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It's the Welfare State, Stupid

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The title of this entry is the title of a column by economist Robert Samuelson writing in the Washington Post.  The thesis of the column is that our leaders, out of fear of the political consequences, won't even call the welfare state by its true name, making virtually impossible any discussion of, much less solution for, where it is leading us.

Samuelson points to some mind-numbing figures to show how programs originally intended as subsistence support to the very poor have ballooned out of all proportion to their purpose, not to mention our ability and willingness (other than through limitless borrowing) to pay for them.  I would add, however, two points particularly relevant to criminal law.

First, as discretionary spending gets squeezed by uncontrolled entitlement spending, we will see more and more pressure to release prisoners, shorten sentences and lay off or simply not hire police officers. You don't have to be a genius to figure out what this is going to do to (or should I say for) crime.  Already there are straws in the wind.  C&C has had a number of posts about crime increases in particular areas where California's "realignment" has begun to take its toll.

Even worse over the long run, in my view, is the cultural message of an out-of-control welfare state.  The message is that you aren't responsible for your life and behavior, the government is.  Of course that is a familiar refrain.  Any of us who have participated in a sentencing hearing have heard it.  It's the core of defense counsel's argument as to why his client deserves, not punishment, but a menu of expensive social services (to be paid for by us, although that part gets left out).  It seems to me, then, that those of us concerned about crime have a special stake in reining in the welfare state.  If we don't, we are headed for more crime and fewer consequences.

1 Comment

First, I have found your website to be an invaluable resource. A couple days before election day, I decided to spend some time researching the pros and cons of Prop 34. While, I am an attorney, I'm not a criminal attorney, so I google'd around and basically used the innonence project site for the anti-death penalty and this one was the pro-death penalty, and I found your arguments to be superior and hence voted against prop 34.

Second, however, the attitude presented in the link and the comments are not going to help your cause. I do not see a conflict between a "harsh" criminal justice system and a government that provides its citizens some sort of basic safety net (including in my opinion single payer healthcare). Further, it is insulting to imply us Obama supporters are on the government take. For me, I vote democratic because that party supports science and logic in a superior way to the republicans. I need not look beyond the evolution / creation arguments.

Finally, I agree with your general points on criminal justice because you have laid out an excellent, well supported argument for them, not because of blind faith. Conservatives would be best served to do that for any position they advocate, some of us can be persuaded. Keep up the good work.

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