Submitted by Norm Robins
A tip of the hat to This Is Reno for their coverage of the demonstration, riot, and response of the good people of greater Reno on the weekend. The writing and photography by Starbuck, Conrad, Davis, and Dike-Anukam, O’Neil, Bexon, Falk and Hoops are outstanding. The price paid by Dike-Anukam, who was sent to urgent care to attend to his rioter-inflicted wounds, is especially notable. This was journalism at its finest.
The spirit of the protest can be summarized by the photo of a young man in a black hat, a black t-shirt, and a blue face mask carrying a sign that says, “How can black people have a voice if they can’t breathe? How indeed? There is nobility, even poetry in this simple sign. It is inspirational. It speaks to our soul.
The leadership from Governor Sisolak, Mayor Schieve, Chief Soto, and Sheriff Balaam was sterling, and I say that advisedly. Why? A leader is someone with a vision and a passion, and who expends the effort needed to get there. He or she knows where he wants to go. He has followers because they share the leader’s vision and think the leader can take them all there. They share his passion, but they know they can’t get there by themselves. Leaders don’t choose followers. Followers choose leaders. They do so to accomplish the things they want accomplished.
But we must distinguish between protesters and rioters. They are worlds apart. Protesting is part of democracy, and the cacophony of democracy is the symphony of freedom. The young man with the blue face mask and the sign was playing a violin and making the beautiful music of freedom.
But rioters are different, and their place in the scheme of things is different. A statement attributed in one telling or another to a lot of people including Oliver Wendell Holmes says you are free to punch me in the nose, but your freedom ends where my nose begins. What did he mean by that?
He meant freedom is the ability to act as you wish without coercion. But if your freedom limits my ability to act without coercion that’s not freedom. It’s license. Any parent who raises a child without teaching the child that license is bad is not a good parent.
Granting license to a rioter is worlds apart from granting the man in the blue mask the ability to carry his sign. I say ability and not right. Thomas Jefferson taught us God gave him that right, and governments are instituted to secure it. Okay, so what are we going to do about rioters who loot and burn and injure? The now famous broken-windows problem gives us the answer.
City fathers and mothers found out that when a neighborhood is blighted and has broken windows left unrepaired that this invites all sort of social problems, crime, more broken windows, and so forth. When the windows are repaired and the signs of blight are gone the problems go away even though the blight is still there.
This should come as no surprise to anyone educated in economics. As price goes down to zero demand goes up to infinity. If no cost is imposed on bad behavior that behavior will not only stay static it will increase. So the answer is to increase the “price” paid for bad behavior. If we do, the quantity of bad behavior will go down.
I don’t believe a price must be imposed on each and every vandal, but a price must be imposed on some of them. That aligns with geopolitical reasoning that you needn’t defeat an enemy to hold him at bay. Deterrence will do the trick on vandals as surely as it does on countries.
Vandals have committed crimes at both the state and federal level, and some of them must be punished for it. I believe Chief Soto and Sheriff Balaam have arrested, at last update, 23 of them with sufficient evidence to convict them of crimes. Those who are Nevadans need to be prosecuted under state law and sent to prison for substantial times. The usual slap on the wrist with a night in jail and an introduction to the horrors of jailhouse coffee won’t do it. Not only won’t that do it, it will only be carried around as a badge of honor and shown with pride in the rioters’ social circles. And local law enforcement should cooperate with federal officials to try out-of-state rioters under federal law.
If we don’t act firmly and resolutely now, this problem will only continue and fester even more. Don’t let the lesson of broken windows go unheeded.
Norm Robins is a retired entrepreneur and ex-engineer whose first love is economics and who has lived and worked all over the world. He has a B.S. in Civil Engineering from the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana, and an MBA in International Business from the University of California, Berkeley. He and his wife and one of his three children live in Reno, Nevada.
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