American progressives, incentive effects, blind spots

Here’s George Will back in 2008:

Listening to political talk requires a third ear that hears what is not said. Today’s near silence about crime probably is evidence of social improvement. For many reasons, including better policing and more incarceration, Americans feel, and are, safer. The New York Times has not recently repeated such amusing headlines as “Crime Keeps on Falling, But Prisons Keep on Filling” (1997), “Prison Population Growing Although Crime Rate Drops” (1998), “Number in Prison Grows Despite Crime Reduction” (2000) and “More Inmates, Despite Slight Drop in Crime” (2003).

George Will spoke too soon.  If it’s really a blind spot with progressives then they won’t be able to stop even if they try to, because they aren’t even aware of what they are doing.  Tyler Cowen directs us to another example from the New York Times:

What is happening in America today is both unprecedented in our history, and virtually unique among Western democratic nations. The share of our labor force devoted to guard labor has risen fivefold since 1890 — a year when, in case you were wondering, the homicide rate was much higher than today.

Yup.  I was wondering was life was like before we had lots of guards.  Thanks for telling me.


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29 Responses to “American progressives, incentive effects, blind spots”

  1. Gravatar of TravisV TravisV
    2. March 2014 at 20:07

    Hmmm……is it really true that policing / incarceration have played a huge role in driving down the crime rate? Kevin Drum has written some excellent pieces discussing the huge influence lead has had on the crime rate……

    http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2013/01/lead-and-crime-baselines-vs-crime-waves

    http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2013/01/lead-and-crime-how-it-connects-race

  2. Gravatar of Greg Ransom Greg Ransom
    2. March 2014 at 21:30

    It’s as if economists like Tyler Cowen and Scott Sumner can know what the data mean without looking at what is going on in the world, and living in a cave on mars.

    All they have to do is invent a theory, and the data speak for themselves,

    That’s “economic science”.

  3. Gravatar of Matt Waters Matt Waters
    3. March 2014 at 01:18

    Meh, both the NYT’s headlines and the mockery of them both make an assumption that causality is there without evidence. Without evidence, neither the NYT nor the mockers have causality theories which sound crazy.

    NYT’s causality theory: If prison population and guards increase despite decreasing crime, then decreasing crime should also mean less convictions and less prisons with a constant conviction rate. If prison population has gone up while crime has gone down and conviction rates have remained the same, then sentences are going up. Same with number of people as guards.

    The causality theory for the mockers: Increasing prison population means a higher conviction rate and less criminals on the street. It also means higher sentences, which deters crime. Both methods reduce crime.

    I would say the causality goes both ways, a big endogeneity problem which makes social science very hard. There are even further issues: if crime levels are somehow mean-reverting (versus being completely naive of past levels like theoretical stock prices undergoing Brownian motion), then prison populations and sentences would correlate with reversions to mean as voters elect more law-and-order type governments during times of higher crime. This correlation would happen even without causality from longer terms to crime levels.

    The studies which try to disentangle causality do not show a significant effect of lengthening prison terms. The most significant effect, by far, is in the study linked to by Kevin Drum. Lead is the main factor in decline in America’s violent crime followed by abortion (which Drum did not mention). There is also a positive effect for number of police officers and statistically significant negative effects for alcohol consumption and concealed carry laws, the latter probably a proxy for handgun ownership in general. Murders are not statistically significant with lead, but are close (just over 10%). It’s likely more difficult with murders since the quality of emergency care is the main variable there.

    BTW, in response to Greg Ransom’s post, I will never use data as a plural. I just…cannot…do it. The singular of anecdote is data.

  4. Gravatar of W. Peden W. Peden
    3. March 2014 at 02:02

    The funny thing abiut the fall in crime in almost (?) every country in the first world since the early 1990s is that it has made a complete mockery of many theories of criminology. “Family breakdown/declining religious belief/loss of respect for traditional values is the cause of rising crime”, said conservatives, but if anything these social trends have accelerated since the 1990s. “Youth unemployment/inequality is the cause of rising crime”, confidently said left-wing criminologists, but youth unemployment has gotten even more severe and if the left thinks that inequality is disappearing, they haven’t told me.

