Crime is falling, still

The number of violent crimes in the United States dropped significantly last year, to what appeared to be the lowest rate in nearly 40 years, a development that was considered puzzling partly because it ran counter to the prevailing expectation that crime would increase during a recession.

In all regions, the country appears to be safer. The odds of being murdered or robbed are now less than half of what they were in the early 1990s, when violent crime peaked in the United States. Small towns, especially, are seeing far fewer murders: In cities with populations under 10,000, the number plunged by more than 25 percent last year.

This development reminds me of a fallacy committed by (some) intellectuals.  Occasionally you will read it insinuated that if inequality continues, or continues to rise, “the public will take matters into its own hands,” or something like that.  Apart from being potentially factually false, such an outcome is neither endorsed nor condemned by the intellectual.  The writer is hinting that the losers from such a rebellion would deserve what is coming to them, without having to say so.  Least of all is the writer willing to throw his or her efforts behind dissuading or criticizing such a public response (is it so hard to write “don’t bring out the guillotine”?).  The ostensibly “positive” description of what the public will do is used as a veiled threat, to be enacted if the warnings of the supposedly smarter intellectual are not heeded, yet without the intellectual having to make the threat himself.

A similar issue comes up in some discussions of free trade.  It is sometimes hinted that if more is not done to help victims of free trade, the public will turn against free trade and force through extreme populist anti-trade measures.  Again, the writer is playing on mood affiliation rather than analyzing such an outcome dispassionately and then evaluating the behavior of the public and trying to prevent it by framing the issue in a different manner.

The reality is that the public does not respond to most events, or most changes in the income distribution, as the intelligentsia likes to think it should, or will.

Maybe I will call this “the public as billy club” fallacy.  I have a low opinion of sentences in which this fallacy is committed.


The Walrus wonders if this is happening in Canada because of the nature of its immigrants:

Arrival of the Fittest

I find Canada's immigration policy to be ruthless amoral (not immoral).

Why? Because it tries to be meritocratic?

Because they mostly only take the people who least need to emigrate, the wealthy, the intelligent, the competent, the educated, the credentialed.

What if you applied the same moral yardstick to domestic spendings? What if, say, all FAFSA aid went towards the absolutely destitute with nothing for the middle class kids? Or, more personally, is that the selection criteria you use when selecting a babysitter or a plumber? "Let's pick the poorest candidate?"

Philanthropy isn't the sole goal of an immigration policy.

I find it absolutely moral with regard to the existing Canadian population. Why should Canadian immigration policy burden the Canadian citizens with non-integrable newcomers?

It is only "amoral" if you buy the world-citizenship model, whereby (Western) nations have no right to pursue their own interests.

That's crap. You don't have to be a hippy to realize that in terms of talent retention immigration is a zero sum game.

You have a rich country siphoning off the best and brightest off a poor country. How does that not make you a *little* bit queasy? It's not any different from taking advantage of any other natural resource.

Not at all queasy. It's a dog eat dog world after all.

Does that mean you oppose all international trade?

If the country of origin treated the migrants like sh*t, why should it be entitled to keep them home?

Many of the best and brightest migrants belong to an oppressed class home. For example, Iranian atheists or Baháí's. Chinese in much of South-East Asia. Jews prior to WWII. Etc.


I will tell you what i told that anti-immigration guy the other day: Immigration is not about countries, it is about people. Nobody forces people to immigrate, and the fact that country X benefits and country Y suffers is totally secondary. Immigration allows a person to be more productive and therefore benefits that person in the first place.


Of course not. I'm somewhat opposed to zero sum trades that fuck the poor, though. In this case you might make an argument that remittances back home might offset the cost of the brain drain, but I look forward to reading a paper about it.


I agree, but good luck with that! Asylum visas are often capped and often don't come with work permits.


I'm an immigrant. That's bullshit. Of course you're forced to immigrate. Do you think people enjoy leaving their families and homes behind? It just so happens it's easier to find a job in country X.

The fact that country Y suffers isn't totally secondary. They've lost an investment in education and future tax income and incentivized citizens capable of making a difference. In many ways, (rational) immigration policies that target the well educated amount to a subsidy to rich countries from the poor. I don't know how to fix it either, but don't call it a meaningless side effect.

The greatest tragedy of all is when you give higher priority for an Indian engineer to come into your country and then refuse to accept his accreditation and put him to work as a cab driver.


I am an immigrant too and as far as I can remember nobody from the US government came to my house in Brazil and pointed a gun at me saying "immigrate right now! We need your help to raise our GDP!"

I chose to immigrate just like you did, and the only reason I did so was that I wanted to improve my life. Of course immigrating is not easy and that was part of my decision. I know many, many brazilians who could immigrate and don't do so - even when the US policy allows them to. They are either too lazy, or they love the sun too much, etc. The point is, there was nothing that forced me to do anything.

The only role countries play in immigration is the gate keeper one. They can either allow people to come or not. But that doesn't mean they will be able to get exactly what they want. That is why Canada and Australia have policies that are more flexible than the one in the US for instance.

Now, regarding how this process punishes countries that provide immigrants, the way I see this is that we are voting with our feet. The brazilian government knows exactly why people leave that country: high crime rates, stupid public policies, corrupt government. Once the revenue they lose starts to make a difference they will have to adapt or the country becomes unsustainable.

You have a rich country siphoning off the best and brightest off a poor country. How does that not make you a *little* bit queasy? It’s not any different from taking advantage of any other natural resource.

Phil, are you suggesting that a country (poor or otherwise) owns its "best and brightest" the way it might own a natural resource? Surely those people have the right to decide for themselves where they wish to live and to emigrate if they are able. You seem to be espousing a literal state of serfdom, in which people are bound to the land of their birth, no matter what opportunities might be available elsewhere. Doesn't that make you a little bit queasy?

