Thursday, June 19, 2008

Keeping the Ex

Megan McArdle has a really great post up on the economics of hiring ex-convicts, and how we can restructure our system to make it easier. If we want ex-convicts to stay "ex-", we need to offer them some prospect of legitimate employment after their conviction. At the moment, that's basically impossible, making criminality the rational response. That's fine if you're okay with the status quo affecting many urban men: "catch-imprison-release-catch again", where the externalities fall nearly exclusively upon "certain" communities not-us. But if we want to actually do more than than watch from the sidelines as urban communities wither, rot, and die, then we need to start looking for ways to open up the current deadland of opportunity -- even for those who, like most of us, have made some mistakes in life.

The post was done at the request of Ta-Nehisi Coates, a liberal Black male blogger who is rapidly becoming one of my favorites. He wanted a differing perspective on the topic, so he enlisted McArdle, a libertarian-leaning conservative. McArdle's ideas are certainly tinged with that philosophy, but each one of her suggestions would be something I could endorse without hesitation. Most importantly, she is cognizant of the "the moral dimension" of the issue:
I don't know about you, but I've made a fair number of spectacular moral and economic mistakes in my life. Middle class kids, though, have margin for error. It's all very well to talk about how poor kids could pull themselves out of it if they did X, Y and Z, and I happen to believe that this is correct. The problem is that the first slip a poor kid makes is usually his last--as John Scalzi said, "Being poor is having to live with choices you didn't know you made when you were 14 years old."

McArdle's suggestions are what happens when you pursue integrated social discourse with an eye towards solving problems, not burying people who feel too problematic for us to handle. McArdle's views on the world are different from mine. But she pursues the issues in good faith, with an eye towards actually fixing the problem. That type of contribution is always welcome, regardless of political persuasion.

1 comment:

schiller1979 said...

Her best point is #1: reduce the number of crimes.

Let's start by legalizing recreational drugs.

Among the many positive effects of doing so, it would reduce the problems that are under discussion here by 1) reducing the number of people affected by prison experience; and 2) reducing prison overcrowding, one of the most inhumane aspects of our current prison system.