I just finished watching season 3 of the wire. It’s not giving too much away to say that one of the major plot lines involves a district commander basically declaring 3 areas of his district as little “Free Zones”, and pushed all the drug and related illegal activity into those Free Zones with the promise that they’d be left alone as long as there was no violence.
Throughout it all, the opposing side–that Free Zones are just wrong and shouldn’t be allowed–is represented by a rather dim-witted, over-weight asshole low-level cop. The sort of good ol’ boy that has a very strong notion of what the rules are and that people that break the rules should be punished. It’s not a viewpoint I endorse, nor, apparently, do the show’s writers. It doesn’t hurt that I really don’t like good ol’ boys.
But the big point that the writers make is that such an arrangement, even if it lowered crime over all and left the neighborhoods better off, just would’t be stable. In the political environment, drugs and drug dealers had been so demonized and the issue to moralized that no politician could keep elected office with such a policy. In spite of any merits it may have.
Which I suppose is what’s behind a lot of policies that I dislike and think are wrong on the merits. The current situation is an equilibrium that’s not easy to move out of. It’s not just a matter of politicians having the will to change policy. It’s more a matter of the electorate changing what it considers tolerable. And not just the local electorate, but the broader electorate. It doesn’t seem like the most intractable issues are local anymore, if they ever were.