I think the sort of thing you talk about below the quoted bit is less common than you imagine, less dark than you imagine, and not clearly happening at all in the section you quote.

"How can crime be going down when the prisons are so full?"

Of course, this is about to change in California...

Not to mention that fact that there are MORE GUNS on the street than ever before! We should be seeing Dodge City any day now!

(As an aside, Dodge City was orders of magnitude safer than any majority-minority big city in America today, especially for honest citizens who did not frequent the bars, whorehouses, and gambling halls.)

I think you need to unpack the argument here for idiots like me. Are you saying intellectuals should not mention what they deem to be probable consequences of some state of affairs if they are not willing to comment on whether they consider those consequences desirable or not?

Intellectuals can say anything they like. The rest of us should just ignore them. They usually are wrong.

All I know is that the left is made up of credit snobs and that they are afraid that capitalism will work for everyone, not just the rich.

No, he's saying it's pretty obvious after reading certain people for a few minutes who is making veiled threats to advocate their desired directions.

As a counter-example, go back a couple days to one of the assorted links where Michael Spence summarizes the job market. THAT is an economist.

If the veiled threats refer to events that have historical precedence, does that automatically make their inclusion in the argument invalid if the conditions under which they occurred are repeated?

He's saying they don't have precedent. They are just, as E. Barandiaran might say, "bullshit."

I took it to mean if things deteriorate to the point where the peasants BELIEVE they have nothing to lose, they'll be willing to risk anarchy (Ex. French Revolution - historical precedent). If the anarchy we see after local disasters when law enforcement is spread too thin to be effective is any indication, some of them may be closer to that point than we probably would like to believe. This may be exaggeration by these alleged "intellectuals", but I'd hardly describe it as "bullshit".

"Less common than you imagine"? Just two examples out of 8 million of how this fallacy is misused by unions and the left:
Police chiefs in the United States say the economic downturn is fueling a rise in crime and warn that cuts to their budgets could handcuff their efforts to tackle it, according to a report
"It is common sense that foreclosure and crime go together," said New York State ACORN President Pat Boone.

But this is all water under the bridge. Instead of signalling our superior intellect by noticing that we are aware of this common fallacy, is it not more interesting to understand *why* crime has been falling so steadily?

Not only are abandoned homes looted, but "the increasing displacement of homeowners leaves neighborhoods without the deterrent presence of concerned neighbors' watchful eyes" to help protect other houses, the study states.
For example, two serial rapists who terrorized southeastern Queens last summer viciously attacked women more than a dozen times in a vacant church and other abandoned buildings.

From the article you mentioned ad*m.

Is it *pure* fallacy if there's clear anecdotal evidence to support it? How do we explain the correlation between low income areas and crime followed by the mathematical truth that higher inequality means more low income areas.

Just asking.

Mathematical truth?? Completely the opposite of that. Higher inequality has absolutely nothing to do with "more low income areas". Unless you can show that higher inequality suppresses overall income? If anything, isn't it the opposite?

No. Because low income is a relative measurement, More income inequality does imply more low income areas. Or maybe lower income areas. And unless you could make a convincing argument that the increase in income inequality has been Pareto improving at a communiy level, which it clealy hasn't, I think we could all agree that increasing income inequality absolutely has something to do with more low income areas.

Because having a low income, either in relative or absolute terms, doesn't make you commit crimes. The reason that people with low incomes tend to commit crimes is that people with poor impulse control commit crimes, and also exhibit behaviors that make it difficult for them to hold down decent jobs. This is why, for example, you tend not to see a lot of grad students, Amish, or Hasidic Jews knocking over liquor stores&emdash;they have low incomes for reasons that have nothing to do with poor impulse control.

Is it *pure* fallacy if there’s clear anecdotal evidence to support it?

No, it's just unreliable. You can never be sure whether or not the incidents in question are simply there on their own (and even the safest cities have occasional awful crimes), or representative of something bigger.

How do we explain the correlation between low income areas and crime followed by the mathematical truth that higher inequality means more low income areas.

Two comments:

1. Correlation does not mean causation. Simply the fact that crime is more likely to occur in low-income areas does not mean that it is the low income that's responsible.

2. Higher inequality does not necessarily mean more low-income areas.

I often see this mentioned "Correlation does not mean causation"

But are there good ways to demonstrate causation irrefutably? Does causation always boil down to he-said-she-said (i.e. which expert you trust). Or is there a scientific, objective way of proving causation?

Can't give a decent summary atm, but yes, there are scientific ways to determine causation to arbitrary levels of certainty. Read up on Judea Pearl's books, either Causality or Probabilistic Reasoning in Intelligent Systems. Basically, "X causes Y if X belongs to the minimal set for which, if you knew the values of that set, nothing else would tell you anything about Y."

Great tip Silas. Thanks!

I'd never heard about Judea Pearl before and his writing on causality is very educational.

Agree with Rahul. People say that as if correlation implies lack of causation. I said that with the follow up question in mind of: if not low income as the cause, then what? Which correlation or group of correlations *does* contribute to ie cause the crime rate? Is low income really not one of them?

Also did you just use hypothetical anecdotal evidence to refute anecdotal evidence? And while I agree that anecdotal evidence is weak it is evidence when statistical evidence does not exist. I'm sure the statistics would support what the police chief said do you not?


Assuming low income is a random or at least semi-random variable, which I recognize is a liberal viewpoint.

But let's say it's not and that low income and crime are purely correlated ie not causal for people in low income areas (the conservative viewpoint).

Whoops hit something too soon.

Anyway as I was saying. Assume crime prone people are poor people a priori. Increasing income inequality increases the chances of criminals and the unlucky poor (have-nots in the income inequality game, assuming social mobility) interacting, doesn't it? Exposing more people to criminal elements must be a bad thing.

A weak argument I know but I'm only trying to anticipate future arguments.

Whether the police chief is correct or not, and purely anecdotal to boot, I can't recall any natural disaster large enough to cripple the effectiveness of "order", that did not result in mass looting and crimes of opportunity.

