*The Rise and Fall of Violent Crime in America*

by on December 2, 2015 at 2:25 am in Books, Data Source, Law, Political Science | Permalink

That is a forthcoming book by Barry Latzer, it is very clear and well argued and I am happy to recommend it.  Here are a few bits from the book:

1. From the 1930s through the 1950s, black cirrhosis death rates were lower than those for whites.

2. For Miami, Haitians were 3.5 percent of the murder suspects when they were 14 percent of the city’s population, from a 1985-1995 study.

3. If you ignore levels, and just look at rates of change, crime rates in Canada track those in the United States to an astonishing degree.  How can that be?  If demographics or jobs were the main driving force, maybe, but they are not

4. He criticizes lead-based theories on the grounds that they seem “…unable to explain why the affected populations had relatively high offending rates in the years just prior to the great crime decline.”

You can pre-order it here.

1 Ray Lopez December 2, 2015 at 3:36 am

Violent crime needs more comments….here in PH the crime rate per capita, adjusted for age, is lower than in the USA.

2 Thiago Ribeiro December 2, 2015 at 5:29 am

America is an outlier because American culture stimulates violence. I still remember how shocked my grandmother used to say she was when the first movie theater opened in her small town and she saw how violent (decades before Mr. Tarantino’s birth) American movies –in contrast with the European (Italian, mostly) ones and the incipient Brazilian cinema– were. From then to now, it just got worse. America culture today is, to speak plainly, Education for Death. https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=l14WDZCnz-w
Unfortunately, they’re not locked up in here with us. We’re locked up in here with them.

3 Patrick L December 2, 2015 at 6:17 am

Except American culture is consumed everywhere in the country, but like Mexico our crimes are concentrated into a few areas, and the rest have well below average crime rates.

If Hollywood causes more violence, then we have to explain why Iowa has less crime than Alberta, even though Alberta is colder and has fewer guns.

Crime is weird.

4 Moreno Klaus December 2, 2015 at 7:38 am

“but like Mexico our crimes are concentrated into a few areas, and the rest have well below average crime rates.”
Yes, but that can be said about ANY country… bad neighbourhood / guetto in the big city will concentrate most of the crime, so it think that is a bad argument.

5 Patrick L December 2, 2015 at 12:41 pm

Well, no. Many countries are dominated by a singular city or two, so “bad parts of Athens” are also “bad parts of the country”, but that model super doesn’t apply to the US. Like, I want you to think of the 315 million Americans spread across 3 million square miles and go, “hey there are just /bad parts/” of the country, and how silly that sounds.

The fact is, if your model is ‘it’s cultural + ghettos’ you’re going to overpredict crime in the top 100 metro areas except Chicago and LA and DC. You’re going to massively underpredict crime in places like San Juan. Especially if you get fancy with the culture argument and look at Hollywood movie consumption or English Television hours watched.

6 Thiago Ribeiro December 2, 2015 at 7:46 am

http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/murder-rates-nationally-and-state#MRord
The median American state is clearly much more violent than most countries with indoor plumbing. Unfortunately, this is the system American have chosen.

7 Urstoff December 2, 2015 at 9:13 am

The system of violent movies? What?

8 Gongtao December 2, 2015 at 9:19 am

Murder rate in USA : 3.8 per 100k/year
Brazil: 25.2

The murder rate in the USA is also lower than Fiji, Moldova, Thailand, North Korea, Cambodia, Lithuania, Pakistan, Honduras, Mexico, Ukraine and 110 other countries.

9 JWatts December 2, 2015 at 10:44 am

“Murder rate in USA : 3.8 per 100k/year Brazil: 25.2” “The median American state is clearly much more violent than most countries with indoor plumbing.”

Well obviously, Thiago Ribeiro is indicating that Brazilian’s don’t have indoor plumbing.

10 Thiago Ribeiro December 2, 2015 at 11:19 am

Wow. America is safer than Fiji and North Korea? Talk about declaring victory and leaving.
Few countries are more violent than America (and none more violent than, say, Georgia) that had not suffered a collapse of law and order (Mexico and Colombia are the most obvious examples). Again, there is NO known explanation, except for culture, for the richest and most powerful country Mankind has ever seen having to compare itself to Moldova and Ukraine (the countries that can not even control their own territories) and North Korea and Fiji to feel a little better about itself. It is disgraceful! America’s situation is made unique for it is a rare country where an unbearable high murders rate exist side by side with the trappings of Civilization.
As for Brazil, the average citizen shows a remarkable and praiseworthy restraint in the absence of anything resembling a functional justice system. Most crimes are never solved, hundreds of thousands of arrest warrants are never served, “favelas” became inexpugnable strongholds of crime, murder usually goes unpunished . Under such circumstances, professional criminals have all the freedom from state interference they need to be overachievers and entrepreneurial. Violence is antithetical to Brazilian nature, almost a monopoly of the few, proud few who are able to practise it professionally. There isn’t a Brazilian equivalent to Columbine or Virginia Tech. Crimes of passion are all but unheard of in Brazil. “Lone wolves” are a foreign concept. Certainly, there is no Brazilian equivalent to Waco or to the Mexican-American War or to Iraq II. It took years of aggressions and persecutions of Brazilian citizens and betrayals from Paraguay (even after Brazil helped it to arm itself) and a surprise attack to force Brazil to trample out the vintages where the grapes of wrath are stored. Even then, war prisoners were treated humanely, there wasn’t a Brazilian Abu Ghraib. Even under the fascist regime Brazil was under during WW II, there was no Brazilian equivalent of the internment of Japanese-Americans.
@JWatts: No, I am indicating that most Brazilians know what the expression “most countries” means. But I am always ready to hear about how America’s educational system beats Fiji’s.

