Category Archives: power

“No child left unmedicated?”

I borrow the title of this post, and the link, from the indomitable Tyler Cowen. The reference is to this study by Bokhari and Schneider in the Journal of Health Economics titled “School accountability laws and the consumption of psychostimulants“.

Here is the abstract, written in that cool academic chill (emphasis mine):

Over the past decade, several states introduced varying degrees of accountability systems for schools, which became federal law with the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. The intent of these accountability laws was to improve academic performance and to make school quality more observable. Nonetheless, schools have reacted to these pressures in several different ways, some of which were not intended. We make use of the variation across states and over time in specific provisions of these accountability laws and find that accountability pressures effect medical diagnoses and subsequent treatment options of school aged children. Specifically, children in states with more stringent accountability laws are more likely to be diagnosed with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and consequently prescribed psychostimulant drugs for controlling the symptoms. However, conditional on diagnosis, accountability laws do not further change the probability of receiving medication therapy.

Foucault is relevant here. The state’s biopolitical power to regulate and control life itself is brutally manifested in the overmedication of children, driven by bureaucratic and federal incentives. This is a powerful argument against the acceptance of federal dollars or incentives to regulate America’s education system.
My generation grew up in a world where medication became, transparently, a mechanism for social control. It will be interesting how our politics shape the future.
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Thoughts on jury nullification, Part 1

This past week I had the fortune to attend a discussion on nullification hosted by the Show-Me Institute with my friend Mitch Richards (a representative of the Fully Informed Jury Association, or FIJA). I should note that nullification issues have been in vogue for the last few years; if I recall correctly, there was a jury nullification topic selected for high school debaters nationwide a year or two ago, and with increasing federal presence in all arenas of economic and political life there is increasing grassroots interest in the topic.

It is not my intention here to discuss the history or legitimacy of nullification issues. Such issues are more fully discussed elsewhere by others. However, I wish to discuss why I find jury nullification strategies valuable but unsatisfying.

Why jury nullification is valuable: It can be used to protect individuals from prosecution under unjust laws, by unjust governments. Note that I say “can” here; despite the functional reality of the existence and the popularity of nullification strategies, it is not certain that they can even be used in many real-life contexts. Moreover, there is no reason to think that juries will only attempt nullification of unjust laws; juries can act in unjust ways. However, as an additional recourse for citizens being unjustly prosecuted by their government, the nullification option is valuable at an important margin.

But the popular focus on jury nullification strategies is very unsatisfying to me. It ignores the pragmatic reality of criminal justice system operation and legislative lawmaking. In particular the nullification discourse completely ignores the agency incentives that determine how laws are actually interpreted and applied by government agents. It is this incentive structure we must understand and seek to change; otherwise nullification efforts will always be stop-gap, low-level efforts against specific laws. Nullification strategies are like using your hands to swat mosquitoes; you might kill individual mosquitoes but that’s of little comfort when you’re in a swamp.

It would be of more practical use to try to pursue other strategies if we are really interested in constraining the justice system to minimize the number of unjust outcomes.

There are two ways in which I see this can be done. First, reformulate the incentive structures facing prosecutors. Second, make it harder for government officials to use official or qualified immunity as a shield from liability. I will be exploring these two policy prescriptions at length in further posts, so stay tuned.


What happens in New Haven…

This was posted on bulletin boards at Yale this fall semester after a couple episodes of police tasing students. The police in New Haven have also been using SWAT raids to enforce compliance with the underage drinking laws.

Think about that.

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Holy shit, Governor Christie

This is perhaps the most impressive gubernatorial performance I have seen this year. New Jersey Governor Christopher Christie slams teachers unions for gutting education reforms in the state legislature and state legislators for capitulating to a public sector union that is more interested in enriching themselves than educating children. It is an impressively angry performance, and is a must-watch. The video of his speech is here. Here is the NYT covering Gov. Christie in April, and I excerpt:

It’s fair to say that no governor in memory in any state has pushed back as hard at public employee unions — mostly teachers but police officers, too — as Mr. Christie. That’s made him an instant Republican hero, hailed by the conservative columnist George Will as “the nation’s most interesting governor.”

So the question is whether this is about Mr. Christie and New Jersey, or about the rest of us as well. And the answer is yes.

It’s a New Jersey story, of course, because that’s where government bloat and dysfunction have become an art form. And it has a particular New Jersey cast because the governor’s office is so powerful that the governor can assert himself statewide while others can only posture and threaten.

HT: Jack “Attack” Soltysik.

Addendum: the link to the video appears to be broken, but the google cached video is here.

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