Does that mean a reduction in law enforcement is any more or less a causation than low income, or just exacerbates the effect?

Que? Your mathematical "truth" doesn't follow. Higher inequality implies greater differentials, but it need not be the case that the lower end of the spectrum has "low" incomes in any absolute sense. That is, the lower end need not be operating at levels where crime becomes rampant due to a complete lack of opportunities or necessities.

For your last paragraph to be fully consistent, crime would have to be driven by envy rather than need. Failing that, inequality in and of itself doesn't strictly drive anything.

Personally I don't see what interjecting inequality has to do with this story. The thesis is the mystery for the cause of this crime and the fact that economic prosperity and/or incarceration rates either don't strongly correlate or don't negate sufficiently some other cause that could explain the continued decline.

The disconnect between Tyler and his "intellectuals" is that they actually warn against economic "unfairness" and not necessarily "income inequality" on which Tyler focuses. The man who self-immolated in Tunis didn't protest because he owned a meager cart, but that he felt it was unfairly taken. Income inequality may exist to a large degree without protest if the government and economic system is dealing justly. However inequality can be seen as a large indicator of "unfairness" in economic opportunity. This line is different around the world. In Norway, a disparity might be hugely frowned upon and re-distributive action taken merely to "make people more equal". In France, they might not deride your wealth so long as your progressive taxes fund the "innate human right" to their generous social welfare system of outstanding healthcare and education. In the US, the "have nots" do not (yet) see being left to their own resources for healthcare, higher education, etc as unfair. The truth is political violence occurs when a population perceives "injustice" (as defined by local norms) with no non-violent mechanism towards redress. The US has a far more individualistic bent which insulates it from much of the protest against economic inequality seen elsewhere but a breaking point exists in every culture. In the US, the public might not fault the 1% for acquiring a vast proportion of wealth if they believe they can obtain the things they need on fair terms. However, its entirely possible the majority may come to believe that, their own access to healthcare, higher education etc is more pressing than allowing a system to persist that enables the richest 1% to continue to amass great wealth. As Kennedy said, if a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.

I agree that a major reason that the US has been reasonably discontent free is mobility , both economic and social. If a poor youth perceives that he has a chance to be rich later on in his life (or maybe his children at least) he is less likely to express discontent. Once you make the transitions hard and freeze the class structure the rebellion surfaces.

I would add "Physical Mobility" to that as well. Physical mobility is usually a big part of a dynamic economy, with people (particularly poor young people) flowing to where the jobs are.

I agree that physical mobility is usually underated. And it helps older people too. I see a lot of middle class older people here in Utah who moved out from California and are very happy. They get to buy a bigger house, face no traffic and their savings last a lot longer. I think this kind of relocation helps not only to improve unpopulated/under-developed areas but it also improves overall happiness.

I would add "physical mobility" to that list. Physical mobility is one of the most under-stated factors in a dynamic economy, with people (particularly young poor people) flowing where the jobs are.

Ah, ever looked at demographics and age distribution and crime rates. Not many 80 year olds holding up liquor stores.

Also, note the association that the author makes: "The number of violent crimes.... increas[ing] during a recession" is phoney.

Yeah, like murder rates and sexual assaults should increase during a recession.
You have nothing better to do today because you are unemployed and should therefore go out and kill someone.

"This development" reminds me of a fallacy of some intellectuals alright, as you said.

Rather than your last sentence, my conclusion would focus on the intellectuals you have in mind rather than on the public and would be something like this:
Maybe I will call this the "intellectuals as bullshitters" fallacy. I have low opinion of sentences in which intellectuals tell us their conclusions about reality without the support of reasonable evidence or ignoring hard evidence that does not support their conclusions.

My fallacy focuses on bullshit as defined by Harry Frankfurt on his On Bullshit:
It is impossible for someone to lie unless he thinks he knows the truth. Producing bullshit requires no such conviction. A person who lies is thereby responding to the truth, and he is to that extent respectful of it. When an honest man speaks, he says only what he believes to be true; and for the liar, it is correspondingly indispensable that he considers his statements to be false. For the bullshitter, however, all these bets are off: he is neither on the side of the true nor on the side of the false. His eye is not on the facts at all, as the eyes of the honest man and of the liar are, except insofar as they may be pertinent to his interest in getting away with what he says. He does not care whether the things he says describe reality correctly. He just picks them out, or makes them up, to suit his purpose.

I just don't like any post which seeks to elicit support with a claim for anti-intellectualism.

What is the opposite of an intellectual--it includes the set of stupid people, and those driven by words ("intellectual") and not reason.

I was very disappointed in a post that uses the language of anti-intellectualism as a support for an argument.

Please define clearly what credentials you require to call someone an intellectual.


Ask Tyler. He said: "This development reminds me of a fallacy committed by (some) intellectuals."

When the expert supports your POV call him an intellectual. If he says something you don't like he is a bullshitter?

"What is the opposite of an intellectual–it includes the set of stupid people"

Intelligence is not what 'we' are talking about. It's position, not ability. There are plenty of idiots occupying positions where they try to manipulate others with their rhetoric.

Compact flourescent lightbulbs, cornahol, "the hydrogen economy," etc. All these things have in common that people with personal experience with them do not tout them to the same degree as people I would term intellectuals.

I've run CFLs before most political pundits knew of such things. They pretty much suck (the bulbs, I mean). They do have a niche, but nowhere near banning incandescents or being worth mentioning by policy-makers for that matter.

anon, You've got it backwards.

When you want to lead the ignorant by the nose, call your opponent an intellectual,

Name calling is the first sign of a weak argument and it also tells you something about the audience as well. If Tyler went to the AEA and said "some intellectuals" said this or that, the audience would look at him funny. If he went to a Sarah Palin event, they would applaud.

What is Tyler saying about this audience?