    Crime trends since the early 1990s are an example of a massive unexplained social phenomenon, where every plausible theory fails to explain some aspect of the change, and putative explanations tend to tell us more about their proponents than the actual dynamics within the countries. For instance, my pet theory is that it’s a market response to the post-war crime wave, with security cameras and car alarms changing society fundamentally; this has advantages in explaining some of the sub-trends (e.g. why car theft has fallen so much more than almost any other kind of crime, save perhaps video piracy) but I’m sure it has plenty of holes in it, and it’s quite plausible that it’s just my capitalistic prejudices that make me find it persuasive.

    The appropriate judgement with such phenomena is to say “I don’t know”, but fortunately there’s no reason in principle why social science won’t one day advance to the point of being able to explain such shifts.

  5. Gravatar of Daniel Daniel
    3. March 2014 at 04:28

    Greg Ransom,

    Coming from such a staunch defender of the phlogiston ABCT, the irony is delicious.

    I mean

    They are not subject to verification or falsification on the ground of experience and facts.

  6. Gravatar of Negation of Ideology Negation of Ideology
    3. March 2014 at 04:49

    I think some of the commenters are missing the point of the mockery of the famous NY Times headline. It’s that on its face it doesn’t seem like the headline writer even entertains the possibility that incarceration is one of the causes of the reduced crime, when the stated purpose of building more prisons was to reduce crime. It’s only right wing hysteria causing an overreaction to crime. Imagine if I said this:

    “Despite my son’s increased grades, he continues to study harder.”

    “Despite my neighbor’s increased wealth, he continues to save.”

    Now there may be other reasons for the grade increase or the wealth increase, and it’s possible that my son and neighbor are overreacting, but it would be foolish for me to simply dismiss it as such.

  7. Gravatar of Ben J Ben J
    3. March 2014 at 05:11

    Daniel,

    If you ever want a bit of entertainment, go back in the archives and find some of the posts from just before the Presidential election in 2012.

    Greg Ransom was desperately trying to convince everyone that Romneymentum was a real thing and that all the polls really had been skewed.

  8. Gravatar of Ben J Ben J
    3. March 2014 at 05:23

    These two threads are the best examples:

    http://www.themoneyillusion.com/?p=17350#comments

    http://www.themoneyillusion.com/?p=17342#comments

    There is some classics in there, especially from someone who complains about people who “are not subject to verification or falsification on the ground of experience and facts.”

  9. Gravatar of Mark A. Sadowski Mark A. Sadowski
    3. March 2014 at 05:30

    Scott,
    Off Topic.

    Edward Hugh goes on a rampage against Abenomics digging up every possible piece of evidence he can find that it isn’t working. For now I’ll focus on just one.

    http://fistfulofeuros.net/afoe/the-growing-mess-which-will-be-left-behind-by-the-abenomics-experiment/

    “In the words of former Bank of Japan governor Masaaki Shirakawa, “Seemingly, there would be no linkage between demography and deflation. But it may not be the case. A cross-country comparison among advanced economies reveals intriguing evidence: Over the decade of the 2000s, the population growth rate and inflation correlate positively across 24 advanced economies.”

    This claim comes from the following paper (Chart 14)

    https://www.boj.or.jp/en/announcements/press/koen_2012/data/ko120530a1.pdf

    The paper finds no significant correlation for the same group of nations in the 1990s. Moreover the paper points out in a footnote that:

    “Another cross-country inspection based on a broader sample, including developing countries, does not detect positive correlation between inflation and population growth in the 2000s and in earlier periods likewise.”

