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December 20, 2012

So why has the murder rate fallen in New York City?

The Economist:

Basically, we don't entirely know why America's urban murder rate has fallen. As Philip Cohen points out, it doesn't seem to have much to do with rates of single motherhood. Beyond that, it could be several or all of dozens of different factors. What's the takeaway message? I'd say there are two of them. First of all, beware of takeaway messages! Lots of things in life, maybe most things, often the most important things, don't have explanations that can be packaged as a simple, coherent thesis. Second, given our inability to explain definitively why the crime rate is falling, we may need some scepticism about the recent push to demand scientifically valid evidence for the effectiveness of social betterment programmes. Random controlled trials might very well have found that the broken-windows strategy doesn't prevent crime, "Project Ceasefire" doesn't prevent crime, reducing rates of single motherhood doesn't prevent crime, family planning doesn't prevent crime, banning lead doesn't prevent crime, and so on and so forth; there might have been no statistically significant difference one could isolate for any of these things. And yet it seems extremely likely to me that most or all of these were good things to do! The drop in violent crime probably has to do with all of them.


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Ted Craig

Not on the list: taking a tougher stance on crime, including stuff libertarians don't like, such as increased incarceration, the war on drugs and the death penalty.

I'm not saying any of these alone caused the drop in crime, but we can't dismiss them either.

eric falkenstein

I think a lot of it is gentrification. It basically takes a high paying job to afford living in the city. That change in demographics results in 'suburban' crime rates.


The most likely cause of falling crime rate is the aging of the native born population. If one leaves out recent immigrants we see that our population has fallen a lot which means less people in the age range of 18-30 when most crime happens.

Immigrants also cause crime but they are a self selecting group of people who move for greater economic opportunity, it can be assumed that the numbers of young immigrants working to save enough money to bring their families over is going to be less involved in crime than people growing up in inner city areas.

I don't know of any studies to support this hypothesis, but it seems the most likely explanation to me.


Ted, I do believe that mandatory sentencing helped reduced crime. But that would be offset to a great degree by the idiotic war on drugs which only caused drug trafficking to become more lucrative and which put thousands of people in jail who were only involved in small levels of drug use.

Ted Craig


Consider this before you easily dismiss the war on a drugs as a cause for lower crime rates: it is easier to convict for what the proceeds of crime are spent on than proving the actual crime.

As I said, I'm not saying it is a main cause, but it shouldn't be so easily dismissed by the conventional thinking you repeat.

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