crime

Crime Revisited

I last took a comprehensive look at crime seven years ago. That analysis drew on statistics for 1960-2004. The results reported in this post are based on statistics for 1960-2009. The newer analysis doesn’t contradict the older one, but it does add some explanatory power.

Cutting to the chase, the following equation explains the rate of violent and property crimes (VPC) as a function of:

BLK — the number of blacks as a decimal fraction of the population

GRO — the change in the rate of growth of real GDP per capita in the previous year, where the rate is expressed as a decimal fraction

PSQ — the square of the decimal fraction representing the proportion of the population in federal and State prisons

ORA — the number of persons of other races (not black or white) as a decimal fraction of the population.

The equation is highly significant (F = 1.44179E-31), as are the intercept and the coefficients (p-values in parentheses):

VPC =

- 333768 (3.30579E-28)

+ 339535 BLK (1.06615E-29)

- 6133 GRO (0.00065)

-174136761 PSQ (1.00729E-15)

- 27614 ORA (0.0018)

(Values are rounded to the nearest whole number. The adjusted r-squared is 0.96, and the standard error of the estimate is 5.3 percent of the mean value of VPC.)

Here are the actual and estimated values of VPC:

Crime rates (actual vs estimated)_2014

I’m satisfied with the equation, including the negative sign on the coefficient of ORA, which mainly represents Hispanics and Asians. But I will reassess the equation if the difference between actual and estimated VPC continues to diverge after 2007, when they were almost identical.

*     *     *

Related reading: Greg Allmain, “Another Study Links Violence to the Presence of Specific Genes,” Theden, November 11, 2014

Related posts:
Lock ‘Em Up
Estimating the Rahn Curve: Or, How Government Spending Inhibits Economic Growth
Race and Reason: The Achievement Gap — Causes and Implications
Hispanics and Crime
“Conversing” about Race
Evolution and Race
“Wading” into Race, Culture, and IQ
Poverty, Crime, and Big Government

Signature

Not-So-Random Thoughts (XI)

Steve Stewart-Williams asks “Did Morality Evolve?” (The Nature-Nurture-Neitzsche Blog, May 2, 2010). His answer:

[T]here are at least two reasons to think morality bears the imprint of our evolutionary history. The first comes from observations of a class of individuals that psychologists all too often ignore: other animals. Nonhuman animals obviously don’t reason explicitly about right and wrong, but they do exhibit some aspects of human morality. Rather than being locked into an eternal war of all-against-all, many animals display tendencies that we count among our most noble: They cooperate; they help one another; they share resources; they love their offspring. For those who doubt that human morality has evolutionary underpinnings, the existence of these ‘noble’ traits in other animals poses a serious challenge….

…A second [reason] is that, not only do we know that these kinds of behaviour are part of the standard behavioural repertoire of humans in all culture and of other animals, we now have a pretty impressive arsenal of theories explaining how such behaviour evolved. Kin selection theory explains why many animals – humans included – are more altruistic toward kin than non-kin: Kin are more likely than chance to share any genes contributing to this nepotistic tendency. Reciprocal altruism theory explains how altruism can evolve even among non-relatives: Helping others can benefit the helper, as long as there’s a sufficient probability that the help will be reciprocated and as long as people avoid helping those who don’t return the favour. Another promising theory is that altruism is a costly display of fitness, which makes the altruist more attractive as a mate or ally. Overall, the evolutionary explanation of altruism represents one of the real success stories of the evolutionary approach to psychology.

Though I’m disinclined to use the term “altruism,” it’s useful shorthand for the kinds of behavior that seems selfless. In any event, I am sympathetic to Stewart-Williams’s view of morality as evolutionary. Morality is at least a learned and culturally-transmitted phenomenon, which manifests itself globally in the Golden Rule.

*     *     *

Pierre Lemieux decries “The Vacuity of the Political ‘We’” (The Library of Economics and Liberty, October 6, 2014):

One can barely read a newspaper or listen to a politician’s speech without hearing the standard “we as a society” or its derivatives….

The truth is that this collective “we” has no scientific meaning.

In the history of economic thought, two main strands of analysis support this conclusion. One was meant to criticize economists’ use of “social indifference curves” (also called “community indifference curves”), which generally appeared in the welfare analysis of international trade between personalized trading countries. Countries were personalized in the sense that they were assumed to have preferences, just as an individual does. In a famous 1956 article, Paul Samuelson definitively demonstrated that such social indifference curves, analogous to individual indifference curves, do not exist….

A second strand of analysis leads to a similar but more general conclusion. The problem has come to be known as the “preference aggregation” issue: how can we aggregate—”add up” as it were—individual preferences? Can we fuse them into social preferences—a “social welfare function”—that would equally represent all individuals? This second tradition of analysis follows a long and broken line of theorists. The Marquis de Condorcet in the 18th century, Charles Dodgson (a.k.a. Lewis Carroll) in the 19th, and economist Duncan Black in the 20th all discovered independently that majority voting does not provide an acceptable aggregation mechanism.

I’ve discussed the vacuity of the political “we” and the “social welfare function” in many posts; most recently this one, where I make these two points:

1. It is a logical and factual error to apply the collective “we” to Americans, except when referring generally to the citizens of the United States. Other instances of “we” (e.g., “we” won World War II, “we” elected Barack Obama) are fatuous and presumptuous. In the first instance, only a small fraction of Americans still living had a hand in the winning of World War II. In the second instance, Barack Obama was elected by amassing the votes of fewer than 25 percent of the number of Americans living in 2008 and 2012. “We the People” — that stirring phrase from the Constitution’s preamble — was never more hollow than it is today.

2. Further, the logical and factual error supports the unwarranted view that the growth of government somehow reflects a “national will” or consensus of Americans. Thus, appearances to the contrary (e.g., the adoption and expansion of national “social insurance” schemes, the proliferation of cabinet departments, the growth of the administrative state) a sizable fraction of Americans (perhaps a majority) did not want government to grow to its present size and degree of intrusiveness. And a sizable fraction (perhaps a majority) would still prefer that it shrink in both dimensions. In fact, The growth of government is an artifact of formal and informal arrangements that, in effect, flout the wishes of many (most?) Americans. The growth of government was not and is not the will of “we Americans,” “Americans on the whole,” “Americans in the aggregate,” or any other mythical consensus.

