Sarkozy as Nixon or Reagan

Looks as if the French socialists are making the same mistake the American Democrats made: they’re handing the conservatives crime control as an issue.

It looks as if a “law-and-order” appeal with a racist subtext can be politically successful, and induce people to support right-wing economic policies. I’m not surprised that Dave Kopel is delighted; but why should he be surprised? It’s a natural combination, and has worked before.

In Europe today as in the U.S. in the period 1965-1985, liberal politicians, by ignoring or denying the reality of crime a a problem (and most of all as a problem for the poor and socially marginal groups they claim to speak for) have left the right a free field of fire. That means that the necessary toughness will be implemented by people who hate criminals, but who don’t really much care about the welfare of the poor people who are the primary victims. As a result, there will be lots of pointless cruelty on top of the necessary toughness, and the crime control efforts won’t work nearly as well as they would if everyone remembered that the goal is more safety, not more brutality and more imprisonment.

There’s no logical reason why crime control should be a conservative issue. But it’s hard for someone who remembers (as conservatives forget) that punishment is a cost, not a benefit to acknowledge that, as bad as punishment is, unchecked crime is worse.

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:

6 thoughts on “Sarkozy as Nixon or Reagan”

  1. Kopel doesn't sound all that delighted to me: "Le Figaro suggests that the 'racaille' comment was a brilliant, deliberate political move by Sarkozy: while many French citizens realize that France's statist economic system needs to liberalize, they are reluctant to confront the issue publicly. By proposing crack-downs on young criminals, Sarkozy has made himself the leader on a topic of national near-consensus, and thereby shifted the focus away from his economic ideas." That is, he's accusing Sarkozy of playing George Wallace (to the extent that Le Pen hasn't beaten him to it).
    If I remember correctly, by the way, Kopel insists that he voted for Nader in 2000 — although I'll have to double-check. Notwithstanding my extreme queasiness about him, I think you're hanging a bum rap on him in this case.

  2. Yep, he did:… , on the grounds that Nader opposed the drug war and corporate welfare. (Not that this indicates much in the way of brains on Kopel's part; note his crack about "the dystopian fairy tale of global warming", at a time when there was already a landslide consensus among climatologists about it.)

  3. Uh-oh. You're right; I completely misread the first part of Kopel's entry. It's Sarkozy who is proposing the "less statist" economic ideas that Kopel likes but France itself (at least right now) doesn't, and Kopel does indeed approve of his using the law-and-order issue to distract the French public from that fact. Sorry.

  4. As a sidebar on this issue: Conservatives are very fond of quoting the conclusion of Florida State's Gary Kleck that gun control is counterproductive as an anti-crime measure. They're a lot less fond of quoting his comparably firmly held belief that the most cost-effective anticrime measure of all is anti-poverty programs.

  5. Actually, it's more accurate to say that punishment is both a cost AND a benefit. Deterring crime is not its only function; we want justice even if it serves no deterrant function at all. What people tend to do is jump to the conclusion that — because it's thus a benefit rather than a cost in one way — it must be such in EVERY way. And so they tend to underestimate or overlook the crime-reducing effect of policies that don't involve punishment.

  6. Tony Blair's genius moment in 1997 was the slogan
    'Tough on Crime. Tough on the causes of Crime'
    He managed in one swoop to defang the right wing tabloids and differentiate Labour from the Tories ('Prison Works' as Tory Shadow Home Sec Anne Widdecombe announced– well we are now at the point of releasing thousands of criminals because our prisons are so overcrowded they have literally no capacity).
    Unfortunately, a lot of the more creative 'radical criminology' experiments in crime control since then have been abandoned in favour of police arrest quotas and other meaningless numerical targets (shades of the old Soviet Union– Victor Suvorov was very funny on this in his classic on the Soviet Army 'The Liberators').

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