11 Jason Bayz December 2, 2015 at 12:03 pm

“Crimes of passion are all but unheard of in Brazil.”

LOL

12 Patrick L December 2, 2015 at 1:21 pm

The median metro area in the US is Louisville, KY, which has a 20% lower crime rate than France. If we ignore a handful of metro areas (Chicago, LA, DC, Dallas, Phoenix, Detroit, and maybe one or two others I don’t remember off hand) crime in the US is much lower than most parts of the world. The 158 Millionth American experiences much lower crime than the 33rd millionth Frenchman. This remains true despite the fact that America has much larger ‘visible minority’ populations, is generally hotter, has more guns, more income inequality, more incarceration, and more poverty compared to European counterparts.

American Crimes are much likely to result in a death or a shooting because there are a ton more guns floating around, but unless you want to make the argument that more guns cause less crime* you’re going to be have a hard time showing culture is to blame. Gangsta rap is not causing people to go out and shoot people. It’s a dumb theory because it removes agency from criminals. There might be a correlation between mass shooting events and cultural violence, but those are basically shark attacks – low probability events that attract a ton of attention (If you swim in the ocean you’re also more likely to die from sharks). Off hand it seems much more likely to be caused by lack of treatment for mentally ill individuals, along with the ease by which mentally ill people can get firearms, but I don’t know if there’s any strong evidence for any particular hypothesis.

* I’m not saying this hypothesis is wrong, but it seems oxymoronic to say “America has such a large culture of violence that if it had a fraction of its guns its crime rate would be astronomical.’

13 albatross December 2, 2015 at 2:19 pm

Patrick L:

The theory may be wrong, but the fact that it denies agency for criminals isn’t a reason why it would be wrong. In fact, *any* theory that explains why some times, places, and groups have higher crime rates than others will deny agency in the same way.

14 JonFraz December 2, 2015 at 2:27 pm

Re: If we ignore a handful of metro areas (Chicago, LA, DC, Dallas, Phoenix, Detroit, and maybe one or two others I don’t remember off hand) crime in the US is much lower than most parts of the world.

Apples to oranges. It’s fundamentally dishonest to exclude the most crime-plagued parts of the US while including the most crime-plagued parts of other nations in a comparison.

15 Thiago Ribeiro December 2, 2015 at 2:31 pm

“The median metro area in the US is Louisville, KY, which has a 20% lower crime rate than France. If we ignore a handful of metro areas (Chicago, LA, DC, Dallas, Phoenix, Detroit, and maybe one or two others I don’t remember off hand)
I don’t know how much Detroit et all weights on American homicides statistics, but:
1) It is doubtful that crime in the US is much lower than most parts of the world. Again, most American states are incredible violent for a rich country. Delaware is more violent than Pakistan!
American rates are higher than any in the civilizated world plus India, plus Chile plus Uruguay plus Laos plus who knows what more. All West Europe, most of Asia (specially countries with big populations like China, India, Pakistan, Nepal, South Korea, Japan, Vietnam, the Gulf monarchies, Iran, etc.), several Latin American countries, the odd African country and the better part of Oceania have better numbers.
2) “Gangsta rap is not causing people to go out and shoot people. It’s a dumb theory because it removes agency from criminals.”
You can as well say that culture (or legal sancrions) does not matter because saying otherwise removes agency from students, teachers, workers, bureaucrats, politicians, priests, CEOs, etc. It is a risible proposition of course.
3) “American Crimes are much likely to result in a death or a shooting because there are a ton more guns floating around, but unless you want to make the argument that more guns cause less crime.”
Floating guns don’t kill people, people using guns kill people. Again, Americans are doctrined to believe a gun is the first, last and only resort when dealing with people (this is the cause of so many school shootings, work crimes, crimes of passion–all them almost unheard of im Brazil and most of the world), which makes guns even more necessary, to try to countervail the crazy people who already have guns (hence the talk, after every mass shooting, that if people at schools, squares, churches, theatres, etc. had guns everything would have been fine), leading to murder rates that in most countries would have meant the breakdown of social order.
4) I am sure there are nice spots in the USA, there are nice spots in Brazil, too (in fact, if the numbers are right, violence in Brazil is basically a black/very poor person’s problem). Nevertheless, it is clear America is much behind Europe and most of the world when it comes to preventing violence (instead of simply inflict). I really doubt a country more violent than Pakistan and Peru was the Founder Fathers’ dream.

16 So Much For Subtlety December 2, 2015 at 3:15 pm

Thiago Ribeiro December 2, 2015 at 11:19 am

There isn’t a Brazilian equivalent to Columbine or Virginia Tech.

Brazilian groom shoots up a wedding:

http://content.usatoday.com/communities/ondeadline/post/2010/12/groom-kills-wife-best-man-and-himself-at-brazilian-wedding/1

Crimes of passion are all but unheard of in Brazil.

Brazilian husband shoots wife in street:

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3302322/Horrifying-moment-Brazilian-police-officer-kills-wife-chasing-street-shooting-11-times-back.html

“Lone wolves” are a foreign concept.

Brazilian serial killer admits to killing 42 people

Even then, war prisoners were treated humanely, there wasn’t a Brazilian Abu Ghraib.

Yeah? How many survived? Brazil has a president who was tortured by other Brazilians after she tried to have millions of them murdered.

It is nice pretending to be from Brazil when you are just a boring accountant from Ohio. But don’t go too far.

