Sunday, 23 May 2004

This one's for my homies (particularly Will Baude)

Click here to make comments go away.

Paying for one's own imprisonment

Micha Ghertner, who is far from a knee-jerk right-winger, and who is in my opinion one of the smartest bloggers out there, argues that prisoners should pay for their “room and board” while in prison:

Whatever your thoughts may be on charging wrongfully convicted prisoners for room and board, it makes even more sense to charge the guilty for their prison expenses. Why should taxpayers be forced to pay for other people’s crimes? Ideally, prisoners should be forced to work while in prison to pay off the costs of their confinement, rather than impose an additional burden upon them when they are released.

I’m of the opinion, based on my reading of David Friedman (whom I know Ghertner is familiar with), that inefficient punishments like imprisonment and execution should be expensive for the government. Otherwise, there’s too much incentive to just “lock ‘em up and throw away the key.” Ideally, the cost to the government of locking someone up should be exactly the same as the cost to the person being locked up. That way, the government will lock someone up only if the marginal benefit to society is greater than the cost to the person imprisoned.

This is especially true when a large portion of those imprisoned are being held for things that shouldn’t be crimes in the first place, such as drug crimes.

UPDATE: TChris at TalkLeft writes:

Every few months, it's worth remembering that your tax dollars are being spent to incarcerate Tommy Chong so that the Justice Department could send a message about pot pipes and bhongs.

It's a good thing imprisonment is so expensive to the taxpayers. Otherwise, there would be a lot more Tommy Chongs. (Link via Crooked Timber.)

Absolute and relative deprivation

Brock mentions below the hypothesis that a significant portion of the value of real property in the suburbs is related to school quality, and that improving inner-city schools would reduce this value.

It seems to me that parents, for the most part, want good schools rather than better schools. While the Memphis city school system does exhibit this relationship—property values in the White Station High enrollment zone are higher than those in, say, the Ridgeway or Egypt Central zones—I’m not sure this applies once a certain baseline is crossed; I don’t believe there is this contrast among property values between Germantown, Houston, and Collierville high schools in the (separate) Shelby County district, even though I’m fairly certain there is an academic pecking order among these schools.

The only areas we might expect this effect is where jurisdictional transfers take place: for example, where new annexations by Memphis shunt students in southeast Shelby County from the county system (e.g. Germantown High) to the city system (e.g. Kirby High, which has never had a very good reputation). In these cases, we’d expect a precipitous drop in property values, particularly for “middle-class” homes; my anecdotal impression is that this, in fact, did take place. But I’m not sure the same effect would have been there if students had been sent to known “good” city schools like Ridgeway or Cordova.

The Big Eh-lection

Well, the big election north of the border is finally on, after months of buildup. Matt Yglesias has an ongoing discussion in his comments; I generally agree that it’s the Liberals’ election to lose, and the structural features of Canadian politics favor the Liberals emerging as the largest party—even if they don’t receive an absolute majority of the 308 seats up for grabs. There is widespread disaffection with the Liberals—in part due to several financial fiascos, in part because neither current prime minister Paul Martin nor ex-premier Jean Chrétien had a large fan club to begin with, but that’s unlikely to translate into a plurality win for the new Conservative Party of Canada, and the largest party is almost certain to be the one invited by the governor-general to form a government.

Realistically, there are about five possible governments that could emerge:

  • A majority Liberal government. If you’ve got money to wager, this is the odds-on favorite, even with the horrible approval ratings the Liberals have. Requires an outright majority (155+ seats).
  • A Liberal-New Democratic Party coalition. The problem with this arrangement is that Martin is trying to move the Liberals to the right and repair relations with the United States; the NDP is populated by hardcore leftists and harbors strongly anti-American sentiments, which would radically complicate Martin’s attempts at rapproachment. Realistically only likely if the Liberals win below 150 seats, but still have a plurality.
  • A minority Liberal government, depending on floating support on individual pieces of legislation. Probably unstable over the long term, but more politically palatable than a Liberal-NDP coalition, and increasingly likely if the Liberals are very close to a majority (say 150–154 seats).
  • A (probably short-term) Conservative-Bloc Québecois government. Both parties favor devolution of power from the federal government to the provinces, and a short-term agenda focusing on these issues—increased provincial autonomy, reform of the Senate to make it an elected body—might be palatable. In the long term, though, the contrast between the Canadian nationalist Conservatives and the Québecois nationalist Bloc along with the contrast between Conservative laissez-faire economics and BQ social democracy, would force new elections—but ones where both parties would be institutionally advantaged due to an elected upper chamber acting as a check on the (presumably Liberal) new government.

Anyway, this one will be fascinating to watch, and—thankfully—it’ll all be over in about a month, unlike the slow-motion trainwreck on this side of the border.

Education and Incentives

Matthew Yglesias notes today that, at least in theory, affluent families in good school districts have little incentive to push for improving educations in bad school districts. If we could wave a magic wand and improve the quality of underperforming rural and urban school districts, "suburban property owners are screwed, since a significant proportion of their home equity is tied up in the proposition that owning property in District X entitles your children to a superior education."

Here's a bit of anecdata to support this, from an article in today's Commercial Appeal (obnoxious registration required) about White Station High School, a Memphis public school with a very high reputation:

It's that mystique that ratchets up home prices in the neighborhoods around White Station High, and causes homes to sell 10 days faster than most Zip Codes in the metro Memphis area. Prudential Realtor Laura Zarecor sold her clients' home at 4792 Cole in two weeks. One open house is all it took.


The Iraq “Wedding Party” Attack story is getting attention at Belmont Club, and it seems more complex than it first appeared; U.S. Central Command* indicates that the attack was actually directed at a meeting of insurgent forces and that the location of the attack was a way-station for foreign fighters entering the country from Syria.

Fahrenheit: 911 Pounds

Well, this award will definitely make Michael Moore even more insufferable than he is already. And, here’s your “laugh test” moment:

“I did not set out to make a political film,” Mr. Moore said at a news conference after the ceremony. “I want people to leave thinking that was a good way to spend two hours. The art of this, the cinema, comes before the politics.”

I’m sure that’s what Leni Riefenstahl said too.