*     *     *

I’m pleased to note that there are still some enlightened souls like David Mulhhausen, who writes about “How the Death Penalty Saves Lives” (September 30, 2014) , at the website of The Heritage Foundation. Muhlhausen cites several studies in support of his position. I’ve treated crime and punishment many times; for example:

Does Capital Punishment Deter Homicide?
Libertarian Twaddle about the Death Penalty
Crime and Punishment
Saving the Innocent?
Saving the Innocent?: Part II
More Punishment Means Less Crime
More About Crime and Punishment
More Punishment Means Less Crime: A Footnote
Let the Punishment Fit the Crime
Another Argument for the Death Penalty
Less Punishment Means More Crime
Crime, Explained
Clear Thinking about the Death Penalty
What Is Justice?
Saving the Innocent
Why Stop at the Death Penalty?
Lock ‘Em Up
Free Will, Crime, and Punishment
Left-Libertarians, Obama, and the Zimmerman Case
Stop, Frisk, and Save Lives
Poverty, Crime, and Big Governmen

The numbers are there to support strict punishment, up to and including capital punishment. But even if the numbers weren’t conclusive, I’d be swayed by John McAdams, a professor of political science at Marquette University, who makes a succinct case for the death penalty, regardless of its deterrent effect:

I’m a bit surprised . . . [by the] claim that “the burden of empirical proof would seem to lie with the pro-death penalty scholar.” If we execute murderers and there is in fact no deterrent effect, we have killed a bunch of murderers. If we fail to execute murderers, and doing so would in fact have deterred other murders, we have allowed the killing of a bunch of innocent victims. I would much rather risk the former. This, to me, is not a tough call.

The same goes for fraudsters, thieves, rapists, and other transgressors against morality.

*     *     *

Walter E. Williams asks “Will the West Defend Itself?” (creators.com, October 1, 2014):

A debate about whether Islam is a religion of peace or not is entirely irrelevant to the threat to the West posed by ISIL, al-Qaida and other Middle Eastern terrorist groups. I would like to gather a news conference with our Army’s chief of staff, Gen. Raymond T. Odierno; Marines’ commandant, Gen. Joseph Dunford; chief of naval operations, Adm. Jonathan W. Greenert; and Gen. Mark A. Welsh, the U.S. Air Force’s chief of staff. This would be my question to them: The best intelligence puts ISIL’s size at 35,000 to 40,000 people. Do you officers think that the combined efforts of our military forces could defeat and lay waste to ISIL? Before they had a chance to answer, I’d add: Do you think the combined military forces of NATO and the U.S. could defeat and eliminate ISIL. Depending on the answers given, I’d then ask whether these forces could also eliminate Iran’s capability of making nuclear weapons.

My question to my fellow Americans is: What do you think their answers would be? No beating around the bush: Does the U.S. have the power to defeat the ISIL/al-Qaida threat and stop Iran’s nuclear ambitions — yes or no?

If our military tells us that we do have the capacity to defeat the terror threat, then the reason that we don’t reflects a lack of willingness. It’s that same lack of willingness that led to the deaths of 60 million people during World War II. In 1936, France alone could have stopped Adolf Hitler, but France and its allies knowingly allowed Hitler to rearm, in violation of treaties. When Europeans finally woke up to Hitler’s agenda, it was too late. Their nations were conquered. One of the most horrible acts of Nazi Germany was the Holocaust, which cost an estimated 11 million lives. Those innocents lost their lives because of the unwillingness of Europeans to protect themselves against tyranny.

Westerners getting the backbone to defend ourselves from terrorists may have to await a deadly attack on our homeland. You say, “What do you mean, Williams?” America’s liberals have given terrorists an open invitation to penetrate our country through our unprotected southern border. Terrorists can easily come in with dirty bombs to make one of our major cities uninhabitable through radiation. They could just as easily plant chemical or biological weapons in our cities. If they did any of these acts — leading to the deaths of millions of Americans — I wonder whether our liberal Democratic politicians would be able to respond or they would continue to mouth that “Islam teaches peace” and “Islam is a religion of peace.”

Unfortunately for our nation’s future and that of the world, we see giving handouts as the most important function of government rather than its most basic function: defending us from barbarians.

Exactly. The title of my post, “A Grand Strategy for the United States,” is a play on Strategy for the  West (1954), by Marshall of the Royal Air Force Sir John Cotesworth Slessor. Slessor was, by some accounts, a principal author of nuclear deterrence. Aside from his role in the development of a strategy for keeping the USSR at bay, Slessor is perhaps best known for this observation:

It is customary in democratic countries to deplore expenditure on armaments as conflicting with the requirements of the social services. There is a tendency to forget that the most important social service that a government can do for its people is to keep them alive and free. (Strategy for the West, p. 75)

Doctrinaire libertarians seem unable to grasp this. Like “liberals,” they tend to reject the notion of a strong defense because they are repelled by the “tribalism” represented by state sovereignty. One such doctrinaire libertarian is Don Boudreaux, who — like Walter E. Williams — teaches economics at George Mason University.

A post by Boudreaux at his blog Cafe Hayek caused me to write “Liberalism and Sovereignty,” where I say this:

Boudreaux … states a (truly) liberal value, namely, that respect for others should not depend on where they happen to live. Boudreaux embellishes that theme in the the next several paragraphs of his post; for example:

[L]iberalism rejects the notion that there is anything much special or compelling about political relationships.  It is tribalistic, atavistic, to regard those who look more like you to be more worthy of your regard than are those who look less like you.  It is tribalistic, atavistic, to regard those who speak your native tongue to be more worthy of your affection and concern than are those whose native tongues differ from yours.

For the true liberal, the human race is the human race.  The struggle is to cast off as much as possible primitive sentiments about “us” being different from “them.”

The problem with such sentiments — correct as they may be — is the implication that we have nothing more to fear from people of foreign lands than we have to fear from our own friends and neighbors. Yet, as Boudreaux himself acknowledges,

[t]he liberal is fully aware that such sentiments [about “us” being different from “them”] are rooted in humans’ evolved psychology, and so are not easily cast off.  But the liberal does his or her best to rise above those atavistic sentiments,

Yes, the liberal does strive to rise above such sentiments, but not everyone else makes the same effort, as Boudreaux admits. Therein lies the problem.

