July 12, 2007

The simplest explanation for the great 1964-1975 crime rise:

A reader writes:

I am open to any new and true evidence from science of previously unsuspected factors that help explain the movement of crime rates after the middle 1960s. But, so far, both Levitt's and Nevin’s work (blaming lead) look to me like efforts to find something, anything, just the slim sliver of anything, that liberalism might have done, by getting the lead out or allowing abortions, that might, just might, have just slightly offset the obviously catastrophic damage that liberalism did by the Warren Court's dismantling of the state criminal justice systems in the crucial middle 1960s, which dismantlement dramatically reduced the conviction rate for crime and was immediately followed by an explosion in, uh, crime.

I am certainly prepared to believe that other forces, probably mostly social, contributed to the increase in crime after the middle 1960s. Post-World War II society was becoming richer, easier and more tolerant of deviations from traditional norms in sex, child raising, work habits and responsible behavior, and thus was more vulnerable to extreme forms of misbehavior, such as crime. But the important thing is that, in the middle 1960s, we lost control of our most direct means of dealing with the potentially violent consequences of all these changes, the justice system.

And that loss of control is perhaps one reason why social scientists continue to play with alternative explanations for crime rates. We can endlessly fiddle with and adjust laws on pollutants, such as lead, and attempt to nudge sexual behavior this way or that by lectures, if not laws. But the post-Warren Court criminal justice system was put in a pseudo-Constitutional lock-box. We cannot get at the thing, to change or improve it. We can only lengthen sentences, hire more cops and build more prisons. No change in the rules governing how police attempt to arrest criminals or how the courts try them is within the control of elected officials. So we do not even discuss such changes any longer or attempt to estimate their possible effects.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer


Anonymous said...

Can someone post a link to a page that explains what exactly the Warren Ct did to the criminal justice system? I've heard conservatives complain about it before but it was before I was born and preliminary googling doesn't turn up anything useful.

Anonymous said...

I've no doubt that your correspondent is wiser in general than I, but his theory, too, falls short.

For one thing, he implies that true criminals are less likely to be deterred or incapacitated by the criminal justice system nowadays than before the "middle 1960's." Well, that may be true, but it is folly to blame that on Escobedo, Miranda, Gideon, etc.

Since those heady days of the Warren Court, the Burger and Rhenquist Courts, COngress and the various legislatures, and executive officials have cooperated to make sure that once arrested, no one, however innocent, is likely to escape prison unless he is a bad, bad crook, in which case he will be let off in return for his testimony against a bunch of petty-criminal accomplices.

We can't root the failure of deterrence in a low conviction rate of those prosecuted (that rate, you see, isn't low), but only, perhaps, in the failure to arrest and prosecute at all. That is the fault of the elected branches. You can trace it to that time frame if you wish, Stokely Carmichael and all, but criminal deterrence failed when elected officials decided that they weren't going to get bad press from policing and prosecuting blacks any more (and were gonna import a bunch of browns to supplant them). In fact, from Lyndon Johnson on down, officials decided they would pay people in the lower socio-economic strata to work less, have kids out of wedlock, and trash their neighborhoods more. Richard Nixon kept the game going with more "community grants" (payoffs to riot instigators) and "affirmative action." Neither of those were mandated by Courts in the mid-Sixties.

Years ago I read a study that "proved" increased television viewing caused the run up in crime. (The international comparisons were, as I recall, just as suggestive as those for today's blame-it-on-lead studies.) The television connection is still much more persuasive than this "Supreme- Court- did- it theory."

We can debate what ingredients went into the witches brew that poisoned our society, but to blame it all on some modest attempts--nearly all overruled long since--to make the police and prosecutors gather evidence instead of just browbeating confessions out of likely suspects shows a lack of historical perspective.

Anonymous said...

The reforms of the Warren court were necessary to the degree that most criminals then were arrested and convicted on the basis of poor or at least partially fabricated evidence, although in fact many more than not were factually guilty.

The system has evolved to make that the case once again, although at a great deal higher expense to the taxpayer.

Then, as now, there are a fair number of people who were in fact criminals-and a much smaller but definite number of people who were never substantial criminals-serving time or at least standing convicted felons for crimes for which they were factually not guilty.

The criminals have gotten stupider over the years, although the mean and average IQs of criminals have never been especially high. It is no misstatement to say that criminal-minded people of higher IQ realize it is much safer to garner unearned wealth and glory form inside the system than outside of it. Many lawyers will openly admit that a good percentage of the most successful criminal trial attorneys are in fact sociopaths. And from what I have seen so are many undercover law enforcement people.

Anonymous said...