17 Thiago Ribeiro December 2, 2015 at 4:14 pm

Why an accountant? I feel more like Batman. Why Ohio? After inventing the airplane–after Brazil– they did not do much. Maybe a more exotic place–for you, somewhere without NASCAR races– would do more justice to my fascinating personality.
After the guy who doesn’t know what “most” means, the guy who doesn’t know what “all but” means. Well, better than Fiji, I guess. America has had to settle for this a lot lately.
“How many survived? Brazil has a president who was tortured by other Brazilians after she tried to have millions of them murdered.”
I see we would have had our own Holocaust… it just magically didn’t happen. Unlike the March to the Sea, Wounded Knee, the internment of Japanese-Americans because they happened to have the wrong skin collor and so on. Maybe we are just luck. To be fair, torturers (I guess they can be included among those who deal professionally on violence) under a dictatorship may be somewhat rough (evidently it explains Abu Ghraib, too, right?). Even then, the terrorists in 20 years killed or injured fewer Brazilians than McVeigh killed or injured Americans in one single day–and basically no civilians. The military regime killed maybe three Wacos (or six Virginia Techs) in 20 years of almost absolute rule, including people who died fighting (a Dylann Roof per year–probably fewer unjustifiable deaths than America’s peculiar way of policing provokes).
So our Columbine (maybe our Waco even) is a crime of passion five years old (well, it is just in: http://www.foxnews.com/us/2015/11/10/philadelphia-police-hunt-gunman-in-crime-passion-murders/). By the way, do I recall a man killing his coworkers on TV this very year?
“Violent crime like this normally happens in Brazil’s poorest classes, in the sprawling shanty towns or favelas [strongholds of crime, as I said], in big cities like Rio de Janeiro. But this was a respectable, middle-class marriage between a professional couple who had been dating for three years and were by all accounts deeply in love.”
I am not sure it would be surprising in the USA (see link above). I know you are doing your best with the material you got, but… Ah, during the Paraguayan War, a Brazilian woman became a legend –a national Nightingale–because she volunteered to help with healthcare and did her best to nurse both Brazilians, allies and the hated Paraguayans prisoners back to health. American wars woman female symbol? Well… https://www.google.com.br/search?q=abu+ghraib&num=40&client=tablet-android-samsung&prmd=ivn&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiWk8X_ir7JAhUGS5AKHa89Cv4Q_AUIBygB&biw=800&bih=1280#imgrc=CbBa3ORuoFoWWM%3A

18 Thiago Ribeiro December 2, 2015 at 4:25 pm

By the way , most of the confirmed kilings (and one failed crime) of your “lone wolf” were contract killings. Among people who abhor violence, such a person can reap monopoly winnings (suffices to say he said he never had to work).

19 Thiago Ribeiro December 2, 2015 at 4:54 pm
20 Doug Jones December 2, 2015 at 5:49 pm

“Certainly, there is no Brazilian equivalent to Waco”

Backlands: The Canudos Campaign, by Euclides da Cunha

Written by a former army lieutenant, civil engineer, and journalist, Backlands is Euclides da Cunha’s vivid and poignant portrayal of Brazil’s infamous War of Canudos. The deadliest civil war in Brazilian history, the conflict during the 1890s was between the government and the village of Canudos in the northeastern state of Bahia, which had been settled by 30,000 followers of the religious zealot Antonio Conselheiro. Far from just an objective retelling, da Cunha’s story shows both the significance of this event and the complexities of Brazilian society. [Amazon summary]

http://www.amazon.com/Backlands-Canudos-Campaign-Penguin-Classics/dp/0143106074/

21 Thiago Ribeiro December 2, 2015 at 6:16 pm

This is different. If left unchecked the fanatical “sertanejos” would have ended up restablishing the Empire and imposing their millenarist brand of religion over the country. We were fighting for the survival of our State against an enemy who was an a spiritual precursor to IS. Brazil sent lots of minor military missions to obtain their surrender, but they repelled them and killed the leader of the last, Moreira César, a war hero. As it happened with Paraguay, only a sequence of betrayals forced us to crush an implacable enemy.
As the text says, it was a real war–and probably less important at it than the Southern rebellions from 1835 to 1845 and 1891 to, intermittently, 1923.

22 So Much For Subtlety December 3, 2015 at 4:40 am

Thiago Ribeiro December 2, 2015 at 4:14 pm

I don’t know why you want to pretend to be Brazilian. You are what you are.

I see we would have had our own Holocaust… it just magically didn’t happen.

She tried, she failed.

Unlike the March to the Sea, Wounded Knee, the internment of Japanese-Americans because they happened to have the wrong skin collor and so on. Maybe we are just luck.

This would be the same Brazil that was founded on racially-based slavery would it?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bandeirantes

Even then, the terrorists in 20 years killed or injured fewer Brazilians than McVeigh killed or injured Americans in one single day–and basically no civilians.

McVeigh killed 168 and injured about 600. The Generals killed some 450 people. Plus some 8000 Indians.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Mboror%C3%A9

I love the way you claim it is different when Brazilians do it.

