April 19, 2005

Introducing the Crime Misery Index!

Based on the traditional Economic Misery Index (unemployment rate plus inflation rate), the purple line above is the sum of the homicide rate (red line) plus the imprisonment rate (blue line). The idea is to measure both crime (with homicide victimization per capita being used as the most trustworthy measure of the crime rate because attention must be paid to a dead body) plus the costs we undergo to avoid crime (with the imprisonment rate per capita being used as a proxy -- by the way this includes state and federal prison rates, but not local jail rates, which weren't available this far back).

The average of the 1950s are set as equal to 100 for both homicide and prison indices, so the combined Crime Misery Index in the 1950s averaged 200.

As you can see, there was a high murder rate during Prohibition, especially once the Depression started, followed by a long era of moderation. Then, in the 1960s, the prison rate went down while the murder rate shot up. Eventually in the later 1970s the prison rate started its long rise. The murder rate dropped a little in the mid-1980s, then rose again to another peak in the early 1990s. The prison rate went through the roof in the 1990s and the murder rate finally dropped significantly.
Although by 2000 the murder rate was almost back down to the good old days of the 1950s, the overall Crime Misery Index remained at a historically unprecedented level due to the huge costs we continue pay to avoid crime.

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