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The New York Times's Fox Butterfield is (in)famous for not being able to grasp cause-and-effect, but his myopic mindset appears to be spreading. An Associated Press story on the subject of crime pays homage to one of Butterfield's classics in the annals of liberal cluelessness:

America's prison population grew again in 2002 despite a declining crime rate, costing the federal government and states an estimated $40 billion a year at a time of rampant budget shortfalls.

Actually, down in its fifth paragraph, after the mandatory quote from the ACLU, the article actually does present the case that the causal relationship may just be there. But it does so skeptically, and immediately moves on to suggest that there's something wrong with putting people in prison, even if it reduces crime. Namely, the cost. But while the article does discuss, ad nauseam, the costs of incarceration, it never even mentions the benefits. How much money is saved due to the reduced crime? It doesn't say. You would think the benefits of a program would be an important part of cost-benefit analysis. Unless you were a reporter, in which case you'd forget all about it.

And then we get to the second aspect of liberal media bias: the implication that the criminal justice system is just a sideline, a distraction for the government from its real business of ensuring that we don't eat too many saturated fats, making sure that women can play basketball in college, and wiring homeless shelters in North Dakota for broadband internet access. We do see stories from time-to-time which depict government programs such as these as unaffordable, yes. But the focus of those stories is invariably on how the government needs to find more money to pay for these essential programs, rather than on how the government needs to find ways to cut spending on these programs. With crime control, on the other hand, we see articles like this one, in which increased incarceration is treated as an obstacle to reducing the deficit, rather than the other way around.

Now, I'll be the first to acknowledge that there are problems with our criminal justice system, that people are prosecuted for nonviolent drug offenses when they shouldn't be. But the problem with that isn't the fact that it costs money, but that arresting people for victimless crimes is a bad idea at any price. If we're prosecuting the right people, then the cost is worth it; that -- not health care, or prescription drug benefits, or subsidies for farmers -- is the job of government.


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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on July 28, 2003 3:47 AM.

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