23 Thiago Ribeiro December 3, 2015 at 6:36 am

“McVeigh killed 168 and injured about 600. The Generals killed some 450 people. Plus some 8000 Indians.”
No, they did not (by the way, I love how you separated “Indians” from “people”, “separated but equal”, I hope). It was not possible, despite much interest from leftist political groups, count more than about 200 killings of insurgents, including people who died fighting, plus a handful of innocent bystanders–a Dylann Roof (or 1/8 Waco) per year of the most murderous dictatorship Brazil ever had.
But why haggling about a mere hundred here (a Colfax riot: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Colfax_massacre ), a mere hundred there (less than one McVeigh’s workday)? Let us instead take a wider view. Compare and contrast Brazil’s unfortunate authoritarian experience with the regimes of your friends Pinochet and the Argentinian juntas, with their tens of thousands of corpses produced in coutries much less populated than Brazil and in a shorter amount of time than Brazil’s dictatorship produced its. For all their many terrible sins, backed by the USA and its “advisors”, Brazil’s generals showed a much lighter hand than Americans in the Philippines or Waco.
Furthermore, compare Brazil’s terrorists with their grand total of about 200 killings (the Los Angeles Riot in 1992 accomplished one-fourth of this in a much shorter time), almost no civilian victims (a rule American rioters and law enforcement alike should adopt, I think) to the Argentinian Montoneros and the Peruvian Shining Path. They attacked democracies, killed thousands of persons and targeted civilians. Again, I ask, what explains the obvious differences between Brazilians and their neighbours if not culture? As I said, violence is antithetical to Brazilian nature.

“I love the way you claim it is different when Brazilians do it.”
Most people would say there is a sharp difference between killing people because they are trying to kill you (Brazil against the Paraguayan invader or the Canudos’ traitors or the Southern rebels) and killing them because you are greedy (Americans in Mexico, in the Philippines and almost everywhere else) or bigoted (American tradion of lynchings–American psychologist George Estabrooks’ description of the one he saw is chilling– at the end, the murdered “Negro” was not even the guilty part–guilty of talking to a White woman, I mean–there can be no better summing-up of what America actually is).
The Bandeirantes (mostly Portuguese adventurers) and their slave raids were dead, buried and forgotten long before Brazil achieved independence, so it is not clear exactly what your point is.

The Battle of Mbororé (and the destruction of the Palmares Quilombo– a slave sanctuary– to mention another famous example) happened under Portuguese rule and was led by Portuguese men (for example, Raposo Tavares, one of the most famous attackers, mentioned by text linked, was Portuguese)–and we Brazilians were their first victims, just look all the laws they created to prevent Brazilians from create industries and having printing presses. While the Spanish America had universities and progress, we were oppressed by the greedy Portuguese kings. Truth is, we did our best to prevent their greed and blood-thirst from doing much harm, but it was not always possible.

24 Stephan December 2, 2015 at 2:01 pm

@Patrick L. referring to your post below , The US seems to beat France in crime statistics according to this:
http://www.nationmaster.com/country-info/compare/France/United-States/Crime

25 Andao December 2, 2015 at 3:09 pm

Like Patrick L said, American culture is consumed worldwide so other countries should be comparatively death-y. Easy access to guns is probably the most likely explanation. Bar fights that may have ended in punches or stab wounds end with bullets instead, which of course are more fatal.

26 Thiago Ribeiro December 2, 2015 at 5:08 pm

They may be “deathier” than they woud have otherwise been, but less “death-y” than the country subjected to the real stuff, unalloyed American culture with no countervailing cultural forces.

27 M December 4, 2015 at 6:44 pm

Seems like there’s a lot of apocalyptic violence in Japanese popular culture, through videogames and movies. OTOH, nothing much seems to happen there, crime wise. Almost like no connection.

28 Gabriel Chavez December 2, 2015 at 3:37 am

What’s the current perspective on Levitt’s theory of abortion having a key role in diminishing the crime rate? It makes for a good pop-sciency book at the very least.

29 Moreno Klaus December 2, 2015 at 7:39 am

Correlation is not causation, that said, it probably has a multifactorial cause, and it is very hard to prove.

30 Brian December 2, 2015 at 12:53 pm

“Correlation is not causation” should be removed from everyone’s rhetorical repertoire. It’s well beyond trite and rightfully offensive to anyone’s intelligence you impugn with its use.

31 Cyrus December 2, 2015 at 2:40 pm
32 prior_approval December 2, 2015 at 3:43 am

‘From the 1930s through the 1950s, black cirrhosis death rates were lower than those for whites.’

Anyone want to take a guess at how black poverty rates and average income compared to those of whites between the 1930s and 1950s? Correlation, causation, etc. The same applies to illegal drug use, by the way – the better off are the main customers for drugs, not the poor. Though marketing can be effective – see the difference between powder or crack cocaine (particularly in street cost), or how oxycontin et al can maintain their legal status while being abused primarily by white Americans.

‘For Miami, Haitians were 3.5 percent of the murder suspects when they were 14 percent of the city’s population, from a 1985-1995 study.’

Seriously – 14% percent? One can assume that this means Miami city, which has a population 2/3 that of Washington DC, and not Miami-Dade County/Greater Miami, which has a population 6 times larger than that Miami city.

‘If you ignore levels, and just look at rates of change, crime rates in Canada track those in the United States to an astonishing degree. How can that be?’

And if you ignore levels, your measurement becomes meaningless. When I lived in Leesburg, the murder rate shot up 100% in one year – that is due to the first murder in 7 years occurring that particular year.

‘He criticizes lead-based theories on the grounds that they seem “…unable to explain why the affected populations had relatively high offending rates in the years just prior to the great crime decline.”’

