Saturday, March 03, 2012

James Q Wilson

I've had several careers, not all of them glorious. One of the less glorious was the several years I spent as a "consultant" to the National Institute of Justice, the research branch of the U.S. Department of Justice. It was disheartening work for the most part, since my job was to make sense of academic jargon, on the off chance that some Congressman should say: "Oh, that $16,000,000 you spent on community-based policing--how did that turn out?" I was to create an "executive summary" that even a Congressman could understand.

One theorist who needed no ghost writing was James Q. Wilson of Harvard, who among other brilliant insights gave us the broken-window theory of community morale. "Public order is a fragile thing, and if you don't fix the first broken window, soon all the windows will be broken." Reading one of Mr. Wilson's insights gave me the strength to assault again the near-incomprehensible stuff I was given to work with.

He was intelligent, gentle, and fun to read. Alas, he died this week, and the world (and especially Harvard) is the poorer for it. Blue skies! -- Dan Ford


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