Why is there no lead-homicide connection in Eastern Europe?

Children growing up in former communist CEE countries during the 1980s were subjected to horrific amounts of industrial pollution, including extreme levels of prolonged lead exposure. Since lead is theorized to be a primary culprit in exacerbating violent crime, you would assume there would be a sizeable discrepancy in the homicide rate between, say, former East Germany and West Germany, or Western Europe and Eastern Europe as a whole. But the difference in the homicide/violent crime rate is negligible, with many former communist CEE countries having a lower homicide rate than Western Europe. I suspect the same is true when comparing the rate of mental disorders, which is another malady that is supposedly influenced by exposure to high levels of industrial pollution.


That is from commentator Aurel at SSC.


are we thinking these were places where such statistics were accurately corrected and honestly reported?


I encouraged Kevin Drum several times to look at the EPA's list of about 90 lead pollution SuperFund sites in the US to see if they were associated with high crime rates relative to demographically similar places.

I don't know if anybody has followed up on that suggestion yet.

My impression from reading testimony in a law suit against a lead smelter in Missouri was that parents were claiming not that lead pollution made their children more out of control but that it made them more sluggish.

Personally, I went to school from K-12 in Sherman Oaks, CA, which was home to the biggest traffic jams in America during the leaded gasoline era of the 1960s-1970s at the 101-405 interchange of the Ventura and San Diego freeways. Maybe that boosted the local crime rate, but it wasn't obvious ...

As they say, more research is needed!

As I wrote in 2013:

Yet one of the more obvious differences between Chicago’s black and white areas is the heavier traffic in the expensive, safe zones. People who can afford cars tend to move away from black slums, leaving them bleak. In the Chicago area, race and class palpably determine the homicide rate. For example, compare the next-door neighbors Oak Park and Austin west of The Loop. The Eisenhower Expressway runs through Oak Park, but not through Austin. Yet the homicide rate is several dozen times worse in Austin.

Drum, who lives in Irvine, at least should be familiar with Southern California, where South-Central is fairly light in traffic compared to the jammed freeway interchanges of upscale West LA and Sherman Oaks.

And across the country, the densest neighborhoods are typically the various Chinatowns, which suffer little street crime and enjoy high math scores.


"The Eisenhower Expressway runs through Oak Park, but not through Austin"

A cursory check on google maps shows this to be a demonstrably false statement.

Demonstrably false and Steve Sailor have a long and comfortable relationship with each other.

The Ike runs along the southern edge of Austin and most of the southern edge of Oak Park, and through a small corner of Austin. They have pretty similar exposure to the highway.

Maybe he's counting Austin and South Austin as different places? Still it seems like a petty thing to call "demonstrably false".


State of MR comments section: denying lead harms people


I don't know if anybody has followed up on that suggestion yet.

I don't think regression analysis is part of Mr. Drum's book of business.

Another complication is that the rates of index crime did not peak simultaneously. Murder peaked in 1980, forcible rape in 1992, robbery in 1992, aggravated assault in 1992, burglary in 1980, and car theft in 1991. For most categories of crime, you see twin peaks of frequency, with a shallow trough ca. 1985. The dimensions of decline have varied from 30% (for rape) to 73% (for burglary).

And, of course, there's been huge spatial variation in observed declines. In 1980, Baltimore and New York City had similar homicide rates (about 20 per 100,000). As we speak, Baltimore's exceeds New York's 12-fold.

Frankly, if Kevin Drums speculations regarding leaded gasoline and behavioral violence were true we would already have documented violent behavior of gas station attendants from the 1960s and 1970s.
Back then it was common for customers to keep their engines running while their car was being refueled by an attendant and working as an attendant six days a week for many years *should* have lead to behavioral consequences, if his speculations were true. Lawyers willing to seek compensation forv their clients from wealthy petrol corporations can not be found.


What are you talking about? Gas station attendants weren't babies. Lead exposure in development is the big issue.

Here's the EPA's list of lead pollution sites:


Steve, it feels like you're grasping at straws here, or red herrings? Lead pollution sites != locations of highly elevated childhood lead exposure. Regarding a school near a busy intersection, my understanding is that lead dust from paint was a more significant problem. And that the lead from gasoline was problematic as a pollutant on the ground near busy roads. Did children play in dirt next to this busy freeway intersection?

Probably not, but I think that communist countries would under-report lead exposure, not the other way around.

"lead is theorized to be a primary culprit in exacerbating violent crime"

By who? It was just one of the many excuses made up to explain the extremely high crime rate of one segment of the population. It was just as silly and wrong as the other excuses.

Kevin Drum proved it.

"Kevin Drum proved it."

Ah, Kevin Drum, noted scientist with his BA in journalism from California State University, Long Beach.

