The investment tip of the decade surfaced the other day in NBER Working Paper No. 5119, a publication of the National Bureau of Economic Research. Written by economist Steven D. Levitt of Harvard, the paper gives all sorts of aid and comfort to folks who think too many bad guys are walking around when they need to be locked up, and offers nothing at all for op-ed sob sisters worrying that the U.S. must be a police state because its prison population, now over one million, is growing faster than its college population.

What Levitt has done is to examine crime and prison populations in the 12 states where lawsuits against overcrowding have left the statewide prison systems under court orders. Prisoner growth in these states has been substantially reduced, naturally, with notable effects on crime, also naturally. Levitt's regressions suggest that the release of each marginal prisoner is associated with 15 additional crimes a year. Based on other scholars' estimates of the cost of crime to its victims, he puts the benefit of preventing those crimes at about $45,000. The cost of imprisoning the bad guy averages between $25,000 and $35,000.

So we are looking at an extremely juicy ROI. Taking the $30,000 midpoint as our "investment," we have a 50% return. Would it be in poor taste to mention that this figure far exceeds any possible returns on sending additional kids to college?


Who is the biggest and therefore baddest liberal in the U.S. Senate? Again gravitationally tugged by this arguably fascinating question, your servant has created another puzzle in which you, dear reader, will be asked to figure out the answer. We have begun, per usual, by creating a spreadsheet listing the name, state, party, and latest liberalness ratings of each member of the Senate. The ratings are from stuff recently published by the Big Three liberal pressure groups-- Americans for Democratic Action, the AFL-CIO, and the American Civil Liberties Union--all of which doggedly track everybody's voting record and then convert it into an approval rating on a scale of 0 to 100. The puzzle itself serves up clues to the solonic antihero named by the computer as the biggest lib of all. Our past biglibs have been Paul Sarbanes of Maryland, Claiborne Pell of Rhode Island, and Pat Leahy of Vermont, all still in the Senate, although one of them has announced his impending retirement. Hint: The departing guy is a religious mystic, an advocate of the CIA's use of paranormal psychology in intelligence work, a descendant of the founders of Pelham Manor, New York, and not this year's winner.

Speaking of Pell, one has a score to settle. Our 1989 puzzle about him turned up in 1992 in the Pop Quiz section of The Sciences, a liberal journal of the New York Academy of Sciences. We hadn't previously whiffed any politics in this magazine but couldn't help noticing that, in the Pop Quiz version, our clues had been restated so as to tone down some cracks about liberals. And inserted among the final clues was a weirdly irrelevant warning obviously meant to distance the Academy from right-wingery. The warning: "Keep in mind that Fortune is decidedly conservative in its politics."

The worst of it is that, in the course of screwing around with our clues, they omitted one that was absolutely essential in getting to Pell. And then, trying to weasel out of this problem in the following issue, when they had to explain the puzzle's logic and solution, they made it appear that our original text had omitted this required clue--and that the puzzle was soluble only if one "interpreted" another clue to mean what it plainly didn't mean. All very tough on decidedly conservative puzzlemakers.

Clues to the present puzzle: (1) Al D'Amato of New York had a total score of 40; (2) The most liberal senator (hereafter Biglib) was one of eight receiving 100 ratings from both ADA and the AFL-CIO; (3) His total was 134 points higher than that of the most liberal Republican, James Jeffords of Vermont; (4) Six senators had total scores of 0; (5) Only four--Pat Moynihan of New York, Paul Wellstone of Minnesota, and the two Illinois Senators, Paul Simon and Carol Moseley-Braun--got 100 from the ACLU; (6) No Democratic woman scored below 262; (7) The two senators from Biglib's state together racked up 308 points; (8) Barbara Mikulski had an ACLU score 75 points higher than Bob Dole's but eight points lower than that of fellow Marylander Sarbanes; (9) Tom Harkin of Iowa did not get a single 100 rating; (10) Ditto for Chris Dodd of Connecticut; (11) Herb Kohl and Russell Feingold of Wisconsin had a combined total of 554, which is 546 points higher than the total for Oklahoma Senators Don Nickles and James Inhofe; (12) Biglib's name is mentioned on this page.

The answer is on the last page of this department.


We were 6 years old the first time we watched a schoolyard bully in action. It was a cement yard adjoining P.S. 166 in Manhattan, and we remember the holy terror quite clearly. We will warily not mention his name, however, as there is at least some possibility he is still alive after the years he has presumably spent brawling in bars and getting into tire-iron fights with motorists who cut off his car. Sociology being excluded from the first-grade curriculum, we had not yet assimilated "self-esteem" into our vocabulary. But thinking back on the lout years later, we were pretty sure he had more of it than we did.

