Do I really have to explain again what’s wrong–as in unethical— with policies like this? Paying kids to do their homework, not to skip school, or not to use drugs; paying young women not to get pregnant, paying people to get vaccinated—all of these desperate plans undermine societal ethics, turning what must be taught as basic duties of responsible citizenship and life management into quid pro quo trade-offs. Such formulas reward the refusal to behave ethically by paying social miscreants to conform to ethical norms.
Ethics Alarms has written about these offensive programs many times. This one may be the worst of all. The only argument proponents can come up with is extreme utilitarianism: the ends justify the means. In such cases, however, the means involves rejecting ethics, duty and responsibility as essential motivations for good behavior and adopting habits of virtuous conduct.
Naturally, the latest pay-the-bad-guys scheme comes from San Francisco, where the District Attorney has solved the shop-lifting problem by making petty theft legal. I was preparing to write about this when I read that Governor Newsom’s test-marketed theme to win his recall election will be “It’s me or Trump.” This parody of a progressive governor has created a state culture where paying thugs not to kill is looked upon as reasonable, and he thinks implying that Trump, who isn’t running for anything in the Golden State, would be worse will attract votes. And he’s probably right!
Do enjoy the San Francisco Examiner’s humina-humina explanation of why “the city is paying potential killers $300 not to shoot people” is an unfair and misleading description of the new program that will pay potential killers $300 not to shoot people. It is a Rationalization #64 (“It isn’t what it is”) classic:
“Paying criminals not to shoot” is a catchy headline, but it is an extraordinarily inaccurate description of the actual program being developed. Here is the more complex truth. Through a grant from the California Violence Intervention Program, the city of San Francisco created the RISE program — Risk, Intervention, Support, and Enforcement. Through a data-driven process, RISE identifies a small number of people in The City who are at very high risk of being involved in gun violence. Those individuals are referred to outreach workers who locate and engage them and then connect them with an intensive life coach. Life coaches are known as “credible messengers,” people with similar lived experience as the clients, but who have turned their life around and now serve as examples and mentors. The goal is to connect the life coaches with people who are at the very highest risk of gun violence, those who without intervention may become a victim or suspect in a shooting in the next six months. A detailed data analysis of this population in San Francisco revealed that these are primarily young Black men in their 20s, who have significant criminal justice involvement, are a part of some neighborhood clique or group and are connected in some way to a recent shooting.Incentives are nothing new in community-based organizations, corporations or government. And the small cost of an incentive far outweighs the extreme expense of the criminal justice system. In California, the annual cost of each inmate is $80,000. An evaluation of Oakland’s Life Coaching program, which uses modest incentives, showed it led to reduced rates of recidivism, therefore saving taxpayers much more than it costs…A small portion of the grant funds are earmarked for financial incentives for the young adult clients that will be served by SVIP. The crux of the program is to create positive and trusting relationships between the life coach and the very high risk client. A small part of the program is providing a modest financial incentive to achieve milestones, like completing rehabilitation programs and finding a job.”
Translation: The city will try other stuff to stop potential criminals from committing violent crimes, but it still will pay them $300 not to do what trustworthy, law-abiding citizens do for free because it’s how civilized, ethical Americans live. Thus the program will reward people for not being civilized and ethical. Got it!
Note how the best the author can do is make non-ethical arguments for this unethical policy. Incentives are “nothing new.” Yes, idiotic and unethical California policies are nothing new either: that’s not a defense (The rationalization is a version the Big #1, “Everybody Does It”). The other argument is that it’s cheaper to pay sociopaths not to kill people than to have to arrest them, try them, and lock them up. This reminds me of the complaint of Butch Cassidy in “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” when he learns that railroad tycoon Averill Harriman has hired a posse of famous law men to hunt the pair down no matter how long it takes: “If he’d just pay me what he’s spending to make me stop robbing him, I’d stop robbing him! It’s just bad business!” This was a gag line in the film. Not in California! Alas, yes: the rule of law is bad business, but it’s mandatory ethics.
In the end, the new policy echoes the current progressive delusion: if we give the criminals, bad citizens and burdens on society enough money they’ll be responsible, productive and law abiding. It’s not about right and wrong, it’s just about “incentives.”