Which affected populations? Lead exposure in the U.S. due to leaded gasoline was pretty much universal, and its removal as a fuel additive around 1975 does track the decline in a way that is not easy to dismiss. ‘Lead is a toxic metal that accumulates in the body and is associated with subtle and insidious neurotoxic effects especially at low exposure levels, such as low IQ and antisocial behavior.[36][37][38] It has particularly harmful effects on children. These concerns eventually led to the ban on TEL in automobile gasoline in many countries. Some neurologists have speculated that the lead phaseout may have caused average IQ levels to rise by several points in the US (by reducing cumulative brain damage throughout the population, especially in the young). For the entire US population, during and after the TEL phaseout, the mean blood lead level dropped from 16 μg/dL in 1976 to only 3 μg/dL in 1991.[39] The US Centers for Disease Control considered blood lead levels “elevated” when they were above 10 μg/dL.’ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tetraethyllead#Toxicity

Yep, exactly the sort of work that is considered worthy of recommendation here.

33 Hiawatha Jones December 2, 2015 at 7:21 am

[quote]And if you ignore levels, your measurement becomes meaningless. When I lived in Leesburg, the murder rate shot up 100% in one year – that is due to the first murder in 7 years occurring that particular year. [\quote]

Tyler implied that crime rates were moving in conjunction, ‘i.e. tracking’, so ignoring levels is ok.

34 Pshrnk December 2, 2015 at 9:23 am

And the Leesburg murder rate shot up 700% per year, not 100%.

35 dearieme December 2, 2015 at 9:42 am

Actually it shot up infinity percent compared to the previous few years.

36 BigEd December 2, 2015 at 9:42 am

An increase from zero to one is a 100% increase? That is more like an infinite increase.

37 Thor December 2, 2015 at 11:03 am

Prior Approval was cheated out of a good education by GMU and the Koch brothers.

38 T. Shaw December 2, 2015 at 11:06 am

Was it worse for the first Leesburg murder victim in seven years?

Here are some facts. “In terms of per capita fatalities, the United States was fourth, after Norway, Finland and Switzerland. Another article, at the Independent Journal website, provides a ‘Rampage Shooting Index’ for 10 countries, covering 2009-2013. Again, the United States is first in total number of incidents, and sixth in per capita fatalities. (Behind Israel and Slovakia, as well as the previously mentioned nations). Updating the index to account for 2015 would put France ahead of the United States.”

Believe it or not. Three weeks after 132 people were massacred in Paris, Obama (speaking in Paris) said, “Mass shootings just don’t happen outside the US.” The Idiocracy has landed.

39 Dan December 2, 2015 at 4:08 am

4. He criticizes lead-based theories on the grounds that they seem “…unable to explain why the affected populations had relatively high offending rates in the years just prior to the great crime decline.”

Can someone elaborate on this? I don’t understand what he is trying to say, or why it counts as evidence against the lead hypothesis.

40 Bob December 2, 2015 at 7:06 am

Crime is generally a young man’s game, but as an individual ages his propensity to commit crime drops relatively smoothly (large numbers and averages and all). When you look at the great crime decline in the 1990s people who were statistically very likely to commit crime at some age, say 20, saw a much steeper drop at 25 than was observed for 20 year olds becoming 25 in the 80s.

What lead predicts is that children exposed to lead (e.g. eating paint chips) will have impaired mental development in particular brain areas. Get rid of the lead, then when the lead-free cohort comes of age, crime should start dropping. This actually happened, but the cohort that grew up with a lot of lead paint also saw a large drop in crime.

My best guess is that lead had a direct effect (better impulse control, etc.) but also a social contagion effect – if the young guys think violent crime is “rash and stupid” then those with poor impulse control will be less likely to act out criminally and find other outlets for their impulsivity (e.g. doing drugs, risky sex, etc.). Certainly for gang crime an influx of less criminal lead-free younger gang members should lead to the gang as a whole being less irrationally violent.

41 dearieme December 2, 2015 at 9:44 am

“My best guess is that …”
If only we had a cohort of intellectually honest people to study such things: a sort of anti-sociologist trade.

42 anon December 2, 2015 at 5:12 pm

Interesting point. Related to that I wonder about how violent crime is often a two way street. The 25 year old is less likely to kill the 20 year old if the 20 year old is less likely to provoke them (due to having had less brain damage than 20 year olds of the past)

43 T. Shaw December 2, 2015 at 11:09 am

I keep thinking about the tonnage of lead paint chips consumed by youthful commenters.

44 Careless December 4, 2015 at 8:41 pm

I’ve never gotten around to understanding eating paint. Is lead paint delicious?

45 Harun December 2, 2015 at 11:15 am

There is also the issue of Asia.

Lead was in their gas, too, but they didn’t have a drop in crime.

46 anon December 2, 2015 at 5:14 pm

Where?
The lead correlation is pretty strong in Europe and many countries of the Americas.

47 Steve Sailer December 2, 2015 at 4:34 am

I’d like to see a careful study of crime rates in localities with intense lead pollution, such as EPA Superfund sites.

48 Moreno Klaus December 2, 2015 at 7:45 am

Use a natural experimental design? (Maybe lead was phased earlier in some countries or even USA states than others?) From that maybe you can infer whether you also see whether a drop in crime rate, in countries where lead phase-out occured later, also translated into a later time for crime drop-out? What about the abortion theory is it just gibberish or does it make sense?

49 Jon Rodney December 2, 2015 at 9:37 am

“Use a natural experimental design? (Maybe lead was phased earlier in some countries or even USA states than others?)”

Kevin Drum discusses cross-country and cross-state comparisons with varying timing of lead phaseouts. It’s really a pretty convincing theory:

http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2013/01/lead-crime-link-gasoline

50 Dan Weber December 2, 2015 at 10:20 am

Is there anything more to be done? Would it make sense, eg, to pick a few municipalities and do a serious “de-leading” of any lead still present? (And then compare to some control municipalities.) Or is trying to drop lead levels by another 20% too expensive to test?