Americans — as a mostly undifferentiated mass — are disdained and hated by many foreigners (and by many an American “liberal”). The disdain and hatred arise from a variety of imperatives, ranging from pseudo-intellectual snobbery to nationalistic rivalry to anti-Western fanaticism. When those imperative lead to aggression (threatened or actual), that aggression is aimed at all of us: liberal, “liberal,” conservative, libertarian, bellicose, pacifistic, rational, and irrational.

Having grasped that reality, the Framers “did ordain and establish” the Constitution “in Order to . . . provide for the common defence” (among other things). That is to say, the Framers recognized the importance of establishing the United States as a sovereign state for limited and specified purposes, while preserving the sovereignty of its constituent States and their inhabitants for all other purposes.

If Americans do not mutually defend themselves through the sovereign state which was established for that purpose, who will? That is the question which liberals (both true and false) often fail to ask. Instead, they tend to propound internationalism for its own sake. It is a mindless internationalism, one that often disdains America’s sovereignty, and the defense thereof.

Mindless internationalism equates sovereignty with  jingoism, protectionism, militarism, and other deplorable “isms.” It ignores or denies the hard reality that Americans and their legitimate overseas interests are threatened by nationalistic rivalries and anti-Western fanaticism.

In the real world of powerful rivals and determined, resourceful fanatics, the benefits afforded Americans by our (somewhat eroded) constitutional contract — most notably the enjoyment of civil liberties, the blessings of  free markets and free trade, and the protections of a common defense — are inseparable from and dependent upon the sovereign power of the United States.  To cede that sovereignty for the sake of mindless internationalism is to risk the complete loss of the benefits promised by the Constitution.

Signature

Stop, Frisk, and Save Lives

The next time I read about “racial” profiling I may punch my monitor. It isn’t “racial” profiling it’s “probability of committing a crime” profiling. But don’t tell that to Shira Scheindlin, a United States District Court Judge for the Southern District of New York.

Scheindlin, as most readers will know, is the judge who recently found New York City’s stop-and-frisk program to be unconstitutional, ordered immediate changes to the program, and called for a monitor to supervise related reforms. The judge’s ruling has been reinforced by New York’s City Council:

The nation’s biggest police department will get a new watchdog and face easier standards for people to file profiling lawsuits against it after the City Council on Thursday overrode mayoral vetoes amid applause from supporters and angry warnings from opponents.

The measures mark the most aggressive legislative effort in years to put new checks on the New York Police Department, and the vote came less than two weeks after [Judge Shira Scheindlin] imposed new oversight of her own….

The legislation drew national attention from civil rights groups and a vehement response from Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who slapped it down earlier this summer. He said Thursday it will make it “harder for our police officers to protect New Yorkers and continue to drive down crime.”

“Make no mistake: The communities that will feel the most negative impacts of these bills will be minority communities across our city, which have been the greatest beneficiaries of New York City’s historic crime reductions,” he said in a statement….

Earlier this month, U.S. District Court Judge Shira Scheindlin appointed an outside monitor to reform stop and frisk, a practice she said the police department had used in a way that violated the rights of hundreds of thousands of black and Hispanic men. The city is appealing….

Opponents said the measures would lower police morale but not crime, waste money and not solve a broader problem of a police force under pressure after shrinking by thousands of officers during the last decade.

“These bills are downright dangerous,” Councilman Eric Ulrich said.

My view, precisely. And it is the view of William L. Gensler, writing at American Thinker:

In 2012, 74% of shooting victims in New York City were black, as were 75% of those arrested for these shootings. Blacks also comprised 73% of all firearm arrests. They were also the victim 38% of the time, and the arrestee in 48% of all rapes.

60% of murder victims were black, as were 51% of those arrested for murder. Blacks were the victim of 32% of all robberies and were the arrestee 62% of the time. 52% of those arrested for felonious assault were black. They were also 48% of the victims. They encompassed 52% of those arrested for grand larceny, which is the theft of property with a value in excess of one thousand dollars.

45% of felony drug arrests were black as were 50% of misdemeanor drug arrests. 52% of those arrested for felony possession of stolen property were black as were 47% of those arrested for misdemeanor possession of stolen property.

66% of the suspects of violent crime were black and 55% of those stopped and frisked were also black. This last part is the statistic Mayor Bloomberg was referring to when he claimed the program didn’t stop enough minorities.

In 2009, the esteemed Walter Williams estimated that in America as a whole, there are somewhere around 7,000 blacks murdered each year, and in 94% of those murders, the person doing the murdering was also black. The Wall Street Journal presents data supporting the 94% figure.

Between 2000 and 2010 in all states except Florida, there were 165,068 murders. 78,521 of those murdered were black. 68,531 of the killers were also black. This means that in the first decade of the twenty first century, around 41.5% of all murders in America were committed by blacks (assuming Florida’s numbers were similar) and 47.5% of the victims were also black….

In 1990 there were 2,245 murders in New York City — in 1991 there were 2,154….

There were 419 murders in New York City in 2012. This dramatic improvement from more than 2,200 killings in 1990 to a little over 400 in 2012 was the result of “Stop and Frisk.”

The program has been successful in removing the illegal weapon from the calculus of crime and saved thousands of lives. Michael Bloomberg authoritatively states that more 8,000 guns and 80,000 other weapons were taken off the street during his 2 ½ terms as NYC Mayor. He also estimates that more than 7,300 people are alive today who wouldn’t be, if not for “Stop and Frisk.” Ray Kelly, the New York City Police Commissioner agrees, putting the lives saved at 7.383.

I never liked Mayor Bloomberg, and rarely agree with him. But, he is right on “Stop and Frisk.”

On this issue, Bloomberg is a “stopped clock” — uncharacteristically right.

If you want less crime, you have to lock up criminals. In order to lock up criminals, you have to identify them.

*****

Cross-posted at Blogger News Network.

*****

Related posts:
Does Capital Punishment Deter Homicide?
Libertarian Twaddle about the Death Penalty
Crime and Punishment
Abortion and Crime
Saving the Innocent?
Saving the Innocent?: Part II
More on Abortion and Crime
More Punishment Means Less Crime
More About Crime and Punishment
More Punishment Means Less Crime: A Footnote
Clear Thinking about the Death Penalty
Let the Punishment Fit the Crime
Another Argument for the Death Penalty
Less Punishment Means More Crime
Crime, Explained
Abortion and Crime (from a different angle than the earlier post of the same name)
Lock ‘Em Up

Hispanics and Crime

A while back, in “Crime, Explained,” I said this:

Crime … depends mainly on two uncontrollable variables (BLK and YNG), and four controllable ones: ENL, GRO, PRS, and SNT. The controllable variables are salutary means of reducing crime, and the record shows that they work.

