Monday, December 22, 2008

The broken window theory of government

My latest post on the Blog at

The broken window theory of government

Jim Fedako

The broken window theory is based on zero-tolerance enforcement of minor laws. According to the theory, if minor laws are enforced, major crimes will be deterred (The theory is the excuse Giuliani's goons used to justify breaking a few eggs -- and more than a few skulls -- in their pursuit of a jackbooted omelet).

Does it work? Consider this: My local paper is questioning the director of a local county animal shelter for a possible $10 oversight. I assume that an investigation will be followed by a forced resignation. Such local indiscretion and indignation are a common occurrence.

I regularly read about some low-level state worker who fudged a timecard or an expense report and is sent packing. So the petty crimes are enforced, but the major assaults on our freedom continue as before.

It appears that in government, the broken window is a shattered theory.


Anonymous said...

"Broken Windows" began in the government-run slums in NYC. It was a combination of robust policing (getting rid of panhandlers and 'squeegy' thugs), repairing--yes--broken windows in vacant buildings and allowing tenants an ownership stake in their tenements, albeit with city assistance. I grew up around NYC during the Ed Koch years when New York was "Zoo York" and lived there during the David Dinkens years, during the height of the crack epidemic when the city was virtually inhabitable (except for dumb, thrill-seeking kids like me).

I moved to DC and came back several years later to visit, and the city was transformed. This did not happen by accident. Were there isolated instances of police brutality? Yes. The Abner Dialo case is the most serious (and overblown) case that comes to mind. Was police abuse egregious or extraordinary in a city with 36,000 cops enforcing law and order in a city with 8,000,000 inhabitants? No.
Violent and petty crime was cut by four-fifths--dramatically more than the national decline during the 90's. This decline in crime spurred the revitalization of previously uninhabitable areas, commerce and tourism flourished and New York City went through a renaissance.

Call it what you want, but what Giuliani did in New York saved thousands of lives and increased the quality of life for millions of residents.

The goal of public policy is to do the most good for the greatest number of people. Considering the state of NYC when Giuliani became mayor and the state of the city when he left office, I'd say he did a fantastic job.

Anonymous said...

I would have to agree with Jim; the broken window theory when applied by government is a shattered theory.

Guiliani deserves no credit for the turn-around in NYC. No credit. If anything, give credit where credit is due- to the police chiefs and police officers. Furthermore, crime was on a decline and on the way out before Guiliani took over and began his public relations campaign to clean up the city.