Making Institutions Work
(Photo by Robin Holland)
This week on the JOURNAL, Bill Moyers spoke with David Simon, a former journalist who created HBO’s award-winning television series “The Wire.” The series, which was informed by Simon’s 12 years as a crime reporter in Baltimore, was widely praised for its gritty, unflinching portrayal of the harsh realities of life in one American inner-city.
Simon attributed the stubborn persistence of many social problems to institutions’ practice of “juking the stats,” or manipulating numbers to make themselves look better:
“You show me anything that depicts institutional progress in America – school test scores, crime stats, arrest stats – anything that a politician can run on [or] anything that somebody can get a promotion on, and as soon as you invent that statistical category 50 people in that institution will be at work trying to figure out a way to make it look as if progress is actually occurring when actually no progress is... The same game is played everywhere – nobody’s actually in the business of doing what the institution is supposed to do... If there’s an institution that is supposed to serve you or that you are supposed to serve, and it’s supposed to care for you and be a societal positive, it will betray you.”
When Bill Moyers asked how he suggests addressing inner-city social problems, Simon said:
“I would put all the interdiction money, all the incarceration money, all the enforcement money, all of the pretrial, all of the prep, all of that cash – I would hurl it, as fast as I could, into drug treatment and job training and jobs programs.”
What do you think?