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James Q. Wilson
Crime and the Great Recession « Back to Story

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Compare the unemployment rates with the rise in Government Assistance Programs and you will see why the crime rates did not rise during that period. Food Stamps, welfare benefits, free cell phones now... The crime rates may have stayed low, however the national debt is rising high...
Two observations:

1) The more violent the music becomes the less violent the youth become. It is perhaps a release valve to hear rappers and hip-hop artists convey their frustrations in such a way that they are less inclined to act out.

2) The drop in crime might also correlate to the rise in leisure distractions: Playstation, X-Box, Internet and scores of cable channels to choose from among, which keep kids off the street and out of potential confrontations or temptations (and also may account for a considerably more obese populous that is less energetic for a life of crime in the first place). Addictive, home-bound and sedentary forms of leisure are more inclined to suit young people in poor neighborhoods --- or to satisfy their parents' hope that it will "keep them out of trouble" --- than the more scholarly or physical pursuits that would be feasible in a safer or more educationally-oriented community. Crime is as much about opportunism and "idle hands" as anything else. Kids and young adults have a lot more forms of one-on-one technology to keep them occupied nowadays.
Yeah, crime hasn't risen maybe where some people are. Come to Metairie and New Orleans and say that. It's a load of bull. Crime is worse here than it has been since Katrina.
Joe , we talked about this topic before I left. Why crime decreases and which crime types decrease, is just as important as why crime goes up. One of the oldest theories in crime reduction is based on a direct correlation between increased levels of unemployment and increased levels of crime. It does not appear to be the case. Other factors, drug use , natal health care, an emphasis on self control, better policing tactics ( hot spot policing/data driven policing/ a focus on repeat offenders,increased levels of incarceration) seem to come into play. Happy Thanksgiving
"Yes, there may have been a future Einstein or Salk among them, but I seriously doubt it. The underclass population only breeds the next generation of the underclass population."

That was a quote by Howard, but apparently this site can't give me italics. Nice.
Gee, Howard:

Call me a "religion crazy" then! According to you, we're not having enough abortions. We need more, dang it! More!

Yes, there may have been a future Einstein or Salk among them, but I seriously doubt it. The underclass population only breeds the next generation of the underclass population.

That's a pretty sweeping statement and exactly the thing totalitarian nuts use when they want to wipe out an identifiable target group.

I know plenty of people whose mothers were advised to abort by "wise" doctors who knew "just how the kid's life would turn out," and fathers who were "too young and cool" to be saddled with the responsibility of a child. Those children were allowed to exist by their mothers and have turned out to be happy, productive members of society. But according to you they're just not worth it. We should trust our precognitive powers to pick the winners and losers before they're born.

And if blacks constitute more of the crime rate and you think abortion is the answer, then I guess we need to abort more blacks, huh?

You and Margaret Sanger: two racist peas in a pod.
You write that we can't measure culture. I think we can advance our understanding if we define 'culture' as 'propositions that people believe, consciously or not'. We cannot measure how strongly one holds a belief or how consistently they act in accordance with it. However, sociologists can ask people what they believe and so study 'culture'. And policymakers, parents, and pastors can teach people certain beliefs, which promotes the adoption of certain beliefs.

Beliefs matter and academia and society need to recognise that Bertrand Russell was wrong when he argued that there was no connection between beliefs and behavior, and therefore society ought to stop teaching morality.
M. Palumbo states that Switzerland has a low crime rate because every household is required to possess a gun. This is simply wrong and misleading. People who belong to the Swiss military, which is no longer compulsory or universal, do keep rifles in their houses. However, ammunition for these guns is kept is a locked ammo box, and the key is kept by the commanding officer of the unit. When the soldier is called for duty, he or she brings the rifle and the ammo to the muster point, where it may be unlocked by the commanding officer. The Swiss army rifle is therefore not at all a deterrent to crime, and there are nearly no incidents of these rifles being used this way.
At present, in many areas, reporting of crimes has declined because police do not respond to property crimes at all. Burglary, auto theft, theft of bicycles and things like this are just left up to insurance companies. We recently had a house break-in, and were told that the sheriff would not respond unless there were firearms stolen or used. This is an effect of the economic recession and the extremely low rates of conviction for property crimes; the police simply ignore these things, and people no longer report these crimes.
Another possible explanation: misreporting of crime statistics. As you noted, police are under pressure to actually reduce crime and This American Life just featured the story of an NYPD officer who has been blowing the whistle on routine downgrading of incidents. See
Two pretty obvious things that you failed to mention. Concealed carry has become far more common and gun ownership is way up.

Both things can be measured and would show strong correlations to crime dropping.
No other comments appeared with the article when I first posted mine; now they are visible. Sorry to steal other folks' arguments, but scrolling down the other comments remind me why I usually DON'T read the comments: It seems that a high percentage of people of all persuasions can't write more than a line or two without posting a personal insult. Pity.
What about the increase in private ownership of firearms and concealed carry laws? Obviously not a big factor where gun control laws are strict, as in NYC, but maybe in the overall numbers...
Suppose you wanted to commit a crime, say because you didn't have enough money to pay the rent or much of anything else, or even just to see what it was like and generate a little income. What kind of crime would you commit? Armchair exercise. Of course you don't want to get caught what with prison sentences being what they are.