    The group of nations are “24 countries where the data are available among those that joined the OECD by the 1990s.” Twenty-five nations joined the OECD by the 1990s and Turkey was evidently dropped for being an outlier in inflation in the 2000s. Although the OECD doesn’t have the GDP implicit price deflator for all of the OECD members going back to 1990, the missing data can be found at the IMF or AMECO for all of the missing nations except Estonia and Slovakia. Furthermore, although Chile didn’t join the OECD until 2010, the OECD has all the necessary data so it’s not clear why Chile was excluded. Redoing the OLS analysis on the group of 32 reveals that in addition to Turkey being an outlier in inflation, Japan is an outlier with respect to working-age (15-64) population growth in the 2000s. The regression of the average rate of change in the GDP deflator on the average rate of change in working age population during the 2000s for the remaining 30 nations shows there is no statistically significant relationship.

    Back in September I did a fairly exhaustive analysis of the relationship between labor force growth and inflation, the results of which were reported at Interfluidity (“Terminal demographics”).

    I combined civilian labor force data from the OECD with CPI from AMECO for a group of 26 OECD nations, and computed 5-year compounded average civilian labor force growth rates and CPI inflation rates. The time periods ran from 1960-65 through 2007-12 with the exception of Korea which started with 1967-72. I regressed the average CPI inflation rates upon the average labor force growth rates. Fifteen of the 26 were statistically significant, and all at the 1% level with the exception of Poland which was at the 10% significance level. The average civilian labor force growth rate and average CPI inflation rate were positively correlated in Canada, Denmark, Finland, Greece, Iceland, Italy, Korea, New Zealand, Norway, the U.S. and Japan and negatively correlated in Spain, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Poland.

    Next I conducted Granger causality tests using the Toda and Yamamato method on the level data over 1960-2012 (except for Korea which was over 1967-2012) for the 15 countries which had statistically significant correlations.

    In Japan’s case civilian labor force Granger causes CPI at the 1% significance level but CPI does not Granger cause civilian labor force. In Finland, Poland and Korea civilian labor force Granger causes CPI at the 5% significance level but CPI does not Granger cause civilian labor force. In Greece CPI Granger causes civilian labor force at the 1% significance level but civilian labor force does not Granger cause CPI. In Iceland and the U.S. CPI Granger causes civilian labor force at the 10% significance level but civilian labor force does not Granger cause CPI.

    So out of the 26 countries I looked at, fifteen have a significant correlation between average civilian labor force growth and average CPI inflation with eleven of the fifteen having a positive correlation. Of the eleven with positive correlation six demonstrate Granger causality with three showing one way causality from civilian labor force to CPI and three showing one way causality from CPI to civilian labor force. Of the four with negative correlation one demonstrates Granger causality from civilian labor force to CPI.

    Only three countries (Japan, Korea and Finland) out of the 26 support the kind of story Shirakawa (and by extension, Edward Hugh) is trying to tell.

  10. Gravatar of Daniel Daniel
    3. March 2014 at 05:37

    Ben J

    The austrians bring welcome comic relief to the comment section.

  11. Gravatar of F. Lynx Pardinus F. Lynx Pardinus
    3. March 2014 at 05:55

    The Economist summarized their thoughts last June: “Many conservatives will think this list omits the main reason crime has declined: the far harsher prison sentences introduced on both sides of the Atlantic over the past two decades. One in every hundred American adults is now in prison. This has obviously had some effect—a young man in prison cannot steal your car—but if tough prison sentences were the cause, crime would not be falling in the Netherlands and Germany, which have reduced their prison populations. New York’s prison population has fallen by a quarter since 1999, yet its crime rate has dropped faster than that of many other cities.”

  12. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    3. March 2014 at 06:00

    Negation, Congratulations, most other people missed the point. I was making no claims about causality.

    Mark, Thanks, I have a post on that over at Econlog–I’ll add an update.

  13. Gravatar of Mark A. Sadowski Mark A. Sadowski
    3. March 2014 at 06:06

    Scott,
    Off Topic.