Freakonomics makes just this point about liberal courts causing an increase in crime in the 60s, but most people just remember abortion and broken windows.

Anonymous said...

As a former New Orleans resident I can second Mark Seecof's view that failure to prosecute is also at the heart of the crime increase.

But it's more complex than that. Black Juries are very reluctant to convict black criminals. For a variety of reasons but mostly because they are gang members and therefore part of the neighborhood militia: bad for you to vote to convict (as in you'll end up dead); good for you if you don't because there is one more militia men acting as a soldier in the eternal street wars.

Result: DAs don't bother (time period: 1995-98) bringing cases, in the vast majority, because juries simply won't convict. This leads to an out-of-control crime wave with gangs not the instrument of government ruling the cities.

Anonymous said...

I've read anecdotal evidence that in the 60's, parole boards got much more lenient as the older generation that did not recieve cultural marxist indoctrination in the universities was replaced.

For example, a violent, psychopathic offender given a very long sentence with a recomendation from the sentencing judge that parole never be granted would be granted parole after serving just a fraction of his sentence, even with dire psychological evaluations.

Anonymous said...

The UK homicide rate increased by a factor of 1.5 from 1965 to 1975 (and continued to rise thereafter). The UK had no Constitution, no Warren Court, and the equivalent of the Miranda warnings had been in force since 1912.

The US homicide rate doubled from 1965 to 1975. The racial mix of the US was very different from that of the UK in those years.

Anonymous said...

In South Africa you can easily study the effects of liberal politics on black crime.

Apartheid South Africa had a conservative Roman-Dutch legal system which clamped down crime both within the black and white communities. The cop force was actually very much undermanned by western standards. The primary instrument of crime prevention was deterrence. Crooks knew that messing with the legal system was detrimental to their health and freedom.

Since the ANC took power and instituted the most liberal constitution in the world, the crime rate (including serious crime) has exploded.

You can argue that the system was oppressive but this argument pales when you consider the huge cost in human lives and the disruption of society since the liberal system was imposed. Since the ANC came to power 250000 people (including 30000 whites) have been murdered, countless women raped, and much property plundered and stolen. 1 Mio. (out of 5 Mio.) whites have decided to leave the country, mainly due to crime.

The disruption to the economy is obvious, and the money which is tied up in private security services and other unnecessary instruments certainly offsets any potential economic growth that may have come from the liberal constitution. Liberals fret over the modest number of blacks who got caught up in the vice of Apartheid, but continuously ignore the enormous number of victims of the crime wave which started in 1994, when Mandela was inaugurated. You really have to be an ideologue, a self-deceiving liberal, a spiritually-minded moralist, or a nepotistic crook to think this liberal regime is an improvement.

The correlation between crime and the prevailing political system is so obvious there that all these lead/abortion-crime-link studies seem like nitpicking.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the gist of this reader's message -- that it is the liberal aching to invent, jump on, cling to any excuse to deny the culpability of liberal policies in turning "natural" society upside down that is at play here.

One of the unmistakable signs of liberal thinking is an aversion to Occam's razor. They entirely misinterpret or misrepresent this principle as if it consisted in ascribing the most immediate speculatory scheme to phenomena. Instead, Occam's principle requires that i) the explanation we attribute to reality comprehend a very large set of related or similar phenomena ii) that since a theory with a higher number of moving parts requires the verification of a higher number of relations between those parts, the fewer they are, the more we are able to ascertain the validity of our explanation.

In this specific case, if the real reasons for the increase in violence were either lack of abortion or presence of lead, then that leaves the rest of the world in a curious bind. You'd think the natural state of mankind is the state of affairs in Tromso, Norway. Unfortunately, for the largest part of the world, the default situation is Darfour. So this is the first Occam principle in action: if abortion were the panacea to violence, we would have gotten over it already in the large part of the world just by aborting babies. Even this is enough to challenge the naiveté of this assertion.

Second, lead. Well, if lead is causing such things, then the Arab world -- as a first example that pops into mind -- must be one heck of a lead-producing environment. This is not to say that lead cannot have this sorta impact. It's just that, isn't it utterly tenuous to think that the primary reason in such a widespread phenomenon (the rise of violence in the US from mid-'60s onwards for 30 years) could be primarily lead? Just think how many moving parts you have to verify works properly in this: you first have to get rid of all the other reasons that lead to violence -- universally, that is -- and then you have to show that lead, in small quantities, have actually lead to significant increases in violence in isolated experiments, and then show that in a very wide geography in the US, lead saw its heyday under the sun.

