Monday, February 04, 2008

Economists' data: best way to lower crime is less enforcement of prohibition

Three economists recently published a paper titled "What do Economists Know About Crime?" that studied crime rates over the last 80 years or so. They measured crime rates and compared it to a range of crime-fighting policies that have changed over time to see which policies actually resulted in higher and lower crime rates.

They looked at a larger police force, a higher arrest rate, higher gun ownership, higher incarceration rate, legalization of abortion, lead poisoning and enforcement of prohibition of drugs or alcohol.

One would assume that the best way to lower crime is with a larger police force and a higher arrest rate. I would, just based on my gut.

As it turns out, only one of these policies consistently changed the crime rate. All the rest had mixed effects -- so that they are not that strong of a policy to fight crime, according not to intuition or anecdotal evidence, but hard data over many years and several countries.

That policy is the level of enforcement (if any) on prohibition.

When the government cracks down on the prohibition of some drug or alcohol, people die and crime spikes. When the government does not, crime goes down.

One of the main reasons is because when a product goes underground, and large illegal companies develop to manufacture, distribute and market the product, anytime there is a dispute among rival companies (often known as gangs). the companies don't go to court or call their lawyers to send a threatening letter. They get violent and innocent people die.

The economists in the paper call this gang violence an "alternative dispute resolution process." We would all be a lot safer if the major companies that are manufacturing and distributing drugs acted like the major companies that manufacture and distribute alcohol. I'd rather they fight it out in court than on street corners.

Other explanations for the connection between the amount of prohibition enforcement and the crime rate are that when the police are focused on the companies making and selling the product and the jails are full of the customers, salesmen and manufacturers of the product, the rapists, robbers and other felons are not the focus of the police and they are not the ones in prison. Instead, they are committing crimes.

It would be great to be a part of a crime-fighting movement that advocated for policies that reduced crime. We seem to be missing that in our politics. I hope our next Cook County State's Attorney will lead on the question.

1 comment:

John Lamb said...

A study of immigration enforcement would have found the same phenomenon.