    This claim by Edward Hugh reveals he really doesn’t get it.

    http://fistfulofeuros.net/afoe/the-growing-mess-which-will-be-left-behind-by-the-abenomics-experiment/

    “But it’s worse, the monetary expansion has driven down the value of the yen but in the context of the second arrow – a double digit fiscal deficit – this drop in value is leading to a growing not a declining trade deficit. The FT’s Tokyo bureau chief, Jonathan Soble, has an enlightening recent piece on this…”

    Although Japanese nominal exports have surged by 15.2% between 2012Q4 and 2013Q3, nominal imports are up by even more, or by 16.5%:

    http://research.stlouisfed.org/fred2/graph/?graph_id=149566&category_id=0

    Devaluation improves a country’s trade balance only if the Marshall-Lerner condition on trade elasticities holds, and research shows that they’re not met in the majority of cases, either past or present:

    http://www.emeraldinsight.com/journals.htm?articleid=17056473

    That’s not to say that currency devaluation isn’t beneficial, of course it is, but the benefit flows primarily from increased domestic demand. Here is a study of the competitive devaluations of the Great Depression by Barry Eichengreen and Douglas Irwin:

    http://www.dartmouth.edu/~dirwin/w15142.pdf

    The Great Depression is a particularly important historical example because then, as now, most of the advanced world was up against the zero lower bound in policy interest rates.

    An examination of Figure 4 on page 48 reveals that the only countries that experienced import growth from 1928 to 1935 (the UK, Japan, Sweden and Norway) were members of the sterling block that devalued early (1931). In most of these countries net exports actually declined over the period because imports rose more than exports.

    The order of recovery from the Great Depression follows the order in which they abandoned the gold standard perfectly:

    http://fabiusmaximus.files.wordpress.com/2009/03/gold.png

    But this wasn’t because of increased net exports.

    The US devalued in 1933 which immediately led to a swift recovery from the Great Depression. Nominal exports doubled from 1933 to 1937. But nominal imports increased by 110.5%:

    https://research.stlouisfed.org/fred2/graph/?graph_id=120991&category_id=0

    As a result net exports went from a small surplus (about 0.2% of nominal GDP) to being roughly in balance.

    France was part of the Gold bloc of countries that devalued late (1936). From 1936 to 1938 nominal exports increased by 95.4% and nominal imports increased by 80.9%:

    https://research.stlouisfed.org/fred2/graph/?graph_id=120992&category_id=0

    However, since imports were already substantially greater than exports, the nominal deficit actually increased by 55.4%.

    Japan’s original ryōteki kin’yū kanwa (QE) was officially announced in March 2001 and concluded in March 2006. The following is a graph of the BOJ’s estimate of Japan’s real effective exchange rate which is trade weighted with respect to 16 different currencies and takes into account their relative inflation rates:

    http://thefaintofheart.files.wordpress.com/2013/06/sadowski2b_1.png

    The real effective exchange rate fell from 116.25 in February 2001 to 91.09 by March 2006, when the BOJ announced the completion of QE, a decline of 21.6%.

    Exports rose from 10.2% of nominal GDP in 2001Q4 to 19.3% of GDP in 2008Q3. Imports rose from 9.4% of GDP in 2001Q4 to 19.5% of GDP in 2008Q3. From 2002Q1 to 2008Q1 real (adjusted by the GDP implicit price deflator) grew at an average annual rate of 11.0%. Real imports grew at an average annual rate of 12.1%.

    So there was boom in both exports and imports. But imports grew faster than exports, and net exports actually moved from surplus (0.8% of GDP) to deficit (-0.2% of GDP) between 2001Q4 and 2008Q3:

    http://research.stlouisfed.org/fred2/graph/?graph_id=120989&category_id=0

    It’s very telling that today the only major currency area up against the zero lower bound in interest rates that hasn’t done QE (the Euro Area) is also the only major currency zone where the trade balance has improved substantially since 2009, going from 0.6% of GDP in 2009Q1 to 3.3% of GDP in 2013Q3:

    https://research.stlouisfed.org/fred2/graph/?graph_id=149559&category_id=0

    But this has occurred in large part because nominal imports have been falling since 2012Q3 due to falling domestic demand. Nominal exports have barely changed since 2012Q3.