(BLK = blacks as a proportion of population; YNG = persons aged 15-24 as a proportion of population; ENL = active-duty, male, enlisted personnel as a proportion of population aged 15-24; GRO = growth of real GDP per capita; PRS = prisoners in federal and State penitentiaries as a proportion of population; SNT = mandatory sentencing guidelines in effect.)

This finding is based on an exhaustive analysis, the details of which are recited in “Crime, Explained.”

Now, La Griffe du Lion considers a factor that I was unable to account for in my analysis: the proportion of Hispanics in the population. This is from La Griffe’s newest (and long-awaited) post, “Crime and the Hispanic Effect“:

It has been conjectured that the contribution of Hispanics to violent crime is on the point of advancing to the standing enjoyed by blacks. This, however, is not confirmed by our evidence, at least in our largest cities. Whoever thinks or has thought this to be so has come to this determination from evidence not directly related to what is happening on the street, but rather from incarceration records, court appearances or sentencing data. When crimes rather than criminals are counted, and the Hispanic effect is appropriately removed, the data show that violent crime rates for Hispanics and non-Hispanic whites, though a bit higher for Hispanics, are in actual fact quite similar. As for blacks, their crime rate remains by any measure uniquely high.

La Griffe comes to this conclusion as he usually comes to his conclusions: through careful, statistical analysis. His conclusion about crime among Hispanics is the good news. The bad (but not unexpected) news is his conclusion about crime among blacks.

Related posts:
Race and Reason: The Derbyshire Debacle
Race and Reason: The Victims of Affirmative Action
Not-So-Random Thoughts (III)
Race and Reason: The Achievement Gap — Causes and Implications
Liberty and Society
The Eclipse of “Old America”
Genetic Kinship and Society

Free Will, Crime, and Punishment

Humans often are confronted with situations that they could not and did not foresee in detail, even if those situations were anticipated in outline. Consider aerial combat (dogfighting), before the age of air-to-air missiles.

The enemy pilot (Red) comes “out of the sun,” as he is trained to do, and as the friendly pilot (Blue) is trained to anticipate. Blue, upon seeing his adversary, must decide in an instant how to evade Red — if it is not too late to do so. Assume that Blue survives the crucial early moments of his encounter with Red. Blue’s decision about what to do next (probably) will accord with his training; that is, he will choose one of the maneuvers that he was trained in, though he may not execute it in “textbook” style. But the maneuver that he chooses, and how he specifically executes it, will depend on his (very rapid) assessment of the environment (e.g., the enemy’s rate and angle of closure, altitude, presence of clouds, topography), the condition of his aircraft and its armament (e.g., maneuverability, climb rate, ability to withstand the stress of a violent maneuver, accuracy of the machine gun, number of rounds in the magazine, amount of fuel in the tank), and his own confidence in his ability to do what he “should” do, given his necessarily imperfect assessment of the situation, his options, and his ability to exercise each of them.

The key word in all of that is “judgment.” Regardless of Blue’s genetic and behaviorial inheritance, he is in a life-or-death situation, and his goal — unless he is suicidal — is to get out of it alive. More than that, he wants to elude Red’s initial onslaught so that he can kill Red. Blue therefore assesses his options with those goals in mind, overriding whatever “instincts” might lead him to panic or choose an inappropriate option, given the specific circumstances of his encounter with Red.

Similarly, but less dramatically, humans (in the Western world, at least) make judgments about how they should act so that they can  have enough money to buy a house, be healthy, maintain a stable and happy family life, retire comfortably, and so on.  The judgments — and the behavior that follows from them — may not “come naturally”: saving instead of squandering, drinking moderately instead of heavily, remaining faithful to one’s spouse, and so on.

Thus I have no doubt that I — and most humans — can (and do) act deliberately in ways that are not strictly determined by genetic inheritance, behavioral conditioning, the moon’s cycle, the position of the stars, or any such influence. (It does seem to me that determinism has a lot in common with astrology.) Determinists bear the burden of proving that freely chosen, purposive behavior is an illusion.

Some determinists hew to their faith because it allows them to view criminals as automata who are not responsible for their actions and, therefore, undeserving of punishment. Illogically, these criminal-coddling determinists usually favor “rehabilitation” over punishment. That position is illogical because:

  • If there is free will, punishment can deter wrong-doing and keep wrong-doers out of circulation (for a while, at least). Rehabilitation will work only in those unusual cases where criminals are able to transform themselves, so that their judgments no longer have anti-social consequences.
  • If free will is lacking (either generally or for persons with certain disorders of the brain), rehabilitation is impossible because criminals are “destined” to commit anti-social acts. But punishment (incarceration or execution) will keep them from committing such acts (temporarily or permanently).

Related reading: “Is Free Will an Illusion?” (a virtual colloquium at The Chronicle of Higher Education)

Related posts:
Does Capital Punishment Deter Homicide?
Libertarian Twaddle about the Death Penalty
Crime and Punishment
Abortion and Crime
Saving the Innocent?
Saving the Innocent?: Part II
More on Abortion and Crime
More Punishment Means Less Crime
More About Crime and Punishment
More Punishment Means Less Crime: A Footnote
Clear Thinking about the Death Penalty
Let the Punishment Fit the Crime
Another Argument for the Death Penalty
Less Punishment Means More Crime
Crime, Explained
Abortion and Crime (from a different angle than the earlier post of the same name)
Lock ‘Em Up
Legislating Morality
Legislating Morality (II)

Legislating Morality (II)

Donald Boudreaux is co-proprietor of Cafe Hayek. I agree with him on almost everything (defense being the notable exception), but I can’t swallow this:

Too bad that too few people realize – as does the Rev. Robertson today [regarding marijuana], and as did Mr. Rockefeller 80 years ago [regarding alcohol] – that government cannot prohibit private behaviors without unleashing consequences far worse than those of the prohibited behaviors themselves.