51 Jon Rodney December 2, 2015 at 10:42 am

I’d like to see more experiments along those lines, but I think it is pretty expensive. My guess is that the political will is lacking, especially because the residents of neighborhoods that still have high lead levels tend to be low-income and pretty politically uninvolved. Still, it seems likely the investment would pay off in the long run if lead is a significant driver of crime in those areas.

52 Harun December 2, 2015 at 11:16 am

“Nevin collected lead data and crime data for Australia and found a close match. Ditto for Canada. And Great Britain and Finland and France and Italy and New Zealand and West Germany. Every time, the two curves fit each other astonishingly well. When I spoke to Nevin about this, I asked him if he had ever found a country that didn’t fit the theory. “No,” he replied. “Not one.””

Did he do any non-European countries, like Japan, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Korea?

53 Jon Rodney December 2, 2015 at 11:53 am

Seems like he didn’t cover any Asian countries. Not sure whether he’s being cagey/dishonest about having never found a country that didn’t fit his theory, or if he chose his countries based on how easy it was to obtain good data on lead levels.

54 Art Deco December 2, 2015 at 12:13 pm

Drum also misrepresents the geographic variation in the fall in crime rates. New York City logged an 81% decline in murder rates. In Rochester and Buffalo, the decline was 0%. Nationwide, it was about 50%. He also compares New York, which incorporates 45% of the whole metropolitan settlement, with Washington, which incorporates 15% and saw large demographic shifts you did not see in New York.

55 Andao December 2, 2015 at 3:26 pm

+1, you’ve got dangerous Philippines and safe Vietnam in Asia, both have comparable GDP per capita. Has China seen a dramatic decrease in crime as the dangers of lead became apparent? Anecdotally it seems to be moving in the opposite direction. For the lead theory to hold, we need much more data on the non-western world. Otherwise you can just as easily say that simultaneous cultural trends across the West were responsible for lower crime.

56 Anon December 2, 2015 at 4:16 pm

Nevin took a non randomised sample of 1500 people in Australia and extrapolated that over the whole country. Lead-Crime theory is perfectly plausible but is is far from established. Further it is strange that a theory would explain such a high amount of the in country variance but none of the between country variance.

57 Art Deco December 2, 2015 at 12:09 pm

It’s really a pretty convincing theory:

Mother Jones does not publish ecological studies and Drum wouldn’t have a clue as to how to perform one.

58 Jon Rodney December 2, 2015 at 1:27 pm

Fortunately Mother Jones isn’t pretending to perform any studies, ecological or otherwise. But it’s a decent summary of the hypothesis that lead levels are linked to crime, and it cites published studies that support the theory.

59 Art Deco December 2, 2015 at 3:31 pm

No, bivariate longitudinal analyses do not support this theory.

60 Jon Rodney December 2, 2015 at 4:56 pm

Sure they do. They certainly don’t prove the theory is correct, and they don’t give any evidence about causation, but they are consistent with the theory being correct, and medical evidence that lead exposure causes behavioral problems is of course very strong. If you want to make an argument that this evidence collectively gives no support to the possibility that lead influences crime levels, by all means do so, but I think it’ll take more than 9 words.

61 Art Deco December 3, 2015 at 8:29 am

Sure they do.

No, they do not. Only multivariate ecological studies can support this theory.

62 Jon Rodney December 3, 2015 at 9:31 am

Repeating your priors doesn’t make them true I’m afraid.

63 Handle December 2, 2015 at 11:15 am

We shouldn’t narrow the field to just American sites either. Follow the Kuznets curves!

Lots of other countries had high levels of lead exposures at different places and times, many Soviet Countries until fairly recently, and areas in China and India even today. If there aren’t crime drops everywhere at the point when childhood blood levels began to decline, then the correlation in American urban areas is probably just a demographic coincidence.

64 PD Shaw December 2, 2015 at 12:02 pm

Superfund sites with big lead issues tend to be in the Mountain West in smaller mining communities or in the Plains states where minerals were taken for smelting. Here is a list from the EPA website where lead was particularly a problem:

Vasquez Boulevard and I-70; Denver, CO
Bunker Hill Mining & Metallurgical Complex; Smelterville, ID
Cherokee County; Galena, KS
Big River Mine Slag/St. Joe Minerals Corp.; Desloge, MO
Madison County Mines; Fredericktown, MO
Oronogo-Duenweg Mining Belt; Joplin, MO
East Helena Site; East Helena, MT
Omaha Lead; Omaha, NE
National Zinc Corp.; Bartlesville, OK
Tar Creek (Ottawa County); Ottawa County, OK
RSR Corporation; Dallas, TX
Eureka Mills; Eureka, UT
Midvale Slag; Midvale, UT

65 Steve Sailer December 2, 2015 at 3:48 pm

Thanks for all the fine suggestions on how future research could be conducted.

I think the lead-crime theory is very interesting. It survives quick national-level reality checks better than Steven Levitt’s famous abortion-crime theory. But a lot could be done with local area natural experiments, such as studies of the crime levels in towns with major lawsuits against lead smelters that generated lots of public records.

Another possibility might be to look at the effects of lead paint in particular places. For example, one justification I found offered in a Chicago Tribune editorial from many decades ago for the construction of the Cabrini-Green housing project was the need to prevent lead poisoning of poor children by tearing down tenements covered in lead paint.

