Crime and punishment, Boston-style

With unemployment at quite manageable levels, it seems that most people who want a job can find one. It might not be their dream job or their career choice, but the jobs are out there.

But most isn’t everyone, and the Boston City Council has discovered one of those demographics. So they’re rushing forward to help them find work. In fact, they’re going to make it damned difficult to not hire these people.

I’m talking about, of course, those woefully downtrodden, those unfairly oppressed, those victims of society — the convicted felons.

Now, I’m a great believer in redemption. I think that most people do deserve second chances. But I don’t think that they should expect the government to stand up for them and demand it.

And that’s just what the Boston City Council is proposing: as a condition of any company wishing to do business with the city, that company has to grant job interviews to people with criminal records. If they say, across the board, that they don’t want any ex-cons working for them, then they can kiss any future city money goodbye.

Whenever government meddles too deeply in business, it creates horrible unintended consequences.

I recall a similar move in the NFL, when teams were required to interview blacks for coaching positions. They didn’t have to hire them, just interview them. So when a team wanted a certain guy for a coaching position, they had to truck in several black people just to meet the rules — “tokenism” at its ugliest.

Likewise, in the auto industry, the government sets fuel mileage standards. But they aren’t on specific vehicles; they use the “Corporate Average Fuel Economy,” which means that all the cars a company manufactures have to meet, on average, a certain level. So, what happens when — up until recently — the public wants big, inefficient, fuel-guzzling SUVs? Instead of giving the consumer what they want, the makers had to offer steep discounts on more economical vehicles (which have a much lower profit margin) to keep the numbers in balance.

And in California, the state mandates that a certain percentage of all the vehicles sold be low-emission or zero-emission vehicles. This one has always bewildered me. Sure, you can mandate what a company makes, but how the hell do you mandate a company to sell? If the people don’t want the vehicles, then they simply won’t buy them. The state and the manufacturer have to literally throw money at people (in the form of discounts, tax credits, rebates, and the like) to meet those quotas.

So let’s come back to the example of requiring companies to interview felons. I see two possible perverse outcomes: those companies willing to take the chance on them will be lost in the shuffle, and felons will waste valuable time going on interviews with companies that have no intention of actually hiring them, but don’t want to risk losing their city contracts. And when that becomes apparent, the City Council will move from demanding interviews to actually setting quotas on hiring felons.

And that should be entertaining, indeed.

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