Beyond root causes

One of the consequences of the Great Recession we’ve been in since 2008 may be the long-overdue death of the “root causes” theory of crime and criminality. In A Crime Theory Demolished Heather McDonald points out that crime rates are dropping to 50-year lows even as unemployment hits a 70-year high.

While she is right to point out that this makes a joke of “root causes” theory, she doesn’t really propose an alternative to it, other than by waving a hand in the direction of rising incarceration rates. And I don’t believe that explanation; too many of our prisoners are nonviolent drug offenders. In fact that category alone seems to account for most of the prison population growth over the last couple of decades, which suggests that increased incarceration is suppressing other sorts of crime very little or not at all. (See the update below.)

It’s also been noted recently that the trends in crime rates make nonsense of the notion that civilian firearms cause crime — even so reliable a bellwether of bland bien-pensant liberalism as the Christian Science Monitor has remarked upon this.

Mind you, the continuing fall in crime also falsifies some of the pet theories of social conservatives. They’re prone to chunter on about “defining deviance down” and the coarsening of popular culture as though sales of Grand Theft Auto actually had something to do with rates of grand theft auto. Given that there has been no sign of pop culture reverting to the 1950s (or whatever other era they imagine to have been ideal), this too seems an unsustainable explanation.

So what is actually going on here?

I think we get a clue from the fact, observable in emergencies such as floods and hurricanes, that most people do not instantly become criminals even when social order collapses around them. It takes continuing survival stress comparable to battlefield conditions to beat sociability and mutual trust out of most human beings.

However, I said “most”. Any criminologist will tell you that criminals as a group are also highly deviant in ways that are not criminal. They have very high rates of accidental injury, alcoholism, nicotine addiction, and involvement in automobile collisions. They have poor impulse control. They have high time preference (that is, they find it difficult to defer gratification or regulate their own behavior in light of distant future consequences). And they’re stupid, well below the whole-population average in IQ or whatever other measure of reasoning capacity you apply. I’m going to revive a term from early criminology and refer to these dysfunctional deviants as “jukes”.

One clue to the long-term fall in crime rates may be that most of the juke traits I’ve just described are heritable. Note that this is not exactly the same thing as genetically transmitted; children may to a significant extent acquire them from their families by imitation and learning.

The long-term fall in crime rates suggest that something may have been disrupting the generational transmission of traits associated with criminal deviance. Are there plausible candidates for that something? Are there selective pressures operating against jukeness that have become more pressing since the 1960s?

I think I can name three: ready availability of intoxicants, contraception, and automobiles.

Once I got this far in my thinking I realized that the authors of Freakonomics got there before me on one of these; they argued for a strong forward influence from availability of abortion to decreased crime rates two decades later. And yes, I know that a couple of conservative economists (Steve Sailer and John Lott) think they’ve found fatal flaws in the Levitt/Dubner argument; I’ve read the debate and I think Levitt/Dubner have done an effective job of defending their insight.

But I’m arguing a more general case that subsumes Levitt/Dubner. That is, that modern life makes juke traits more dangerous to reproductive success than they used to be. Automobiles are a good example. Before they became ubiquitous, most people didn’t own anything that they used every single day and that so often rewarded a moment’s inattention with injury or death.

Ready availability of cheap booze and powerful drugs means people with addictive personalities can kill themselves faster. Easy access to contraception and abortion means impulse fucks are less likely to actually produce offspring. More generally, as people gain more control over their lives and faster ways to screw up, the selective consequences from bad judgment and the selective premium on good judgment both increase.

Now that we’ve got this far, maybe incarcerating a lot of nonviolent druggies has actually been somewhat helpful, to the degree that group oversamples jukes and thus suppresses their reproduction. I’m still opposed to it for lots of pragmatic reasons that I won’t go into because they would distract from my main argument here.

This model inverts the traditional form of moralism according to which wealthy, libertine societies breed levels of vice, sloth, and degeneracy unknown to the struggling but virtuous poor. In fact, it suggests that jukes need the tight social controls of a conservative, tradition-bound society to minimize their disadvantages.

This model is testable. I used to live in West Philadelphia, and left for other reasons right around the onset time of the crack-cocaine epidemic there in the early 1980s. Longitudinal studies of crime, addiction, and accident rates there before and after might show that the juke population had seriously thinned itself out by 1990. That would be a worthy investigation for some young social scientist.

UPDATE: One of my regulars informs me that my source on incarceration figures was playing games with the statistics and shows evidence that most of the increase in incarcerations is not in drug offenses. This means that a study to test the adverse selection theory would need to be designed carefully to disentangle that effect from increased incarceration. I don’t know offhand, how to do that.

58 thoughts on “Beyond root causes

  1. Just a toss away thought – everyone seems to deplore the high rates of “single mother” households but perhaps not having a failed father to emulate is the cause.