Finally, proponents of the lead-crime theory like to argue that automotive gasoline lead contributed to crime near freeways, citing various expressways that go through slums. But is there a correlation between freeway interchanges and crime? For example, the busiest, most congested freeway interchange in America during the lead-in-gasoline era was likely the 101 (Ventura Freeway) – 405 (San Diego Freeway) in the Sherman Oaks – Encino neighborhood of Los Angeles. Was this neighborhood plagued by anomalously high levels of juvenile crime?

66 Art Deco December 3, 2015 at 8:36 am

It’s a mildly interesting diversion. A bivariate study is not even suggestive because of the ant heap of confounding variables. The descriptive statistics regarding New York cities do not even suggest the hypothesis, unless Drum fancies that gas stations in Buffalo and Rochester have huge stockpiles refined in 1969 and pumped ever since. I’m not seeing why Drum et al would even offer it as suggestive given the ups and downs in homicide rates throughout the 20th century (except that it’s very attractive to people who despise cops).

67 Martin December 2, 2015 at 5:18 pm

There is a lot of data on lead exposure in the USA. Most of it is from lead paint dust and leaded gasoline, not things like Superfund sites. The lead and crime connection could be studied very comprehensively with existing data, by simply looking at jurisdictional crime rates and their associated trends in childhood lead levels.

I saw an article mentioning that NYC did have a premature and significantly bigger drop in crime than most of the USA, and they were one of the earliest to take the lead issue seriously.

68 Art Deco December 3, 2015 at 8:41 am

New York City’s crime drop was not premature, just much larger. Again, homicide rates over 20 years declined by 81% in NYC v. 50% declines elsewhere. Homicide rates pre-deBlasio were at national means and general index crime rates below national means. As fpr the declines elsewhere, might just have something to do with the six-fold increase in the prison population. Drum cannot explore that, because what is the function of intellectuals but to tell us that things are not as ordinary people perceive them?

69 Enrique December 2, 2015 at 7:43 am

I thought it was the nationwide legalization of abortion (via “judicial legislation”) in 1973 that lead to the decline of crime after 1990?

70 E()H December 3, 2015 at 12:51 am

Nope. See Steve above.

71 Axa December 2, 2015 at 8:08 am

Page 14, male Vs female homicide victimization rates by age 1980-2008. young males die at the same rate today than in early 1980s, since the population pyramid composition has changed, there’s less 18-24 people killing each other but, why young female homicide victimization rate has descended by half while young males die at the same rate? http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/htus8008.pdf

72 Pshrnk December 2, 2015 at 9:25 am

Like educational attainment, it is part of the conspiracy against men!

73 Axa December 2, 2015 at 9:56 am

haha, not from this point of view, this is a good thing. what can it be? better police work, reduction on domestic violence?

74 Horhe December 2, 2015 at 10:25 am

Lower numbers of random killings because of better survival instincts? Places that were very safe and suddenly became dangerous almost always feature a spike in incidents until the population adjust their behavior to minimize the danger. This is part of the reasons for the spate of refugee related rapes in W. European countries getting loads of young men from cultures with sexual mores that place the responsibility for sexual propriety on women and their protectors, not men. These women are used to walking or jogging alone at night or in wooded areas, getting drunk in clubs without a wingwoman to vet the dude she’s with, being trusting with subterfuge like being asked for help, for directions, getting in the car. You really do see a difference in Eastern Europe, where indigenous rape rates are higher than in the West, though not by much (possibly because of active female countermeasures). Young women go clubbing together, they look out for eachother, they mostly don’t let friends leave with unknown guys, they usually avoid walking down unlit streets, they take taxis rather than walk home at night or through bad neighborhoods, they don’t get into just any taxi etc though I have never heard of taxi driver rapists and the like – it seems like a good way to get caught.

75 Floccina December 2, 2015 at 12:12 pm

More divorce and less marriage???

76 Lord Action December 2, 2015 at 1:15 pm

I think divorce rates fell over that time period. Peak Divorce was something like 1983.

77 chuck martel December 2, 2015 at 9:47 am

What’s meant by “violent crime”? After all, isn’t just about any violence outside of the football stadium classified as a crime? If an individual attempts to collect a debt by twisting the debtor’s arm, that’s a crime. If an argument over a local strumpet results in two machos punching each other bloody in the parking lot of the Bonnie Heather that’s a crime. If an irate driver socks the guy that rear-ended him on the way home from work that’s a crime. Not long ago, while those things may have been strictly illegal, they probably wouldn’t make their way into law enforcement activity or crime statistics.

Evidently there’s a certain percentage of the population that feels that any violence is simply wrong. In contrast, there’s probably a substantial minority, especially among those physically capable of operating in that sphere, that look at violence as simply another part of the human experience. The idea that violence on a personal level should be eliminated is contrary to their world view.

On the other hand, those repelled by exhibitions of personal violence enthusiastically encourage state violence, including the fatal use of firearms to subdue “suspects” that have been convicted of no crime and lengthy incarcerations of individuals through a process of plea bargaining based on exhausting the defendant’s financial resources.

In the end, there are plenty of people running around that deserve a good punch in the nose.

78 Vijay December 2, 2015 at 10:35 am

BJS defines violent crime as murder, rape, assault, robbery and sexual assault. A first course in criminology defines crime. Stuff like “repelled by personnel violence encourage state violence”, and “people capable of operating in that (violent) sphere” suggest that you were looking for Tyler durden’s blog, not Cowen’s.