Isn't this a perversely convoluted explanatory scheme? Just in order to avoid the explanation that "liberal values lead to laxity in societal controls; groups with less mental gifts have a particularly hard time in maintaining social control mechanisms; ergo, such groups will suffer the most from violent crimes under social laxity?"

My 100-IQ mother can suggest the latter as an explanation, and I have no reason to automatically discard it in favor of more "intelligent designs" like Levitt's. That's because to think that a species that has acquired its evolutionary characteristics over a period of say 400,000 years needs very intelligent beings like Levitt to sense the destabilizing impact of this or that intra-societal tendency (in order to deal with it, that is) is MADNESS.

For the academics, though, it is accepting the common sense wisdom that is madness. Isn't the universe so wonderfully mysterious? So that only those with IQs north of 130 can understand it? Wouldn't it be wonderful if we had trillions of dollars to investigate every goddamned absurd idea under the sun? Just in order to avoid doing the boring and illiberal thing of accepting a conventional explanation? Oh, the horror of it! A conventional explanation must be considered a crime against humanity -- at least against that subset of it holding tenured positions in the academe.


Anonymous said...

I'm highly doubtful that rising crime rates had much to do with the Warren Court decisions. And I do not want to go back to the bad old days when police could beat a confession out of suspects and when poor people could be sent to prison without having any legal counsel at trial.

In the long run, Warren Court decisions led to a professionalization of police work. Detectives had to learn to use their brains, not their biceps. Overall, this was good for society since it meant more guilty people being arrested and fewer innocent ones.

The simplest explanation for crime among Baby Boomers is the Baby Boom itself. Most crime is committed by young males aged 16 to 25. During the 1960s and 1970s, we had a huge surplus of young males, and crime rates soared. As the population aged, crime rates fell again.

Note that Europe's aging native populations have relatively low crime rates, as does Japan's. Most crime in Europe is committed by young immigrant men.

Anonymous said...

Thank God for the Warren Court. Unfortunately the attitude of "better that 100 innocent men go to prison than 1 guilty man go free" has made a comeback. Our militarized police forces and for-profit prison systems would give Hitler a hard-on.

The big problem with crime is the diverse population of the US. Two very different people (blacks and nonblacks, as the Derb puts it) probably cannot be policed the same - yet our system mandates "equal treatment."

As anyone who remembers his grammar school days can attest, just one bad egg can "ruin it for the rest of us" - because we have to be "fair," don't we? Whites and little white-haired grannies are treated and looked on like animals to be caged if their papers are not perfectly straight, because Letalvis and Lemarcus are on the loose.

We aren't in Mayberry anymore.

Anonymous said...

A number of explanations of the recent crime wave have been offered. May I tick off which, to me, are the more plausible and why?

1. "Cultural Marxism" - check. The po kid never had a chance. His pater never liked him, his mater never hugged him; released on probation.

2. Big Welfare State - check. Why work? Why marry? Why worry? The Devil will find work for my idle hands.

3. Police ordered to regard everyone "innocent until proven guilty" by damned old Warren - no. There is little unauthorized crime in a police state, but the United States is not supposed to be a police state. Hitler's hard ons, indeed.

4. Blacks - check, with a caveat. You can't ignore that most violent crime has a certain hue. But, what causes the blacks to show so badly these days? Black folks have been around a long time. Why their recent albeit persistent freak-out?

5. TV, lead, the brain-controlling radiations of the Martians, grape pop - eh, not so much.

6. Birth - no. It is a tautology that more people being born means more criminals. That someone could line his pockets by selling the obverse as a breakthrough discovery is sad. Idiocracy is not near, it's here.

Put it all together, and what does it spell?

Blacks are what they are. Semi-scientific shot-in-the-dark Explanations of Everything based on What We Eat are far-fetched. I'd have to go with Cultural Marxism and Big Welfare State; still these seem only proximate. Is there a fundamental factor behind them?

Probably. Foolish idealism with a lot of money in its pockets and a lot of guilt in its heart. Could the ultimate cause be religion, of the old-time "turn the other cheek," "we're all sinners," "forgiveness is godliness," "resist not evil" variety? But then there's that other "tooth for a tooth" variety, too.

Probably comes down to how self-confident the society is. A self-doubtful guilt-sodden society will allow itself to be pushed around. A more confident society would not stand for the shenanigans we've been discussing. You can't measure that in a test tube, though.

PS on lead: how much lead did judges, preachers, police officers, do-gooders and the rest ingest, is perhaps a more fruitful question.

Luke Lea said...

If the murder rate doubled between 65 and 75, then clearly the hippies were responsible. They set a bad example. And since LSD caused hippies, LSD was responsible. And since Ken Keysey popularized LSD, he was responsible. And since the U.S. Dept. of Defense first turned Kesey on to LSD, they were responsible. Just being semi-facetious.