  14. Gravatar of Ben J Ben J
    3. March 2014 at 06:10

    Mark,

    Is there a reason you use the Toda and Yamamoto method for your Granger-causality testing instead of moving to differences?

  15. Gravatar of Mark A. Sadowski Mark A. Sadowski
    3. March 2014 at 06:25

    Ben J.,
    “Is there a reason you use the Toda and Yamamoto method for your Granger-causality testing instead of moving to differences?”

    I’m very glad you asked.

    The issue of nonstationary data is often dealt with by differencing. But when doing Granger causality tests, in the words of the master econometrician Dave Giles, “this is wrong”. Granger causality tests should be done on level data otherwise the results will be inconsistent. This is in fact addressed by James Hamilton in “Time Series” on pages 651-3.

  16. Gravatar of Morgan Warstler Morgan Warstler
    3. March 2014 at 06:44

    The answer on crime is as all things: TECHNOLOGY.

    Not only do computers bust you with DNA and fingerprint databases, we make TV shows teaching people it.

    People are carrying less cash and tt is far easier and safer to steal without physically confronting anyone.

    Also, the boredom quotient has been reduced, 500 channels, all the songs and movies available to the poor to keep them occupied and happy.

    Networked Social media and shaming, the same reasons we have legalized pot and gay marriage – all reasons we need less government…. all reasons we need less prisons.

    More generally, we are entering a world of cameras and sensors everywhere, a mere loud noise, a scream, a window breaking, and network connected daemons.

  17. Gravatar of Mark A. Sadowski Mark A. Sadowski
    3. March 2014 at 07:01

    Scott,
    Off Topic.

    Edward Hugh dredges up this piece of information on Japanese “core-core” CPI.

    http://fistfulofeuros.net/afoe/the-growing-mess-which-will-be-left-behind-by-the-abenomics-experiment/

    “Even the 0.7% annual rise in core-core inflation isn’t all it seems to be, since some 40% of the increase is accounted for by a one-off rise last year in charges for accident insurance and public services. The key point to grasp in all this is that the rise is due to what we could call “cost push” rather than “demand pull”. As Takeshi Minami, chief economist at the Norinchukin Research Institute put it,“Those increases had little to do with demand and supply.””

    This was reported in the Wall Street Journal (and only in the WSJ). But I’ve researched this online six ways to Sunday and I have been completely unable to verify that “40% of the increase is accounted for by a one-off rise last year in charges for accident insurance and public services.”

    But even if it is true, consider the following. Forty percent of 0.7 is about 0.3. Even a 0.4% increase in core-core CPI is the largest annual increase in Japan since 1998.

    Moreover year on year core-core CPI rose from (-0.9%) in February to 0.7% in December 2013, or an acceleration of 1.6 points. Excluding the several months following the two point increase in Japan’s consumption tax in April 1997, that’s the fastest acceleration in core-core CPI inflation since 1989. And that is still true even if you subtract 0.3 points off of that increase because of a “one-off rise last year in charges for accident insurance and public services.”

    Now, of course I don’t happen to think Inflation Targeting (IT) is a good idea, and I certainly don’t think inflation is the best way to measure the effectiveness of monetary policy. But the BOJ has set itself a goal of raising CPI inflation to 2%, and any way you slice it or dice it, they have made a lot of progress towards meeting that goal in a very short period of time.

  18. Gravatar of Mark A. Sadowski Mark A. Sadowski
    3. March 2014 at 07:05

    Correction:

    “…that’s the fastest acceleration in core-core CPI inflation since 1989.”

    should read

    “…that’s the fastest acceleration in core-core CPI inflation in any ten month period since 1989.”

