Tuesday, April 6, 2010

"Pope Vows To Get Church Pedophilia Down To Acceptable Levels"

This spoof headline from the Onion and accompanying spoof article are examples of why economists are no fun. To your average non-economist, there is no (positive) acceptable level of child abuse. Hence, we see policy-makers playing lip service to some sort of zero-tolerance goal.

But, to your average economist, it is perfectly reasonable that the church (or any organization) would choose policies that reduce pedophilia but could not possibly eliminate it. Economists are on the look out for the "opportunity cost" of a spectrum of possible policies. Better screening and better vigilance will likely reduce incidents of child abuse and probably should be implemented. But zero-tolerance would require extremely intrusive measures. How would twenty-four hour surveillance affect the rite of confession? Would potential priests be turned off by constant electronic monitoring? What sort of authority would priests have in coming generations if they were prohibited from any contact with non-adults?

The real danger of the zero-tolerance mentality is the typical response when an incident inevitably does occur. We immediately ask where the "failure" was and who was at "fault." We rarely ask if, despite carefully constructed policies, it is still the case that "shit happens." This often leads us to build yet another Maginot Line.

1 comment:

  1. Is the United States not committing this same error in its massive Defense spending budget aimed at eliminating the Taliban (in effect, a zero-tolerance policy). As a result, we are facing huge opportunity costs in education and infrastructure, not to mention official development assistance to the world's highest-valued users for US dollars?