The New York Times headlines Damien Cave’s story about the likely victory of Enrique Peña Nieto “Pocketbook Issues Weigh Heavily as Mexicans Vote.” But the story itself is about the impact of crime, and especially extortion, on the lives of ordinary Mexicans. (Cave might also have mentioned kidnapping, which is no longer a problem for the rich alone.)
Around the world – Brazil and South Africa are two other major examples – governments are having problems delivering on their most basic function: keeping people from hurting one another and taking one another’s stuff. There’s no faster way to discredit democracy.
That makes all the sadder that the debate over crime control remains largely locked in a futile “punishment v. social improvement” (or, in the smaller world of offender management, “punishment v. services”) debate. Conservatives ignore the fact crime continues in the face of truly massive punishment here in the U.S., and progressives remain tempted by the idea that “crime” is just an imaginary problem invented by reactionaries to justify the oppresssion of the poor. (Progressive politicians have largely learned not to say that out loud, but their silence about crime speaks volumes.) It’s as if the discussion were entirely conducted among disciples of Michel Foucault and the disciples of the Marquis de Sade, with no room for any idea too “carceral” for the Foucauldians and not mean enough for the sadists.
Don’t you wish someone would write a book on how to have less crime and less punishment? That book could be based on three simple insights: credible threats can substitute for actual punishments; swiftness and certainty trump severity; and anything that improves individuals’ capacities for self-command reduces their criminality.