  19. Gravatar of TravisV TravisV
    3. March 2014 at 07:33

    “Bob Rubin Says Fed’s QE3 Will Lead to Trouble”

    http://blogs.wsj.com/economics/2014/03/03/rubin-says-feds-qe3-will-lead-to-trouble/?mod=WSJBlog

  20. Gravatar of John Becker John Becker
    3. March 2014 at 07:46

    Daniel,

    Make a claim about what you think is true (anything in the social sciences: economics, politics, sociology, etc.) and I will show you how it cannot be verified or disproved on the basis of facts or experience. You don’t seem to understand that we are discussing issues too complicated to rely upon simple empiricism. You want to take pot-shots without ever stating your opinion or opening yourself up to criticism. If you’re gonna try to dish it out, you should be able to take it.

  21. Gravatar of Mark A. Sadowski Mark A. Sadowski
    3. March 2014 at 08:14

    Scott,
    Off Topic.

    This is my last comment on Edward Hugh.

    http://fistfulofeuros.net/afoe/the-growing-mess-which-will-be-left-behind-by-the-abenomics-experiment/

    “And what if Japan’s deflation is a product of this process, rather than being a simple liquidity trap? In the words of former Bank of Japan governor Masaaki Shirakawa, “Seemingly, there would be no linkage between demography and deflation. But it may not be the case. A cross-country comparison among advanced economies reveals intriguing evidence: Over the decade of the 2000s, the population growth rate and inflation correlate positively across 24 advanced economies. That finding shows a sharp contrast with the recently waning correlation between money growth and inflation.””

    The claim in the very last sentence originally comes from the following paper:

    https://www.boj.or.jp/en/research/wps_rev/wps_2010/data/wp10e11.pdf

    Shirakawa is referring specifically to Figure 2. “Adjusted money growth” is defined as broad money supply growth minus RGDP growth. Inflation is measured using the GDP implicit price deflator. The correlation between money growth and inflation dropped in the US, Japan, the UK and France between the period 1970-94 and the period 1995-2009.

    But note that Shirakawa seems to imply that this is also true for all of the 24 nations mentioned previously. However Figure 1 shows that the cross-sectional correlation between money growth and inflation for a larger group of nations was higher in the 1990s and 2000s than it was in the 1970s and 1980s.

    Also, consider the following about the four nations referred to in Figure 2. All four are currently at or near the zero lower bound in interest rates, and all but France have been in ZIRP since at least 2009. Since the velocity of broad money is very low in countries in ZIRP, it would be very surprising if the correlation between “adjusted money growth” and inflation in those four countries didn’t drop in the period immediately preceding their zero lower bound episodes.

    Incidentally Masaaki Shirakawa was the previous Governor of the BOJ (April 2008 to March 2013) so he may have an axe to grind. But my impression from having read some of his speeches, such as this one:

    http://www.bis.org/review/r120907e.pdf

    is that he has some long standing neo-Austrian views that are very peculiar for someone to have been placed in charge of the monetary policy of one of the most important countries on earth to have.

    If you want monetary policy to fail, or to prove that it can’t work, then Shirakawa’s probably your man.

  22. Gravatar of Daniel Daniel
    3. March 2014 at 08:14

    Nice try, JohnB. However, at the end of the day, you’re still an apologist for creationism (also known as “I’m right because I’m right” ABCT). And I don’t have to prove anything to creationists.

    For example – inflation is “an increase in the money supply”. Except when the money supply isn’t actually expanding, then it’s all about “headline inflation”. Remember that ?

    I’m not interested in debating anything with people who lack intellectual honesty.

  23. Gravatar of Doug M Doug M
    3. March 2014 at 08:30

    Fox Butterfield, is that you?

    http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424127887323482504578227664228137272?mod=djemBestOfTheWeb_h&mg=reno64-wsj&url=http%3A%2F%2Fonline.wsj.com%2Farticle%2FSB10001424127887323482504578227664228137272.html%3Fmod%3DdjemBestOfTheWeb_h

  24. Gravatar of Jim Glass Jim Glass
    3. March 2014 at 09:17

    Hmmm……is it really true that policing / incarceration have played a huge role in driving down the crime rate?