That’s a too-sweeping statement. Does the “prohibition” of theft and murder unleash consequences “far worse than those of the prohibited behaviors”? I don’t think so.

On the contrary, the “prohibition” by statute and ordinance of direct harms to life, liberty, and property enables the state to perform one of its two legitimate functions, which is to punish those harms and thereby deter their commission (at least partially). (The other legitimate function is to defend us from foreign predators.)

Where is the line between legitimate and illegitimate state action properly drawn? That’s a tough question. My general answer is that the state should be authorized to act in defense of long-standing social norms. Those norms used to encompass the last six of the Ten Commandments, which “prohibit” certain interpersonal transgressions: murder, adultery, theft, libel and slander, and covetousness. But under the dispensation of the “liberal” state, murder is not punished timely or adequately, adultery is encouraged (and marriages and families broken) by no-fault divorce laws, libel and slander are commonplace, and “social justice” is covetousness rampant.

I would say that “prohibition” has a rightful place in the maintenance of civil society.

Related posts:
The Principles of Actionable Harm
Line-Drawing and Liberty
Myopic Moaning about the War on Drugs
Saving the Innocent
Facets of Liberty
Crimes against Humanity
Abortion and Logic
Why Stop at the Death Penalty?
The Myth That Same-Sex “Marriage” Causes No Harm
Lock ‘Em Up
Legislating Morality

Lock ‘Em Up

Charles Murray writes:

Here is a graph that shows the violent crime rate per 100,000 population and the number of prisoners per 1,000 violent offenses from 1960–2010:

Source: Bureau of Justice Statistics, FBI Uniform Crime Reports. “Prisoners” refers to inmates of state and federal prisons and does not include persons in jail.

….

When crime gets safer, crime goes up very quickly as a response. In the late 1950s, the “prison only makes people into smarter criminals”  school became dominant in criminal justice circles. By the early 1960s, imprisonment rates were plummeting. For that matter, even the raw number of prisoners fell. One consequence was that every cohort of young people saw acquaintances start to get probation for offenses that would have sent them to prison or reform school in the 1950s. I still remember my shock as a 17-year-old in that era when a friend of mine who shoplifted several thousand dollars of clothes from the store where he worked got probation. Once he had been arrested, it had not occurred to me that he wouldn’t go to reform school.

Pushing that toothpaste back into the tube takes a lot longer. Kids who are amazed when a friend gets away with a serious crime aren’t amazed when, say, 19 percent of their friends arrested for a serious crime are incarcerated instead of 15 percent. Understandably, crime continued to rise after imprisonment rates started to rise after 1974. Even in 1990, after 15 years of rising imprisonment rates, the risk of going to prison if you committed a violent crime was still far lower than it had been in 1960.

Cumulatively, however, two things happen. First, more and more of the “dirty 7 percent” of offenders who commit about 50 percent of all crime end up in prison. They cannot commit crimes, except against other criminals. Second, the cumulative impact of much higher imprisonment rates does make an impression—the idea that crime doesn’t pay is no longer completely a joke. For violent crime, the tipping point occurred in 1992, when imprisonment rates were heading straight up. By the time that the imprisonment rate for violent crime reached its 1960 level in 1998, the downward trendline was well established.

So how much of the reduction in violent crime was produced by increased incarceration? This kind of analysis doesn’t tell us…. (“Keep locking ‘em up,” The Enterprise Blog, December 29, 2011)

I assessed the effect of imprisonment on the crime rate in a post that is now more than four years old. The following material is excerpted from that post.

I … considered as explanatory variables the existence of mandatory federal sentencing guidelines (1989-2004), number of male enlisted personnel in the armed forces (in proportion to population), and year-over-year growth in real GDP per capita — in addition to the number of persons aged 15-24, number of prisoners, and number of blacks in proportion to total population, as before. (For sources, see the footnote to this post.) Here’s a graphical depiction of the crime rates and all of the variables I considered:


Key: VIC, violent crimes per 100,000 persons; VPC, violent+property+crimes per 100,000 persons; BLK, blacks as a proportion of population; ENL (active-duty, male, enlisted personnel as a proportion of population aged 15-24; GRO(C), growth of real GDP per capita as a proxy for year-to-year growth (GRO) used in the regression analysis; PRS, prisoners in federal and State penitentiaries as a proportion of population; SNT, mandatory sentencing guidelines in effect (0 = no, 1 = yes); YNG, persons aged 15-24 as a proportion of population.

A few comments about each of the explanatory variables: BLK, unfortunately, stands for a segment of the population that has more than its share of criminals — and victims. Having more men in the armed forces (ENL) should reduce, to some extent, the number of crime-prone men in the civilian population. (It would also help to alleviate our self-inflicted impotence, by putting more “boots on the ground” — and missiles in readiness.) I use the annual rate of real, per-capita economic growth (GRO) to capture the rate of employment — or unemployment — and the return on employment, namely, income. (The use of year-over-year growth vice cumulative growth avoids collinearity with the other variables.) PRS encompasses not only the effects of taking criminals off the streets, but the means by which that is done: (a) government spending on criminal justice and (b) juries’ and courts’ willingness to put criminals behind bars and keep them there for a good while. SNT ensures that convicted criminals are put away for a good while.

I focused on violent-plus-property crime (VPC) as the dependent variable, for two reasons. First, there is a lot more property crime than violent crime (VIC); that is, VPC is a truer measure of the degree to which crime affects Americans. Second, exploratory regression runs on VPC yielded more robust results than those on VIC.

Even at that, it is not easy to tease meaningful regressions from the data, given high correlations among several of the variables (e.g., mandatory sentencing guidelines and prison population, number of blacks and prison population, male enlistees and number of blacks). The set of six explanatory variables — taken one, two, three, four, five, and six at a time — can be used to construct 63 different equations. I estimated all 63, and rejected all of those that returned coefficients with counterintuitive signs (e.g., negative on BLK, positive on GRO).

Of the 63 equations, I chose the one that has the greatest number of explanatory variables, where the sign on every explanatory variable is intuitively correct, and — given that — also has the greatest explanatory power (as measured by its R-squared):

VPC (violent+property crimes per 100,000 persons) =

-33174.6

+346837BLK (number of blacks as a decimal fraction of the population)

-3040.46GRO (previous year’s change in real GDP per capita, as a decimal fraction of the base)

-1474741PRS (the number of inmates in federal and State prisons in December of the previous year, as a decimal fraction of the previous year’s population)

The t-statistics on the intercept and coefficients are 19.017, 21.564, 1.210, and 17.253, respectively; the adjusted R-squared is 0.923; the standard error of the estimate/mean value of VPC = 0.076.

