History of Violence: A Conversation with Barry Latzer

rise and fall 2

This podcast with criminologist Barry Latzer focuses on the surprising findings in his latest book, The Rise and Fall of Violent Crime in America. Latzer discusses the violent crime wave that began in the mid 1960's and how its sharp fall in the mid 90s has recast urban life in America. However, Latzer urges humility in understanding the rise and fall of violent crime, pointing to an array of social, economic, and demographic factors as likely reasons for the good news about the downturn in violent crime in the last two decades. While not dismissing recent calls for sentencing reform and a…

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Risk Doesn’t Stand Still

Insurance concept

Foolproof: Why Safety Can Be Dangerous and How Danger Makes Us Safe explores the movement and transformation of risks in adapting, self-referencing systems, of which financial systems are a notable example. In this provocative new book, the Wall Street Journal’s chief economics commentator Greg Ip contemplates how actions to reduce and control risk are often discovered to have increased it in some other way, and thus, “how safety can be dangerous.”

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Balkin on Strategic Originalism

Jack Balkin has written an interesting post commenting upon Steven Smith’s and my discussion of strategic originalism. I agree with Balkin that the effectiveness of strategic originalism would turn on the number of originalist judges and whether they are the swing justices. With only one thoroughgoing originalist justice on the Supreme Court at present, strategic originalism will have very limited effect. My discussion, though, was focused not on the present situation, but instead on a more general problem which would also occur even if there were three (or a significant plurality of) originalists on the Court.

Balkin describes my arguments as follows:

Rappaport suggests that originalist judges should threaten to abandon a principled commitment to originalism and impose their personal preferences. Faced with this threat, liberal nonoriginalists will cower in fear and agree to compromise on originalist decisions, because those are likely to offer better results for them than the preferences of conservative judges.

Let’s put aside the hyperbolic language in this description. My point was that a strategic originalism might cause the Leftwing nonoriginalists to have additional incentives to follow originalism, not that it would make them fully originalist. While Balkin does not mention it, I should also emphasize that I ended up recommending against this strategy of strategic originalism, because it would not be as effective as a principled originalism in persuading others to follow originalism. But let me here just focus on Balkin’s criticisms.

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There Is No Charity in Bureaucracy

Strassenschild 23 - Sozialstaat

Compassion, it seems to me, is better as a retail than as a wholesale virtue. No doubt there are exceptional individuals who are able to feel genuine compassion toward vast populations or categories of humans, but I think they are few. The more widely a person’s compassion is cast, the thinner it tends to be spread, until we begin to suspect that it is not genuine compassion at all, but a pose or an exhibition of virtue—in short, mere humbug, at best an aspiration, at worst a career move. How we think of individuals is necessarily different from how we think…

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The Right to Privacy Is a Threat to Liberty

The New York Times recently reported that in 2006 a German executive at Volkswagen gave a presentation on how the company’s cars could evade emissions tests.  Who was the German executive at the root of a scandal that will cost VW shareholders tens of billions? The New York Times stated that it could not identify him or her because of German privacy laws.

This example nicely illustrates how privacy laws undermine liberty. Their direct harm to liberty is clear. Because of fear of liability in Germany, the New York Times cannot exercise its free speech rights in the United States to name a key executive in a story about one of the most important business scandals of the decade.

The harm to society is clear as well. Executives in companies (and officials in government) are likely to behave better if they fear exposure. Indeed, privacy laws will reduce the number of investigate reporters trying to uncover malfeasance. Newspapers are naturally more interested in running stories where names are attached than stories about faceless executives or bureaucrats, because they are more likely to interest readers.

But the laws also impose more indirect, but pervasive costs to liberty. By reducing the power of private social norms to restrain bad behavior, they make a more intrusive state necessary. The less civil society governs itself by decentralized, informal means, such as by circulating information, the more there will be a need for the heavy handed enforcement mechanisms of a top-down bureaucracy.

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What Power of the Purse?

A few years ago Eugene Steuerle (Brookings) and his colleague Tim Roeper developed a “fiscal democracy index.” It measures the extent to which revenues are already claimed by permanent programs—the big entitlement programs, and interest payments on the debt. The remaining “discretionary” portion has to pay for the entire government’s operations, from defense to roads to education to the DoJ. The trajectory over the past half-century looks like this: Note how in this as in many other respects, the Clinton years look pretty darn good. And note how the index turned negative in 2009. The picture going forward doesn’t look much…

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Go Down, Moses

Statue at Harriet Tubman Square, Pembroke Street and Columbus Avenue, Boston.

When the Secretary of the Treasury announced that Andrew Jackson would be replaced on the face of the $20 bill by Harriet Tubman, responses from conservatives were lively.

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Last Paroxysm of the Tyrant


In Martin Amis’ underrated study of Josef Stalin, he asserted that Stalin’s much larger body count than Hitler’s was based on weapons the Nazi dictator did not have. Chief among these was that Stalin lived longer.

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Horatio Alger Matters

Wachstum mit Erfolg oder erfolgreich Strategie im Business Menschen

The traditional—or at least doctrinaire—response of conservatives and libertarians to the phenomenon of income inequality has been, “So what?” The common attitude of many on the Right is that, in a free-market economy, individual differences in ability, skill, and effort will lead to inequality of income. James Madison summed up the sentiment nicely in Federalist 10 when he stated that the “first object of Government” consists of “the protection of different and unequal faculties of acquiring property,” which “immediately results” in “the possession of different degrees and kinds of property.” In a free society, it is often believed that unequal results are inevitable—for some, even desirable

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Let Tesla Sell Directly to Its Customers


There is a debate about how innovative are Tesla’s new cars, but the company is indeed trying to do something new in the way it sells them. Tesla wants to sell directly to consumers without the use of dealers. Unfortunately, however, many states are trying to prevent direct sales. These laws are outrageous exercises in economic protectionism in favor of special interests.

When it comes to keeping down the costs of distribution, a manufacturer is the consumer’s BFF. Both the manufacturer’s and the consumer’s interest is the same—having the most efficient and cost-effective form of distribution. An efficient distribution allows the manufacturer to sell more cars, because the total cost of the product is lower.  It also benefits the consumer, because the distribution is incidental to the enjoyment he or she gets from the product.

Some legislators argue that dealers are necessary because they can provide important services to consumers. But the manufacturer takes the level of service into account when deciding whether to sell directly.  Optimal service helps the manufacturer’s bottom line as well, because it gains a reputation for cars that are well serviced and thus last a long time.

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