Why is crime falling during this recession?

James Q. Wilson, writing in City Journal, discusses how “Jobs have fled, lawbreaking hasn’t risen—and criminologists are scratching their heads.”

Fascinating read:  Crime and the Great Recession.  He works through all the most frequently cited root causes before concluding:

At the deepest level, many of these shifts, taken together, suggest that crime in the United States is falling—even through the greatest economic downturn since the Great Depression—because of a big improvement in the culture. The cultural argument may strike some as vague, but writers have relied on it in the past to explain both the Great Depression’s fall in crime and the sixties’ crime explosion. In the first period, on this view, people took self-control seriously; in the second, self-expression—at society’s cost—became more prevalent. It is a plausible case.

Culture creates a problem for social scientists like me, however. We do not know how to study it in a way that produces hard numbers and tested theories. Culture is the realm of novelists and biographers, not of data-driven social scientists. But we can take some comfort, perhaps, in reflecting that identifying the likely causes of the crime decline is even more important than precisely measuring it.

 

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