Monday, September 29, 2008

What happened to the super-predators?

For a workshop at NYU I re-read John DiIulio's much vaunted (and disparaged) 1995 article titled "The Coming of the Super-Predators," The Weekly Standard, Vol.I, No.11, pg. 23. What stands out today is not DiIulio's prediction that the nation was about to be overwhelmed by a birth cohort of morally impoverished young offenders (in fact youth violence dropped precipitously during the rest of the 1990s) but his accurate accounting of the intellectually impoverished criminological and crime policy thinking of the 1990s.

DiIulio offered what he called a "moral poverty" theory of youth crime. From DiIulio's perspective it was not economic poverty, discrimination, or savage levels of inequality that leads to crime, but instead, "moral poverty."

“Moral poverty is about the poverty of being without loving, capable, responsible adults who teach you right from wrong. It is the poverty of being without parents and other authorities who habituate you to feel joy at others joy, pain at others pain, happiness when you do right, remorse when you do wrong. It is the poverty of growing up in the virtual absence of people who teach morality by their own everyday example an who insist that you follow suit.”

DiIulio suggested that liberal social policies had intensified moral poverty and that each new generation of ghetto youth were becoming ever more savagely amoral. The world of the "Sharks" and the "Jets," in the 1950s, had become the world of the "Crips" and the "Bloods."

The logic was perfectly in step with the policies of mass incarceration which DiIulio supported. If society was going to be spared mass killings and rapes, only a massive effort at preventive incarceration could work against a feral generation of violent narcissists. If we wanted to something more positive, DiIulio suggested, we could build more churches and hopefully save a generation still in diapers (too late for the super predators).

As everyone now knows, the super-predators never showed up, but where did they go?

The answer is that they never existed. Each generation of young people is a generation of potential "super-predators" because youth is defined by narcissism and radical presentism. Whether this results in rapes and murders has far more to do with the unpredictable patterns of social networks, markets for criminal behavior, and the distribution of violence intensifying technologies like hand-guns then it does with either prisons or churches.

The lesson of the 1990s, if there is one, is that if you want to reduce criminal violence study housing, study the informal economy, study the logic of disputes among young people, study just about anything other than crime.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Our First Socialist VP: Baked Alaska Please

Philip Gourevitch's fascinating Letter from Alaska: The State of Sarah Palin, The peculiar political landscape of the Vice-Presidential hopeful, in the latest issue of the New Yorker, raises a little noted feature of Sarah Palin's experience as governor. The largest source of wealth in Alaska is its massive energy reserves (mostly oil and gas). Unlike most commodity based economies however, Alaska owns these resources for the benefit of all the people of Alaska. Alaskan's of sufficient residency in the state receive an annual cash benefit from the state's energy development. Indeed it was her success at negotiating a larger revenue stream for some of the development, resulting in larger annual checks, that has lifted Sarah Palin to very high approval ratings.

In short, thanks to its New Deal constitution, Alaska is a socialist state that operates for the benefit of its citizens, not property owners and capitalists. As Sarah Palin explained to Gourevitch (in a conversation weeks before her sudden fame after John McCain named her his running mate):

....Alaska ---we're set up, unlike other states in the union, where it's collectively Alaskans own the resoures. So we share in the wealth when the development of these resources occurs...Our state constitution---it lays it out for me, how I'm to conduct business with resource development here as the sate C.E.O. It's to maximize benefits for Alaskans, not an individual company, not some multinational somewhere, but for Alaskans.

You want Mavericks? What if McCain and Palin announced their intention to apply the Alaska model to American? No President since Richard Nixon has toyed with the idea of directly funding American families as a citizenship right.

What kind of state does this create? Alaskans are not rich. Indeed, many Alaskans, even with their share of the energy wealth, live at a subsidence level on hunting and fishing. It is worth noting however that notwithstanding Palin's national launch, Alaska appears to be a state little wracked by culture wars against demonized minorities, nor an aggressive war on crime. Indeed, growing marijuana for personal use was legal as late as the 80s (when Palin admits to trying it), the state has no death penalty, and has a smaller portion of its population then California or Texas.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Living the War on Crime

The traditional left critique is to see the war on crime and governing through crime as exclusively about governing the poor. I've always argued that the real significance of governing through crime is its hold on middle class life.

Thanks to Warren Rosenblum for this dispatch from Nancy Cambria's reporting in the St. Louis Dispatch:

WENTZVILLE — The trampoline outside the model home sits idle without a child in
sight — and so does the patio's kid-sized table scattered with storybooks
including Bambi and The Poky Little Puppy.

From the vantage point of the home's surveillance camera, one might wonder,
Where did the children go? Did the monitor in the kitchen just show a strange
car driving down the street?

In a home with ample views of cows grazing in a nearby farm, child abduction
scenarios might seem like the wrong sales pitch for a new subdivision in
Wentzville — a city where the murder rate last year was zero and violent crime
at the hands of a stranger is nearly nonexistent.

But inside the meticulous model home, real estate agent Joanie Graflage can't
stop talking about kidnappings, break-ins, peeping Toms, petty theft and any of
the other "God forbids" that haunt the hearts of parents.

"It may not all be about child abduction, but someone could break into your
home," she says.

Graflage is selling homes for the Villages of Hampton Grove, a neighborhood
that's being marketed as Missouri's first fully camera-secure subdivision.
Three surveillance cameras resembling tiny, black shower nozzles come standard
on the exterior of every home.