  2. I do find something interesting here related to lethal drugs like heroin, cocaine, and meth.

    1. Suppose the correlation you’ve found actually is causation. Criminals are killing themselves with lethal psychoactive drugs because they are too short sighted to understand the long term consequences. If we made access to these drugs easier, wouldn’t crime rates plummet even farther? Wouldn’t this be a case for the legalization of lethal drugs, the fact that criminals will kill themselves with it?

    2. Currently in many cities around the world we see heroin clinics. InSite in Vancouver, BC comes to mind. Addicts can come in, use their drugs in a safe environment with nurses on staff. Wouldn’t this be counter productive towards lowering crime rates? At first glance we see it as a great means for helping the addicted, but this enables these high crime individuals to survive longer.

  3. The first sentence of paragraph three has a couple of typos: “tends” should be “trends” and “case” should be “cause”.

    ESR says: Corrected, thanks.

  4. Igbr seems to think that criminals should be knocked off by whatever extra-legal means presents itself.

  5. >Igbr seems to think that criminals should be knocked off by whatever extra-legal means presents itself.

    Er, all he seems to be suggesting is legalizing drugs and closing no-longer-needed heroin clinics. How would that be “extra-legal”, exactly?

  6. ESR,

    Not on topic!

    A better way is probably obvious, but haste motivates me to put this where you will see it and hopefully respond.

    Discovered on a different (perhaps dead) thread the important engineering concept of “PDOOMA”. I think I remember that it appears as a programming note in the hockey-stick “Artifical” stuff revealed in the “dump” and discussed at length (entertainingly) on A&D. Do the hockey-stick “truthers” use it to describe their own stuff? If so, where?

    Thanks in advance.

  7. 1. Suppose the correlation you’ve found actually is causation. Criminals are killing themselves with lethal psychoactive drugs because they are too short sighted to understand the long term consequences. If we made access to these drugs easier, wouldn’t crime rates plummet even farther? Wouldn’t this be a case for the legalization of lethal drugs, the fact that criminals will kill themselves with it?

    Eric is way ahead of you :

    “This is actually one of my gut reasons for favoring drug legalization,
    though I’d never thought it through quite so far before. I don’t think we
    have enough selective pressures against idiocy any more; I’d like
    idiots to have more chances to kill themselves, ideally before they get
    old enough to vote or reproduce. Not because I relish their deaths,
    but because I want to live in a future with fewer idiots in it.”

  8. > crime rates are dropping to 50-year lows even as unemployment hits a 50-year high.

    On the face of it, suggesting that we need to extend this slump to keep crime down. Another liberal finding reasons to increase the USA’s regulatory burden.

    You expect more crimes of desperation in a slump; more ‘rednecks having fun’ in a boom.

  9. I’m no fan of the war on drugs, and I’m generally opposed to incarcerating nonviolent drug offenders, but is it possible that a lot of (nonviolent) jukes also happen to be nonviolent drug offenders? And thus there’re more of them in jail now?

  10. I can see alcohol/narcotics as a “juke” trait, but tobacco use was verging on universal ( okay, > 50% ) prior to the Surgeons General report in 1965. And then again, alcohol use was much more prevalent as well. And then again, prescription narcotics… remember that in the ’70s, one could go to good old Doc and say “Seconal please” and have a fairly high probability of being given it.

    You can’t predict criminal behavior this way. It depends too much on too much. Dubner/Levy also kinda-sorta ignore that poverty declined dramatically right up to 1974. The end of the decline in poverty is extremely correlated with the advent of the War on Poverty. (David Friedman and I went over this on a Usenet thread at one point – and AH LAWST! ) I’d taken “The War on Poverty has done some good”.

    It bounced down to about 11% – well, 2% are in stir now. I bet correlation between poverty and prison is in that zone, especially given the dynamics of dealing dope.

    Never mind that at least one of the best engineers I ever worked with was a 4-pack-a-day smoker/case a’ day man, with relatively poor impulse control. I figure it was more or less self-medication. I think for his generation, though, these were simply perfectly reasonable things to consume. Now, they’d just write him for a serotonin uptake inhibitor – so what is the market penetration of *those*?

    Remember kids – it’s the war on *some* drugs.

  11. The Freakonomics thing made me think that free government-financed reversible vasectomies would be an long-term economic boost, even with the pyramid schemes of Social Security and Medicare. Abortions are far more damaging mentally than vasectomies.

  12. bruce Says
    On the face of it, suggesting that we need to extend this slump to keep crime down. Another liberal finding reasons to increase the USA’s regulatory burden.