The minimum, maximum, and mean values of the dependent and explanatory variables:

VPC: 1887, 5950, 4773 (violent-plus-property crimes/100,000 persons)

BLK: 0.1052, 0.1300, 0.1183 (blacks/population)

GRO: -0.02866, 0.06263, 0.02248 (growth in real GDP per capita during year n-1/real GDP per capita in year n-2)

PRS: 0.0009363, 0.004842, 0.002243 (federal and State prisoners in December of year n-1/average population in year n-1)

Even though the coefficient on GRO isn’t strongly significant, it isn’t negligible, and the sign is right — as are the signs on BLK and PRS. The sign on the intercept is counterintuitive — the baseline rate of crime could not be negative. The negative sign indicates the omission of key variables. But forcing variables into a regression causes some of them to have counterintuitive signs when they are highly correlated with other, included variables.

In any event, the equation specified above does a good job of explaining variations in the crime rate:

I especially like the fact that the equation accounts for two policy-related variables: GRO and PRS:

1. Crime can be reduced if economic growth is encouraged by rolling back tax rates. Crime will rise if growth is inhibited by raising tax rates (even for the very rich).

2. Crime can be reduced by increasing the rate at which it is prosecuted successfully, and by ensuring that prisoners do not receive lenient sentences….

ENL and YNG, like SNT, are key determinants of the crime rate. Each of the three variables appears, with the right sign, in many of the 63 equations. So, I am certainly not ruling out ENL and YNG as important variables. To the contrary, they are important variables. But, just as with SNT, I can’t satisfactorily quantify their importance because of the limitations of regression analysis.

Crime, then, depends mainly on two uncontrollable variables (BLK and YNG), and four controllable ones: ENL, GRO, PRS, and SNT. The controllable variables are salutary means of reducing crime, and the record shows that they work….

*   *   *

Related posts:
Does Capital Punishment Deter Homicide?
Libertarian Twaddle about the Death Penalty
Crime and Punishment
Abortion and Crime
Saving the Innocent?
Saving the Innocent?: Part II
More on Abortion and Crime
More Punishment Means Less Crime
More About Crime and Punishment
More Punishment Means Less Crime: A Footnote
Clear Thinking about the Death Penalty
Let the Punishment Fit the Crime
Another Argument for the Death Penalty
Less Punishment Means More Crime
Crime, Explained
Abortion and Crime (from a different angle than the earlier post of the same name)

Saving the Innocent

Paul Compos, writing at The New Republic, celebrates “The American Justice System at Its Best“:

[I]t’s reasonable to argue that the acquittal of Casey Anthony … represent[s] … the system working as it should. But accepting that argument requires acknowledging deep imperfections that our legal system must tolerate, even when it does exactly what it’s supposed to do.

The most disturbing of these inevitable imperfections is a product of our supposed commitment to the principle that we prefer a large number—whether it’s 10, 50, or 100, the precise number is never clearly stated—of guilty people going free to the conviction of an innocent defendant. That is the practical significance of requiring the state to prove guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt”—a standard that, interestingly, the system always avoids defining in any but the most general, non-statistical terms….

[In Anthony’s case] The state proved beyond a reasonable doubt that a two-year-old child was murdered, and that her mother was, at the least, a deeply irresponsible parent with a propensity to lie to authorities. The prosecution also demonstrated, in my view, that it is far more likely than not that Anthony committed the crime. But I also believe the jury’s verdict was correct….

The case against Anthony was largely circumstantial, buttressed by arguably—yet only arguably—strong forensic evidence. But the prosecution was hampered by its inability to provide a compelling narrative explaining either how Caylee Anthony was killed or why her mother purportedly murdered her. This failure was not, as far as we know, a product of prosecutorial incompetence. The hard truth is that it is extremely difficult to successfully prosecute a murder under these kinds of circumstances—and the harder truth is that we are supposedly committed to the principle that this is, on the whole, a good thing.

Or is it? Compos refers  to the dictum of the noted English jurist, William Blackstone:

Better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer.

“n” — the number of guilty persons — has increased since the late 1700s, when Blackstone wrote. Alexander “Sasha” Volokh offers some useful perspective:

Charles Dickens generously endorsed a value of n = “hundreds” for capital cases, and not just “that hundreds of guilty persons should escape,” but that they should escape “scot-free.” 99 Dickens was, in fact, so generous that hundreds of guilty persons escaping scot-free was not only better than one innocent person suffering — it was even better “than that the possibility of any innocent man or woman having been sacrificed, should present itself, with the least appearance of reason, to the minds of any class of men!” 100….

Of course, such blithe invocation could easily lead too far down the road to “inconsiderate folly” and “pestiferous nonsense.” As one author noted, there is “nothing so dangerous as a maxim”: 107

Better that any number of savings-banks be robbed than that one innocent person be condemned as a burglar! Better that any number of innocent men, women, and children should be waylaid, robbed, ravished, and murdered by wicked, wilful, and depraved malefactors, than that one innocent person should be convicted and punished for the perpetration of one of this infinite multitude of crimes, by an intelligent and well-meaning though mistaken court and jury! Better any amount of crime than one mistake in well-meant endeavors to suppress or prevent it! 108….

Jeremy Bentham, founder of utilitarianism, warned against the warm fuzzy feeling that comes from large values of n:

We must be on guard against those sentimental exaggerations which tend to give crime impunity, under the pretext of insuring the safety of innocence. Public applause has been, so to speak, set up to auction. At first it was said to be better to save several guilty men, than to condemn a single innocent man; others, to make the maxim more striking, fix the number ten; a third made this ten a hundred, and a fourth made it a thousand. All these candidates for the prize of humanity have been outstripped by I know not how many writers, who hold, that, in no case, ought an accused person to be condemned, unless evidence amount to mathematical or absolute certainty. According to this maxim, nobody ought to be punished, lest an innocent man be punished. 128 ….

James Fitzjames Stephen suggested that Blackstone’s maxim

resembles a suggestion that soldiers should be armed with bad guns because it is better that they should miss ten enemies than that they should hit one friend. . . . Everything depends on what the guilty men have been doing, and something depends on the way in which the innocent man came to be suspected. 134….