KD reported it would be a better statement. Here's the case: https://www.amazon.com/Lucifer-Curves-Legacy-Lead-Poisoning-ebook/dp/B01I3LTR4W

No, I think he actually poisoned people, just to see what would happen.

hate and compassion, repeated, o child of mine

Exactly. In general, "correlation is not causation" but sometimes we don't have any other acceptable causation and we have to make do.

I am really surprised that Tyler posted this nugget. Inviting this type of discussion is not like him. I suppose he may have posted it before recognizing the obvious implications.

There's a lot of homicide and other crimes in Russia, where there was also a lot of industrial pollution. (Poland etc. might be a different story.)

The country that had a lot of pollution for awhile but never had much crime was Japan.

But I certainly wouldn't rule out the lead-crime hypothesis. It should be investigated much more than it has been.

Japan projected its criminality and violence outward against its neighbors-- yes, some nations manage to do that while keeping the peace at home.

From about 1910 to 1945, not before or after.

This concerns crime statistics AFTER communism, and there is little reason to think these are being inaccurately reported, indeed, very little reason to suspect so in East and West Germany. The low crime rate defies logic if you believe in the lead-crime connection, and is difficult to explain if crime is caused by "poverty." It's easily explainable by other theories, however....

Elation is a form sound elevation. Hearing afterall is relative. D-day taught us a lot about "total war." To be captivated and to fear death for "no time." Because our fanaticism....is unbounded.

I actually believe that a clockwork orange is sending coded messages to someone...

Criminals tend to migrate to rich cities, where crime has a higher payoff for the same penalties. Maybe they migrated from East to West and balanced crime rates.
We need to know criminals place of birth.

For example, in Spain, were I live, there are well know eastern gangs, much more violent than locals. Of course, most eastern migrants are good people, but bad ones are very bad. (My appreciation)

Drum's response:


That does make Tyler's post look pretty silly.

Or not. That response begs more questions than it answers.

If Kevin is right, and lead exposure was far higher in Western Europe because more cars, then why wasn't crime in Western Europe higher? (Rates are apparently about the same so Kevin really needs exposure to be roughly equal to support his theory that lead is a prime driver of crime.)

Also, on his dismissive little chart of blood lead levels in the 80s, I notice they were far higher in Germany than in Italy and far higher in Italy than in the US. Yet if I remember correctly, crime rates were dramatically higher in the US than they were in Italy and higher in Italy than in Germany. (And this would still be very true even if you included only Americans of Italian and German descent.)

Finally, even if massive lead exposure was clustered in only a few Eastern European cities, why weren't those cities incredibly crime plagued if lead is a primary driver of criminal behavior?

I'm not saying that lead isn't a major driver of criminal behavior, but that snarky little reply sure doesn't settle the matter.

If Kevin is right, and lead exposure was far higher in Western Europe because more cars, then why wasn't crime in Western Europe higher? (Rates are apparently about the same so Kevin really needs exposure to be roughly equal to support his theory that lead is a prime driver of crime.)

Kevin's last paragraph (emphasis added):

Roughly speaking, then, lead levels appear to be about the same in Eastern and Western Europe, so there’s no special reason in the first place to think they should have noticeably different homicide or violent crime rates due to lead poisoning. And even if there were, I imagine that communist-era crime statistics in Eastern Europe are wildly unreliable if they even exist. And if good stats do exist, you still have the problem of trying to compare two very different kinds of policing cultures on opposite sides of the Iron Curtain. Given all this, it seems all but hopeless to seriously address the question originally posed about lead and homicide rates in Eastern Europe.

I notice they were far higher in Germany than in Italy and far higher in Italy than in the US. Yet if I remember correctly, crime rates were dramatically higher in the US than they were in Italy and higher in Italy than in Germany.

You have the levels in Italy and Germany reversed. Italy's were in fact higher. As to comparisons of those two to the US, I'd say the lead levels don't explain everything, but you would need, actually in all cases, to look at the variability as well as the overall averages.

So rather than making Tyler's post looks silly, it indicates that the data is limited and messy, and a multi-factor analysis analysis hasn't been attempted yet?

“Appear to be about the same”

Yes. He pretty clearly realized he had written himself into exactly the problem I pointed out.

The entire preceding section is about how lead comes primarily from cars and Western Europe had many more of them (and that Western Europe’s concentration of cars would likely create even more lead problems than the raw car numbers indicated). Then he seemed to realize that his hypothesis demanded equal lead, so he just threw in a sentence assuming that.

Italy/Germany: you’re correct.

Still, Italian blood lead levels are twice as high as US levels in his chart, and Drum thinks lead is the single most important driver of the crimes spike, yet Italian homicides were a fraction of American homicides. Not good for his case.

Hardly the definitive rebuttal that some claimed.