Please define clearly what standards you require to judge an intellectual as good one or bad one.

That's a question for YOU! You made a distinction between intellectuals and bullshitters.

Ask Tyler. Intellectual is used here as a loaded word designed to stop you from thinking.

"Producing bullshit requires no such conviction."

Charlie Munger termed this the "Twaddle Tendency." Intellectuals (again, not synonymous with "smart people"), like radio broadcasters have to fill the air with something. It doesn't have to be good. People will still view them as authorities due to their station.

You know, when the masses get wind of elites like you who proclaim that people who darkly intimate what will happen when the masses get wind of the inequities of society created by the policies favored by elites like you and run amok are unfairly playing on mood affiliation...

I've never understood why the lefties are in such a lather about inequality (other than the fact that they seem to be a discontented lot in general). If the rules are fair, why aren't the outcomes? I am sure the retort would be that the rules are not fair. I also believe that there is no set of rules that they would consider fair and therefore accept the outcomes. At base, I think the left impulse is to stand astride "society" and move the pieces around to suit their idea of what is right. This is essentially a totalitarian impulse.

This is what Thomas Sowell actually believes, and also people who have never actually met a leftist.

You mean you haven't yet recognized that Rich Berger is a whiny caricature?

It's so hard when there are so many whiny caricatures to pick from. I guess that is the sign of good satire...

If the rules are fair, why aren’t the outcomes?

...because the initial conditions matter! "Fair" rules with absurd initial conditions hardly give rise to desirable outcomes. Or rather, rules that are fair for one set of initial conditions may not be for another.

Practically speaking, there would be no set of initial conditions that would be acceptable to you. I will give you credit; at least you took a stab at a coherent response.

All initial conditions are acceptable; you can't change that. The trick lies in making the rules compatible to those initial conditions.

In this case, I think most conservatives and libertarians are right on board with you. But not for the reasons liberals like to fantasize about- racism and class warfare. The conditions that prevent people from reaching fair outcomes are caused entirely by the welfare state and its corrosive effect on schools and communities. There are no income-based barriers to education. There just aren't. But there are a lot of horrendous, unionized, inner-city "schools" though. And there are a lot of welfare programs that make it practically impossible to move up the income ladder other than by illicit activities.

And there are a lot of welfare programs that make it practically impossible to move up the income ladder other than by illicit activities.

Can you name some? And this isn't sarcasm; I'm genuinely curious as to which welfare programs you think are incentivizing illicit activities?

"But there are a lot of horrendous, unionized, inner-city “schools” though."

There are plenty of these schools, but to blame them on corrupt school districts or greedy unions is naive. Their problems are sociological.

Theodore Dalrymple commented on this issue extensively. Basically, he described the UK's welfare state as actively promoting bad decisions in life.

Having a kid out of wedlock --> automatic entitlement to a city flat. This motivates young poor girls to conceive at a young age, around 16-17, if only to escape the dysfunctional families they live in.

Being an alcoholic or a drug junkie ---> preferential treatment.

His patients actually asked (and sometimes threatened him into) to write the worst possible things about them into the forms ("never held a job, is a heavy drinker"), in order to look as hopelessly as possible - that increased their ability to milk the state.


Agreed. But just because there might be some perverse side-effect may not be a sufficient reason to abort an intervention. Alternatively, let's say we abolished "city flat entitlement" or "preferential treatment": Would that eliminate junkies, alcoholics and teenage pregnancies?

The question always is whether the unintended effects outweigh the desired ones.

If the rules are fair, why aren’t the outcomes?
If the rules are fair why can't I match Tiger Woods in golf?

Or girlfriends?


Two points:
1. It's human nature to believe any set of rules under which one is doing well is a fair one, irrespective of what percentage of the population they belong. I sure do, and I'd believe you do too.

2. I agree that there's a faction of lefties and righties who would never be happy no matter what the rules were. Nothing will ever be resolved on any policy in any country if they are used as the benchmark. What the 80% between them are trying to do is come up with a set of rules that will have a net positive effect for the overall long-term good of the country, and not give a damn what the fringies think of it.

One point - nonsense, it's just you projecting.

By that you mean you're in a faction of righties who are against humans and nature, believe the rules are unfair if they're not doing well, and don't give a damn what the 80% think. ;-)

If you keep inventing fallacies, the public will take matters into its own hands.

Discovery and invention aren't exactly the same. The fallacies exist. He's putting a name to them. Though, I think this one was already identified: Appeal to Emotion.

Does anyone know what Cowen is babbling about? I must have missed Krugman's op-ed where he threatened to unleash waves of inner-city sans-culottes unless the Bush tax cuts were allowed to expire.

I've read the paragraph beginning "This development" about ten times now. I still have no idea what any of this is supposed to mean. Tyler seems to be upset crime has been going down for twenty years for reasons he doesn't understand. To make his point, he utilizes analogies of unnamed intellectuals referencing non-crime related phenomena; yet, Tyler is upset by these phantom intellectuals and their predictions.
Uhm.....huh. Let's just say Tyler raises a lot of interesting questions in this post.

From our Dear Leader in 2009-

ABC News’ Matthew Jaffe reports: When President Obama welcomed the chief executives from 13 of the nation's biggest banks to the White House last Friday, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs billed it as a “good, productive, and frank” conversation.

Emphasis, it appears, on the frank.

As first reported by Politico's Eamon Javers, and confirmed by ABC News with industry sources, some bankers gave explanations for the industry's high salaries, such as "competing for talent on an international market."

But, President Obama cut them off.

"My administration is the only thing between you and the pitchforks," the president told them.

I, too, find Tyler's direction with this one... odd.

It does seem an attempt to reduce the legitimacy of a particular argument that he doesn't seem to like. I wonder if he can help codify the conditions under which the argument is not justified - after all, it isn't just people talking about inequality who use the general form - it is also employed by people councilling modest dress for women to avoid rapists, many who advocate lower taxes to keep the productive class from "going Galt", etc. For that matter, "don't run with scissors" and "don't drive drunk" are examples of the argument.