    Wait, wait, wait. Are you suggesting that ESR is at all interested in increasing governmental regulation?
    If so, I’m going to assume you’re new here and suggest you read some back posts(particularly ESR’s comments) and the political essays he’s published on his site at http://www.catb.org/~esr/writings/ .

  13. Joshua R. Poulson Says:
    Abortions are far more damaging mentally than vasectomies.

    I would have thought that abortions are a more appropriate “impulse” offering. Vasectomies don’t do much if you have impulsive sex before getting the vasectomy. Unless you could somehow make it mandatory at some teen age (and if that doesn’t make libertarians and civil libs people explode with outrage then the terrorists have already won).

  14. It could be that the pet theories of social conservatives are not merely wrong but backwards: Just as a common drug-legalization argument is that prohibition of drugs boosts the rates of violent crime, it could be that the defacto prohibitions on porn and violent & sleazy entertainment also boosted the rates of crime. And now with the defacto prohibition on porn & sleaze ended, that prohibition-driven boost to crime has ended as well.

  15. Here’s a hypothesis that just popped into my head that I think I’ll toss out for discussion. I’m not sure yet whether I believe it myself.

    What if the internet is a fourth factor? Suppose that the heritability of jukeness is most memetic rather than genetic. The internet is one big meme-spreading device. Maybe the ready availability of internet access even in America’s worst ghettos has caused a reversion toward the mean, away from criminality.

    ESR says: Unlikely. The drop in crime rates is a long-term phenomenon and there was no visible change in it at the time of the mainstreaming of the Internet in ’93/’94.

  16. Deep Lurker: I can see how drug prohibition creates crime. It creates organized crime on the distribution end, and creates a lot of petty crime used to fund illegalized habits. I don’t see how porn prohibition or violent or sleazy entertainment boosts crime. Porn has been legal enough that it doesn’t create organized crime (so far as I can see) and who robs a gas station to fund their porn habit? Can you spell the link you see out?

  17. I’m honestly a little surprised you didn’t mention the Flynn effect before you jumped to an evolutionary explanation. I wouldn’t put much stock in that hypothesis unless I saw some figures on the juke mortality rate. Let’s say it took, oh, 5000 years for a certain evolutionary change from X to Y, similar in magnitude to the disappearance of juke traits, to evolve in normal humans. If the juke:wild type mortality ratio was 100x as great as the X : Y mortality ratio, then I might believe that juke traits could disappear in 50 years or diminish in 25 years.

  18. >Do you think the Flynn effect has anything to do with this?

    Interesting question. It’s possible. But as you think about it, bear in mind that there is evidence the Flynn effect stalled out more than a decade ago.

  19. JonB: Regarding your earnest reading of bruce’s comment; you may not be a Juke but you got a bad case of irony impairment syndrome, son. There’s any number of working satirists on the web that could take you through a talking cure, but while you are in for a tune-up you might also have them run your He’s My Hero (TM) index. Just for reference, y’know.

  20. >Here’s a hypothesis that just popped into my head that I think I’ll toss out for discussion. I’m not sure yet whether I believe it myself.

    >What if the internet is a fourth factor? Suppose that the heritability of jukeness is most memetic rather than genetic. The internet is one big meme-spreading device. Maybe the ready availability of internet access even in America’s worst ghettos has caused a reversion toward the mean, away from criminality.

    >ESR says: Unlikely. The drop in crime rates is a long-term phenomenon and there was no visible change in it at the time of the mainstreaming of the Internet in ‘93/’94.

    I think he’s right, but for the wrong reasons. As evidenced here: http://anthonydamato.law.northwestern.edu/Adobefiles/porn.pdf the internet is helping with crime rates, as far as sex is concerned. There are hypotheses out there that Grand Theft Auto reduces crime as well, but this has yet to be measured.

  21. We could probably also measure other effects of evolution in civilized societies.

    Idiocracy, while an entertaining movie, got it wrong: even stupid people are reasonably likely to use contraceptives at least some of the time. Women of all backgrounds tend to be concerned about getting pregnant.

    Stupid people may tend to have more “accidental” children than the smarter and the more educated, but the availability of abortion allows most anyone to change their mind afterward. Only those groups that are opposed to contraception or abortion on religious or moral grounds should see a large Idiocracy effect. So there is no reverse evolution afflicting civilized societies. We are simply evolving for a partly different set of traits than our feral ancestors were.

    Example: The Circadian rhythm has been disrupted in civilized humans ever since the invention of the light blub or really probably the oil lamp. For centuries, we have been selecting for the ability to make use of more “daylight” than our ancestors did. Extrapolated out a few thousand years, humans might evolve to sleep only a few hours a night. The ability to work 50% longer every day than your competition would be a formidable advantage.

