Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Can J. Jonah Jameson Stop Spider-Man Using Economics?

Reprinted from Amazing Spider-Man #592 by Mark Waid and Mike McKone (2009)Poor J. Jonah Jameson. For so long he's held such a passionate grudge against Spider-Man's vigilantism and has employed every means in his power as editor of The Daily Bugle to slander and whittle Spidey's popularity away from the public's eye. It's worked with mix results. But now, Jameson has just landed a position of power as the mayor of New York City. And that means things are going to be different. He has the political and budgetary power to take out Spider-Man through a variety of new methods. He's going to make life really rough on our web-crawler.

Except things are sort of the same.

You see, Jameson's first order of business was to use government funds to secure a special operative task force with the sole purpose of hunting Spider-Man 'round the clock. Aside from Spidey's quip about spending all this money in such a financial climate (Ecocomics Recession Watch!), there is a larger problem: it's not working the way Jameson had intended. His master plan is to either catch Spider-Man or force him into hiding, which would ensure him victory over New York and earn him respect for being a "no-nonsense, law-and-order, zero-tolerance arachnid" politician.

The problem with this plan is twofold. First of all, governments are generally lousy at catching superheroes. Many times in the comic book world have such task forces and organizations been created and it seems like they consistently get nothing done, while draining the economy's resources for high-tech surveillance gadgets. But the more interesting problem is that Jameson's actions are actually having a strange, adverse effect: rather than forcing Spidey into hiding, he actually decided to don the suit and fight crime 24/7, foregoing his Peter Parker persona. Jameson has actually increased Spider-Man's popularity.

I think that if Jameson really wants to beat Spider-Man, it's about time that he uses his newfound power and influence in a more creative way: economics.

Despite the fact that Spider-Man battles with an array of supervillains, most of his duties involve taking out regular crimes -- robberies, street thugs, gang violence, etc. This is what he is seen doing during Mark Waid's "24/7" story arc. And this sort of crime is currently running rampant in New York (at least in the Marvel Universe). But other things running rampant as well: poverty, uninsurance rates, health care and education costs, etc. These are factors that are known to contribute reductions in crime. A strong economy, for instance, is shown to have reduced the incidence of nonviolent crime (the kind with financial incentives--burglary, robbery, etc.). This paper from the Quarterly Journal of Economics shows that providing families with opportunities to move to lower-poverty neighborhoods significantly reduces juvenile violent crime. This article from The Washington Post describes investment in social programs' effect on reduction of gang violence.

Admittedly, a strong economy does not explain the whole story and there is plenty of evidence to suggest other factors in crime reduction (see Freakonomics, which argues that the legalization of Roe v. Wade in the 70s has played a large role in the reduction of crime rates in the 90s). Yet, Jameson should consider taking the money that he is spending on police forces, especially this anti-Spidey-squad, and funneling it towards anti-poverty measures, health care, education, job training, etc. This way, he accomplishes two things. First, he actually has a chance of achieving the reduction in crime that he preached in his campaign. This would win him the favor of the public. Second, he slowly but surely diminishes the need for Spider-Man, correcting the 24/7 plot that he accidently instigated and reducing Spidey's influence on the city. In this way, Jameson could demonstrate his considerable prowess and show to the people of New York that he is more effective than Spider-Man. Oh yeah, and it could also help reduce poverty, insure more people and help with education. Those things are nice too.

Economics: it might take a while and it might backfire, but it is certainly an idea that Jameson should try out if he's serious about finally nabbing that pesky arachnid.


markp said...

Clearly though, Jameson's goal is to catch Spiderman for his own personal gratification, rather than actual improvement of the city and betterment of the general population. Thus the goal is not actually helping the city, but to physically detain spiderman, which can indeed only be done by spending lots of money on technology and personnel (labor and kapital) capable of catching spiderman.

This is a pretty good example of the principal-agent problem in politics. Jameson has no real incentive not to use public money for his own personal vendettas. There is the threat of not being re-elected, but due to a combination of informational asymmetry, delayed effects from bad policy, and voter apathy, it's unlikely that he will experience negative effects from his decisions. After all, pouring the GDP of New York City into catching Spiderman certainly looks like something concrete is being done about crime.

Joseph said...

The problem I always have with the "Law and Order" argument from candidates, is that it's not really in their interests to do anything significant about the atmosphere that causes crime (Poverty, Education etc...).

There's that truism that for every dollar you spend on education you save 10 on incarceration & police, but law and order types always want to simply pass harsher laws.

ShadowBanker said...

Markp -- that's not necessarily the case. Sure Jameson takes a perverse pleasure from watching Spider-Man suffer, but I believe that he really feels that webhead is a menace to society. He's delusional, but that does not make it an entirely personal vendetta. It's similar to some representations of Lex Luthor. He distrusts having an alien with godlike powers living amongst humans.

Ralph said...

Or he could just give New Yorkers back their Second Amendment rights.... Every state, county, city or community that has rolled back gun legislation has seen a corresponding dramatic DROP in violent crime (criminals tend to be leery of robbing or raping someone who might SHOOT them. Source: "More Guns, Less Crime", 2nd ed.)

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Anonymous said...

The poverty and uneducation=crime "research" has been shown to be poor work, largely consisting of preselected politically correct conclusions, selective data-picking and worst of all, sloppy post-hoc, correlation/causation reasoning.

Even then, forgetting the real stats, what happened to common SENSE?

Honestly, THINK, people: are the kids staying out of gangs because they're staying in school-- or are they staying in school because they're morally motivated to NOT get involved in gangs? Poverty and crime: What do you EXPECT to happen to the economy when local businesses are preyed upon by criminals?

Why is such backwards reasoning tolerated--- from people who, after insisting that poverty causes crime, will turn around and tell you that the "rich" are all crooks?

Give a crook money and you get a rich crook. Give a crook an education and you get a smart crook. In neither formula do you get a REFORMED crook.

sim so dep said...

Honestly, THINK, people: are the kids staying out of gangs because they're staying in school-- or are they staying in school because they're morally motivated to NOT get involved in gangs? Poverty and crime: What do you EXPECT to happen to the economy when local businesses are preyed upon by criminals?

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