The choices have gotten pretty tough over the years.

People and businesses carry far less cash due to the use of bank cards, so you're not going to get much of a haul, and moreover they've become more crime aware. Lots of gun licenses out there, too. You could easily get shot.

Closed circuit TV is everywhere, not just at the intended crime scene but also along approach routes. Even shoplifting is tough. Alarms have become incredibly sophisticated with multiple detection schemes: sound, motion, heat that you'd have to factor in. Burglary is very dicey.

It's virtually impossible to steal most cars nowadays, especially the valuable ones, unless you're a real pro.

Police pretty much know where to patrol and everyone has gotten more crime aware and much less crime tolerant. Moreover, now there's DNA testing and many other scientific detection advances to ponder.

Credit card scams get blocked almost immediately so you'd better be quick and not expect much.

Seems to me your best bets are looting with a mob, organized crime, investment banking, grave robbing, or figuring out some internet scheme that hasn't been tried yet. Otherwise you're going to get caught or the game just isn't worth the candle.
Public Assitance and Social Security,benefits may better some while others are greatly disadvantaged.
Good point, Professor Rustigan. It appears that $535 million was recently stolen from American taxpayers to fund Solyndra, a "green" company that had never turned a profit and that no sane lender would have touched. The main criminal in that caper may well turn out to be the President of the United States.

It takes a lot of street muggings to snag $535 million.
Professor Wilson needs to talk with high level fraud investigators, the FBI and federal prosecutors to get a fuller picture of crime in America. As always,when he thinks about crime, (the title of one of his books) Wilson narrowly confines his analysis to street crime rather than crime in the suites. Wilson should know that crimes in the financial industry, predatory trading and lending,identity theft, computer hacking, insurance fraud and myriad sophisticated high tech crimes have surged during the last five years. He should be forthright and acknowledge that murder,robbery, rape, burglary, arson, assault and battery (the FBI's Part 1 crimes) constitute only a fraction of America's crime problem.
Michael Rustigan
Professor Emeritus of Criminal Justice
San Jose State University
I will offer 2 observations, perhaps bearing upon this subject:
As Ruth Bader Ginsberg let slip, "I thought the point of legalizing abortion was to reduce the young black population." I'm sure that is what Harvard thought. Well, give them credit for perspicacity, and her for honesty.
Per Ronald Reagan, "The problem with liberals is not that they don't know, it's that they know so many things that are not so."
Conservative Historian makes a good point. I read "Crime and Human Nature" when it came out 26 years ago, and it's worth reading again. The book gave a swift kick to one of liberalism's most sacred cows: the notion that the "root" causes of crime are deprivation, racism, poverty, lack of education, unemployment, blah, blah . . . and that the blame for a criminal act can be placed practically anywhere but on the actual perpetrator. (That's not a caricature. I used to live in liberal Princeton, NJ, and once when I mentioned that an armed holdup man who had been shot by a store clerk got what he deserved, a liberal acquaintance who knew nothing about the case piped up, "But the whole thing never would have happened if society had seen to it that the man had a good job!")

In fact, Wilson and Herrnstein even conclude something like "the cause of crime is criminals" and assert that "the very process by which we learn to avoid crime requires that the courts act as if crime were wholly the result of free choice."

As I remember, it was Wilson who devised the "broken window" theory, which has proved to be quite valid.

As for concealed carry, one problem with trying to gauge its effect on crime is that it is impossible to know the counterfactual. How many times has a thug, eyeing a woman as she walks to her car late at night, decided against rape and robbery out of fear that she might be armed? [No way to tell, but
my own guess: many times.]

Conservative Historian August 31, 2011 at 2:03 PM
Don't you concealed carry folks read the comments others leave before you post? I understand bringing this up a few times but the attacks are totally unwarranted. I suspect Wilson would agree that this has had an impact. However, crime has also gone down in places like NYC where a concealed carry permit is practically impossible to get unless you are a celeb or pol.

Jim writes, "Read 2 paragraphs. Recognized this guy as a leftist. Looked up his Bio. Yep he sure is."

You are an embarrassment to conservatives and conservatism. Just because the man worked at Harvard and UCLA does not mean he is a leftist. In fact, Prof. Wilson is readily identified as a conservative academic.

The first thing that should point you to that fact is he is published here, at City Journal. City Journal does not post articles by leftists. Yes, it is that obvious.

Second, he is affiliated with the American Enterprise Institute. A leftist outfit?

Third, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George W. Bush. Lefty?

Fourth, and here is where it gets difficult, if you have the mental capacity to delve into Wilson's research, you would see the conclusions he arrives at are conservative. For example, have a look at the co-authored (with Richard Hernstein) "Crime & Human Nature", which was described by Library Journal in the following manner:

"Since its establishment, the field of American criminology has been dominated by liberal scholars. But, over the past ten years, neoconservatism has become a force in criminology. Wilson, the leading advocate of this right-ward move, and Herrnstein, who is noted for his work on I.Q., race, and meritocracy, have written what should become the major source on this important development in criminology."

