Friday, November 28, 2014

Left-winger Matt Bruenig Claims Burning & Looting in Ferguson is Good for Society and Economy

Wanton destruction of people's stuff. Isn't it great? Gawker sure thinks so—and argues that there are undeniable benefits. But wait: Don't hurl your laptop or smart phone through your local convenience store's front window just yet! Let's examine this claim.
Matt Bruenig, a writer for Demos and Salon, penned the article, titled "Actually, Riots are Good: The Economic Case for Riots in Feguson." Contrary to what the headline suggests, Bruenig doesn't actually commit the broken window fallacy and argue, as some Keynesians do, that destruction is economically beneficial. One has to dig deep down into the article—past a deeply misleading claim that "rioting is economically efficient"—to get to the crux of the argument.
Bruenig thinks that under certain conditions, rioting is efficient because it punishes the police for their bad behavior. If police react to riots by killing fewer black teenagers, then the cost in lives saved (in real dollars) outweighs the property destruction. Bruenig explains:
Rioting that occurs in response to gross police misconduct and criminal system abuses imposes costs on doing those things. It signals to police authorities that they risk this sort of destructive mayhem if they continue on like this. All else equal, this should reduce the amount of police misconduct as criminal justice authorities take precautions to prevent the next Ferguson.
To be sure, burning down AutoZones is not an optimal way to impose costs on state authorities. It would be, as some interviewed Ferguson residents noted, far more effective to target police equipment or other property nearer to criminal justice authorities. But these targets are often difficult and risky to reach, unlike local business interests. Since state authorities are always and everywhere most concerned about capital and business interests, threatening to impose costs on them via rioting should have a similar impact on police incentives.
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