Thursday, October 27, 2011

Left-Technocratic Sin: Disproportionate focus on "Police Brutality"?

I noticed that Prof. Cornell West, like many professionally black professors, discusses police through a skewed lense valorating blacks who are policed and presenting a skewed critique of police. For example in his March on Harlem on "police brutality", which I think non-heroically muddied a more virtuous message coming from OWS which was shifting national debate from deficit reduction to countercyclical stimulus spending on job creation and middle class debt forgiveness. But since I see Prof. West as more part of a rentier class (which includes people -many people- on the right in informal coordination with him) it doesn't disappoint me as much as seeing Prof. DeLong doing the same thing here:

I think police are part of a class of yeoman technocrats, like emergency responders, teachers, construction workers, truck drivers, and computer programmers. Our society is built on their competent fraction (hopefully a very strong majority!) doing an efficient, reliable job. Aspirationally, there's an artisan element to how everyone does their job, from yeoman technocrat to macrosocial, macroeconomic administrator.

But there seems to me to be a class of left-elites and libertarian-elites, which includes left-technocrats, that treat police as rivals in status coalitions rather than as yet another phenomena to look at through a good faith, empirically grounded, social epistemological lense. When it's comfy professor vs. more working class police officers, there's an added gaucheness to the hijacking of social epistemology that Prof. DeLong to his credit usually avoids in other areas.

Police brutality is a problem. But it's a problem that needs to be rationally ranked and sorted along with all other social problems, including housing finance, job creation, climate change management, infrastructure, etc.

And what police do well should be viewed in the same good faith as what community organizers, teachers, and public research university professors do well, for example. If one is going to aspire to be a left-technocrat rather than a leftist coalition status competition partner, then one is going to have to do better than Prof. DeLong does here, it seems to me.


  1. I remember David Shor arguing somewhere that police brutality, especially with a racial focus, is a big cause of urban riots, which I imagine would be the technocratic case against it. I'm not sure how that intersects with this post, but I thought I'd mention it because I'm bored at work.

  2. FredR, to me it sounds like a force fit.
    It seems like blatant status coalition building to me, and neither technocratic (no sense of good faith cost benefit analysis when evaluating police) nor progressive (it's a type of rent seeking for unchallengeably higher status professor types to extract hedonistic benefits from police types)

    Hopefully Anonymous

  3. I read Radley Balko to a significant extent because of that think police misbehavior (not necessarily brutality, the Yglesias post you mention is another example) is a systemic problem. There's a "who watches the watchers" issue. But I agree that there's little evidence for David Shor's claim. More like the opposite. The late 60s/early 70s were the time of big urban riots often called race riots, and they didn't occur in the Jim Crow south. An obvious explanation is that the police were firmly in control and would come down hard on any rioting. The riots stopped when overwhelming force came in.

    I was about to say Ed Glaeser had a paper showing that "community organizers" seem to cause more rioting, but rereading it I find it doesn't say anything about that, though it does support my prior points.