If it is beyond your means to read a work of substance, just take a look at the titles of his works:

"The Marriage Problem: How Our Culture Damages Families"

"Understanding America: The Anatomy of an Exceptional Nation"

Yeah, total leftist....
Why should this be surprising? Statistics to show crime and poverty inextricable have been shibboleth for interested parties for some time.

Unfortunately in too many instances data driven social scientists, with their shills in interested groups in media and education as well as politics/government, have been shown to care more for their politics in manipulation of populations than integrity in their social science discipline. In which manipulation a primary tool is statistics.

Polls as case in point. Pollsters are businessmen. Sell what the clients want or are not in business. What the client pays for is influence on populations. In this the pollster has enormous power when provided a forum in public media. We have clear evidence that public media give skewed information in their aims to influence populations.

Known otherwise as "public relations" or advertising. And re Goebbels etal messages relentlessly repeated do influence. As truth in advertising is oxymoron, scepticism even cyinicism is reasonable. Are those in the advertising profession called "Mad Men" only as play on words.

Guess what? It's all about family - an involved mother and father, and hopefully uncles, aunts, cousins and in-laws. A close family is not only the best answer to crime, it is the best answer to a host of other societal problems - education, employment etc.

And it's cheap - pro-family programs are mostly how not to spend money.

But, this type of solution goes against the teachings of the Democrat left, which all but ignores family. If you want to look at the consequences of the destruction of the family, take a look at the African American community in the inner cities. A perfect laboratory for the success of Democratic sponsored programs. With a trillion dollars spent, the inner cities should be vibrant, prosperous and crime free, right?

Wrong. The truth is we really don't know the full extent of the failure of Democratic policies in the inner cities because few people look at it in terms of the destruction of the family. Anything else - racism, Republicans, banks, but anti-family policies that have pretty much destroyed these communities (Latinos take note - the make devils bargain is being offered to you).

And what government has destroyed it may not be able to restore - that's another question no one has been able to answer since few people have put their fingers on the problem.
Howard, Otherpoorlock

What would you suggest? Mandatory abortions for the underclass?
I thought Freakonomics correlated abortion to a 20 year later drop in the crime rate. Basically the highest risk group kids of single mothers were not being born anymore. The also related it to Mass where abortion was widely available two years earlier having a corresponding earlier crime drop.
Fraud crimes have been replacing drug and other high stakes crimes among many violent and impulsive crooks over the last decade.
These paper crimes include check and credit card fraud, and both usually utilize some form of identity theft.
These crimes are relatively easy to learn to commit, and are easily repeated once mastered. More importantly, they are not geographically constrained. No "turf" to protect or to attempt to take over. Literally nationwide opportunities in scope.
No real downside to being caught, but if it happens, a relatively minor criminal sentence will almost always be the result if convicted.
No minimum mandatories, like for crack cocaine and the like (or a pistol with priors).
And it is easy and almost never involves violence/blooodshed. Thus, a lower priority for law enforcement.
So those that can, do. It beats hanging out on the corner waiting to dodge a bullet or the police.
Oh...and demographics, too.
This is good
I didn't read every single comment here, but I've got a very simple explanation. Video games. the little hoodlums are now sitting at home playing them instead of out on the street as much.
i call bull$%#@.
in the same way the whitehouse is lying about unemployment figures they're also lying about crime figures.
Read 2 paragraphs. Recognized this guy as a leftist. Looked up his Bio. Yep he sure is. May not claim to be, but his weak research "feels" that way. After all feeling are more important than facts son. Wonder if he sleeps with Al "wish I had a brain" Bore?

Enjoy Americans. For a while anyway.
I find it odd that you would ignore the significant increase in firearms ownership (up about 90 million since 1991, to a rough estimate of 250 million guns in the United States), plus the fact that 40 of 50 states now have "right to carry" concealed weapons laws, up from 8 back in 1986. These facts alone could account for the decrease in crime. Fear of prison is not a deterrent to a criminal, generally. Fear of getting killed is.
See and
Generally a good article identifying several factors linked to crime. I only take exception to a sentence in the the last paragraph that reads " Culture is the realm of novelists and biographers, not data-driven social scientists."

This sentence has a certain negative connotation that I find offensive. There is a whole area of social and behavioral science that studies criminals and crime up close and personal from an "ethnographic" perspective. While not of "statistical" rigor many of these studies do produce findings that provide insights that may be useful in explaining statistical patterns.

For example, the article "ignores" the urban gang phenomena and myriad criminogenic implications. In my opinion, the "gang subculture" is a real as any statistic and only certain social scientist "dare" study it .... (some novelists and biographers too seem to get close at crime truths).

Statistician may see large crime patterns and therefrom theorize... ethnographers and common folks see up-close realities that may help explain the larger statistics.

Respectfully, It might do well for Professor Wilson to have some academic intercourse with crime ethnographers and urban anthropologists concerning his paper.

BTW: It is sometimes extremely hard (even dangerous) to study criminals and criminal behaviors up-close; whereas, the study of crime using statistics is relatively easy and "safe".... which explains why these kinds of studies are not done as often.

