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Question of the Day: Should We Just Let Murderers Do Their Thing?

A reader named Mark Kozel writes to say:

I heard that Chicago will be pouring up to $14 million into police overtime to prevent murder and violent crime.

It got me thinking: is it cheaper to prevent this kind of crime, or to just let it happen and clean up the mess afterwards?

It would be hard to find many people, even economists, who would arguing that “just letting it happen” isn’t an outcome that society should even think about accepting.

On the other hand, this is the kind of question that economists do tend to pose. It also reminded me of a recent Marginal Revolution blog post that mentioned John Broome‘s new book, Climate Matters: Ethics in a Warming World, and highlighted this excerpt:

What is the role of experts in democracy?…Their views, supported by arguments and evidence, help individuals and their representatives to form judgments.

This is not how economists typically see their democratic role.  They do not see themselves as participants in public deliberation, helping people to make their judgments.  Instead, they think their role is to help ensure that the preferences of the people prevail.  They do this by basing their valuations on market prices, which reflect people’s preferences.

It strikes me that Broome is obviously correct in writing that economists pay a lot of attention, maybe even too much, to people’s preferences; but it strikes me as obviously incorrect that “they do not see themselves as participants in public deliberation.” In fact, the world seems absolutely brimming with activist economists of one stripe or another.

Anyway: what do you make of Mark Kozel‘s question?

Addendum: This post was written and scheduled before we became aware of the recent Colorado shooting; we regret the timing.