Fedblog FedblogFedblog
Government Executive Editor in Chief Tom Shoop, along with other editors and staff correspondents, look at the federal bureaucracy from the outside in.

Why Government Matters

ARCHIVES

When the deep economic recession hit in 2008, the unemployment rate doubled, from 5 percent to 10 percent. Experts on criminal behavior predicted that this would lead, almost inevitably, to a spike in crime. When times get bad, the theory goes (and history, to a large degree, shows), more people turn to a life of crime.

But in this recession, the opposite happened: Crime rates fell. In 2009, the FBI reported an 8 percent drop in robberies nationwide and a 17 percent reduction in auto thefts. Cities across the country also reported declines in crime.

James Q. Wilson, a senior fellow at the Clough Center at Boston College who also has taught at Harvard, UCLA and Pepperdine (and who wrote the seminal public administration text Bureaucracy) explores the reasons why this is the case in a piece published in the Wall Street Journal over the weekend.

A primary reason, it turns out, is action taken by government at all levels. In some ways, the effects of government intervention are direct and obvious: With stepped-up efforts to punish criminal behavior, the United States has a high incarceration rate compared to the rest of the developed world. Not only that, but policing has become much more sophisticated in recent years, as data-driven efforts to analyze crime patterns and evaluate response efforts have led police departments to become more focused and effective in their jobs.

Other government actions have had an indirect effect on crime. For example, Wilson points to efforts by the Environmental Protection Agency since 1974 to keep lead out of gasoline and paint products. Doctors have long known that children with high levels of lead in their blood are more likely to be aggressive and delinquent. Now, economists are reporting that limits on lead may be paying off in lower crime rates.

"At the deepest level, many of these shifts, taken together, suggest that crime in the United States is falling--even through the greatest economic downturn since the Great Depression--because of a big improvement in the culture," Wilson writes.

But at a time when a national debate is raging not over whether to cut the size and scope of government (and the compensation of the people who work for it), but how deeply, it's critical to remember that arguably the most important of those cultural shifts were driven by government action. The subtext of today's arguments over whether public servants at all levels of government are overpaid or pampered with generous benefits packages is the notion that the work they do isn't of very much value, anyway. But so many things we take for granted are the direct result of the hard work and the keen ideas of those who work in government. And we may not notice the effects of taking them away until it's too late.

Tom Shoop is vice president and editor in chief at Government Executive Media Group, where he oversees both print and online editorial operations. He started as associate editor of Government Executive magazine in 1989; launched the company’s flagship website, GovExec.com, in 1996; and was named editor in chief in 2007.

FROM OUR SPONSORS
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Close [ x ] More from GovExec
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by G Suite

    Cross-Agency Teamwork, Anytime and Anywhere

    Dan McCrae, director of IT service delivery division, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

    Download
  • Data-Centric Security vs. Database-Level Security

    Database-level encryption had its origins in the 1990s and early 2000s in response to very basic risks which largely revolved around the theft of servers, backup tapes and other physical-layer assets. As noted in Verizon’s 2014, Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR)1, threats today are far more advanced and dangerous.

    Download
  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

    Download
  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

    Download
  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.