Also, we *do* know of cases where inequality at least contributed to social instability. History offers many examples.

So I would be curious to know what criteria Tyler uses to grade the use of the argument.

Maybe it is unlikely, but in case a rebellion is indeed the product of increasing inequality, why does Tyler prefer intellectuals to condemn this? Why is "don't bring out the guillotine" the morally appropriate response for this?

Are we so sure that the public does not respond to income events? History seems to indicate that this does happen at intervals (although not common).

Well the alternative is supporting wanton murder of innocent people.

Well, we are talking about experts who use metaphors like "There is only so much air you can squeeze out of a balloon.” :)

But really, why invent a new fallacy when we already have "populism"?

Crime has gone down because it is so much easier to get caught. In the 70's they didn't have DNA-profiles, fingerprint databases, sex offender registries, ankle bracelets, CCTV and a whole lot of other fancy gadgets and tools. As time passes it gets harder to pull off the perfect crime.

What a bizarre string of inconsistent arguments. Crime is not equivalent to anti-trade measures. And, as many have noted (mostly from your camp, Cowen) worker compensation is generally at historic highs.

Perhaps impoverished employees are what lead to revolutions - as Marx argues. The unemployed may feel like it is their own 'inaction' that keeps them from receiving wages. The employed, on the other hand, will be increasingly frustrated if applying themselves proves useless for their own fiscal solvency.

Young men commit most crimes.

Demographic changes mean young men are a smaller part of our population.

Therefore, less crime.

Everything else: police, economics, etc. is a side show.

Yes, but the number of young men has not halved in 15 years. This is at best a small part of the explanation.


The article also says that the biggest crime decreases are centered in New York and certain other large cities that have improved policing. If you improve policing in places that accounted for a large percentage of total national crime of a certain category, national crime statistics decrease as well.

Dave is right--demographics play a big role.


Rather than going to the NYT article, I went to the FBI crime statistics report, or rather, the press release. Note the difference between violent and property crimes, and also the point about changes in crime in cities over a certain size:

"According to the FBI's Preliminary Semiannual Uniform Crime Report released today, the nation experienced a 6.2 percent decrease in the number of violent crimes and a 2.8 percent decline in the number of property crimes from January to June 2010, when compared with data from the same time period in the prior year. The report is based on information from more than 12,000 law enforcement agencies that submitted three to six comparable months of data to the FBI during the first six months of both 2009 and 2010.

Violent Crime
■ From January to June 2010, all four of the offense types in the violent crime category declined nationwide when compared with data for the same time period in 2009. Robbery fell 10.7 percent, murder was down 7.1 percent, forcible rape declined 6.2 percent, and aggravated assault decreased 3.9 percent.
■ Violent crime declined in all city groups, with the largest decrease, 8.3 percent, in cities with populations of 500,000 to 999,999 persons. Violent crime was also down in both nonmetropolitan and metropolitan counties, with declines of 7.6 percent and 6.2 percent, respectively.
■ For the six-month comparison period, violent crime fell in all four regions of the nation: 7.8 percent in the South, 7.2 percent in both the Midwest and the West, and 0.2 percent in the Northeast. The Northeast was the only region to experience an increase in murders, 5.7 percent. Murder declined in the other three regions—12.0 percent in the South, 7.1 percent in the West, and 6.3 percent in the Midwest.

Property Crime
■ Property crime was down 2.8 percent nationwide for the first six months of 2010 compared with data for the same months of 2009. Motor vehicle theft dropped 9.7 percent, larceny-theft fell 2.3 percent, and burglary decreased 1.4 percent.
■ Property crime declined in all four regions, with a 3.6 percent decrease in the South, a 3.1 percent decrease in the West, a 2.5 decrease in the Midwest, and a 0.2 percent decrease in the Northeast.
■ Cities with 500,000 to 999,999 inhabitants experienced a 4.8 percent drop in property crime. In nonmetropolitan counties, property crime increased 1.0 percent, but it decreased 2.4 percent in metropolitan counties.


Arson offenses, which are tracked separately from other property crimes, decreased 14.6 percent nationwide. By population group, the largest decline in the number of arson offenses (17.2 percent) was in cities with populations of 50,000 to 99,999 residents. Arson also fell in metropolitan counties by 21.6 percent and in nonmetropolitan counties by 19.4 percent. Law enforcement agencies in all four regions reported fewer arsons, including declines of 17.6 percent in the West, 14.3 percent in the South, 12.6 percent in the Midwest, and 10.2 percent in the Northeast."

Crime is an organized form of social violence; falling or rising rates has got to do with Organization:hence it is structural and has got little to do with inequality.
My take is that the single most important factor for crime reduction is Walmart and Chinese factories; most individuals have aspirational needs; which possibly end at a smartphone or a big television screen and though inequalities have increased, purchasing power has increased enough for aspirational needs to be fulfilled.
More kids are having less deprived childhoods and hence structurally crime is weakening.
The recession is just a coincidence without correlation to crime.

My hypothesis, which I have no way of proving, is that the decline in violent crimes over the past 2 decades is a combination of 3 factors:
1. Removal of leaded gas from the market in the US leads to a reduction in chronic lead poisoning.
2. Over-diagnosis of ADD resulted in widespread doping of young boys who would have normally been the ones to go out and cause problems.
3. The rise in "three strikes" laws removes from circulation many of the people who would be committing the violent crimes.

>insinuated that if inequality continues, or continues to rise, “the public will take matters into its own hands,” or something like that.

My opinion is that those sentiments are merely wishful thinking on behalf of the complainant. Like the old "who will rid me of this troublesome priest"? allegedly spoken about Thomas Becket by Henry II.

Interesting. And happily we can continue to implement all three changes.

