One of the most persistent causes of lousy policy decisions at all levels of government is that politicians and voters alike tend to focus on policy goals without paying nearly enough attention to policy effectiveness.
So, for example, a proposal to spend more public money on education is widely regarded as a pro-education proposal, whereas a proposal to spend less public money is widely regarded as anti-education. Nearly everyone is pro-education, so politicians who want to spend less on it generally lose, and that has two important consequences. First, education spending increases steadily. And second, if the increased spending fails to improve the schools, future candidates who hope to win will argue not that the spending increases were misguided, but rather that we just haven’t spent enough yet.
But eventually, if we increase spending substantially, year after year for many years, shouldn’t we expect to see some measurable improvement in educational outcomes? And if we don’t see any measurable improvement, isn’t that something that someone ought to tell the voters? Read the rest of this entry »
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This age-old question of political philosophy is raised once again by Radley Balko’s latest column in the Washington Post. As Balko reports, South Carolina Supreme Court Justice Donald Beatty has admonished state prosecutors not to engage in witness tampering, selective or retaliatory prosecution, or suppression of evidence, and the prosecutors in South Carolina are outraged. Believe it or not, they think Justice Beatty’s remarks make him unfit to judge criminal cases in South Carolina. I should have thought that outspoken opposition to witness tampering, retaliatory prosecution, and suppression of evidence would be right up there among the very most important qualities we want in judges who hear criminal cases.
Balko writes that this story and the others he reports in the same column all fit into a single theme of prosecutors being opposed to accountability in any form. He’s right as usual, but it seems to me there is another lesson here as well: Instead of giving speeches that put prosecutors on notice that their misconduct will no longer be tolerated, judges should just start throwing the book at the bad actors. If they object to the warning, don’t warn them. Read the rest of this entry »