Dr. Wilson does not pursue what would seem to be an obvious possibility. What fraction of the population falls into the high crime group of 16-24 year old males?
I think that the important point in this article is that there is little or, more likely, no correlation between the current economic climate and current declines in crime rates. The bottom line is that we are not sure why crime is down and its causes are most likely complex and unique to the time in which we live.

As an administrator of court systems, I can say with certainty that cases coming to courts our significantly down. Locally we have not seen a tie to an aging population. At a time when deflating state budgets are driving the closing of incarceration facilities, offenders are spending less time than ever being "locked up." Gun ownership may have an impact, but frankly I have not seen it. However, it does bear a closer look. The shifting of drugs of preference from crack and meph to marijuana,heroin and prescription drugs may have an impact. Less police on the streets and shrinking prosecuting attorney offices may have reversed the "net-widening" effect that we saw in the nineties.

I also feel that the understanding that we should focus on offenders that are at a higher risk of recidivating should be examined. By utilizing effective interventions in an ecological approach (looking at the family, social network and community) we are able to reduce recidivism. We do know that most serious offenders are repeat offenders. We also know that there are strategies that can reduce this recidivism that can save the community virtually hundreds of thousands and sometimes millions of dollars of lifetime costs per offender when taking into account court, attorney, victim, incarceration, and treatment costs.

I applaud Dr. Wilson for taking a hard look at this subject. I hope that others will ponder the same issues...
Same point as PersonFromPorlock. Most professional LE I know are reluctant to confront, never mind apprehend/arrest blacks or Latinos because of the additional lawyers and "activists" who will be looking over their shoulder with lots of media.

The word on the street among poor people in my family and community is that crime rates--the statistical artifacts--may be going down. But acts that violate their persons and properties are sharply up. A lot of property crime is not reported--what good would it do anyway, since the police are mostly in the rich neighborhoods? The theft of a poor family's picnic table isn't worth reporting, even though its purchase may have represented a larger share of family resources than a rich household's Mercedes SUV.

On abortion--which is a torque from the point of this piece--there are not enough responsible parents with enough money/wages to go around. It is the only thing that has held off full collapse of America until we can hopefully develop stronger families and restore jobs and the middle class. That may not be pleasant, but I'll take aborted gametes over an aborted nation any day. I'm really tired of romantic views of pregnancy. We are watching our nation being hollowed out by exploding rates of births determined solely by a man's decision to emit sperm for fun. There is no way that the existing poor of responsible adults can magically convert this surplus of human lives into responsible citizens, and god knows that getting born doesn't do it either.

Finally I agree with MikeSilver--I would have liked to see factored into this piece a consideration of the fact that now, compared to 20 years ago, criminals are much more aware that those they victimize just may be armed and no longer passive victims.
PersonFromPorlock August 28, 2011 at 2:40 PM
How do you know that the current crime statistics you're using are reliable? In some cities, police forces under pressure to 'reduce' crime have simply resorted to fudging their reports: if you don't know how prevalent this practice is, you have nothing to work with.
Abortion did have an effect, but it's not the effect Donohue and Levitt posit.

Young people are much more violent than old people because old people tend not to be physically fit enough to be physically violent.

You'll notice all the Middle East countries that have experienced large scale unrest also have populations that are largely young (ditto 1968 America, for that matter).

As the entire nation grows more obese (both young and old), and as the nation as a whole gets older, there are fewer physically fit young people available to commit violent crimes.

Abortion obliterates fit young people.

Why is the prevalence of concealed carry being a permitted in almost all states over the last 15 years not mentioned.

Criminals are rational, they do not want to get shot.

Thus, violent crime goes down, property crime not so much.

More importantly, given the many ways over the last 15 years, Professor Wilson can find his decline in crime based on the percentage of at risk age men in the military versus the general population.

The higher the number of at risk (18-24 y/o or so) in the military historically the lower the crime rate. This can account for up to 65% of the variance in crime in a given year. Run the numbers Professor, I did and it works.
That is not true, theft has become a major problem. Metal thiefs especially. People are stealing metal fences, gates, electrical wire, anything made of metal. Remember statistics are always at least three months behind.
Sometimes more.

Plus remember now most poor people have food benefits from our socialist government along with ramped up charity operations all over the US.
Quote: "In 1974, the Environmental Protection Agency required oil companies to stop putting lead in gasoline."

That is not correct. The lead phaseout took place in 1986. It was in late 1974, with the introduction of 1975 model year cars with catalytic converters that increased use of unleaded gasoline.
Not really a surprise that crime is not rising when you consider more and more states are restoring the self defense rights of Americans.

Check out this report from GeorgiaCarry.Org that examines the impact of gun control on violent crime with 11+ examples using FBI data.
The rise in violent crime during the period from 1966 forward parallels the success of the gun control drives that began in 1963. The decline in crime, particularly violent crime, during the 1990's parallels the spread of relaxed concealed carry laws, and the increasing risk to those who adopt the criminal lifestyle.

The same pattern has resulted from every restrictive gun "control" law, and from every law that relaxed restrictions on purchase, possession, and carry of firearms.