79 Thomas December 2, 2015 at 6:02 pm

““repelled by personnel violence encourage state violence”

Because it defends the delicate sensibilities of leftists who march and protest every day in demand of more government violence? Hurts you right in the feels to consider that governmence enforcement requires violent threats?

80 Thomas Taylor December 2, 2015 at 8:19 pm

Oh, oppression…

81 Aaron J December 2, 2015 at 11:32 am

The Canada tidbit is really interesting.

82 ricardo December 2, 2015 at 11:59 am

“crime rates in Canada track those in the United States to an astonishing degree. How can that be?”

Solar cycles!

83 Andre December 2, 2015 at 12:27 pm

Maybe some of the previous crime was manufactured and local police departments can’t organize things like this as easily:

http://henrycountyreport.com/blog/2015/12/01/leaked-documents-reveal-dothan-police-department-planted-drugs-on-young-black-men-for-years-district-attorney-doug-valeska-complicit/

84 sam December 2, 2015 at 1:30 pm

America doesn’t have a violent crime problem.

Blue America has a violent crime problem. Red America is as safe as Switzerland.

85 JonFraz December 2, 2015 at 2:49 pm

Nonsense. Excepting a handful of northern urban areas, the highest rates of violent crime are found across the southern tier of states, which, with the exception of CA, FL (partly), and NM are solid red states.

86 Art Deco December 3, 2015 at 8:53 am

“Handful of northern urban areas” would actually be ‘just about any central city municipality’ (of which there are a couple hundred outside the Southern United States).

Rural areas and small towns are (outside New England) fairly uniformly ‘red’. They’re also largely free from violent crime apart from the occasional domestic dispute or bar fight. You do seem to have more of that in the South than in analogous areas in the north.

87 Nick December 2, 2015 at 3:22 pm

Map of Violent Crime Rates by State (2014) http://www.targetmap.com/ThumbnailsReports/34580_THUMB_IPAD.jpg

It backs up what JonFraz said about the North/South divide

88 Bill Kilgore December 2, 2015 at 3:41 pm

Now map those rates by congressional district and let us know what you find.

89 JonFraz December 3, 2015 at 1:35 pm

If you look at the map you’ll note that rural areas in the South and Southwest (with the exception of a large chunk of west Texas) also tend to be very crime prone. By contrast there are rural areas in the northern tier of states (which yes, vote “blue”) which are quite crime free, e.g., New England, northern Minnesota, etc.
I wouldn’t push this too far, however the original poster’s claim that crime is mainly a blue state problem is not backed up by facts. Crime really is a nationwide problem, varying to be sure by locality, but not with any tight correlation to the area’s politics.

90 dan1111 December 2, 2015 at 5:30 pm

I don’t think the north/south divide is that meaningful once you consider population. It mainly looks this way because of the Northwest, but this whole area has less than the population of California. On the other hand, the Northeast and Northern Midwest don’t show such a clear trend, with New York, Massachusetts, and Michigan all high crime areas.

91 Art Deco December 3, 2015 at 9:06 am

Some differences survive controls. Nevada is unsurprising as 2/3 of the population lives in greater Las Vegas. South Carolina and Tennessee are odd. Neither state has any 1st tier cities and South Carolina does not have any 2d tier cities, either. The majority in both is rural and small town (north of 2/3 of the population, in South Carolina’s case). The Unz Review votaries would bring up South Carolina’s elevated black population, but it’s no more elevated than Louisiana’s or Mississippi’s and Tennessee’s is less elevated than Viriginia’s.

92 The Original D December 2, 2015 at 6:02 pm

Well SC just had one white guy murder nine black people at church so they’ll get even redder (on that map).

93 Art Deco December 3, 2015 at 8:57 am

Your point is what?

(White on black homicide is actually quite unusual. A metropolitan region of ordinary dimensions – say, the settlement around Omaha or Dayton or Louisville – will have perhaps one in a typical year).

94 albatross December 2, 2015 at 2:26 pm

How do crime rates in the US compare with those in Europe when you take demographics into account? Is it like the PISA scores, where American whites, blacks, hispanics, and Asians do fine compared to countries that are mostly the same race/ethnicity, but our overall scores don’t look as good because of our demographics?

95 Cooper December 2, 2015 at 5:08 pm

The US white homicide rate is a little higher than countries like Belgium or Finland but not many multiples higher.

The US black homicide rate is much lower than in countries like Jamaica or South Africa.

The US latino homicide rate is much lower than the murder rate in countries like Brazil or Mexico.

The general theory holds up.

96 Thiago Ribeiro December 2, 2015 at 8:17 pm

Why Mexico, the country that has lately faced a quasi-civil war? Why Brazil, which has little to do with the latinos in the USA and doesn’t even speak the same language American latinos speak? Why not Chile, Uruguay and Peru?

97 Art Deco December 3, 2015 at 8:46 am

There is no ‘quasi civil war’, just gun battles between gangbangers and police in selected loci.

98 Cliff December 3, 2015 at 11:02 am

How many U.S. immigrants come from Chile? It’s mostly Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador, etc.

99 E*H December 3, 2015 at 12:49 am

Guys, always look at the second generation. This applies to Haitians, as well as to any other group of immigrants.

100 Art Deco December 3, 2015 at 8:45 am

FWIW, Haiti’s homicide rates are not nearly as elevated as Mexico’s or Brazil’s. The stats may be bad, though. Most Caribbean states have a wretched problem with violent crime, the French dependencies excepted.

101 Floccina December 3, 2015 at 9:37 am

It seems to me that the biggest problem in the USA is crime and that should be the primary focus of Government.

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