The story is told of a Chinese law professor, who was listening to a British lawyer explain that Britons were so enlightened, they believed it was better that ninety-nine guilty men go free than that one innocent man be executed. The Chinese professor thought for a second and asked, “Better for whom?” 238

That is the question: Better for whom? It is better for the guilty, who may claim more victims, but it certainly is not better for those new victims.

Related posts:
Does Capital Punishment Deter Homicide?
Libertarian Twaddle about the Death Penalty
Crime and Punishment
Abortion and Crime
More on Abortion and Crime
More Punishment Means Less Crime
More About Crime and Punishment
More Punishment Means Less Crime: A Footnote
Let the Punishment Fit the Crime
Another Argument for the Death Penalty
Less Punishment Means More Crime
Crime, Explained
Abortion and Crime (from a different angle than the earlier post of the same name)
Clear Thinking about the Death Penalty

Myopic Moaning about the War on Drugs

The pseudo-libertarian camp is on the warpath about the war on drugs and a resulting rate of incarceration that seem “too high,” relative to the rates in other Western nations. That other Western nations have different distributions of ethnicity and age than the U.S. is beside the point when one’s objective is to pummel the American legal system for prosecuting victimless crimes … blah, blah, blah. Drug-use is as victimless as suicide, except that a fair proportion of drug users and dealers do, in fact, victimize innocent bystanders. Drugs, like alcohol, lower a person’s inhibitions — often with destructive results — and the cost of drugs is often financed by theft and related violence.

Well, then, says the apologist for drug use, just legalize drugs and they will become affordable and the criminal element will be eliminated from the drug trade. The legalization of drugs will make them affordable only by those persons who can afford to pay the inevitably inflated prices that will result from government licensing of vendors, restrictions on the number and location of vendors, and restrictions on the amount of drugs an individual may purchase in a given period. (Regulation and paternalism go hand in hand.)

Of course, non-drug-using taxpayers could be required to subsidize drug users. But I doubt that such a proposition would get very much legislative support. As for the criminal element, government restrictions would open the door to a black market, operated by the usual suspects. In the meantime, drug-users would continue to expose themselves to the same inhibition-loosing effects, and many of them would still resort to crime to underwrite their drug intake.

Instead of blaming America’s “too high” incarceration rate on the war on drugs, a serious person would ask whether America’s incarceration rate has had an effect on the rate of violent and property crimes. Radley Balko comes close to the mark when he writes that

of the two causal explanations [of a drop in the crime rate] that have found the most support, one—the economy—had nothing to do with crime policy. The other, the petering out of the crack epidemic, was simply a return to normal after weathering the effects of a bad policy. Once distributors of the new drug had established turf, levels of violence returned to normal.

The only problem with Balko’s analysis is its incorrectness, which is driven (no doubt) by his pseudo-libertarian desire to castigate the government for prosecuting “victimless” crime.

In truth, according to my quantitative analysis — done almost four years ago — there are three measurable and significant determinants of violent and property crime: the percentage of black in the population, the rate of real growth in GDP, and the incarceration rate. (The fact that the analysis was done before the Great Recession counts in its favor, inasmuch that event would distort the relationship between crime and economic growth.) What follows are some key portions of the post that documents my earlier analysis.

*   *   *

Here’s a graphical depiction of the crime rates and all of the variables I considered:

Key: VIC, violent crimes per 100,000 persons; VPC, violent+property+crimes per 100,000 persons; BLK, blacks as a proportion of population; ENL (active-duty, male, enlisted personnel as a proportion of population aged 15-24; GRO(C), growth of real GDP per capita as a proxy for year-to-year growth (GRO) used in the regression analysis; PRS, prisoners in federal and State penitentiaries as a proportion of population; SNT, mandatory sentencing guidelines in effect (0 = no, 1 = yes); YNG, persons aged 15-24 as a proportion of population.

A few comments about each of the explanatory variables: BLK, unfortunately, stands for a segment of the population that has more than its share of criminals — and victims. Having more men in the armed forces (ENL) should reduce, to some extent, the number of crime-prone men in the civilian population…. I use the annual rate of real, per-capita economic growth (GRO) to capture the rate of employment — or unemployment — and the return on employment, namely, income. (The use of year-over-year growth vice cumulative growthavoids collinearity with the other variables.) PRS encompasses not only the effects of taking criminals off the streets, but the means by which that is done: (a) government spending on criminal justice and (b) juries’ and courts’ willingness to put criminals behind bars and keep them there for a good while. SNT ensures that convicted criminals are put away for a good while.

I focused on violent-plus-property crime (VPC) as the dependent variable, for two reasons. First, there is a lot more property crime than violent crime (VIC); that is, VPC is a truer measure of the degree to which crime affects Americans. Second, exploratory regression runs on VPC yielded more robust results than those on VIC.

Even at that, it is not easy to tease meaningful regressions from the data, given high correlations among several of the variables (e.g., mandatory sentencing guidelines and prison population, number of blacks and prison population, male enlistees and number of blacks). The set of six explanatory variables — taken one, two, three, four, five, and six at a time — can be used to construct 63 different equations. I estimated all 63, and rejected all of those that returned coefficients with counterintuitive signs (e.g., negative on BLK, positive on GRO).

Result and Discussion

Of the 63 equations, I chose the one that has the greatest number of explanatory variables, where the sign on every explanatory variable is intuitively correct, and — given that — also has the greatest explanatory power (as measured by its R-squared):

VPC (violent+property crimes per 100,000 persons) =

-33174.6

+346837BLK (number of blacks as a decimal fraction of the population)

-3040.46GRO (previous year’s change in real GDP per capita, as a decimal fraction of the base)

-1474741PRS (the number of inmates in federal and State prisons in December of the previous year, as a decimal fraction of the previous year’s population)

The t-statistics on the intercept and coefficients are 19.017, 21.564, 1.210, and 17.253, respectively; the adjusted R-squared is 0.923; the standard error of the estimate/mean value of VPC = 0.076.

