A Philosopher's Blog

Crime & the Economy

Posted in Law, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on May 27, 2011
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While the causes of crime are no doubt many and varied, common wisdom holds that there is a connection between crime and economic conditions. More specifically, it is often claimed that poor economic conditions lead to more crime. This, of course, seems sensible enough. After all, people who are short of money might well turn to crime out of desperation.

Since the mainstream economy is still not doing well, it would seem reasonable to expect an uptick in crime. Interestingly enough, the FBI recently reported that violent crime has decreased by 5.5% and property crimes have declined by 2.8%. This, of course, seems to indicate that the alleged causal connection between poor economic conditions and crime might not hold true. Before rejecting the alleged link, it seems reasonable to consider the matter in more detail. After all, the FBI’s statistics is for crime across the country and the overall decline is consistent with actual increases in some areas of the country.

In fact, there are areas in which crime has increased. The Northeast has actually seen an 8.3% increase in murders as well as rather small increases in forcible rapes (up 1.4%) and aggravated assaults (up .7%). Not surprisingly, certain cities are also suffering from higher than average crime rates.

The data indicates that the cities most plagued by crime have established histories of decline and poverty. This is hardly surprising, given that these cities have consistently suffered from crime. While these crime rates have been a legitimate matter of concern, they might also provide a picture of things to come.

While overall crime is down despite the economic downturn, one obvious concern is that if the downturn persists then there will be new places with established histories of decline and poverty. This will most likely result in an increase in crime. Another factor, exacerbated by the both the economic situation and the new focus on reducing the public sector is that police resources are decreasing. Should the economic woes become entrenched, this will (as noted above) most likely result in an increase in crime. It will also mean less tax income which will mean even less police resources to combat the crime generated by the economic situation. This certainly gives us yet another reason to work at restoring the economy.

Naturally, economic conditions are not the only factors involved in crime. Even when the economy has been doing great, crime still remains. Of course, even when the economy is doing great, zones of poverty and decline still exist and are almost always zones of high crime. If nothing is done, we can expect that these zones will expand and that new ones will appear.

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9 Responses

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  1. kevinstewart said, on May 27, 2011 at 11:20 am

    I wonder if maybe the overall crime rate is down because the overall number of police officers is down. Do you think there could be any connection there?

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on May 27, 2011 at 2:12 pm

      That could be the case. After all, to the degree that the crime rate calculations are based on crimes the police are aware of, then a reduced police force could result in less crimes being reported.

  2. magus71 said, on May 28, 2011 at 10:26 am

    I’ll comment on the link between crime and poverty. There is one, but it’s nature is not as most people assume. At least not completely.

    Consider a young man who grew up in a middle-class household. He has been using recrational drugs since his senior year in high school. He later began using more addictive and powerful drugs and on a couple of occasions he burgled some houses, sold his loot at the local pawn shop, and financed his burgeoning habit for a few days.

    He gets away with his petty crimes for a while and even enrolls in college. Eventually his bad habits catch up with him when he’s run down by the university police after a witness identifies him as the man who just broke a car window, reached in, and hoisted an iPod from the front seat.

    He’s convicted of burglary to motor vehicle, a felony in his state. His job at the local pizzaria gives him the boot after learning of his arrest. They no longer want him carrying around hundreds of their dollars each night.

    Suddenly, he has almost no income. He’s still got the urge to do some blow, or smoke some weed. He’s gotten away with burglary before, and it was a hell of a lot easier than an 8 hour shift at Spanky’s. 7 more house breaks go by, but finally the man gets caught again. Now he’s a two-time loser. With no money in the bank and no employer willing to hire a recent convict, he finds himself in a pinch.

    The man is now poor, without much hope for the near future. No one wants to hire a burglar. Statistically speaking, the crime is associated with his povery. Beyond that–crime is a *causal* factor in his poverty.

    See, we all have many of the same opportunities to enable us to be successful, or at least not poor. Almost all Americans, that is. We can all go to school, graduate with a degree, take out a federal loan, go to college, become trained iin our calling, and lead a fairly comfortable life.

    Or, we can choose to grab more than we’ve earned, get caught, and ruin a part of our lives.

    It’s difficult to see where the real, material differences are, between ghetto opportunity and the opportunity of upper-middle class children. The real difference is the culture passed on to them through their parents and people who provide excuses for criminals. My grandmother was poor, but she did not steal. So while I understand there is an association between crime and poverty, I refuse to accept the inevitibility of it.

    Equal opportunity as is humanly possible is all we can ask for. If people want to screw it up, that’s on them. And that’s what we should teach kids. There are real consequences for bad actions; the whole world won’t make up excuses (there’s one for everything) for a criminal forever.

    Alsolike to say that crim eis a culture. New orleans has inherited a criminal mentality for generations. Greeneville, SC, has not. And you see the difference.

    Bad actions breed poverty.

  3. magus71 said, on May 28, 2011 at 10:53 am

    Have realistic video games lowered violent crime? Counter-intuitive, but possible…


    • T. J. Babson said, on May 28, 2011 at 11:49 am

      I’ll buy it. Also let’s not forget that these games are not just about killing–one gets killed an awful lot, too, which also must have some psychological impact.

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