Wednesday, January 27, 2010
Incentives Count, For Criminals Too!
"The recession of 2008-09 has undercut one of the most destructive socal theories that came out of the 1960s: the idea that the root cause of crime lies in income inequality and social injustice. As the economy started shedding jobs in 2008, criminologists and pundits predicted that the crime rate would shoot up, since poverty, as the 'root causes' theory holds, begets criminals. Instead, the opposite happened. Over seven million lost jobs later, crime has plummeted to its lowest level since the early 1960s. ... If crime was a rational response to income inequality, the thinking went, government can best fight it through social services and wealth redistribution, not through arrests and incarceration. Even law enforcement officials came to embrace the root causes theory, which let them off the hook for rising lawlessness. ... The 1960s themselves offered a challenge to the poverty-causes-crime thesis. Homicides rose 43%, despite an expanding economy and a surge in government jobs for inner-city residents. The Great Depression also contradicted the idea that need breeds predation, since crime rates dropped during that prolonged crisis. The academy's commitment to root cauases apologetics nevertheless persisted. ... Unemployment in California is 12.3%, but homicides in Los Angeles County, the Los Angeles Times reported recently, dropped 25% over the course of 2009. Car thefts there are down nearly 20%. ... The causes of that long-term drop are hotly disputed, but an increase in the number of people incarcerated had a large effect on crime in the last decade and continues to affect crime rates today, however much anti-incaceration activists deny it. The number of state and federal prisoners grew fivefold between 1977 and 2008, from 300,000 to 1.6 million", my emphasis, Heather MacDonald at the WSJ, 5 January 2010: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703580904574638024055735590.html.
Errata: an increase from .3 to 1.6 million is 433%, so fourfold is more accurate. I say the "root causes" theory holds. Look at Wall Street. "We don't get our bonuses. We engage in extortion. Give us billions or we wreck the ecnommy, throwing millions out of work. So there". The crime rate shot up, just not the "street crime rate". Crime is a "rational reponse to income inequality". Ask Lloyd Antoinette Blankfein. Uncle Sam is fighting crime through "wealth redistribution". See the AIG bailout and interest rate suppression to float the banks as examples. Wall Street today is our "inner cities" of 1967! Would a Wall Street "roundup" have a large effect on crime? Preet Bharara try it. You might like it.