No; it's simply that the crime of stealing trillions from our children simply has not yet been recognized.
Some time ago, I did need to buy a house for my corporation but I didn't earn enough cash and couldn't buy something. Thank heaven my father suggested to take the loan from banks. Thence, I did so and used to be happy with my collateral loan.
One factor not noted is the aging of the population.
Virginian Militiaman August 28, 2011 at 5:18 AM
Our sons used to have surly and thuggish (looking) friends come over regularly to visit. I was not much impressed. I managed to obtain an old sign from an abandoned military facility and posted it at the entrance to our driveway. "Persons and the property under their control are subject to examination." was there, as well as the lettering in red at the bottom: "Use of deadly force authorized". It is amazing the change of behavior of these same visiting individuals. Politeness and showing respect are the most common. Also, the move to display loaded firearms and each house entryway made the point, I think. With all the yard critters that raise a racket when anyone appears, no one will sneak up any time soon. It is a shame that the potential for force being deployed is necessary in a 'civilized' culture, but it does seem to encourage more aspects of that self-same 'civilized' behavior. I understand this is all anecdotal rather than scientific, but it does seem to support the arguments most posters have shared.
Kris Borchert (Belgium) August 28, 2011 at 3:48 AM
Go to YouTube and search for "flash mobs + crime." Take a look at the videos people have taken with their cell phone cameras of the coordinated youth crime and violence going on in the inner cities. Chicago is in the midst of a crime wave of mobs of young blacks, both male and female, attacking lone white passers-by. Ditto Philadelphia, and other urban areas around the country.
These are young populations, of breeding age. And breed they do, highly subsidized by the very taxpayers they prey on. Does not bode well for the near future.
"John Donohue and Steven Levitt have advanced an additional explanation for the reduction in black crime: the legalization of abortion, which resulted in black children’s never being born into circumstances that would have made them likelier to become criminals."

The two chief reasons for the drop in violent crime are 1) abortion and 2) lifetime or long-term incarceration of criminals.

At the one end of the age spectrum, since the legalization of abortion, millions of future criminals and welfare recipients were never born. Yes, there may have been a future Einstein or Salk among them, but I seriously doubt it. The underclass population only breeds the next generation of the underclass population.

At the other end of the age spectrum, keeping violent career criminals locked in cages either until they die or until they become so old that they lack the physical ability to go back to their violent ways if released are certainly going to substantially reduce the incidence of recidivism among this population.

The religion-crazies on the Right understand the concept of permanent imprisonment as an effective crime prevention measure. Unfortunately the Right's stand on abortion is exactly the opposite of what our society needs if it is to enjoy a future populated by fewer at-large criminals and fewer multi-generational welfare families.
Severin Sorensen CPP August 28, 2011 at 3:33 AM
I like the article prepared by Dr. Wilson, and also consider the exogenous explanations of the reduction of crime wave to be intellectually interesting to explore further. But I am not convinced that the repetition of history has been prevented, nor that we are not know experiencing a crime wave on the underbelly of the economy not detected by current crime measures.

Since 1954, every sharp economic contraction has been followed by a crime wave, typically with a 12-month time lag. To date, this great recession has produced different results, for whatever reason reported crime has not increased in reported measures -- yet. If the recession is prolonged with a significant double dip, and if the cocktail of economic misery widens, it would not be unreasonable to expect reported crime to increase in real terms, including reported crime.

There are three types of crimes that occur and only one of these is reported by current measurement tools: (1) conventional crimes that happen and are reported to authorities; but there are also (2) conventional crimes that happen and that are not reported to authorities (e.g., in industrial security, it is estimated that upwards of 95% of crimes committed against corporations are unreported (unless these crimes become widely known or must be reported by regulatory purposes); (3) more importantly however, the internet, GPS, communications, and financial complexities have created new types of crimes that are not picked up by our current crime reporting systems. Indeed many crimes occur for which crime no reports are unable to track as their depth, breadth, and magnitude are hidden to authorities. Consider modern financial fraud of the Bernie Madoff magnitude; for decades the fraud occurred -- it was clearly a series of crimes -- and yet there was no detection, tracking, or abatement of the crime for decades -- and this lone scheme occurred presumably to the tune of $50B. Does the fact that the Madoff scheme was undetected for so many years mean it was not a crime? Furthermore reporting the crime in the period detected does nothing for the crime activity that actually existed during prior periods. How many lesser number of frauds occur that go undetected? The FBI must aggregate frauds to reach a threshold number (typically $100k) in order to focus their attention; how many fraudsters are aware of this and operate boilershop operations through the internet to avoid detection of authorities as they seem individually minor offenders, but are collectively major offenders? Our current systems are not sufficiently updated or informed to detect modern crime.

Granted modern situational crime prevention, opportunity blocking, and technology have created reductions in crime; i.e., advances in automobile locking technologies have significantly impacted certain types of crimes such as auto theft of new cars. However, even these technologies have not converted criminals to law-abiding behaviors -- many have just switched criminal techniques. For instance, criminal justice data would have one believe that fewer cars are being stolen; have the criminals stopped stealing cars, or have they merely switched techniques and moved up stream? Has the Russian mafia operating in pockets within the US abandoned vice markets and the auto trade? No. Consider the following situation, a new model car with electronic key is difficult to steal; however, if the car is identified, vandalized, airbags and seats stolen, it is most likely going to be totaled by the insurance company; then the same car is purchased by the offender network at the auto auction for pennies on the dollar, and the original equipment is returned to the vehicle, and the theft has occurred by other means. In this instance, classical reports of 'auto theft' would appear to have gone down, but in actuality the illicit auto trade continues just up the supply chain.

