Another Bad Initiative

As if worrying about Gov. Aaaaaahnold weren’t enough, Californians have to deal with another bad idea thrown up by that other Progressive feature of our constitution, the initiative. This time it’s Prop. 54, formerly the Racial Privacy Initiative and now CRENO. It’s from the wonderful people who brought you Prop. 209, which banned affirmative action. Now they want to forbid any gathering of information on racial or ethnic identity by any state agency, except for a weird crazy-quilt of exemptions (it exempts medical research but not public health research, research conducted at the University of California with UC students as subjects but not research conducted at UC with non-students as subjects, assigning prisoners but not counting people subjected to traffic stops). [Text here.]

As my colleague Andy Sabl points out in today’s LA Daily News [*] the result would not just be to devastate key data-collection efforts (if birth certificates don’t show race, how can you tell whether we’re making progress in reducing infant mortality among African-Americans?) but to cripple the enforcement of all sorts of “color-blind” civil rights laws by making it harder to tell where discrimination is taking place. Under the proposed law, if a city just happened to have an all-white police force, no state agency would be officially allowed to take cognizance of that fact.

CRENO is truly Lysenkoist in its attempt to prevent the collection of information that might be inconsistent with the social purposes or ideological stances of its sponsors. I’m waiting to hear from the vocal opponents of campus hate speech codes (which they say interfere with freedom of expression and thus freedom of inquiry) about this much graver threat coming from the right rather than the left.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: