I first posted on the foolishness of Ban the Box legislation several years ago. The idea behind this is that if employers are prohibited from asking about an applicant’s criminal history in a check box on job applications, all manner of good things will result. A recent scholarly study the Powerline blog reported here has evidence that if the people hiring cannot determine criminal history from an application, they will instead use race as a proxy. The result is: fewer black applicants are being called back and hired than when there were such evil boxes. Is this really a surprise? Do “good intentions” not all too often guarantee a bad result? Instead of crowning their skulls with halos, the proponents should have used the gray matter inside, as indicated by this quip in the Powerline article:
Charles Murray commented on Twitter: “Any policy analyst who would not instantly predict this unintended outcome should find a new career track.”
Below is my original post on the Ban the Box issue in Columbia, Missouri.
December 2, 2014 the Columbia City Council unanimously voted to prohibit city and private employers from asking about or investigating applicants’ criminal histories until after a conditional job offer has been made. See a newspaper article here. The box on a job application form asking if the applicant has ever been convicted of a crime is now banned.
This step, the first for any Missouri city, is intended to:
- Level the playing field for offenders
- Reduce violent crime
- Reduce recidivism by having more offenders employed
- Compensate for the “flaws” in our criminal justice system
- Reduce the cost of enforcement and increase tax revenue
- Benefit society as a whole
So what’s not to like?
In our opinion just about everything. This is a horrible example of feel-good government activism and abusive overreach, a precedent for even more far-reaching legislation. Regulating essential aspects of business practice is not a legitimate function of local government. It is not government’s business to level playing fields, particularly those tilted by criminal activity. In our opinion it is not a bad thing for criminals released from prison not to have an easy time finding a job. Bad decisions should have consequences. What will happen if this experiment in social justice should be seen not to work? Will we then see affirmative action quotas? Reduction in violent crime by waving magic wands of unproven legislation is wishful thinking. Crime can be reduced – but never eliminated – by incarceration and hiring more police officers. These are costs of essential government services, not frills to be reduced. As for the ‘flaws’ in our justice system, this is liberal twaddle. For some it is too easy to blame the ‘system’ and not the criminal.