  22. This model inverts the traditional form of moralism according to which wealthy, libertine societies breed levels of vice, sloth, and degeneracy unknown to the struggling but virtuous poor. In fact, it suggests that jukes need the tight social controls of a conservative, tradition-bound society to minimize their disadvantages.

    Don’t have the citation handy, but Adam Smith observed that cultural climates encouraging low self-discipline were harmful mostly to the lower class, because they lacked the resources to recover from mistakes.

  23. One interesting thing that I have read is that reduction of lead, be it lead paint, but particularly of leaded gasoline has been closely correlated to reduction in crime, albeit with a two decade lag.

    It has just taken a long time for the effects to show up, because the effects only show up in children who have less exposure to lead. As the kids who were exposed less to leaded gasoline fumes have grown up, they have committed less crimes during adulthood than their predecessors who were exposed to more leaded gasoline fumes.

    The correlation seems to apply to all countries that have banned leaded gasoline, with two decades after the ban being the point in which the effect on crime is the most noticeable.

  24. I’ve often thought that lowered lead levels might contribute to lower crime rates. We know that lead poisoning reduces IQ and impulse control.

    I think it’s a mistake to dismiss high incarceration rates for non-violent drug use as a factor. The junkie who cannot hold down a job often commits crimes to support his habit.

  25. ESR,

    An interesting analysis. While there are certain aspects I have a problem with, you are up to something very important with your focus on time preference. There are two books/articles I’m not sure you have read, maybe you should (and review here, perhaps), as they flesh out exactly this argument. One is an empirical study, The Unheavenly City Revisited, by Edward C. Banfield, available on Amazon. The other is a purely logical study, therefore to be taken with a grain of salt, but quite fascinating nevertheless (PDF): http://www.hanshoppe.com/wp-content/uploads/publications/time_preference.pdf

    Let me add something of my thoughts, with a study to back it up. I think while intelligence might be an important factor, time preference is not usually a question of fully deliberate, thought-out rational choice where IQ, but a question of “instinctive” self-control. Of course it is a rational choice for you, but not for the average person. The main reason the average guy is NOT a criminal is because in his childhood he was taught self-control ten times a day. Eat nice. Take care how you hold that fork. Greet your uncle politely. Talk respectfully to him, even though he is an ass, but much older than you which “deserves” respect. Don’t pick your nose. Do your homework. Sit straight. Comb your hair. Eat all of your meal when it’s mealtime. Don’t ask for food when it’s not mealtime. All this gave the ability of self-control. (All this I hated back then but I am grateful for it now, this is basically what prevented me to become a drooling alcoholic when I was in a lonely and depressed period. It gave me the discipline to go on, work, exercise, drink only moderate amounts, live the life of basic human dignity.)

    The HABIT of self-control, carved into the bones, if you will, way below the rational level, i.e. having little to do with intelligence or rational thinking, is what means the difference between an average, not very bright, not very successful civilised guy and a barbarian/criminal.

    And now the study for it. You know Jon Haidt, don’t you? He seems to have solved the Big Problem. PDF: http://faculty.virginia.edu/haidtlab/articles/haidt.emotionaldog.manuscript.pdf

    You know, the Big Problem of human nature, which is and always has been the No. 1 problem behind political theory: it’s like, if anyone tells me his theory of human nature (the theory of the sources, of the causes of good and evil, of benevolence and compassion vs. hatred and destructrive greed) and I can predict his politics. Left/Rousseau: people are good but society makes them bad. Liberals/Whig Theory: people are born in a blank state, they can be educated to be either good or bad. Conservatives: people have inborn good and bad qualities, and they must choose, and this choice does require quite some internal struggle.

    Basically the solution in this study is that even small children can tell good from bad _in theory_. We have an either inborn or very early acquired ability to be moral _in theory_. But children simply don’t have enough self-control to actually do so. Thus education is not mainly about learning moral-ethical rules: _we know them already_. Education is about learning self-control, which is not rational, intellectual learning but carving in the habit of self-control.

    From it follows the following. Children need all sorts of restrictions, even when they are not really rational, like, the restriction of eating nice or standing in attention at school and so on. Doesn’t make much sense, but the purpose is not achieve any immediate purpose but to teach a bit of self-control, to teach the habit, to develop the ability of controlling the ego.

    Because self-control is, at the end of the day, nothing but having a small and controlled ego.

    Thus when talking about conservatism we must make a difference between a conservative culture and the political ideology of social conservatism.

    A conservative culture means the culture of self-control, meaning the culture of small and controlled egos. (School uniforms and ceremonies probably matter much more than whether MJ or abortion is banned or not.)