Furthermore, what is crime? Should not social disruption, civil disobedience, and uprisings such as the London riots, discord in the middle east, etc be counted in the rubric of crime? This time will be no different than any other economic shock wherein a crime wave followed; it is already happening on the underbelly of the economy. There are new crimes, unreported crimes, and severity of crimes that are all increasing. Just because buggy whip thefts are down, does not mean that internet crimes are not increasing, and yet our crime data is insufficient to identify, track, and stop this type of crime, or even determine its magnitude.

This and other thoughts on the current situation are contained in a book I wrote on this topic in the fall of 2008, following the collapse of Lehman Brothers -- titled, "Economic Misery and Crime Waves" published in 2009. I think there is more to be considered than meets the eye. Again, thanks for the fine article, but I suspect that there is more going on than the current thinking in criminal justice field suspects, detects, or has a handle on measuring.

Best regards,

Severin Sorensen, CPP, M.Phil.
President & CEO
Sikyur LLC
What planet are you living on? Google "Flash mobs". Black crime is racheting up by the minute. Her's a thought - we have an "Attorney General, who flatly refuses to arrest and prosecute "his (Black)people" if they committ ANY crimes against Whites. Perhaps the reason for the "lower Blackd crime" rates is that Blacsk are getting a carte blanche, shall we say, to do anby bloody thing they want to do. That - and they no longer have to go to White areas, to rob Whites. They elect politicians that do the plunder for them, via all kinds of Free Money giveaways. Get a GRIP.
I wish the concealed carry trolls would knock it off already. Yes, maybe he should have addressed it. But your troll campaign is just unseemly.
See "More Guns, Less Crime" by John Lott.
Jeffrey Villaveces August 27, 2011 at 10:10 PM
I was disappointed by the lack of any mention of demographics in the equation. This corresponds most closely to the drop in crime. The other two explanations, higher incarceration rates and sentencing, and better security, ignore the evidence or misinterpret it. Comparing the UK and the US alone is wrong, in countries with lighter sentences throughout Europe their crime rates are lower and they have lesser sentencing. As far as better home security, this causation ignores the fact that the vast majority of crime is committed in areas without this technology. Most crime is poor on poor not poor on rich. The answer to the questions is there, Mr. Wilson simply hasn't crunched the number. I'd suggest a few graphs and some correlation studies, this would make a more convincing argument.
James, I'm afraid you are missing the boat here. Or perhaps you are purposely leaving out one important statistic.

There are now 49 states that have carry concealed weapons laws. Stats show that crime decreased in nearly every state following the passage of the CCW law.

In Europe, a country with one of the highest crime rates is England. They also have laws banning gun ownership. However, the safest European country is Switzerland, where every household, by law, must own and know how to use a firearm. Coincidence? Absolutely not.
I'll give you a method man to solve this problem. Qualitative research. Quant will be useless to solve the majority of our problems and answer these questions concisely.
How long did it take you to write that nonsense?

Do you ever stick your head out into the real world?
The idea that the reduction in exposure to lead is the main driver in reducing crime is fascinating.

All those political debates over how to reduce crime and then it happens as a side effect of something no one had considered to be a related factor.
To quote a Brit radio personality on Los Angeles Radio, "If you burglarize someone in the States, they'll ram a shotgun up your bum."

Concealed Carry reform and the "proliferation" of guns in the hands of the honest Americans has done what generations of professional police and sociologists couldn't, reduced crime. Criminals aren't dumb, if the "cost" of committing crime is high enough, they will be as honest as a cashier with the boss watching.
I would like to see some research on crime rates in relation to legal gun ownership and changes to conceal/carry laws.
Great article. Would argue that property crime is motivated by poor impulse control more tham economic need. Seriously, how much and how constantly would you need to commit petty crime just to net the same earnings as flipping burgers-month after month after month.
Short answer, a more well armed decent and civilized citizenry.

Thanks to the gun salesman of the year for 2008, 2009,2010, 2011 BH Obama.
Excuse me, i posted my comment without reading any previous comments. My points were already well covered and his omissions duly noted.
Well, the famous John Q. did miss two common sense reasons in his analysis. First, this is the time all those missing due to abortions would have been of crime doing age. Furthermore, most states now have concealed carry permits. This creates protectcion for everyone in that the criminal has no idea who has a gun, thus he chooses not to do a crime since to do so would create the chance of the criminal getting shot. Getting shot would deter all but the most determined of criminals.
Maybe i missed it but the fact that gun sales soared when obama was elected and several states have passed concealed carry laws and castle doctrines should be considered in any objective study.
I'm sure concealed carry and castle doctrine laws have nothing to do with it (/sarcasm).
Last night I interrupted an attempted burglary at my house with the aid of a 9mm pistol.
I've heard some progressives bemoan the fact that incarceration rates have gone up despite the drop in criminal activity, like we're just locking innocent people up for the fun of it. The exact opposite is closer to the truth. Crime rates, especially among some urban minorities, have dropped precisely because so many repeat offenders are behind bars. That and the fact that a lot of us are carrying now...
Nowhere does Wilson mention the impact of shall-issue firearms laws or the work of John Lott, Gary Kleck or others. Especially after the recent experience in London where rioters took signal advantage of a compliant police force and disarmed civilians.