Eric Rasmusen said...

The post is rather wordy. Rather,

Punishment went way down, so crime went way up.

In the 60's, as crime rates doubled, the number of people in jail or prison actually fell.

The Warren Court is part of this, but equally important was its mindset: that crime was not a problem, but police and prisons were. Sentences fell, parole and probation increased.

Anonymous said...

Let's go back to the Freakonomics "abortion- reduced- crime" hypothesis. Though Steve has ably debunked that suggestion, the notion of a time lag between pulling a public policy trigger and feeling the recoil of public behavior may be useful.

What did the Supreme Court do that might have affected the 1950 birth cohort so it would commit a lot more crime from 1965 to 1975 (and afterwards, too)?

Let's think back... Aha! In 1954, the Supremes handed down Brown v. Board of Education, just in time for the babies of 1950 to start kindergarten, so that when they reached high-school age they could begin to rob and murder people!

I do not suggest that improving educational opportunity for blacks turned them into criminals.

(I don't even suggest Brown was wrongly decided, or that the Supremes intended its long-run consequences.)

I do suggest that raising, then dashing, blacks' hopes turned them into criminals. The assumption that white bigotry explained low black achievement spread through American society after Truman desegrated the Army in 1948. This notion had started in the literate classes (pushed-- in strict fact-- by the KGB) but spread widely from there in part because it seemed plausible even to non-Commies (especially against the background of the "new man" meme). Although this idea reached its legislative apotheosis in the 1964 Civil Rights Act, it was already accepted by policy makers in 1954 and has tormented American society ever since.

We have since discovered that there was always more to blacks' problems than bigotry, but along the way we made sure to humiliate millions of blacks in integrated classrooms, while propagandizing them to believe that whites robbed them of the high social positions they naturally deserved. We especially taught young blacks to despise the kind of jobs for which they were cognitively qualified. What was left to them? Crime!

(Crime against their evil white oppressors, who even fancy-pants Harvard law professors said "deserved it."

(Forget criminal procedure reform in the Sixties. A bigger problem was liberals excusing crime as morally-legitimate revolt.)

Things only got worse after 1965, when we began to import millions of brown people to do menial jobs so that white employers would have no incentive to coax blacks to do them. Also, we began to finance underclass women specifically to produce children and raise them without fathers-- even though we knew at the time that fatherless kids are crime-prone.

Even as we set black children up for ridicule in integrated classrooms, we told lower-class whites that they were despicable (because they looked down on blacks-- something we can now recognize to have been perfectly valid, considering the 1-SD average IQ difference by race). To drive home our contempt for those white prole kids we colonized their urban schools with chip-on-the-shoulder blacks while policy makers fled with their precious little darlings to all-white suburbs. (Remember Boston?) We also taught lower-class whites that the way to get ahead was through crime-- where they could use white brains to compete with black brawn. Forty years later, who cooks the meth in this country?

Anonymous said...

Can anyone point to data on the proportions of minority kids in mixed-race schools over time from 1955 to, say, 1990? Perhaps there's a way to get that out of NAEP? Then we could plot that against the crime rate with a 15 year lag (though realizing that the specific influence of the school-racial-makeup factor would diminish over time).

Anonymous said...

Something of a brain physiology determinist, I favor increases in lead levels and illegal drug use as explanations for the Great Freakout of 1964-1975. A lack of institutional preparation (schools, economy, and justice system) for an excess of low strata boomers (reaching their late teens and 20s at the time of the Freakout) probably also played an important role. A short, conceptual basis for the Freakout follows:

1. Lead exposure increases following WWII, subtly deforming the young brains of lower strata boomers, "the Freakout vanguard". 2. In their early years, the Freakout vanguard stresses schools and community institutions which have limited resources and suddenly higher numbers of not-so-easily-controlled kids to deal with. 3. This lead-lined (more impulsive), poorly tended crop. of boomers absorb 60s drug ideology (through various messiahs such as the Beatles and Jimi Hendrix) and are exposed to increasingly sophisticated drug capitalists. I don't remember exactly, but according to the Nicky Barnes episode of American Gangster, there were something like 250,000 or 500,000 (mostly black) heroin junkies in NYC (ground zero of the Freakout) in the early 70s. 4. A less flexible, more static, more heavily regulated economy is even less alert to apply a sudden excess of poorly educated, unskilled youth labor than it would be today, resulting in high unemployment 5. Poorly tended, poorly educated, unemployed, lead-lined, and on drugs, low strata boomers reach their high crime years needing to support both themselves and their drug habits. The resulting crush of cases challenges an unprepared justice system (police/courts/prisons). Lenient sentencing and parole policies result from a lack of resources to build and staff prisons (without painfully higher taxes) and a critical mass of democrat voting low strata people (particularly minorities) in urban areas with family members in criminal legal jeapordy. 6. Absorbing and reflecting each other's own bad and mostly uncontrolled behavior, the exuberant Freakout vanguard start to spray paint and jump the subway turnstiles, then buy guns, sell drugs, and commit home burglaries, store robberies, rapes, and murders. Regular citizens start to feel Bernie Goetz edginess and the Death Wish series is a hit. The Great Freakout is on.

