Fear and loathing redux
Radley Balko at Reason magazine ar
gues thatthe close association between democratic politics and crime policy results in a vicious cycle of fear-mongering, excessive incarceration, and intergenerational poverty. He cites a Boston Globe article that reveals a tendency for undue and irrational pessimism and fear among the population. I explored the problem of irrational fear in a previous post, where I noted that there is often a gap between realistic and imagined levels of danger. In the case of crime, it is extreme. Although crime has been declining since the mid-1990s, 74% of Americans insist that crime is getting worse.
Balko’s solution to the vicious cycle is to divorce crime policy from the political process. Today, many judges and prosecutors in America are elected officials and as a result have been hijacked by public demands for tough sentencing. In most other countries, these jobs, which are technical in nature, are held by more-or-less impartial civil servants.
In any fair legal system, judges are supposed to be impartial, and so there is an argument for taking direct democracy out of the legal system. But we should
be leery of technocracy more generally. There is a danger to having too many degrees of separation between the public and its agents. While public sentiments can certainly hijack policy for the worse,
so can interests that have no accountability whatsoever to the public, with the results being systematic corruption and abuse.
In a complex society, we will always have to tread a fine line between technocracy and democracy.
Image by Flickr user bitzcelt used under a Creative Commons Attribution License