose the practice of police stopping motorists or pedestrians of certain racial or ethnic groups if police believe that these groups are more likely than others to commit certain types of crimes. 62% of whites, 77% of blacks, and 62% of Hispanics all oppose racial profiling.
  • 68% support de‐​escalation training for police to aid police officers during confrontations with citizens. 62% of whites, 81% of blacks, and 70% of Hispanics support providing this additional training to officers.
  • 53% think local police departments using military weapons and armored vehicles “goes too far” and aren’t necessary for law enforcement purposes. Presumably, these same Americans think police ought not to use such equipment. 53% of whites, 58% of blacks, and 51% of Hispanics think local police using military weapons goes too far.
  • 89% support the police wearing body cameras. Americans don’t think this is just for civilians’ benefit—but for police officers too. Nearly three‐​fourths (74%) think body cameras equally protect police officers who wear them and citizens who interact with them. 90% of whites, 89% of blacks, and 87% of Hispanics support police wearing body cameras.
  • 73% support a law requiring police officers to notify citizens when a stop is voluntary and they are free to decline a search, including 74% of whites, 63% of blacks, and 74% of Latinos.
  • 54% favor treating drug offenses like minor traffic violations with small fines rather than as felonies. Some scholars believe cooling the drug war could reduce the number of high stakes encounters between police and communities thereby helping to rebuild trust. 54% of whites, 59% of blacks, and 52% of Hispanics support re‐​categorizing drug offenses from felonies to civil offenses.
  • 84% support ending a practice called civil asset forfeiture in which police may take money or property of a person they suspect may have been involved in a crime before the person is convicted. 84% of whites, 86% of blacks, and 80% of Hispanics think police should only be allowed to seize property after a conviction.
  • 67% support banning neck restraints as a police tactic, including 67% of whites, 74% of blacks, and 59% of Latinos. (According to a Yahoo/​YouGov May 2020 survey)
  • 80% support implementing an early warning system to identify problematic officers, including 81% of whites 88% of blacks, and 74% of Latinos. (According to a Yahoo/​YouGov May 2020 survey)

Much more at the link.  There is a real opportunity here . . .

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Will confident conservatism end with a bang or a whimper?

I highly recommend David Hopkins blog.  Yesterday, he posted a piece on the end of confident conservatism.  It begins like this:

After Richard Nixon’s 1968 election, many conservatives came to believe that their movement naturally represented the political views of most Americans. This conservative faith in the wisdom of the average citizen was cemented by Ronald Reagan’s popularity in the 1980s, which was widely interpreted at the time (and not just by conservatives) as a decisive expression of the nation’s exhaustion with both outdated New Deal economic policies and decadent ’60s-era cultural practices.

Here are the final paragraphs:

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There is hope.

The barriers facing black people in America today are numerous and daunting:  poor schools, dangerous neighborhoods, lack of income, wealth, and connections, persistent formal and informal discrimination in so many settings.  The list goes on, and it certainly includes many problems with our criminal justice system, from over-criminalization to degrading conditions of imprisonment to oppressive and violent policing.

Of all the problems facing black Americans, problems in the criminal justice system should be among the easiest to address.  This does not mean we can wave a magic wand and make these problems disappear.  But there are many promising ideas for reform; a careful effort to reform policing that would make a real difference.  We can quibble over the details and test different approaches, but we have a good idea of what needs to be done.

The combination of clear injustice, persistent and brave protesters, and promising policy ideas should make this a moment of hope for Americans, an opportunity to make measurable progress on a journey that has taken far too long.

Instead of grasping this opportunity with open arms, Trump is doing everything in his power to divide us for political gain.  Fortunately, Trump may not succeed.  We have made real progress since 1968.  Even many Republicans are concerned with police violence.  Plus, we have cell phones.  Ironically, Trump’s resistance may keep the protests alive and underscore the need for change.  Let’s hope.

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Ezra Klein is mad at the Democrats over automatic stabilizers

The HEROES act passed by House Democrats did not include a formula that would keep expanded unemployment insurance benefits in place until the economy has recovered.  The always thoughtful Ezra Klein is very critical of this omission.  His argument can be boiled down to two points:

  1. If Biden wins the presidency, Republicans will predictably try to destroy Biden politically by refusing to extend economic supports needed to protect families and promote an economic recovery. Automatic stabilizers are critical to protect a possible Biden presidency from Republican sabotage.
  2. Republicans need an economic stimulus package in the run up to the November elections more than Democrats do. This gives Democrats the bargaining power they need to force Republicans to accept automatic stabilizers.

According to Klein, moderate and progressive Democrats all support automatic stabilizers, and the idea polls well, but House leadership backed off when the CBO said the stabilizers for unemployment would cost $1 to 2 trillion dollars.  At the same time, Pelosi emphasized that the money would be spent if needed, so there is no actual savings from refusing to include automatic stabilizers, it’s political posturing all the way down.

I agree with Klein on point 1 above.  Automatic stabilizers are critical to protect a Biden presidency from Republican sabotage.  (It would be foolish to count on winning a working majority in the Senate and repealing the filibuster.)

I am less sure that Klein’s analysis of bargaining power (point 2 above) is correct, although I am sympathetic to his position.

Suppose that July rolls around and states are laying off workers and expanded unemployment benefits are about to expire.  The Republicans can agree to aid state and local governments and to extend UI benefits for a few months.  Democrats can reject this and hold out for automatic stabilizers.  Republicans will paint them as obstructionist.  It is not entirely clear who wins this public relations war, and with the election approaching the Democrats may not be willing to gamble if Biden appears to be leading.

Even more important, failure to agree to a package will lead to immense suffering as UI benefits expire.  Faced with this human catastrophe, Democrats may not be willing to play hardball with Republicans.  It’s like a real mother and an imposter mother bargaining over a baby:  if the no agreement point is cutting the baby in half, and the real mother is unwilling to do this, the imposter mother gets the baby.

Should the Democrats be willing to play hardball against the Republicans?  Should they be willing to inflict tremendous economic damage on innocent people to protect a Biden presidency?  I understand why the Democrats are reluctant to do this.  It is tempting to think that Democrats should respond to Republican hostage taking and hardball politics in kind, but the short-run humanitarian costs are very real, ratcheting up the level of inter-party conflict is bad for our democracy, and there is a legitimate question about whether the Democrats should wait and hope that the political environment shifts in a way that moderates the Republican party (e.g., perhaps demographic replacement will force Republican elites to change tactics).  On the other hand, perhaps the Republican party is so authoritarian that hardball is inevitable and necessary, despite the short-run suffering it will cause and the potential damage to our democracy from further escalating partisan conflict.

Finally, it is not clear from Klein’s article exactly how the bargaining inside the Democratic party went down.  It is possible that members from swing districts opposed automatic stabilizers for narrow careerist reasons, even if the inclusion of automatic stabilizers would have had only a small effect on their re-election prospects.  In this case, the real problem here is not the democrats as a group, but the careerism of a small group coupled with the weakness of parties in the American political system (that is, the inability of parties to discipline wayward members).

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COVID-19 progress, take 2

In response to the comment on my last post . . . rolling 7 day average death rates with the peak for each country set to 100.

 

We peaked later than most countries other than Germany, which seems to be making better progress than us.  We may be doing as well (or as badly) as the U.K.  It seems like France and Spain are also outperforming the U.S. on this metric.

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