Another example of the baptists and bootleggers theory

Mark Perry posted this map on his blog Carpe Diem yesterday. It reminds me of Bruce Yandle’s theory of Baptists and Bootleggers. In his latest paper, Bootleggers and Baptists in Retrospect, he states,

“Here is the essence of the theory: durable social regulation evolves when it is demanded by both of two distinctly different groups. “Baptists” point to the moral high ground and give vital and vocal endorsement of laudable public benefits promised by a desired regulation. Baptists flourish when their moral message forms a visible foundation for political action. “Bootleggers” are much less visible
but no less vital. Bootleggers, who expect to profit from the very regulatory restrictions desired by Baptists, grease the political machinery with some of their expected proceeds. They are simply in it for the money.” And, “Perhaps we should we expect no less. Political action, which by definition always serves some interest groups, requires politicians to appeal to popular icons. By making a “Baptist” appeal, the canny politician enables voters to feel better by endorsing socially accepted values in the voting booth. The same politician, if he is adroit, also can enjoy the support of appreciative bootleggers in the costly struggle to hold office. Bootleggers and Baptists are part of the glue that binds the body politic.”

Politicians want to appear tough on crime so they make a moral argument about putting drug offenders behind bars. Who is really benefiting here? Is it society or the prison industry? I wrote a blog post about America’s Prison Problem? that links to an article about America’s incarceration rate. It is absolutely astounding.

In February, the bureau of prisons released data on the number of incarcerated individuals by offense. Here is the graph.
in prison crimes 1

Here is the legend.
in prison crimes 2

Makes you wonder how much impact the war on drugs has had.

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