    Social conservatism is basically a movement based on realizing the problem of the big egos on the level of feelings and experience, but the inability to form it into a logical theory of cause and effect. They at least feel the problem of the ego, and this is more one can say about most “typically modern” people, thus it deserves praise and respect, but they don’t know how to solve it, they are just coming up with basically random political restrictions that do not make much sense. A truly efficient political thinker would have the heart of a social conservative and the brain of a libertarian or a moderate-leftliberal – which means he would be something like the old conservatives of the Michael Oakeshott type, without the “social” label and all that that means. Actually… have you read After Virtue from Alasdair MacIntyre? (Also available on Amazon.) He might just be that type.

  26. I consider myself a social conservative (by which I don’t mean “religious conservative”–I could explain my concept of the difference, but in the interest of brevity I won’t in this post) and as such I probably have a hugely different idea of the ideal society than you, esr. Having said that, your bleg here does remind me of one big problem I have with many conservatives: namely, the tendency to assume all problems are just symptoms of the huge, irreversible Decline and Fall of the American Republic–rather than smaller problems that can be isolated and solved.

    You bring up the former crime problem. Most conservatives at the time, as you point out, saw it as a symptom of a bigger societal decay, and thus believed it to be permanent. In reality, it was a separate problem, caused largely by restrictive gun laws. Once concealed carry started catching on, crime rates plummeted.

    And while we’re on the issue of gun control–it actually is pretty shameful how many conservatives–not just politicians, but conservative intellectuals–supported it in its heyday. This was, I believe, for two reasons. First of all, many conservatives–Robert Bork comes to mind–viewed guns as a part of the violent crime culture, which in their minds was part of the decadent plebeian culture. Second, those conservatives who were more sympathetic with the Second Amendment still largely viewed gun control as a part of the Great Society, which they considered to be irreversible–and therefore were willing to give up gun rights in exchange for other victories.

    In reality, gun control was a very poor political position for the Left to be taking. In a nation where close to half of the population is armed, where the NRA is one of the largest political organization, which celebrates its own violent revolution every year, it is asinine to assume that universal disarmament could be accomplished other than by a very bloody crackdown, possibly a civil war. A simple boycott of Smith & Wesson brought the whole gun control movement to its knees.

    I could mention other cases of conservatives’ overpessimism due to overthinking the problem. To give a few examples, Barry Goldwater seemed to believe that the only alternative to world Communism was a nuclear war (when in reality it was accomplished during the Reagan administration using far less drastic means); and, today, conservatives are targeting gay marriage as a means for saving marriage–rather than the more practical means of demanding that the party responsible for a divorce should pay the financial price (IOW, if she cheats, no alimony or disguised alimony through excessive child support).

    To summarize: conservatives need to stop harping about the degenerates who are bringing about the death of America. This may make for better violin music, but it sucks when it comes to dealing with real problems.

  27. And yes, looking at my last post, I can see the irony of talking about “brevity” in the first sentence. :)

  28. Ken,

    “and, today, conservatives are targeting gay marriage as a means for saving marriage–rather than the more practical means of demanding that the party responsible for a divorce should pay the financial price”

    It’s similar to my ideas. If marriage is to be understood as not the mutual satisfaction and thus the growing of each others egos (by the satisfactions of desire, lust etc.) but as a project, task or challenge taken in common for a goal understood as more important than the egos of the both parties: for the goal of making and raising children, i.e. an ego-reducing exercise, then no-fault marriage have harmed it much more than GM ever will. Although homosexual partner relationships deserve criticism – because they are purely based on the mutual satisfaction of immediate desires usually with high time preferences i.e. on the growth of the ego with no higher, ego-restricting goals beyond it – criticism is or at least, certainly _should be_ a different thing than a movement for a political ban. This is the major difference between philosophical conservatives like myself and political conservatives. The later folks don’t really see the difference between “criticize” or even “despise” and “ban”.

    I think in America this mis-focus came from the conflating of conservatism with religious fundamentalism – a truly bad thing to happen but it was expectable in a country based on colonies originally colonized by zealous Puritans, who were partaking not in just a religious movement but in a radically Gnostic-political one as well – this is no surprise, what is rather positively surprising to me is that America somehow managed to supress or marginalize her Puritan political movement for two centuries, 1770′s-1970′s. But apparently, since the 1970′s, the Puritans are back in force, now using the name Evangelicals.

    What is even funnier that GM is beginning to be a focus on some conservative blogs here in Europe too, combined with a complete lack of focus on matters regarding divorce, despite that thankfully the Fundies are rare here. I think it’s just the usual and understandable case of imitation, but nevertheless I don’t like it. We really should get selective in imitation.

  29. Ken:

    “Barry Goldwater seemed to believe that the only alternative to world Communism was a nuclear war (when in reality it was accomplished during the Reagan administration using far less drastic means);”

    Was it? I mean, given the current occupant of the White House, the Premier of Russia, etc.

