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.


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