I dunno. Among other things, the stats Drum cites in that article indicate twice the average lead levels in blood in the German population than in the US (and three times the level in Italy) in the mid-1980's. If lead were a serious contributor to violent crime, would you not expect the incidence of violent crime in Germany during that period and subsequently to be greater than in the US? Or, at least approachinig it, even accounting for other factors? The lack of correlation there seems more convincing than the correlation of the decrease in crime in the US with the decrease in lead levels.

Maybe we should be focusing on other reasons to explain the causes of violent crime.

You can't compare countries accurately like that. A much better comparison is within the same population, comparing crime rate changing over time relative to the decades delayed response to lead exposure in childhood. You are suggesting that at equal lead levels, Germans are just as violent as Americans, which is ridiculous.

It makes Tyler's post very useful. I think the lead-crime theory is pretty good (not proven, but pretty good), and if I there is counter-information that works against the theory, it should be looked into, not just dismissed because it collides with my previous worldview.

Answer: Eastern Europe lavks large immigrant populations, such as the "groomers" in England, rapists in Getmany, etc.

depends on how diminishing home town remittances are.

Oh. I know. I know. Cultural milieu, including parental involvement and social cues on acceptable behavior.

What if Communist regimes crack down on crime more.

Maybe Eastern European kids get exposed to more words when they are babies. Do they even have marshmallows in Poland?

They substitute vodka.

Don't forget cheap counterfeit cigarettes. If your child is able to wait fifteen minutes before lighting that Unlucky Strike so that she can get an extra pack, you know she's gonna be a winner.

I think it's due to the free daycare.

Hi Sam,
so what's your proposal for dealing with the population of obvious mental inferiors in the US. Should we just convince them that they are stupider so they should meekly accept being relegated to second class status, or would a more final solution be in order?
I mean surely you have a plan for what happens after you obtain definitive scientific proof the Africans are genetically dumber and more violent right?

Well, the communists were big fans of birth control. East Germany, for example - 'One area in which the Eastern Bloc remained consistently more progressive than their Western counterparts was in contraception. The United States effectively outlawed contraception in the 1873 Comstock laws, which prohibited the sale and advertising of any form of birth control. Contraception for married couples was legalized in 1965 and for unmarried Americans at the almost unbelievably late date of 1972. Contraceptives in East Germany, meanwhile, were legal for the entirety of the GDR’s duration, and (condoms excepted) were provided free of charge beginning in the early 1960s.


Mehlan, meanwhile, a professor at the University of Rostock and a gynecologist by profession, was instrumental for his efforts to introduce and popularize the birth control pill in the GDR. He designed and managed the first studies on sexual practice in the GDR, and cooperated with Western scientists to promote sex education around the world. He ultimately founded some two-hundred family and marriage counseling centers to disseminate information on safe-sex, and his advocacy was largely responsible for the free distribution of the birth control pill (known in the GDR as the “Wunschkindpille,” or child pill) by doctors in the GDR beginning in 1965.' https://wendemuseum.wordpress.com/2014/02/11/the-politics-of-contraception-in-the-gdr/

So, possibly, one can find a countervailing aspect in East Europe, at least if Freakonomics is to be trusted when dismissing those who do not believe that birth control/abortion could influence criminal behavior over a generational period - 'Two very vocal critics, Steve Sailer and John Lott, have been exerting a lot of energy lately trying to convince the world that the abortion reduces crime hypothesis is not correct. A number of readers have asked me to respond to these criticisms. First, let’s start by reviewing the basic facts that support the Donohue-Levitt hypothesis that legalized abortion in the 1970s explains a substantial part of the crime decline in the 1990s....." http://freakonomics.com/2005/05/15/abortion-and-crime-who-should-you-believe/

As is usual, clockwork is almost entirely wrong. The Federal Comstock laws did not outlaw contraception. As to contraceptives, they merely outlawed sending contraceptives from State to State via the US Mails. Although some States passed laws against contraception at about the same time, others did not and by the 1960s few such laws remained on the books and even fewer were ever enforced.

What happened in 1965 (Griswold vs. Connecticut) was that all remaining State laws against contraceptives were struck down nationwide by the US Supreme Court (based on "penumbras" emanating from the bill of rights or on equally incoherent "substantive due process"). By that time, however, even Connecticut had ceased efforts to enforce its anti-contraceptives laws and, although the anti-contraception laws could have easily been repealed in liberal Connecticut, the political forces in favor of "repeal" wanted a court case. The case against Griswold was a "set up" by the government of the City of New Haven and Planned Parenthood which created a nominal "clinic" in the town and accepted "appointments" from married women for the sole purpose of getting someone arrested. Planned Parenthood had been frustrated for many years because towns which actually contained actual clinics would not enforce the law and the Supreme Court refused to hear cases on grounds of standing and "ripeness" without an actual defendant.

Everything about clockwork's comment comparing the enlightened GDR and benighted USA is intentionally deceptive.