Well number 1 is about played out. But there is a lot of mercury pollution that can be reduced or eliminated. Compact fluorescent lights for start.

Why are you equating a recession with rising income inequality? Besides being factually incorrect, it seems that this argument unnecessarily polarizes the debate in a way similar to the one in which you accuse the original authors of doing. Poor and misleading work, this post.

My understanding is that the recession reduced high incomes the most. Hence it DECREASED inequality.

This is the best blog post that I have read in a while.

Crime fell during the great depression and it shot up in mid 1960s yet the fallacy that bad economic times increases crime persists.

I would take what Tyler says even further and say that poverty does not seem to cause crime though it correlates to some degree. Oddly enough violent crime (that is less about wealth than property crime) correlates more with poverty and appears to be less a cause of crime.

Poverty doesn't cause crime. You get crime when the poor attribute their condition to unjust rules. Despondency makes it worse; the poor should see a credible option that can get them out of poverty. That's how inequality (oftentimes) enters the equation.

Really? Drug lords decide to sell crack and make money when they feel that their condition was created by unjust rules, otherwise they leave the crack at home? Rapists decide to rape a random person because they feel the rules are unjust?

Not at all. I was just targeting that smaller fraction of crime that might be attributable to poverty. Nobody is saying that the guy who shot his wife's lover was a product of poverty.

Poverty doesn’t cause crime. You get crime when the poor attribute their condition to unjust rules. Despondency makes it worse; the poor should see a credible option that can get them out of poverty. That’s how inequality (oftentimes) enters the equation.

Rahul more likely violent crime happens when those inclined to violence have too much to drink and having too much to drink too often also leads to poverty. An unwillingness to work within the rules also leads to crime and to poverty and yet it means that one has to be willing to submit to who you work for and unwillingness to do so lead to both crime and poverty. Even in property crime it seems the thieves that I have know have stolen when they do not think of the other person and they think that will not be caught. I had a friend who would never think of stealing from anyone he knew but stole heavily from Sears where he worked the shareholders of Sears were just to distant to worry about.

I think that Tangurena, anon (the anon who said it is easier to get caught) and Bill. I also think that this economic decline may have caused people pulling together and that could be a factor. Also maybe the Obama administration may be doing less in the war on drugs. Does anyone know has the street price of drugs dropped in the last few years? Also Obama being President may have inspired blacks to do less crime.

On the growing difference in wealth (GINI):

When I grew up in Providence RI there were many great and diverse bakeries, food trucks and restaurants that were not part of chains, there are fewer and fewer of those. The children of those who owned those businesses do not want to run those businesses because though the businesses make a good amount of money, running them was a hard job with very long hours. They do not want their children to run those businesses nor do their their children want to run those businesses and so bigger chains take over and so the people running the store makes less and chain's CEO makes more but the opportunities are still there. I wonder if that is a significant factor in the rise in GINI.

Simply breathtaking "Also Obama being President may have inspired blacks to do less crime".

Wow! So I better vote for the One if I do not want to be robbed? Chicago politics at its best...

I like how you *both* managed to be crazy racists there. Nice work, guys!

I think you are missing a few words there.

Why do so many very important and very interesting academic fields attract such hacks? There is no reason, in this day and age, that justifies criminologists who actually know nothing about what causes crime and how to prevent it. The only time they pause from making pronouncements that, if enacted, raise crime is to profess surprise about events in the real world.

But they're not really an isolated problem. Education has attracted so few first class minds that we have almost no scientific understanding of what works there (and economists have done much of the little work that actually stands up to scrutiny). And the field of nutrition is so bad that we don't have any definitive answers about the basics of healthy eating.

Why do all the truly brilliant people go into fields like physics while leaving the practical stuff undone? Doing the work that definitively shows what people should eat has to be a more exciting prospect than doing the work that definitively shows what happened in the first seven seconds of the universe.

" Doing the work that definitively shows what people should eat has to be a more exciting prospect than doing the work that definitively shows what happened in the first seven seconds of the universe."

Obviously not.

First of all, the appropriate fields are tainted with politics, and nerds don't like to be called names in press/in the street ("dirty commie", "heartless child-eater") just because they proved a principle which steps on someone's cherished ideology.

Second, it might be actually easier to study the Big Bang. You seem to buy a notion that there is a one-size-fits-all solution to, say, human education or human diet. In reality, humans vary wildly. What if the only correct answer on "what people should eat" is "it depends"?

I've always been skeptical to the warnings Tyler alludes to, since there has never been a serious connection between recessions and rising crime (it dropped in the 30s) and the welfare state in America came about democratically rather than as a result of violence. But it seems here like Tyler is endorsing some notion of the Straussian noble lie, and why should an intellectual who desires different policies play along with that?

Occasionally you will read it insinuated that if inequality continues, or continues to rise, “the public will take matters into its own hands,” or something like that. Apart from being potentially factually false, such an outcome is neither endorsed nor condemned by the intellectual. The writer is hinting that the losers from such a rebellion would deserve what is coming to them, without having to say so. Least of all is the writer willing to throw his or her efforts behind dissuading or criticizing such a public response (is it so hard to write “don’t bring out the guillotine”?).

So when someone criticizes our immigration policy by saying that it is a security risk and that increased terrorism is a likely outcome, they are secretly rooting for this to happen? When a conservative economist says that we must reduce the minimum wage rate or else higher unemployment will occur, they want unemployment to rise unless the minimum wage rate is cut?

I wonder if you have the same low opinion when instead of the hoi polloi it is "bond vigilantes" or "market forces" which are to be the agents of retribution?

It's not about the agents of retribution, it is about the intellectuals.

If the hoi polloi really were going to 'take matters into their own hands' then Tyler would not have a low opinion of the intellectual, as long as he was being objective.

I see I succeeded in being both brief and unclear: Suppose instead of imaginary proletarians with pitchforks and argument is made to be afraid of equally imaginary bond vigilantes or vaporous market forces or even more ethereal economic laws.