    In NYC, absolutely, the data are overwhelming. And the drop in NYC is so great that it has significantly moved the entire national crime rate downward.

    Of course there are people who instinctively argue against it because their agendas go the other way, but those trying to invoke explanations like “lead” (or the now pretty much debunked “abortions”) have to explain how the crime rate changes in the US city-by-city have varied so much — none in some, *up* in others, down in others — in a manner that correlates as strongly as it does with adopting NYC-type practices.

    Note well: Incarceration rates have *plunged* in NYC, to by far the lowest in the nation. So bulging prisons are not needed to slash crime — at least not in the long run. NYC has been steadily selling off unused jails for years.

    The reason for the huge drop in NYC jail population is two-fold:

    (1) NYC adopted sensible drug-crime procedures that keep most of the masses of persons with drug-related offenses who fill jails elsewhere across the USA out of jail here — again showing “best practice” to the nation.

    (2) The deterrence effect. In the 1990s, when the new “broken windows” policing began, initially the prison population *did* bulge — note the dates on those Times headlines quoted by Will. (I remember reading those then, when they were printed, and shaking my head.) But crime is concentrated among male youth, who develop habits they carry on for life. After “broken windows” started, when the next generation of youth saw what was happening to their older brothers and cousins — that small-level crime didn’t pay any more — they said, “not for me”. So the crime rate plunged *with a lag* to the incarceration rate … just as common sense would expect.

    Is this idea so difficult to grasp? It’s remarkable that so many on the left are so stridently resistant to it. Especially since the cost of crime is so concentrated *among the poor*, as to both victims and incarcerated perpetrators. If those on the left were truly concerned for the poor, you’d think they’d *want* less crime with less incarceration and emptied jails — and push *for* anything that offered the prospect!

    As for “scientific skepticism” about claims that improving policing reduces crime, considering basic logic, that skepticism doesn’t go very far in light of data. Why *wouldn’t* increasing the cost of committing crime reduce the quantity supplied? How does one scientifically rationalize that?

    And as to the doubts some have that it is even possible to improve the efficiency of govt action to increase the cost of crime, that is pure nonsense (whether it comes from the left or the paleo-libertarian right).

    I’ve lived through this, first person. Twenty-odd years ago on my block in Manhattan (a good part) you couldn’t leave *anything* in a car or a window would be busted and it would be gone. A car that had out-of-state plates simply could not be parked on the street overnight or the trunk would be ripped open by morning for sure on the street-kids’ assumption that there would be luggage or something of value in it. Now, today, such crime is near nonexistent. Auto crimes in NYC are down 96%(!) since 1990. That goes right to the social fabric, quality of life, how people live. Explain that 96% by “lead” or “abortion”.

    Here’s a simple example of how things changed through improved, smarter policy: Pre-1990 the policy was to go after only the big criminals, leave the small-fry alone. So the small-time criminals prospered, learned to become bigger-time. E.g., when a big drug dealer got busted, there’d be a host of up-and-coming ambitious younger ones ready to compete to take his place, and one would.

    Of course, subway fare beating was the smallest crime so it was ignored — and became endemic, massive, turnstile-jumping became practically the city’s official sport.

    Then when Giuliani/Bratton started “broken windows” they cracked down on subway fare-beaters. Suddenly, shockingly — I still remember vividly — you’d see literally 20 people of all kinds chained together in subway station, with more being added after being caught jumping, all waiting to be hauled off for processing. Few went to jail — but being held for hours and having to explain to your boss/ spouse/ family/ why you weren’t where you were supposed to be and why they had to come bail you out was unpleasant enough for most.

    Three immediate results: (1) The average person who went through this never did it again, so transit revenue shot up right away, at no cost. (2) Masses of kids who were introduced to the “ignore the law, crime pays” ethos on the small scale of fare beating suddenly were no more, and learned the contrary lesson. (3) Serious, major criminals who turnstile-jumped suddenly were picked by the *thousands* on outstanding warrants (and *they* began to fill the jails) at almost no cost compared to prior policing practices. Win-win-win at minimal cost. A huge improvement in the cost-effectiveness of policing, right there.