Actually, the Comstock laws forbid using the post offices within a state also - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comstock_laws#Text_of_the_parent_federal_law_for_the_United_States Maybe you could tell the people running the museum to improve the text? - https://wendemuseum.wordpress.com/about/

'comparing the enlightened GDR and benighted USA is intentionally deceptive'

??? I was suggesting that abortion/birth control could be an explanation for why lead played a reduced role in lower Eastern Europe criminality, and cited Levitt, who made a similar suggestion concerning the reduction in American crime. The text cited was to show that the DDR was handing out birth control pills, free, in 1965.

That was the reason for the Freakonomics link, which was the real point of the comment, after showing a basis in one Eastern European country.

The DDR was a straight out police state, with constant and universal surveillance of its citizens, having gone from one explicitly genocidal totalitarian government to another totalitarian government, spanning 56 years of constant state oppression, to the extent that people risked death to flee the DDR to the West.

Clearly the DDR was worse the West - how could anyone (apart from some former Stasi/SED types) think otherwise?

And bmcburney, if it makes you happier, when one compares the enlightened USA to the benighted BDR, West Germany really does look significantly more backward in this entire area during the time period under discussion.

But one hopes we can agree that the benighted BDR was still a much better place to live than what you called the 'enlightened GDR.' Which it most certainly wasn't by any normal meaning of the term, of course.

Ah, I remember that article, where Levitt's argument essentially amounts to "my indirect method of measuring X is totally better than your direct method of measuring X." Levitt's theory "failed to even predict the past." Sailer states:

"in utter contrast to your logic, the murder rate for 14- to 17-year-olds even in the low crime year of 1997 was 94 percent higher than it was for 14- to 17-year-olds in 1984. Yet, over the same span, the murder rate for 25- to 34-year-olds (born pre-legalization) has dropped 27 percent."


'I remember that article'

Clearly you do not remember the linked article from 2005, which includes this - 'Re-reading this response five years later, it still sounds pretty good to me. Interestingly, at the time, Sailer refused to respond directly to my arguments. His response in Slate completely side-stepped the fact that I had destroyed his core argument. He wrote, for instance, “…rather than mud wrestle in numbers here, I’ll privately send you my technical suggestions. In this essay I’ll step back and explain why this straightforward insight [that abortion reduces crime] might not work in practice.” I should note that I am still waiting for those technical suggestions he promised to arrive!! And if you compare his Slate arguments to his “new” article in the American Conservative, you will see that his thinking has not progressed very far on the issue. In contrast, I spent two years working on that paper on crack cocaine, which provides hard, quantitative evidence in favor of those earlier conjectures I had made.'

Levitt botched the code for his abortion-crime analysis:


And yet, the same Economist article says this - 'To say, as Mr Levitt does in “Freakonomics”, that “abortion was one of the greatest crime-lowering factors in American history” may be a bit strong. But the underlying thesis, however unpalatable to some, is not likely to be dispelled by a stroke of Mr Foote's computer key. Mr Levitt says his case is based on a “collage of evidence”, of which the flawed test is one small piece. He is, in particular, sceptical that crack undermines his thesis: it varied more by age group than by state, he says, hitting 17-year-olds in all states harder than 25-year-olds in any state. He is instead trying to improve his measures of abortion, to take account of the fact that people born under one state's abortion regime might later move elsewhere to commit their crimes.'

And Levitt has received those technical suggestions from you by now, right?

However, points for being on point, as the article further notes this Eastern European data - 'For those interested in the consequences of abortion, rather than the causes of American crime per se, the dispute might next move to Romania. In 1966 Nicolae Ceausescu, the country's dictator, banned abortion. A kind of Roe v Wade in reverse, this decision had a much bigger effect on childbearing in Romania, where women had relied heavily on termination as a form of family planning. The birth rate rose from 1.9 to 3.7 children per woman in the space of a year. A forthcoming study by Cristian Pop-Eleches, of Columbia University in New York, explores how these extra 1.8 children fared in later life. Mr Pop-Eleches offers “some suggestive evidence” that children of a given background born after the ban may have grown up to commit more crimes than those born just before—although again this may have as much to do with the changing times in which they lived.'

And not just changing times. The demographics of Romania post 1966 dramatically change, with ethnic Germans reduced by 2/3 by 1992, and a 6-fold increase in the Gypsy population during the same time period. Most of the children abandoned in the state-run orphanages post-1966 were Gyspy, who upon mass release from the institutions after the Revolution often became street vagrants involved in petty theft.
I’m actually shocked that the Pop-Eleches paper finds only a slight increase in the crime rate for children born after 1966.

From commentator Doug at SSC, two comments below the first:
I’m not so sure that by the 1980s blood lead levels were that different in the Warsaw bloc than Western Europe:

Blood lead levels [in 1994] were generally low in all study areas with geometric means between 39.3 μg/1 and 50.8 μg/l in the western German and between 42.3 μg/1 and 68.1 μg/l in the eastern German study areas.