    I’m not saying the Soviets *won* the cold war, but I’m pretty sure the US lost it.

    Mr. Raymond:

    My initial instinct was that for most of history people didn’t *need* tools to kill them quickly when they screwed up. Nature and/or their fellow man did it for them. Felonies used to be punished severely enough that you just might die. Lions, Tigers, Bears, oh my! A slip and fall that resulted in a broken leg could be fatal if there was no one within yelling distance. That axe used for cutting firewood? Get a little too drunk and there goes the femoral artery.

    Then I realized that we really only have good statistics starting about the time cars came into existence–which is about the time that life for the juke stopped being quite as dangerous.

    Given current automotive safety and medical technology the Juke is even less likely to die. If you’re right we should start to see another increase in these sorts of crimes in about 5-10 years (correlate with airbags).

  30. Shenpen, how big an ego does it take to decide you know how big everyone’s ego ought to be?

    Also, your model is based on the premise that people have no ability to tell whether a rule is relevant or not, so they just have to be trained to obey lots of rules.

  31. “The Freakonomics thing made me think that free government-financed reversible vasectomies would be an long-term economic boost”

    As I’ve said before, tying mandatory birth control (such as IUDs) to welfare benefits would probably be a good idea at some point.

    “Given current automotive safety and medical technology the Juke is even less likely to die. If you’re right we should start to see another increase in these sorts of crimes in about 5-10 years (correlate with airbags).”

    Yeah, that was my first thought as well. But perhaps home-based chemistry will grow in sophistication as well, producing much more powerful drugs capable of inducing much heavier damage on their users?

  32. Didn’t Larry Niven get here first?

    Current addiction is the youngest of mankind’s sins. At some time in their histories, most of the cultures of human space have seen the habit as a major scourge. It takes users from the labor market and leaves them to die of self-neglect.
    Times change. Generations later, these same cultures usually see current addiction as a mixed blessing. Older sins — alcoholism and drug addiction and compulsive gambling — cannot compete. People who can be hooked by drugs are happier with the wire. They take longer to die, and they tend not to have children.

    It costs almost nothing. An ecstasy peddler can raise the price of the operation, but for what? The user isn’t a wirehead until the wire has been embedded in the pleasure center of his brain. Then the peddler has no hold over him, for the user gets his kicks from house current…

    Louis seemed to sag in upon himself. He reached across his smooth scalp to the base of the long black braid, and pulled the droud from its socket beneath the hair. He held it in his hand, considering; then, as always, he dropped it into a drawer and locked it.

    ESR says: I probably read that, more than 30 years ago. Could be it’s been lurking in my backbrain ever since.

  33. >In fact, it suggests that jukes need the tight social controls of a conservative, tradition-bound society to minimize their disadvantages.

    In fact, that was the argument advanced in favor of strict moral training in the final chapter of “The Bell Curve”, the less intelligent needed the guidance.

    As for the Flynn effect, that seems to be an artifact of testing, since there is no actual evidence of people becoming more intelligent, just a slow and steady rise in scores that can’t be accounted for.

  34. I don’t know whether it’s proof of greater intelligence, but afaik, books discussing popular art didn’t become popular until they started coming out about Stephen King in the 80s or 90s. Now they’re fairly common.

  35. >In fact, that was the argument advanced in favor of strict moral training in the final chapter of “The Bell Curve”, the less intelligent needed the guidance.

    What I recall is the closely related but distinct claim that modern societies run by people selected for IQ have complexified the game rules to the point where the elite don’t realize how difficult it is for people of average and lower intelligence to keep track of the rules. But this is a plausible consequence of that claim, whether they made it explicitly or not.

  36. Shenpen, interesting point about self-control but it can and has been overdone. The cultural revolts of the 60s were probably mainly about rebelling against such restrictive culture, particularly when it was fairly superficial (comb your hair?) and corrupt, with racism and stupid foreign wars. Self-control is still overemphasized, there was a recent Becker paper that suggested that women now predominate on campuses because of their greater self-control. However, that strikes me as the exact wrong quality to emphasize in this time of rapid change and innovation. Self-control and discipline are always necessary to some degree, but we have to think carefully about the best ways to instill those qualities, as doing it in ham-fisted ways can drive out other more important qualities, like reason and skepticism.

  37. Billy, speaking from Prague, I can say that the USSR lost the Cold War in a big, big way. The whole empire has gone down the drain. Not just the satellites in Central Europe, but also territories which have been in Russian control since the 17th or 18th century: Baltics, the Ukraine, Central Asia. And, with the EU and NATO expanding to fill the power vacuum of the 1990s, there is not much chance of gaining them back.

