Short Take: Nabbing Mencken For Speeding

Remember when red light cameras and speed radar first arose as a great idea, essentially free money for municipalities with no due process for the “convicted,” who might not have been the violators if there even was a violation, which couldn’t be clear because who knew if the machines were working right, properly calibrated, or just taking random pics and sending out tickets because there was money to be made?

Criminal law reformers hated them, challenged them, and they were ultimately held unlawful and in disrepute, banned and rejected as a foolish and dangerous idea. But that was then and this is now, and suddenly it’s not merely back as part of the neo-reformed simplistic solution to intransigent problems, but what was once roundly acknowledged as dumb and simplistic is now “such a smart idea.”

For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.

–H. L. Mencken

At The Appeal, they make the pitch.

It’s not that these “solutions” aren’t well-intended, or don’t arise because of real problems.They are and they do.

  • Policing turns routine traffic stops into deadly encounters. An NPR investigation into deaths of 135 unarmed Black people shot by police since 2015 found that “more than a quarter of the killings occurred during traffic stops.” New York Attorney General Leticia James recommended removing the New York Police Department from everyday traffic enforcement, pointing out that “the vast majority of traffic stops…do not involve criminal conduct, yet often end in violence.”
  • Racial disparities abound in traffic stops. Data consistently shows Black drivers are stopped and searched more often than white drivers, despite searches of white drivers more often turning up evidence of crimes.
  • Police spend a lot of time enforcing traffic rules. Non-police traffic enforcement would free up police resources, giving departments more officers and time to focus on solving homicides and other violent crimes.

But as has been discussed before, and before that, reforms that trade one bad thing for another bad thing, particularly when their underlying nothing is seriously unrealistic and highly likely to not merely fail to solve intransigent problems but give rise to the next wave of obvious dangerous and deadly consequences, why do they continue to be promoted as clear and simple solutions?

It would be fun to be able to cheer for simplistic reforms as if they’re going to produce that wonderful society where no one is stopped because of their race, no cop needlessly shoots anyone and the few police remaining can spend their days investigating those crimes that reformers still believe worthy of concern, mostly based on the race or social status of the perp. I know I would be far more popular and beloved by the unduly passionate neo-reform community if I stopped being such an old curmudgeon who always raises problems with their cool new simple Utopian reforms.

The problem is that if no one says they’re counterproductive, tried-and-failed ideas that won’t work anyway, the havoc wreaked on society by these simplistic reforms will leave a lot of misery, and more than a few dead bodies, in their wake. Yet, who wants some old guy to be the wet blanket at their beach party when there are other old guys who tell them they’re so very smart?

Mencken understood human nature years ago. So too did Chesterton as they tore down his fence. Something should be done, but this ain’t it. And yet, it keeps coming up as the answer as if more words murdered will make the simplistic solution finally work.

17 thoughts on “Short Take: Nabbing Mencken For Speeding

  1. Elpey P.

    The irony of solutions that entail not calling law enforcement “law enforcement,” not seeing how automated systems would be condemned for being implemented with bias, and attacking false narratives of fear and danger driven by anecdotal reasoning.

    1. KP

      There’s a step you missed where some machine takes a photo, an automated computer send tickets out to the license address, nothing gets paid, the Court appearance doc goes out, no-one goes to Court, and eventually some SWAT team gets sent around to shoot the new tenant who moved into the vacant apartment. You still need Govt with guns somewhere along the line. Only the middle class get screwed by automated systems, the poor take their chances, the rich get off.

      Of course this has been tried and failed in both directions. The Traffic Police were folded into the general Police to keep an election promise of a thousand extra cops, and some years later the Highway Patrol was started as a specialist service to concentrate on motorists. I expect they’ll get folded into the general Police in a decade.

      I’m impressed the USA got rid of the cameras, the rest of the West is crucified by them.

    1. Guitardave

      I’m afraid you’re gonna put Hunting Guy out of a job with vids like that my friend….where’s the thumbs up button?….oh, wait….never mind.

  2. F. Lee Billy

    There you go again, invoking Mencken. One man’s Mencken is another man’s, … I give up.
    We like the McConnell essay better. Wonder if McConnell ever heard of Mencken? Onomatopia anyone?

  3. B. McLeod

    This seems to be the age of recycling solutions that have failed. In part, it is due to the ignorance of the reformers, who don’t know that their proposals are reruns of failed experiments.

  4. Sgt. Schultz

    On occasion, I wonder whether Clark is really as shallow as he appears on twitter, or he’s playing the dumb reform crowd for popularity for his “causes” by pretending to be one of them and spewing ridiculous nonsense from time to time.

    But then this was gratuitous and just plain stupid. I think I’ve got my answer. This is really a shame, as Cato was one of the few serious players in criminal law reform, and yet here he is, spewing nonsense and embarrassing both the think tank and the more serious people there. You would think someone would pull him aside and tell him to stop. Maybe they have and he won’t?

    1. SHG Post author

      He’s been quite a disappointment to me. Cato has been a significant contributor to smart crim law discussion and reform, and his twitter games are childish at best, insufferably dumb at worst. This is not what I expected or hoped for out of Cato, and I wish someone would put an end to it.

  5. Erik H

    honestly, the solution is simple:

    We can simply make it so every Tesla, Volvo electric, BMW x-e-whatever, will dutifully write a check to the government body whenever the car goes over the speed limit. Speed-limit monitoring is easy for those cars, and since they’re all mostly owned by rich white people this will be socially acceptable–sorry, I mean it will be “just”–and it will preserve the revenue which cops may lose now that some states are no longer allowing them to forfeit everything in sight when someone sneezes wrong.

  6. Mike

    All forms of automated traffic enforcement must be banned NOW. We cannot use poor engineering and predatory ticketing to shaft safe drivers for profit. More crashes can occur. How about all the errors too?


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