Isn't it easier to think that there is less crime and homicides in eastern europe because they are more ethnically homogeneous than western europe (which has received large immigrant populations in the last decades). Russia does have a relatively large homicide rate but Russia is not that homogeneous (there is a lot of migrants from Central Asia and the Northern Caucasus)

Homicide rates in particular European countries bounce around from year to year. You can sort Europe into three regions: Russia, former Union Republics, and the rest of Europe. The first has a homicide rate which bounces around 10 per 100,000; the second set has rates between 3 and 6 per 100,000; and the third with few exceptions has rates between 0.7 and 1.8 per 100,000.

"Russia does have a relatively large homicide rate but Russia is not that homogeneous (there is a lot of migrants from Central Asia and the Northern Caucasus)"

In contrast to the West, Russia's high homicide rates are driven the Slavic majority, and are actually lower than average in the Caucasus:


There isn't one in the United States, either. It was a madcap effort by Kevin Drum to avoid acknowledging the utility of police and prisons.

Ha-Ha-Ha-HA Cuck Vs. Cuck action eh? Art Deco v. Kevin Drum. Two squabbling cuckolds. Art you're on the same level as Drum whether you like it or not.

Don't drink the water: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=psIuidkkLjI

it depends on delivery methodologies. Liver sacrifice is noted for its corrupt maneuvers. Elixers exist as far as we know.

Cato: Trust communist stats!
Marginal Revolution: Blame Muslims!
Truth: Not many young men in those countries since joining the EU.

"Cato: Trust communist stats!"

Not the argument.

" Marginal Revolution: Blame Muslims!"

It's a Religion of Safe Neighborhoods.

" Truth: Not many young men in those countries since joining the EU."

Not true as 30 seconds of Googling can confirm. Yes, many young people left, but there were more to begin with due to historically higher fertility rates and the lower life expectancy of Eastern Europe.

Indeed, the young guys are working on western Europe.

"Why is there no lead-homicide connection in Eastern Europe?"

Because correlation is not causation.

If there is no universal decline, than the correct conclusion is the lead reduction is not the reason for the decline in crime but that it merely happened at roughly the same time.

the biggest secret about correlation and causation is that demand elasticity is oracular.

"If there is no universal decline, than the correct conclusion is the lead reduction is not the reason for the decline in crime but that it merely happened at roughly the same time."

No, there may have been countervailing factors in different times and places that make the correlation less than perfect. It still appears to be the best explanation we have for the violent crime spike that began in the 60s and petered out in the 90s.

Wouldn't a far better and more accurate comparison be within-country (over time) rather than across country?

The quote in this post sounds like it doesn't actually give you any of the information promised by the headline at all.

My thoughts exactly. Other than laziness, why would anyone design a study this way? Trying to maximize confounding factors?

It was a blog comment, not a scholarly paper.

It appears to be an article in Cato Journal?

Oh I see, the article only says that the environment was bad in Communist countries, then the blog commenter invented some nonsense and somehow it got picked up by MR. Great.

Yes, an intra-country comparison over time would be more useful. As i understand Drum’s thesis, infant and toddler lead exposure significantly correlates with increased crime, with a 20-year time lag. For children born in Eastern Europe during the 1980s, given the presumed higher lead exposure from unleaded fuel and increased industrial pollution, and given the 20 time-lag hypothesis, you would assume homicide rates would spike, ceteris paribus, throughout the 2000s.

That is not what happened: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_intentional_homicide_rate_by_decade

People have already done this.


No, they haven’t.

Wouldn't a far better and more accurate comparison be within-country (over time) rather than across country?

Optimally, you'd have a study which had both ecological and time-series data.

The EU is about the size of the US, why is a comparison within the US presumed to be better than a comparison within the EU?

This comment didn't pass smell test on first glance - and indeed, after crunching the numbers at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_intentional_homicide_rate, I got the following population-weighted intentional homicide rates per 100,000:

Eastern Europe: 6.7
Northern Europe: 1.16
Southern Europe: .9
Western Europe: 1.08

It looks like EVERY premise of the this question can be reasonably challenged - not only is there evidence that lead levels were not different between those populations (see my above comment), but it seems that crime rate is actually higher in Eastern Europe.

I would hope that Tyler could at least even take a minute to critically analyze things he is posting here.

Thanks for looking up. That was my feeling when I saw the post. Hope your reply gets mentioned.

Looking at your source, Russia seems to really skewer the Eastern European rates.

Even excluding Russia, the rate comes out to 2.4 or something - more than double the Europe-Ex-Eastern rate. Furthermore, its debatable as to why we should exclude Russia. It is the most populous Eastern European country by far, and the most representative of the communist economic regime.

Again, the former Soviet republics have homicide rates which range from 3.2 to 11.6 per 100,000. The other East European countries range from 0.7 to 1.8 per 100,000. The salient behavioral boundary is not the former Iron Curtain.