It's surprising how often the last three are demanding policies the speaker happens to favour.

Ray Lewis, football player for the Baltimore Ravens, recently said crime would increase if the NFL season is cancelled:

As a known criminal he at least has some authority on the subject.

But when some people do this they tell themselves they are being political analytical realists :O

"Apart from being potentially factually false, such an outcome is neither endorsed nor condemned by the intellectual." ... the irony of your statement is amusing.

Why don't you reference historical examples to strengthen your hypothesis instead of simply making statements that are "potentially factually false?"

By the way, here's an alternative theory as to why crime rates have been and continue to fall ... hint: it's legalized abortions.

As much as I hate to agree with Steve Sailer, the Levitt-Donohue paper is a good example of the abuse of data mining.

"The reality is that the public does not respond to most events, or most changes in the income distribution, as the intelligentsia likes to think it should, or will."
But pubic does respond just not the way "experts" predict. There would not be so much support for the tea party, which is basically a populist movement, were in not for the increase in inequality. Twenty years ago when we bailed out the S&Ls and 30 years ago when we bailed out Chrysler the pubic for the most part supported the policies. Even during the recession of the early 80's the public acceptable it as part of the business cycle. The fallacy is the assumption that the protest will come from the left like it did in the US during the depression, but in Germany it came from the right and the large inequality in South American countries have given rise to several right wing populist movements.

"Taxes are the price we pay for civilization" is my favorite non-sequitur.

"I have a low opinion of sentences in which this fallacy is committed." And of their authors!

Except you're in the intelligensia commenting on what the proles are doing based upon crime statistics.

One big change since the 1990s are the availability of video games and pornography. Two data points that have radically changed crime statistics in the world. It is not clear what the eventual political outcomes of these two crime suppressants will eventually be.

What Tyler is talking about is (by analogy) the hedge fund manager who says "If Obama wins the economy tanks" and then turns around and puts all his positions into cash.

He's not talking about the guy who really thinks Obama has anti-growth policies.

Is this what they call "concern trolling"? Or is that something different?

"..reminds me of a fallacy committed by (some) intellectuals." Sorry, it wasn't 'intellectuals', it was liberals. But maybe some feel that these terms are synonymous believing that conservative 'thinkers' as near morons. Ah, arrogance, such a delightful cover.

Perhaps we are seeing one form of low hanging fruit captured by modern technologies. I'm willing to believe that reforms in the criminal justice system and changing strategies by police departments contribute to the decline. But, it seems plausible that certain technologies are what drives the long term trend. A few possibilities include the near-ubiquity of credit cards and ATMs, which make hold-ups much less fruitful for potential robbers. Also, entertainment offered by the internet, and perhaps most importantly the e-porno industry, serve as healthy distractions and reduces aggression amongst the largest cohort of criminals, 15 to 35 year-old men. Other widely-shared technologies, such as mp3 players, might also contribute to the decline, again serving as a key source of entertainment for today's young men, and are quite affordable in primary and secondary markets, removing the perceived need to steal these devices from others.

I'm sure people have made similar speculative remarks in the past, and am curious if there are any comprehensive studies discussing whether such technologies reduce crime? Several years ago, Steven Landsburg discussed one study that shows a correlation between internet access and rape, but have there been any other studies looking at other technologies and the correlation to specific crimes? Here is Steve's article in Slate:

The intellectuals of this country have been using the supposedly oppressed as their reserve army for a century at least. From the Wobblies to the Blackstone Rangers, the NGOcracy has agitated and subsidized anarchy only to propose a solution which concentrates power in the hands of the NGOcracy.

Once the white sox wearing bowlers are gone this will be paradise, the changing demographics hint at that glorious future.


Whenever someone hands out this line about how inequality will lead to revolution or similar nonsense, I ask them to explain how the Roman Empire lasted as long as it did. Haven't gotten a good answer yet.

It didn't last as long as it did. It disintegrated at least three times, and the successor states found it politically convenient to frame themselves as a continuation of the same entity.

Violent videogames and the internet are to blame for the decrease. In any case there are too many confounding variables to try and tease out inequality.

But isn't this less a prediction than an empirical fact, an observation, in certain parts of the world? Isn't this what's behind events in Egypt, etc.?

The depression led to the New Deal. I suspect the longer the unemployment rate remains high the more populist the country and its politicians become. In the past few years we've seen a huge swell of right-wing populism. How long before it is right-wing populists against left-wing populists?

You might want to read this article by 24/7 Wall Street which has a completely different take than Tylers, and they analyze the FBI data:

"Though most regions of the U.S. saw declines, the Northeast saw an increase in murders (8.3%), forcible rapes (1.4%) and aggravated assaults (0.7%). Why that region was affected by crime more than others isn’t clear. Perhaps it was because of the grinding poverty found in some of the area’s cities and their high cost of living.

The Police Executive Research Forum polled 233 local law enforcement agencies in 2009, and found that the link between poverty and crime was inextricable. A prolonged recession would only make matters worse, the research showed. After reviewing the data, PERF Executive Director Chuck Wexler told Reuters, “We are not saying there is going to be a crime wave, but we are saying this is a wake-up call and we anticipate the situation will continue to deteriorate.”
•Read the Ten Most Dangerous Cities in America

A 24/7 Wall St. review of 2010 FBI crime data shows violent crime rose in a several of the largest and poorest cities in the US, particularly those which have been in decline for some time. Even when crime rates dropped, older urban areas still had more violent crime than other cities. Philadelphia, Cleveland, Buffalo and Hartford finished high on the FBI’s list but failed to make the final 24/7 Wall St. ranking.