We are surer than ever after reading an utterly fascinating report on self-esteem in the latest issue of Psychological Review, a journal published by the American Psychological Association. Written by Roy F. Baumeister and Joseph M. Boden of Case Western Reserve and Laura Smart of the University of Virginia, the report is titled "Relation of Threatened Egotism to Violence and Aggression," but its unique angle of vision is really foreshadowed in the subtitle: "The Dark Side of High Self-Esteem."

Friends, there really is a dark side--even if it is hard to discern in the endless public palaver on the subject. A Nexis search on March 26 yielded up 3,847 articles invoking "self-esteem" that had been added to the database just since year-end. A serious sampling of the articles turned up none questioning esteem's quintessential wonderfulness and centrality in human affairs. A Village Voice entry worries that low self-esteem leads innocent suspects to confess. An AP feature earnestly attributes a wave of suicides among French police officers to their low self-esteem. The New York Times approvingly reports that Little League coaches are now being trained to raise kids' self-esteem as well as bunting skills. Articles in the Arizona Republic and a lot of other places tell us that kids join violent gangs because they lack self-esteem.

The Psychological Review paper is long (29 pages), fact-freighted, and totally inconsistent with the above blather. Repeatedly noting the discrepancy between the pop psychology view of the case and the reality depicted in serious empirical studies, the authors firmly state: "In our view, the benefits of favorable self-opinions accrue primarily to the self, and they are if anything a burden and potential problem to everyone else."

Specifically, the profs tell us that high levels of self-esteem are often associated with violent, aggressive behavior. Their review of the research on violent youth gangs concludes with some news for the Arizona Republic: "Gang members apparently think, talk, and act like people with high self-esteem, and there is little to support the view that they are humble or self-deprecating or even that they are privately full of insecurities and self-doubts. Violent youths seem sincerely to believe that they are better than other people--" As for people with low self-esteem, long identified as our planet's greatest problem: "Depressed, self-deprecating, insecure, and shy people are underrepresented among criminals."

The authors are not of course stating that most people with high self-esteem are violent. It is the obverse that is true: that people who are violent--bullies, robbers, rapists, spouse beaters--tend to have high self-esteem. In the days before psychobabble took over, they were described as egotistical, arrogant, and conceited. In and out of schoolyards, their mindset can leave them thinking they are entitled to steal from and beat up others, also that they can get away with it.

The model put forward in Psychological Review focuses on a particular violence-engendering situation. The authors argue, persuasively, that the single most common trigger of aggressive behavior is a challenge to the elevated self-appraisal--a sign of disrespect, for example. The paper describes the obsession of both youth gangs and organized-crime gangs with "respect," and the heavy penalties suffered by those failing to proffer it. When high self-appraisals are unrealistic, they are especially likely to get challenged and precipitate violence. The most dangerous character of all is the guy who has an unrealistically high but somewhat unstable notion of his worth. The instability leaves him feeling sensitive and defensive about perceived slights, and ever ready to erupt.

One somehow doubts that Little League coaches will really succeed in raising self-esteem, but just to be on the safe side: Let's stick to baseball, fellows.


Of the 17 Senators mentioned, Pell has been stated to be a nonwinner. Of the remaining 16, five are Republican and can therefore be excluded too, since we know that the highest Republican score, attained by Jeffords of Vermont, was 134 points below the winner's (clue No. 3). We also know that the winner scored at least 262, the lowest ranking for any Democratic woman (No. 6), which means that Jeffords's score was at least 128, which means in turn that we can exclude fellow Vermonter Leahy, because if the total from the winner's state was 308 (No. 7), then Leahy's total could not have exceeded 180. The 308 total also bars Moynihan, since we know he got 100 from the ACLU (No. 5) and also know that the winner got 100 from both ADA and the AFL-CIO (No. 2), yet Pat cannot have had 300 since that figure plus D'Amato's total (No. 1) would bump the New York total up to 340. The 308 state cap combined with the 262 minimum similarly knocks out Simon and Moseley-Braun of Illinois, Sarbanes and Mikulski of Maryland, and Kohl and Feingold of Wisconsin. Since nobody gave either of them 100, Harkin and Dodd are also knockable outable.

Which leaves only flaming liberal Paul Wellstone. His perfect score: 300. (Minnesota Republican Rod Grams got the other eight.) Paul's decisive vote: an ACLU-approved "nay" on a counterterrorism bill--which some liberals with otherwise perfect scores felt obliged to support. They could be sorry now.