More like the Cuckold Curtain you put down in the bedroom while you go on MR while your wife bangs the blackman - am I right? Is tha the salient boundary?

Here’s a report card to take home to mom: “must try harder.”

"Behind the Cuckhold's Curtain!" Starring Art Deco as "The Cuckhold." Now thats a movie I would watch!

+1 Art Deco

YOUR READING COMPREHENSION IS FAIL. Tyler posted an article from 1992 about the 1980s. Your stats are mostly from this decade. DO YOU UNDERSTAND ENGLISH OR ARE YOU A CUCK INCEL?

Everyone on this blog is a Cuck Incel why else would people spend so much time reading the blog posts of two dullards?


As your own statistics show, propensities for violence or criminality vary greatly between ethnic or national groups. The point here is that GDR and FDR were composed of the same ethnic group (Germans) and despite differing in their exposure to lead, they did not differ materially in their propensity for violence and criminality. It makes no sense to generalize former citizens of the GDR to other Eastern Europeans.

The point here is that GDR and FDR were composed of the same ethnic group (Germans)

No, they weren't. Ask a Bavarian if he's the same ethnicity as a kraut from Mecklenburg-Vorpommern.

He'll tell you that brand royalty is an inelastic good. He'll tell that he survived the counter-reformation and the illuminati

It seems to me that the technique of "ask a Bavarian" is a poor method of determining anything other than Bavarian opinions. Even so, I think most citizens of the former GDR and FDR consider themselves members of the same ethnicity (at least as compared to Russians, Slovaks or Poles).

I'm surprised that Tyler Cowen hasn't posted anything about the new Marshmallow test study.


My question is the original Marshmallow test flawed and an example of the social science replication crisis or is the new study a narrative masked as a study?

Good question. My money is on the latter.

This new paper found that among kids whose mothers had a college degree, those who waited for a second marshmallow did no better in the long run—in terms of standardized test scores and mothers’ reports of their children’s behavior—than those who dug right in. Similarly, among kids whose mothers did not have college degrees, those who waited did no better than those who gave in to temptation, once other factors like household income and the child’s home environment at age 3 (evaluated according to a standard research measure that notes, for instance, the number of books that researchers observed in the home and how responsive mothers were to their children in the researchers’ presence) were taken into account.

Seems to me that by controlling for some of that stuff, like "home environment" and parental education, you're kinda creating these arbitrary divisions and then saying "well within those divisions, the marshmallow test has no predictive power, therefore it's junk." But across those divisions, I think it still does, right? Wouldn't that still make it a meaningful phenomenon?

Right. In other words, the marshmallow test can detect important facts about the child's mother's education just from how long he can resist eating a marshmallow.

That's pretty good!

Other measures of self-control (no marshmallows, out of the lab) have the same predictive power for good future life outcomes.

See Moffitt and the Dunedin study.

Interestingly, one of the primary effects of lead poisoning is ... poor impulse control.

In other studies, increased lead exposure has also been linked to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder [16], teen pregnancy [17], and, in animals, to certain forms of substance abuse [18]. The underlying common pathway for all of these associations might be lead's adverse effects on executive functioning [19–21], resulting in poor impulse control.


Even if lead isn’t a primary driver of crime, it is still harmful enough that it would be worth it to try and do some remediation to prevent and lower lead blood levels in children.

check out jason collins' article on the subject: https://jasoncollins.blog/2018/05/31/the-marshmallow-test-held-up-ok/

>Since lead is theorized to be a primary culprit in exacerbating violent crime

No sane person can possibly believe this.

Best guess: many things in biology have curves with plateau, in particular, brains. Once your exposure to an insult hits a certain point, the thing you're measuring amount a brain is pretty much already as broken as it can get. What this means is that there are lots of phenomena where in lower-level exposures you see an association, but the curve flattens out beyond a certain point - so if you also include the higher exposures, or especially if you ONLY include the higher exposures, you don't see the assocation as clearly. So "horrific" levels of lead exposure might not damage brains worse (in this respect) than just "really bad", and you don't get a significant association.

The WSJ had a good article on vanilla last Dec.


Sorry, meant to post that elsewhere


It wasn't the lead, it was the vanilla! Ta-ta-dum!

This is insidiously more provocative than thoughtful as illuminated by the more interesting comments.

Insidious and clever on Tyler's part - he is clearly trying to engage a new, alt-rightish audience, but still claim intellectual honesty. I would expect more of this nonsense in the future.

He is a blogger first and foremost. Thoughtfulness is for chumps like us, not one of the "Top 100 Global Thinkers" or "America's Hottest Economist".

"Children growing up in former communist CEE countries during the 1980s were subjected to horrific amounts of industrial pollution, including extreme levels of prolonged lead exposure."