The crime problem is not completely explained by crimes committed. Police forces are supposed to keep crime rates down, but officers have begun to disappear from the streets of some large cities. Pontiac, Michigan, part of the corridor of high crime cities that runs from Detroit to Flint, recently turned over its police operations to the sheriff’s office of Oakland Country, where Pontiac is located. Old industrial towns need to cut costs as populations fall and tax receipts recede, but the money trouble almost makes it certain that criminal activity will grow because it is mostly unchecked.

24/7 Wall St. looked at the ten most crime-plagued cities in the U.S. with populations of more than 100,000. We used a measurement of crimes per thousand people which is part of the new FBI database to determine the order. We compared these figures to unemployment rates and median income. The recession may have ended, but crime has not eased in these troubled cities nor will it anytime soon.

Our list is dominated by towns like Detroit, New Haven, and Baltimore. Parts of these cities are fortresses of crime. Much of the violent crime in Detroit is committed in the old Palmer Avenue section of the city, which is far from the shiny skyscrapers where GM has its headquarters. Baltimore’s Front Street neighborhood is a world away from the new office towers of companies like financial giant T Rowe Price on Pratt Street. The crime-plagued Lamar Avenue section of Memphis is also far from the city’s ritzy neighborhoods.

Unemployment will inevitably improve in these cities. The most hard-hit sections, however, may never completely recover. They failed to do so after the last economic upswing – and the one before that. Some part of all the cities on this list will be home to high levels of violent crime permanently. And, if the money used to keep police on the streets falls in most of these municipalities, containing the problem to a few neighborhoods will be hard. It would be nice to believe that criminals sit out a recovery, but they don’t.

These are America’s Ten Most Dangerous Cities.

Read more: The Most Dangerous Cities In America - 24/7 Wall St.

"The reality is that the public does not respond to most events, or most changes in the income distribution, as the intelligentsia likes to think it should, or will."

Most, true. But your point is particularly tone deaf with regard to what's happening in the Middle East right about now. There comes a point - and maybe this doesn't filter into "crime statistics" - when the realization hits the majority populace that "We've had all we can take with this nonsense" all h3ll breaks loose.

Had Lehman gone under don't you think we might be facing a slightly different situation re: public outrage at bankers?

I think perhaps you're drawing the wrong conclusion here, Tyler.

In absolute terms, this recession has probably had the smallest impact on people's abilities to satisfy their basic needs of any economic downturn, simply because we're so much more productive than in the past. We have something like 42M on food stamps now, and it's barely a blip in the overall budget.

The 2011 poverty line is right around where the average incomes were in the 1950s. Hungry people steal and riot. People with an obesity problem, not so much.

Maybe increased obesity explains everything. Obese people commit less of any sort of non-internet based crime.

Introduce free high-sugar-softdrink-foodstamps with every suspended sentence and parole.

Articles like this are truly Tyler at his best; it's like Robin Hanson without the "SciFi-ish" neurotic element.

Correlation is not causation, but across countries high GINI coefficient correlates well with violent crime. Which of course agrees with anecdotal experience, Scandinavia has some of the lowest rates of violent crime and GINI coefficient, while Brazil ranks very high on both, as does Russia,etc.

The author's below claim they have also established causation, but not very convincing to me. My guess is that there is a feedback interaction between inequality and crime, so that causation is not simply uni-directional.
"We investigate the robustness and causality of the link between income inequality
and violent crime across countries. First, we study the correlation between the Gini
index and homicide and robbery rates within and between countries. Second, we
examine the partial correlation by considering other crime determinants. Third, we
control for the endogeneity of inequality by isolating its exogenous impact on these
crime rates. Fourth, we control for measurement error in crime rates by modeling it
as both unobserved country effects and random noise. Finally, we examine the ro-
bustness of this partial correlation to alternative measures of inequality. The panel
data consist of nonoverlapping 5-year averages for 39 countries during 1965-95 for
homicides and 37 countries during 1970-94 for robberies. Crime rates and inequality
are positively correlated within countries and, particularly, between countries, and
this correlation reflects causation from inequality to crime rates, even after controlling
for other crime determinant"

So most crime is committed against the elite in the name of retribution for poor economic stewardship?

You simply must be joking.

Incarceration might be used against the poorer segments of the populace as a way of heading off the upheaval caused by poor economic stewardship. Is that what you meant to say?

I have a low opinion of sentences that equate criminal activity with political unrest.

Could it be an increase of overall societal trust?

How about the correlation with illegal drug prices going (way) down over the past 40 yrs?

Good point. Also, introduction of more car antitheft and location detection devices also affect this type of crime as well.

Drug prices:

crime continues to fall - incarceration rates continue to rise...

"Occasionally you will read it insinuated that if inequality continues, or continues to rise..."

It's actually not about inequality and actually about quality of life; Cowen is taking on a strawman. Yes, people confuse inequality in the aggregate with individual diminishing quality of life, but that doesn't make it less true. Inequality can rise while people's quality of life remains the same. In the case of job loss, the extraordinary measures being taken by the federal government and states to maintain some unemployment income might be part of the reason crime hasn't been rising due to the recession.

I'd prefer to see a chart showing how this actually works out instead of jumping to conclusions (or smacking the wrong intellectual enemy). Crime has been going down for decades. A slow down in that trend due to the recession would knock your argument out.

Mehh. I think this is more a case of shady rhetoric than logical fallacy. We have seen an uprising as a result of sharply increasing inequality; that was the spark that ignited the uprising in Tunisia. I don't think it's too unreasonable to surmise a causal relationship between economic conditions and the consequential public sentiment.

The intellectually dishonest part comes from associating deteriorating public sentiment with veiled rhetorical threats. 'If A occurs, then they will take matters into their own hands...' correctly identifies a causal relationship between A and the decline in mood, but frames it within the call of violence. There are surely other factors which have to be taken into account before we can confidently assert that if A occurs, violence/something really bad will happen.

So it is indefensible to claim that a party will yearn for a fight after some event appears, but I don't see it as a fallacy.

Comments for this post are closed