Anonymous said...

Let's think back... Aha! In 1954, the Supremes handed down Brown v. Board of Education, just in time for the babies of 1950 to start kindergarten, so that when they reached high-school age they could begin to rob and murder people!

But schools weren't integrated until the 1970's.

Anonymous said...

"But schools weren't integrated until the 1970's."

That's news to me. Where did you go to school?

Anonymous said...

I went to school in South Carolina, and in my district de-jure segregation continued into 1971. In Alabama, I believe the schools were officially desegregated in 1974. But I'm referring more to the de-facto segregation that existed almost everywhere, including most notably Boston, until the implementation of busing in the 1970's.

Anonymous said...

Between 1954 and 1964 many school districts defied the Brown decision. Then with the Civil Rights Act Congress required all school districts to file desegregation plans with DHEW or lose Federal funds. Congress also switched the burden of proof in desegregation court cases from students/ parents to school officials. The new rules caused virtually all school districts to end formal segregation. Many, though, adopted "neighborhood attendance zone" and "freedom of choice" plans which resulted in most schools reflecting racial patterns of nearby housing. Some districts even built new schools in peripheral areas and closed centrally-located schools in order to ensure that schools would serve mainly students of one race or the other. Naturally parents sued over these lackadaisical or evasive tactics.

Between 1965 and 1969 the Supreme Court ruled that districts which had formerly been segregated de-jure would have to implement active, disruptive de-segregation schemes. They could not just retire de-jure segregation then rely on housing patterns and school attendance zones to ensure that most students remained in single-race schools. The line of disputes over school de-segregation culminated in 1969's Schwann v. Charlotte- Mecklenburg Board of Educ. In that case the Supreme Court listed all the outstanding arguments against active de-segregation and overruled them all. The Supreme Court basically instructed Federal District Courts to order busing in any school district, formerly de-jure segregated, which failed to adopt its own busing plan or some scheme of equally visible effect.

After 1969, important cases all concerned the question of busing or radical measures to change attendance patterns in school districts which had not been de-jure segregated. Some state courts (such as those in California) did force disruptive de-segregation on districts that had only de-facto segregation issues. After some turmoil the US Supreme Court decided in 1971's Milliken v. Bradley that the Federal courts could not order a district which had never be de-jure segregated to participate in a regional busing scheme to de-segregate some other school district. In the end, it was settled that Federal courts could only order disruptive de-segregation measures to correct de-jure segregation or its lingering effects.

I can't see how any school districts remained de-jure segregated into the mid-1970's, though some may have dragged their feet implementing desegration requirements to which they had formally acquiesced a few years earlier. Of course, litigation over the scope and effectiveness of de-segregation plans continued during the 1970's. There wasn't too much school-segregation litigation in the 1980's-- litigators mostly shifted to suing states' over their school-funding formulæ.

Political trends eventually produced school boards in some districts that wished to force "racial balance" using some of the same methods (busing, disruptive school assignment plans) that de-segregation orders had relied upon. Of course, most busing plans were zero-sum games which only put some kids into better schools by putting an equal number of kids into worse ones. Such districts used explicit racial criteria to assign students to schools, which obviously violated the ruling in the original Brown case that race-based school assignments violated the 14th Amendment. (Post-Brown de-segregation schemes often assigned kids by race, but only as a temporary remedial measure. Every time the Supreme Court approved such a scheme, it repeated that racial assignment could only be used temporarily and had to be abandoned as soon as the school district had eliminated previously de-jure segregated schools.) So of course parents sued, and that line of cases eventually produced 2007's Parents Involved... v. Seattle School District.

Parents Involved seems unlikely to settle the issue because the Supreme Court issued a Bakke-like split decision. De-segregation cases such as Schwann and Milliken dictated clear rules to the lower courts, but Parents Involved is maddeningly vague.

(The Charlotte- Mecklenburg de-segregation order was finally lifted in 1999 after thirty years of busing. Students went back to neighborhood schools. Most of those ended up with largely-black or largely-white student bodies.)