I expect lead exposure was higher in the United States...particularly in urban areas in the U.S. Why? Because I'd expect leaded gasoline consumption per capita was far higher in the U.S.

Not necessarily. Lead phase-out in the United States commenced in the 1970s, while Eastern Europe only started phase-out in the 1990s.

Absolutely true, with the complication that East Europeans drove a lot less than Americans.

How do we know Eastern Europeans were "subjected to horrific amounts of industrial pollution?" Because the NY Times said so? Many people think the people near the Fukushima plant were exposed to horrific levels of radiation when those levels were harmless.

Maybe the levels were horrific but where are the numbers?

'How do we know Eastern Europeans were "subjected to horrific amounts of industrial pollution?"'

Because the Soviet style of industrial production was completely unconcerned about industrial pollution? And in a place like East Germany, Stasi made sure that complaints were kept as low as a police state could manage.

Or you could go with another perspective - after German re-unification, most of East Germany's industrial was shut down as quickly as possible, in large part because of the complete absence of modern pollution abatement equipment/methods. (In fairness, there were other reasons, including the end of basically free energy from the Soviets. and the interest on the part of West German companies to shut down any potential competition.

This might give some idea, in connection with the largest source of uranium for the Soviet Union, mined in the DDR by Wismuth - http://www.wise-uranium.org/uwis.html

Of course, not believing any reporting in the NYT is never a bad strategy.

But most lead poisoning comes from auto emissions.

In the West, but East Europe was not big on the open road lifestyle.

Here is some information in response to this actual MR post by Kevin Drum - 'Ideally, of course, what you’d really like to see is measurements of blood lead levels, and for Western European countries these are often available. Eastern Europe, by contrast, is pretty much a black hole. However, here are some comparisons from a World Bank report that pulled together a very small number of studies of specific Eastern European locations:

These are very rough numbers. The studies themselves have tiny sample sizes, and all I could pull out of them was a sort of eyeball average of various bits and pieces. That said, there’s nothing special that catches my eye. By the mid-80s, Eastern Europe might have had slightly higher rates of lead poisoning than Western Europe, but not by a lot. And keep in mind that this is a period in which blood lead levels are changing very quickly everywhere thanks to the adoption of unleaded gasoline.

Bottom line: there are specific places in Eastern Europe that had very high lead levels up through the 1980s—usually due to mining, smelting, or lead-based industry of some kind—but overall lead levels seem to have been in the same ballpark as Western Europe. At a guess, this is because of two forces that worked in opposing directions: the fact that Eastern Europe was poor cut down on the amount of lead they produced, but lousy environmental rules increased the amount they allowed into the atmosphere.' https://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2018/06/lead-and-crime-in-eastern-europe-a-hopeless-case/

Clockwork_prior = non quantitative

Anyone have data?

I am of Eastern European origin and I have no intent to kill anybody. I'm sorry to disappoint.

Comparing homicide rates between countries with different legal systems seems like a bad idea. It would be better to compare numbers of people killed because of criminal activity, but sadly countries usually do not gather data like this.

Lead exposure produces a decline in lifetime IQ. so some possibilities:

1. Lead exposure was less dramatic than one would think given the poor 'environmental quality' of Soviet era industrialism.

2. Lower IQ doesn't matter as much as those who think Charles Murray is a genius think it does.

3. Lower IQ doesn't necessarily mean a life of crime. Perhaps it is lower IQ combined with fewer non-criminal paths offered by a society. Perhaps communist Eastern bloc nations nonetheless provided low IQ residents things they could do that made them feel like successes while the US didn't (doesn't?). The Eastern bloc nations were 'anti-fragile' when their population was harmed by lead pollution while the US was more fragile.

Your #3 is similar to what I am saying below. Lower IQ plus being treated like a social pariah may lead to worse results than lower IQ and being given a menial job in a state-owned factory.

So let's assume IQ means you can perform a complicated job well.

I suspect the future is not nirvana for the high-IQ. De-industrialization hit low IQ jobs hard IMO (think an assembly line where you stamp a piece of metal starting from the day you drop out of HS until you turn 65 and retire). But I suspect the next wave will leave many relatively lower IQ demanding jobs protected while hurting high IQ ones. I bet you can automate reading PET scans in the next 20 years but not walking dogs or cutting hair.

If high IQ jobs disappear and society lacks a good safety net or 'status net' (a way for those to maintain their status and self-respect) will high IQ people turn into arch-villains? Hmmm

I remember reading some articles describing poly sci research back during the “Arab Spring” that claimed that most revolutions are led by the middle class and college educated, and that part of the reason for the uprisings was that Arab countries had a bunch more college grads but not a whole lot more jobs for those college grads. I guess one example of this might be Osama bin Laden.

These comments are ridiculous - Tyler posts a question with shaky assumptions, and commentators using those assumptions to verify their own pet theories.

