Five Best Tuesday Columns

Michael Rich on perfecting crime prevention, Farah Stockman on the Tea Party, Fred Crupp on climate change, Michael Gerson on Romney's faith, and Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers on empirical economics. 

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Michael Rich in The New York Times on perfecting crime prevention Rich explores whether we can make certain crimes impossible to commit without infringing on people's rights. "The perfect prevention of crime asks us to consider exactly how far individual freedom extends. Does freedom include a 'right' to drive drunk, for instance? It is hard to imagine that it does. But what if the government were to add a drug to the water supply that suppressed antisocial urges and thereby reduced the murder rate? This would seem like an obvious violation of our freedom." The distinction, he says, lies in finding methods that don't infringe on our freedom of thought. So breathalyzers in cars work in ways that drugging the water supply do not.

Farah Stockman in The Boston Globe on the Tea Party and the U.N. Stockman describes several ways that Tea Party activists are resisting United Nations actions for fear they infringe on U.S. autonomy. "How can Americans continue to lead the world if so many of us are so consumed with fear of it? Tea Partiers even reject treaties aimed at bringing international standards up to what we already have in the United States," she writes. Thus do activists resist the the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, for fear it'll prevent home schooling even as it encourages China to crack down on child factory labor.

Fred Krupp in The Wall Street Journal on a climate change compromise Krupp takes to the Journal's pages (often home to climate skepticism) to preach a middle ground between the parties on the issue of climate change. "If both sides can now begin to agree on some basic propositions, maybe we can restart the discussion. Here are two: The first will be uncomfortable for skeptics, but it is unfortunately true: Dramatic alterations to the climate are here and likely to get worse—with profound damage to the economy—unless sustained action is taken," he writes. "The second proposition will be uncomfortable for supporters of climate action, but it is also true: Some proposed climate solutions, if not well designed or thoughtfully implemented, could damage the economy and stifle short-term growth." Rather than deny climate change, conservatives should start fighting for policies that prevent it and align with conservative goals.

Michael Gerson in The Washington Post on highlighting Romney's faith "In Tampa this month, Republicans will cheer themselves hoarse for a Mormon nominee. And a nation that carefully marks and celebrates every ethnic and religious first won't take much notice," Gerson writes. This is in part because both the Mormon Church and Mitt Romney are cautious about highlighting his religion, but concerns about suppressing evangelical voters should be outweighed by a greater priority. "Romney's pressing need to inject some authenticity — or at least some personality — into his campaign is the primary reason he should talk more about his faith."

Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers in Bloomberg View on the data revolution "Many had pronounced the field of economics discredited after the global financial crisis. Instead, it's in the midst of a revolution," Wolfers and Stevenson write. "The transformation isn't a mea culpa, or a knee-jerk reaction to the crisis. Rather, it's a long-running shift toward a more empirical field, to the study of what hard data can tell us about the way the world really works." This comes from an enormous explosion in the amount of data we now create that economists can use. "The shift toward an even more empirically grounded economics doesn't mean theory is less important. When facts were expensive and scarce, the role of theory was to 'fill in' for missing data. Now, its purpose is to make sense of the vast, sprawling and unstructured terabytes on our hard drives."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.