If he doesn't buy the "more guns, less crime" theory, I suggest he address it and where it fails. Anecdotally, comparing urban CA and TX, there is a consequential difference in how criminals approach targets. Broad statistics for the US as a whole do not tell all there is to know.

There is no circumstance in which making criminality safer for criminals is going to reduce crime. This essay is incomplete without addressing that part of the puzzle.
I paused in reading this article when I read this: "But it’s true nevertheless that when prisoners are kept off the street, they can attack only one another, not you or your family." The prisoners attack guards, too.
Isn't it just like a Harvard professor yo look every place for the cause of the decline except the place he is most likely to find it.
The truth my Dear Mr. Wilson has already been well documented. There is a direct and proven correlation between the number of citizens who are licensed to carry and the decline in the crime rate.
In fact, if memory serves me, it was a study at Harvard that first unearthed so surprising a relationship.
It's not surprising of course to the great majority with common sense, just to those in the media and university classes who just don't want to believe it. And to think, the truth is what we supposedly pay them for
there has never been and likely never will be a study that shows poverty causes crime. the entire sociological construct is bogus.
If you are willing to buy real estate, you will have to receive the loan. Furthermore, my brother all the time utilizes a short term loan, which is really rapid.
I've read much of James Q. Wilson's previous work and always found it enlightening. Like Thomas Sowell, Wilson is good at exploding myths. It does appear, though, that there are so many factors involved in both economic and crime metrics, and so much contradictory evidence, and so much comparing of apples and oranges, that it's hard to come to firm conclusions about correlation.

I do agree with those posters who cite the liberalized firearms laws. (Today only Hawaii, Maryland, New Jersey, Illinois, coastal California, and New York City deny the right of self-defense.) Certainly some potential muggers and carjackers have been dissuaded by the fact that their intended prey might well be armed.
I would have thought that the Legalization of Abortion would have a major impact on the Crime Rate.

It is interesting that the much higher rate of family Breakdown has not increased the Crime Rate.
Agoraphobic Plumber August 27, 2011 at 11:51 AM
Mr. Wilson, you clearly are not a gun owner, nor do you have any interest in firearms. If you did, you would have noticed the absolute explosion for the last decade in states that have loosened their gun laws. Further, you would have noticed, starting in 2007-2008 or thereabouts, that firearms were absolutely flying off the shelves and that ammunition makers were running 3 shifts and couldn't keep up. Many calibers were difficult to find at all in many areas.

The proponents of concealed- (and open-) carry laws, such as myself, made the case that more people carrying, or even just the possibility that in a group of 20 people one or two might be carrying, would show a measurable decrease in crime. We never hailed it as a panacea, but we did feel strongly--and still do--that it would help.

You have reached deeply in your article looking for factors that might contribute to the lack of increased criminal activity accompanying this recession (which I regard as a depression that will get worse). The lack of any mention of one of the most tumultuous political issues in our country is telling. You should stop avoiding the issue and just admit that increased gun ownership over the last few years may well be one of the factors you are seeking to explain this phenomenon.
That's the long way around the barn. Another way to put this might be: A lack of personal accountability and responsibility fostered by failed liberal entitlement policies.
Scott W. Somerville August 27, 2011 at 10:26 AM
VERY interesting! I'd love to see a comparison of crime rates among blacks, Hispanics, and poor whites since Obama became the nominee in Aug. 2008. Has "hope" had a discernible impact on young African-Americans and other minorities? If it has, one would expect a measurable difference between crime rates among black Hispanic, and white youths, with blacks showing the greatest decrease, Hispanics an intermediate decline, and young whites showing little decline (or possibly even an increased propensity towards crime).
The other obvious facor, ignored by the author, is that the US population has grown older: 70% of the longterm unemployed are over age 45. Most folks like myself have supportive spouses. also, Many older Americans have elderly relatives to care for- so the risk of jail just isn't worth it. We are suffering, however. Gov. Surplus food & assistance has been cutback recently.
A well written and thoughtful article. I think there may be one more factor involved, which goes unmentioned here. There has been an exponential increase in the number of states that have passed right to carry laws for their citizens. Everywhere that these laws have been passed, there have been dramatic decreases in the rates of violent crime. A phenomenon which has been largely ignored by the press and academia.
"that a person will commit crime if the expected utility exceeds that of using his time and other resources in pursuit of alternative activities,"

After 35 years as a publisher and at the age of 58 and with nothing better to do I became a bail bondsman and bounty hunter. It has been interesting.

