Poverty, Crime, and Big Government

Dr. James Thompson (Psychological Comments) reports the results of a thorough study of the link between poverty and crime. Near the end of the piece, Dr. Thompson quotes The Economist‘s summary of the study’s implications:

That suggests two, not mutually exclusive, possibilities. One is that a family’s culture, once established, is “sticky”—that you can, to put it crudely, take the kid out of the neighbourhood, but not the neighbourhood out of the kid. Given, for example, children’s propensity to emulate elder siblings whom they admire, that sounds perfectly plausible. The other possibility is that genes which predispose to criminal behaviour (several studies suggest such genes exist) are more common at the bottom of society than at the top, perhaps because the lack of impulse-control they engender also tends to reduce someone’s earning capacity.

Neither of these conclusions is likely to be welcome to social reformers. The first suggests that merely topping up people’s incomes, though it may well be a good idea for other reasons, will not by itself address questions of bad behaviour. The second raises the possibility that the problem of intergenerational poverty may be self-reinforcing, particularly in rich countries like Sweden where the winnowing effects of education and the need for high levels of skill in many jobs will favour those who can control their behaviour, and not those who rely on too many chemical crutches to get them through the day.

In brief, there is a strong connection between genes and criminal behavior. Inasmuch as there are also strong connections between genes and intelligence, on the one hand, and intelligence and income, on the other hand, it follows that:

  • Criminal behavior will be more prevalent in genetic groups with below-average intelligence.
  • Poverty will be more prevalent in genetic groups with below-average intelligence.
  • The correlation between crime and poverty must, therefore, reflect (to some extent) the correlation between below-average intelligence and poverty.

As The Economist notes “merely topping up people’s incomes … will not by itself address questions of bad behaviour.” This would seem to contradict my finding of a strongly negative relationship between economic growth and the rate of violent-and-property crime.

But there is no contradiction. Not all persons who commit crimes are incorrigible. At the margin, there are persons who will desist from criminal activity when presented with the alternative of attaining money without running the risk of being punished for their efforts.

How much less crime would there be if economic growth weren’t suppressed by the dead hand of big government? A lot less.

*     *     *

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