The minimum, maximum, and mean values of the dependent and explanatory variables:

VPC: 1887, 5950, 4773 (violent-plus-property crimes/100,000 persons)

BLK: 0.1052, 0.1300, 0.1183 (blacks/population)

GRO: -0.02866, 0.06263, 0.02248 (growth in real GDP per capita during year n-1/real GDP per capita in year n-2)

PRS: 0.0009363, 0.004842, 0.002243 (federal and State prisoners in December of year n-1/average population in year n-1)

Even though the coefficient on GRO isn’t strongly significant, it isn’t negligible, and the sign is right — as are the signs on BLK and PRS. The sign on the intercept is counterintuitive — the baseline rate of crime could not be negative. The negative sign indicates the omission of key variables. But forcing variables into a regression causes some of them to have counterintuitive signs when they are highly correlated with other, included variables.

In any event, the equation specified above does a good job of explaining variations in the crime rate:

I especially like the fact that the equation accounts for two policy-related variables: GRO and PRS:

1. Crime can be reduced if economic growth is encouraged by rolling back tax rates. Crime will rise if growth is inhibited by raising tax rates (even for the very rich).

2. Crime can be reduced by increasing the rate at which it is prosecuted successfully, and by ensuring that prisoners do not receive lenient sentences. Therefore, we need to (a) spend even more on the pursuit of criminal justice and (b) restore mandatory sentencing guidelines, which had been in effect (and effective) from 1989 to 2004. (Look at the relationship between SNT and the indices of crime, in the next-to-last graph, and you will have no doubt that mandatory sentencing guidelines were effective and are represented in the equation — to some extent — by the variable PRS.)

ENL and YNG, like SNT, are key determinants of the crime rate. Each of the three variables appears, with the right sign, in many of the 63 equations. So, I am certainly not ruling out ENL and YNG as important variables. To the contrary, they are important variables. But, just as with SNT, I can’t satisfactorily quantify their importance because of the limitations of regression analysis.

Crime, then, depends mainly on two uncontrollable variables (BLK and YNG), and four controllable ones: ENL, GRO, PRS, and SNT. The controllable variables are salutary means of reducing crime, and the record shows that they work. Whatever else abortion is, it is not a crime-fighting tool; those who herald abortion as such are flirting with genocide.

Related posts:
Does Capital Punishment Deter Homicide?
Libertarian Twaddle about the Death Penalty
Crime and Punishment
Abortion and Crime
Saving the Innocent?
Saving the Innocent?: Part II
More on Abortion and Crime
More Punishment Means Less Crime
More About Crime and Punishment
More Punishment Means Less Crime: A Footnote
Clear Thinking about the Death Penalty
Let the Punishment Fit the Crime
Another Argument for the Death Penalty
Less Punishment Means More Crime
Crime Explained
Abortion and Crime (from a different angle than the earlier post of the same name)
Society and the State
Pseudo-Libertarian Sophistry vs. True Libertarianism
More Pseudo-Libertarianism
“Intellectuals and Society”: A Review
Bounded Liberty: A Thought Experiment
The Meaning of Liberty
In Defense of Marriage
We, the Children of the Enlightenment…

Clear Thinking about the Death Penalty

Here’s my position:

The econometric evidence is there, for those who are open to it: Capital punishment does deter homicide. See, for example, the careful analysis by Hashem Dezhbaksh, Paul Robin, and Joanna Shepherd, “Does capital punishment have a deterrent effect? New evidence from post-moratorium panel data,” American Law and Economics Review 5(2): 344–376 (available in PDF format here). Dezhbaksh, Rubin, and Shepherd argue that each execution deters eighteen murders. That number may be high, but the analysis is rigorous and it accounts for relevant variables, such as income, age, race, gender, population density, and use of the death penalty where it is legal. It’s hard to read that analysis and believe that capital punishment doesn’t deter homicide — unless you want to believe it. I certainly wouldn’t take “Ouija Board” Goertzel’s opinion over that of careful econometricians like Dezhbaksh, Rubin, and Shepherd.

Now, I must say that I don’t care whether or not capital punishment deters homicide. Capital punishment is the capstone of a system of justice that used to work quite well in this country because it was certain and harsh. There must be a hierarchy of certain penalties for crime, and that hierarchy must culminate in the ultimate penalty if criminals and potential criminals are to believe that crime will be punished. When punishment is made less severe and less certain — as it was for a long time after World War II — crime flourishes and law-abiding citizens become less secure in their lives and property.

John McAdams, a professor of political science at Marquette University, makes a succinct case for the death penalty, regardless of its deterrent effect:

I’m a bit surprised . . . [by the] claim that “the burden of empirical proof would seem to lie with the pro-death penalty scholar.” If we execute murderers and there is in fact no deterrent effect, we have killed a bunch of murderers. If we fail to execute murderers, and doing so would in fact have deterred other murders, we have allowed the killing of a bunch of innocent victims. I would much rather risk the former. This, to me, is not a tough call.

I wish I’d said that.

Related posts:
Does Capital Punishment Deter Homicide?
Libertarian Twaddle about the Death Penalty
Crime and Punishment
Abortion and Crime
Saving the Innocent?
Saving the Innocent?: Part II
More on Abortion and Crime
More Punishment Means Less Crime
More About Crime and Punishment
More Punishment Means Less Crime: A Footnote
Let the Punishment Fit the Crime
Another Argument for the Death Penalty
Less Punishment Means More Crime
Crime, Explained
Abortion and Crime (from a different angle than the earlier post of the same name)

A Roundup of Crime Posts

A misguided social engineer at work: Mark Kleiman, guest-blogging at The Volokh Conspiracy last year (posts are in reverse chronological order).

Now, for some antitodes.

A breath of fresh air from Bryan Caplan, on the subject of addiction-as-disease as an excuse for anti-social and criminal behavior.

A look at crime and race in New York City, from City Journal.

A series of posts (in reverse chronological order) by Lester Jackson, writing at TCS Daily about the death penalty.

My own contributions:

Does Capital Punishment Deter Homicide?
Libertarian Twaddle about the Death Penalty
Crime and Punishment
Abortion and Crime
Saving the Innocent?
Saving the Innocent?: Part II
More on Abortion and Crime
More Punishment Means Less Crime
More About Crime and Punishment
More Punishment Means Less Crime: A Footnote
Clear Thinking about the Death Penalty
Let the Punishment Fit the Crime
Another Argument for the Death Penalty
Less Punishment Means More Crime
Crime, Explained
Abortion and Crime (from a different angle than the earlier post of the same name)