    Not that they do not have other pressing needs… In the next 50 years, the Russians will be happy if they can keep their natality high enough to stay Russians; otherwise, Tatar and other Muslim minorities will overbreed them in their own country. Already the Russian army is +- 50% Muslim. It must be noted that Russian Muslims are way more lax than Arabs about their religion, but still.

    Travel a bit around, and you’ll come to the same conclusion.

  38. ESR: “In fact that category alone seems to account for most of the prison population growth over the last couple of decades…”

    Wrong. The link you cited throws out a lot of statistical spin to give that impression. But the actual numbers don’t support it. Nowhere on that page is the change in number of drug prisoners compared to the change in total prisoners. One must go elsewhere for that data.

    Per the U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, there were 773,919 prisoners under state and Federal jurisdiction in 1990, and 1,527,929 in 2005. Of these 65,526 (1990) and 187,618 (2005) were Federal prisoners. (2010 Statistical Abstract Section 5. Law Enforcement, Courts, and Prisons; http://www.census.gov/prod/2009pubs/10statab/law.pdf), leaving 708,393 (1990) and 1,340,311 (2005) state prisoners.

    Another DOJ/BJS report (http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/content/glance/tables/corrtyptab.cfm) gives the following figures for state prisoners by category of offense:

    Violent Property Drug Public order
    1990 313,600 173,700 148,600 45,500
    2005 687,700 248,900 253,300 98,700

    BTW, the drug category was down from 265,100 in 2002.

    Thus, while total state prisoners increased by 632,000, state drug prisoners increased by only 105,000: only 17% of the growth.

    It is true that drug crimes represent a substantial fraction of arrests, trials, and imprisonments. But that share is less than a fifth, not (as many libertarians like to think) a majority.

    ESR says: Thanks for the correction. I’ll post an update.

  39. Follow-up note: Federal prisoners break down approximately the same way. (But I can’t find the reference now.)

  40. The difference between 313,600 and 687,700 is huge, way bigger than population growth in the same interval.

    Hmm, could that be that prosecution of violent criminals is easier with the new technologies available for evidence
    gathering? (street cameras, location data from mobile phones)?

    In such case, perps would be probably locked up after their first offense, and not fourth or fifth.

  41. >modern societies run by people selected for IQ have complexified the game rules to the point where the elite don’t realize how difficult it is for people of average and lower intelligence to keep track of the rules.

    I remember that too. And it’s not just people of lower intelligence that have problems with that. I have an IQ of 156, but I am also a high-functioning autistic, and FAR too many of the *rules* are implicit and effectively invisible to autists no matter their intelligence.

  42. In “The Great Wave,” David Hackett Fischer claims that periods of long-term price stability also have low rates of crime and illegitimacy, and periods of prolonged price increase have high rates, with historical statistics to illustrate.

  43. I don’t know about cell phones, but according to Bruce Schneier (www.schneier.com/blog/) in many posts, there has been nearly no reduction in crime from street cameras. Not even in England where they are far more common than in the US.

  44. RE: incarceration rates, drug offences are basically used as a proxy for other criminal offences. Rarely does anyone go to jail for a first or isolated orffence, but rather at the end of a string of crimes. Drugg offences are easy to prove (usually the perp is in posession at the time of arrest) often carry some kind of mandatory sentencing guidelines, and serve bothe to “get the perp off the street” from the good guys’ perspective, and to bolster conviction rates from the cops and prosecutor’s (read: politician’s) perspective.

    We’re compromising on punishing the crimes we know are occuring but can’t prove guilt or reducing the expense to bring perps to justice, essentially.

    Of course, drug offences are far from a perfect proxy, and adds in distorted incentives as well.

  45. Hardly anyone dies from taking ‘hard’ drugs, in the big scheme of things. The number is completely dwarfed by the number of fatal auto accidents.

    Mokdad’s 2004 study showed that 17,000 of the USA’s 2.4 million deaths in 2000 could be attributed – either directly or indirectly – to illicit drugs. For comparison, some 42,000 died in auto accidents that year. Neither number really threatens to eliminate the risk-loving subgroup from society.

    If you find that surprising, this is probably because the deaths from illicit drugs are hugely overreported compared to the deaths from licit ones. Check out the paper by Alasdair Forsyth on this – over the period he studied in Scotland, newspapers reported every MDMA-related death, 20% of the heroin-related deaths, and only one-in-48 of the deaths related to Valium, which caused more deaths than any other drug.

    I shouldn’t need to point out that Valium is not overwhelmingly preferred by criminals.

  46. Oh and don’t tell me that the reason the illicit drug mortality is only 17000 is that hardly anyone uses illicit drugs. Well over 50% of the population do, if you go by the colossal dataset from the National Study on Drug Use and Health. (Google SAMHDA and see for yourself).