    A related example: I was friends with the guy who set the NYC all-time record for making felony arrests, near 500 in one year, considering all the time he had to spend in court testifying an amazing number, several per day in the field. He was not a cop but a court officer. He figured out a way to check the IDs of persons appearing in court in one borough against warrants outstanding in the others. Again literally, people wanted for rape and murder in the Bronx would go to court in Brooklyn to fight parking violations to get their cars released to them — that’s how immune they felt to the law. He’d slap the cuffs on them, and they’d be shocked.

    (When we went out to dinner he always carefully sat with his back to a wall and face to the door, like an Old West gunman, “the people I put away are starting to get out”. We used to play tournament chess together, and when he had a tough game against someone who didn’t know him he’d lean forward, unbutton his jacket, and let his gun swing out over the board. But I digress.)

    The point is: These changes were really *massive increases* in the efficiency of policing practices. So why would anyone assume they did *not* have an effect — really, how “scientific” is that? — and go off hunting for other rationalizations to deny the fact that massive efficiency increases produce results? Rationalizations like abortion, lead, whatever. (And if you are a “progressive” how does this denial help the poor?)

    Point #2 is: Such efficiency increases still have *not* been implemented in many places. See the major differences in city crime rate trends over the last 20 years. In those places they are still there for the taking. (If you are a progressive, how does resisting them help the poor?)

    The real lesson of NYC: More efficient policing –>> lower crime rate –>> less incarceration and smaller jail population. The rest of the USA still has a lot of catching up to do on that last part, just look at how NYC’s numbers are *unique* as to its still falling jail population. Nationwide lead exposure has not a thing to do with that.

  25. Gravatar of Jim Glass Jim Glass
    3. March 2014 at 09:27

    “Make a claim about what you think is true (anything in the social sciences: economics, politics, sociology, etc.) and I will show you how it cannot be verified or disproved on the basis of facts”

    Quote of the day! :-)

  26. Gravatar of Jim Glass Jim Glass
    3. March 2014 at 09:36

    “New York’s prison population has fallen by a quarter since 1999, yet its crime rate has dropped faster than that of many other cities.”

    “Yet”??? Even The Economist makes the same logical howler.

    The prison population has fallen in NYC as the crime rate has fallen since 1999.

    The crime rate has fallen since 1999 after the prison population *rose* pre-1999.

    My comment just above gives more detail on all this.

  27. Gravatar of Jim Glass Jim Glass
    3. March 2014 at 09:50

    The answer on crime is as all things: TECHNOLOGY.

    Ah yes, well, ask the good customers of Mt.Gox about that.

    It brings to mind Homer Simpson’s line: “To beer! The solution to, and cause of, all our problems!”

  28. Gravatar of Patrick R. Sullivan Patrick R. Sullivan
    3. March 2014 at 10:00

    ‘Is this idea so difficult to grasp? It’s remarkable that so many on the left are so stridently resistant to it.’

    Strident resistance to the obvious is an art form for leftists. Housing Cause Denial; ‘The 800 lb gorillas of home loans had something to do with the housing bubble? No way, Man.’

    Paying people to be poor (or by increasing the marginal income tax rate to over 100%) causes more poverty? Ditto.

    Making it illegal to employ someone without the skills to produce $10.10 of value/hour will decrease the amount of labor demanded? Surely you jest.

    I was just re-reading Whittaker Chambers’ letters to/from Ralph Toledano over the week-end, and came across his comment about die-hard defenders of Alger Hiss; ‘Alger is innocent [for them] because he is guilty.’

  29. Gravatar of J Mann J Mann
    4. March 2014 at 08:48

    Jim, I’ve always missed your blog. (IMHO, you’re right behind Den Beste in a list of bloggers lost to time.)

    Is there a way to subscribe to prolific cross-blog commenters like you and Mark S?

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