Friday, June 13, 2008

Choosing to Allow so much Crime in America?

The following is a comment from Doug's blog (link to post, about James Q. Wilson guest blogging about crime, here). Of the fifty or so comments, and during the two years I've been reading his blog, I've yet to see someone actually make this point so well. It really isn't rocket science, as he, DK, (commentator) states:

And if people believed they would be caught for murder, they are less likely to commit it. The fact of the matter is that deterrence proponents, much like economists, are full of shit. Crime, like much economic activity, doesn't occur because people rationally weigh costs and benefits. A central premise of your argument is a pure fiction. Sure, your program may cause movement at the margins, but why should I listen to somebody promising misery for millions in exchange for, at the most, negligible returns? Your program tolerates the perpetual creation of crime victims.

Contrary to posters above, we do in fact know why crime occurs and we do in fact know how to substantially reduce it (as opposed to marginally reduce it). There is a reason the U.S. has so much more crime than other industrial nations, and it is not, of course, because we are too fair and lenient--as would have to be the case were we to buy the snake oil you're selling about deterrence. Our society, the richest in the world in absolute terms, has abandoned a large segment of our population to utter squalor, some of the poorest in the world.

Bill Otis wrote: "It is not up to the government to preemptively control its citizens so that they do not commit crime. It is up to people to control THEMSELVES to conform to the law and not to cheat, rob, bully, etc. their neighbors. When they are unwilling to do that, the fault does not lie with the rest of the world."

No, it lies with those who use their disproportionate power within the society to systematically deprive large segments of people of the means and resources (including, e.g., health care, stable employment with a living wage, and stable housing) to effectively govern themselves. Those countries that do a better job in this respect unsurprisingly have less crime. It's not rocket science. It really isn't.

I completely agree that deterrence is give far too much weight. Very very few actually calculate the probability of being caught, and then how much punishment they would receive, prior to committing crimes. Food for thought: why do we systematically impress so large a portion of Americans into a life of squalor and poverty? It surely is not because we are not a poor nation...

Can this be a topic of the next empirical research project?

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