  47. Yeah, but most of that illicit drug use is marijuana, which doesn’t kill you. Reduce the count of drug users for that to the number of people who routinely(as opposed to once in their life) use illicit drugs that are actually capable of causing serious harm in any practical fashion(as opposed to ones where the LD50 is more than a human can use in a year), and the stats get much less positive. It’s far more dangerous to be a crack addict than it is to drive a car, for example.

  48. Yes, but relative to the number of criminals, there just aren’t many heroin, crack or meth addicts. Check the NSDUH stats – their cohort of 50,000 had about 500 people who had EVER tried heroin, and something like 2 who were using it daily. So again, this hypothesis that drugs are killing off the criminals is just farcical.

  49. So again, this hypothesis that drugs are killing off the criminals is just farcical.

    If they are already dead, it’s difficult to ask them questions for the survey.

  50. >If they are already dead, it’s difficult to ask them questions for the survey.

    That might be the dumbest thing I’ve ever read.

  51. That might be the dumbest thing I’ve ever read.

    Try reading your own words. Even better, provide a link to the NSDUH methodology that indicates the method they used to get their statistics.

  52. Well, your ridiculous post implies that most heroin users don’t show up on the survey because they are nearly all dead. Let’s leave aside the issue that it takes on the order of decades for most heroin users to die from overdose or other health complications. Even then, your point assumes that the heroin using population is never replaced…

    Sure enough, the data bears this out – the NSDUH numbers I gave above estimate that something like 1% of people sampled in any given year have tried heroin at some point in their lives. This number doesn’t go up or down year-over-year, implying that new initiates roughly replace the people who die. But the drug abuse warning network (DAWN) says that less than one tenth as many die from a heroin-related cause every year.

    All the data and methodology for the NSDUH is online here: http://www.icpsr.umich.edu/SAMHDA/
    and the mortality data can be found at http://dawninfo.samhsa.gov

  53. It might be true that once-a-day heroin users are under-represented in the sample because of their mortality (though this would be a reasonably mild effect) but if once-a-day heroin users are the only group getting killed off by drugs, it remains a farcical statement to say that this is why crime is going down.

  54. ESR> I’m going to revive a term from early criminology and refer to these dysfunctional deviants as “jukes”.

    I hate to be a kill-joy, but this term comes – eerily – from eugenics, and it (along with “kallikaks”, “Ishmaelites”, “Nams”, etc.) were taken from pseudo-scientific (or better wholly imaginary) works, then used as propaganda vehicles to justify the implementation of forced sterilization laws in this country.

  55. >I hate to be a kill-joy, but this term comes – eerily – from eugenics,

    The analysis in the 1877 paper The Jukes: A Study in Crime, Pauperism, Disease and Heredity predates the vogue for eugenics; the authors didn’t actually have a well-developed position on whether the heritability of the negative traits they were describing was genetic or environmental. The reason we now remember that paper as an argument for biological determinism is that the eugenics movement co-opted it after the fact.

    No blame to you for not knowing this; I didn’t myself until a few weeks ago, when I was doing background research for the essay you are commenting on.

  56. Err.. I think you have edited out most of my sentence, contradicting the simple point I was trying to make. It is quite true that Galton did not officially coin the phrase “eugenics” until 1883, but he (from 1865) and others did cluster around the notion that crime, “feeble-mindedness”, “eroticism”, etc. were heritable and that they could be reduced by governmental intervention. Dugdale, the author of the above mentioned book, “Jukes” was picked up and cited by eugenicists than by criminologists. As regards crime, Dugdale was more an environmentalist than an hereditarian, which makes your use of the phrase “juke traits” highly suspicious in referencing his book. This phrase appears later (post-Mendel) in eugenicist literature. (Dugdale possibly was co-opted, but his book was a seminal source for eugenicists.)

    I wrote:
    “it (along with “kallikaks”, “Ishmaelites”, “Nams”, etc.) were taken from pseudo-scientific (or better wholly imaginary) works, then used as propaganda vehicles to justify the implementation of forced sterilization laws in this country.”

    Arthur H. Estabrook, The Jukes (1915)

    Henry H. Goddard, The Kallikak Family: A Study in the Heredity of Feeble-Mindedness. (1912)

    “The Tribe of Ishmael”, Oscar McCulloch’s Diary (1878)

    “The Tribe of Ishmael”, Arthur H. Estabrook in Eugenics, genetics and the family (1923)

    Arthur H. Estabrook, The Nam Family: A Study in Cacogenics (1912)

    The Family of Sam Sixty, Mary Storer Kostir (1916)

    The Happy Hickories, Mina Sessions (1916)

    “The Happy Hickories”, Paul Popenoe and Roswell Hill Johnson in Applied Eugenics (1922)

    “The Zeros”, Paul Popenoe and Roswell Hill Johnson in Applied Eugenics (1922)

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