Our beat(I have three young fellows who work with me) are low end crimes (bad as some may sound) including: domestic violence, DUI, driving suspended license, carrying concealed weapon, Burglary, Home Invasion, fleeing/alluding, malicious destruction of property, criminal sexual conduct, auto theft and of course drugs (meth is easily in our view the worst drug ever foisted on humanity) and this and that.

From my experience most of the property crimes are indeed committed by 16 to 24 year olds. My comment to the above observation is that almost all property crimes do not warrant the risk for the reward. Unless you have the means, a large truck and none of these kids do, you simply don't have the ability to walk off with that much stuff. And the stuff you do walk off is going to net you 20 cents on the dollar on a good day. In a return for this high risk behavior you are probably within a short time going to meet me and certainly a judge.

In my view property crimes are high risk, bad hours, bad working conditions, often heavy lifting,and from what I can determine is mostly the result of someone being drugged up or more likely looking for the adrenalin rush that comes from the activity, and/or trying to impress someone with their thug cred, indeed I have had defendants tell me this.

Generally the young defendant would be significantly ahead getting an entry level job at MacDonalds as they would certainly make more money and get a good nights sleep.

One other thought both good and bad about modern police work. Generally there is a zero tolerance policy with regard to crime. The good news is that this policy undoubtedly curbs crime. The bad news is that from our experience probably 10 to 15% of defendants shouldn't be in jail or in court, because as in the case of Domestic Violence someone is going to jail, usually a male. The vast majority of DV cases do not involve physical contact, rather they are yelling matches. Granted this off the cuff and off the street talk and not scientific, but that is what we see.

Mr. Wilson, have you and the "head scratching criminologists" taken into consideration the fact that we have a cradle to the grave welfare system that stifles the frustration and desperation that was once at the core of the crime caused by a rising unemployment rate? When you have close to 2 years of unemployment benefits, SNAP money, disability, subsidized housing ect, where's the worry? Keep 'em dumb and well dependent and then force them off the couch on election day. That's the strategy and it's saddening all of this human potential and self respect is being wasted.
Halfway through his essay, Dr. Wilson cites a handful of vague reasons for crime reduction including: 'potential victims may have become better at protecting themselves by equipping their homes with burglar alarms, installing extra locks on their cars, and moving into safer buildings or even safer neighborhoods'. He adds: 'We have only the faintest idea, however, about how common these trends are or what effects on crime they may have.' Conspicuously missing from his laundry list of crime preventatives is the significant increase in the number of concealed weapon carry permits that have been issued in the U.S. since the late 1990's. It is intellectually dishonest of Dr. Wilson to have omitted the uptick in defensive firearm ownership by law-abiding Americans as a key factor. Sadly, though a professor, he's no John Lott....
There was also a swell in the number of states that passed right to carry concealed weapons laws. While you may be unwilling to include this amongst the possible causes of the decline in crime rates, it is inarguable that the passage of these laws did not lead to the explosion of crime expected by many sociologists. Any objective analysis would show that crime fell in those states after passage of these laws, and seem to show it feel faster than in those states that didn't pass these laws.
I have been impressed for some time by the apparent link between abortion and reduced crime; Namely that after the circa 20 to 25 year time period between when the abortion rate substantially increased and people arriving at the age most commonly tending towards crime, the crime rate substantially fell.

Is that link more than just apparent? ---- or is there solid reason and basis for concluding it is a real world fact?

Some Reasonably Uncontroverted Facts
(1) Abortions increased significantly after they became legal in the early 1970s,

(2) Presumably that resulted in less children being born ---- especially amongst women who did not want to have a child.

(3) Typically the age of highest inclination to crime is late teens into the mid to late 20’s, and that is circa the number of years that elapsed between the above referenced beginning of an abortion caused reduction of the birth of children, and the beginning of the reduced crime rate:

(4) The obviously suggested connection is that abortions caused less children to be around of an age who would have been inclined to engage in crime ----- hence, less crime. A connection which on its face seems entirely plausible.

But it seems that if this were the case, then there should be a clearly recorded significant reduction in the birth rate in that relevant time period of the early 1970s onward. And also ---- and more directly ----- a reduce number of people in the relevant age group in the relevant time period.

Was there?

We shoot robbers....I can't believe you would so doggedly avoid the most obvious factor
Another factor not mentioned is the huge increase in issuance of permits for concealed carry of firearms in the last two decades. It should be pointed out that what matters for this to be true is the issuance numbers (in effect, the size of pool of potential firearm carriers), and not the actual numbers of people who carry firearms. The effect on the criminal mind of many people being armed is the same as that of many not being armed but possessing the ability to be so.

Interestingly, this revolution in state laws that has resulted in the issuance of these permits is likely the result of a culture change in favor of self-control. Fewer people today believe the trope that arming citizens will result in a bloodbath, because they know that the vast majority of people exercise the proper self control that is required for gun ownership. It is likely another variable that validates the final thesis of the article.
There is no mention here of the recent epidemic of flash mobs. Police don't seem to be arresting many people, and the media would prefer to avoid the whole issue.
So are the absence of flash mob arrests and convictions--part of the decline in crime numbers?
Perhaps the unemployed of the Great depression had a two parent family that provided emotional and psychological support especially to families with children as opposed to the 1960s and subsequent years when the natural family broke down.