Here is the most detailed study I found regarding lead and delinquent behavior - it is a longitudinal study, and also uses actual measured lead levels in the individuals blood, instead of sloppy country/era wide generalizations that this comment section and Tyler seem to think are useful. It seems to find a significant link between delinquent behavior and lead levels:

http://www.nber.org/papers/w23392 (this is gated, an ungated version is available if you google the paper title)

You can have a link between lead and delinquent behavior but break a lack of a link to crime rates and lead in a society.

For example, if a society has more policing, more control of the population, the increased delinquent behavior by individuals exposed to lead may be blunted so the crime rate is held constant. Alternatively if a society turns a blind eye to some delinquent behavior (say strong arm bullying), lead may indeed be increasing the violence in society but official crime stats won't show that.

Good point - that is a different avenue of approach (how societies react to crime, etc). However for policy purposes (should we pay to remove lead? how much?) , and just general understanding of this particular issue, I think it is most instructive to look at the the types of studies I linked to.

Most of the pet theories sound like Vizzini:
"Iocaine powder comes from Australia, which is populated entirely by criminals. Criminals are used to not being trusted, so I can clearly not drink the wine in front of me!"

Here is another study with similar results, this time in China:

I think Millian has the correct answer here. But not just that the young men left, but that the young men perceive that they have opportunity and a better future ahead of them. That might be opportunity to leave for Western Europe, or it might just be the effect of inclusion in a rising economy. People who don't see hope for the future or a way out are more likely to commit crimes, and of course there are interactions between lead, mental instability, and one's reaction to living in a bad situation.

Please just look at the information instead of making stuff up. There's good empirical research on this.

It is irresponsible of Tyler to promote bullshit like this, but this is what he does consistently.



Neither the article nor the paper actually address the question that was asked about Eastern Europe, or even address comparisons to Europe at all.

I agree - why not post something like "Why is there no capitalism-prosperity link in Africa" and link to a comment with no data, or some other stupid question with bad assumptions and no data.

I've noticed a bunch of libertarian blogs attracting more 'alt-right' types - I think these types of posts are meant to throw red meat to those readers (just compare the comments on this post to other posts). By posing this clearly loaded question, Tyler can claim intellectual honesty, but still allow space for this new, growing audience. Irresponsible from an academic point of view, but it seems like Tyler is a blogger first, and uses his economist/researcher/Phd title to that end.

Agreed. Let's say we are in 1950 and know lead causes increased propensity to crime. Does it follow that the way to undermine the Eastern bloc is to encourage lots of lead pollution leading to a spike in crime leading to unrest?

Maybe, maybe not. All things being equal having a good doctor will produce better health....but what if someone who has a slightly below average doctor exercises a lot and has a great diet? Odds are he will be healthier than the lout with the best doctor in the world.

As I pointed out elsewhere just because one thing has a causal effect doesn't mean you will be able to see it on the macro level. If Eastern bloc societies had higher social controls, for example, then perhaps the increase in crime normally caused by lead would have been blunted by harsher policing. Likewise a more equal society leaves fewer opportunities for crime than a more unequal one (what's the point of stealing a TV if everyone is assigned one small b&w TV?).

There is also a determined effort to compress the world and all its peoples into simple monochromatic entities with simple monocausal effects.
So Europeans act like this, while Americans act like that, as a result of This One Weird Trait that I gleaned from Wikipedia.

Its all amateur anthropology, on par with phrenology.

I wrongly assumed the term CEE can refer to former communist Eastern European countries and not include the former Soviet republics, which I’ve seen separately identified as FSU (Former Soviet Union). I apologize, English is my second language. I should have been clearer, but my statement was intended to mean that homicide rates in these countries—e.g., Poland, Serbia, Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania, etc.—are comparable, and oftentimes lower, than those in Western European countries. It is bizarre that even the wealthier Baltic FSU countries, while richer than Romania and Bulgaria for example, have 2.5-3x the homicide rate.

Both my uncle and grandfather were doctors during communism, and to this day they discuss the impact that rising local industrial pollution had on their practice in the 1980s. They were obviously prevented from discussing pollution as a culprit, but they were also prevented from diagnosing certain diseases and cancers due to their connection with pollution. And while the legacy of communism is still discussed, I don’t believe there have been many attempts to study the long-term sociological impact of industrial pollution. Although it is interesting that areas in our heavily polluted rust belt, the former mining heartland in Romania, are now reinventing themselves as a Balkan variant of the Creative Class approach where the town is now a hub for attracting computer science entrepreneurs (https://www.wired.com/2011/01/ff-hackerville-romania/).

There were some suggestions that my comment was insidious and alt-right. While I don’t fully understand why it is interpreted that way, I am from a country whose ruling socialist party is currently in negotiations to promote a constitutional amendment to ban homosexual marriage, so it’s possible that by comparison to you Americans, we Romanians are all alt-right.

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