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May 25, 2011

Making the full-throated case for the notion that more Internet = less crime

I was pleased to see Nathan Koppel through this post at the WSJ Law blog pick up on my post here yesterday about possible contributors to the great modern crime decline.  And though the comments at the WSJ Law blog to Nathan's post are not nearly as informed and engaging as are the comments here at SL&P, there was an interesting link to this post at the blog "Lifelong Learner," which make a lengthy and compelling case for why more internet explains why there is less street crime. Here is how that post concludes:

In 1969, Professor Hirschi asked an interesting question, why do people not commit crime, instead of why people commit crime.  He concluded that people do not commit crime because they are bonded to society in four ways, i.e., through in commitment, attachment, involvement, and beliefs.  If Hirschi was correct, then the young people who are crazy about the Internet and spend hours and hours on it to learn gaming or do networking are not likely to be in the street causing trouble.

More simply, being hooked on the Internet, the young people have a purpose and meaning in life. The “commitment” and “involvement” with the Internet (activities and community) takes them away from street crime.  Each hour the young people are glued to the computer means an hour less for committing crime or causing trouble in the street. This is not to say that the young people would not commit crime in Internet, but most of them are not reported as street crime.

The Internet has made our street safer by engaging our kids in senseless to parents, useless to society, but meaningful activities to the young people!!!

May 25, 2011 at 04:11 PM | Permalink

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On the other hand, they could be on the Internet hacking into someone else's bank account....

Posted by: Bill Otis | May 25, 2011 4:40:52 PM

Or viewing child porn . . . .

Posted by: ------ | May 25, 2011 5:48:13 PM

Bill, if you actually read the link instead of belching out your opinions without any referent but your own prejudices, you'd know that's a big part of the argument made in the Lifelong Learner post Doug referenced: UCR measurements of street crime don't include cybercrime.

I thought another particularly salient point was that "if you contemplate to get even electronically, that is not going to hurt people [physically] as in street crime," plus the "Internet provides a cooling off period when you want to get even." It's true. I can call you an idiot here at SL&P without having to show up and kick your ass.

Posted by: Gritsforbreakfast | May 25, 2011 8:08:09 PM

The Monkey Cage blog last Wednesday reported on a study from Norway that purported to correlate an increased internet use with a rise in sex crime (although comments on the piece were highly skeptical) .....former student

Posted by: Brian Hannan | May 25, 2011 9:02:06 PM

"I can call you an idiot here at SL&P without having to show up and kick your ass."

Oh golly, I had come to think that maybe, just maybe, the level of discourse had gotten past sixth grade. My bad.

Posted by: Bill Otis | May 25, 2011 10:59:16 PM

"Bill, if you actually read the link instead of belching out your opinions without any referent but your own prejudices"

Impossible!!!!!!!! He can't do it LOL. And, with his usual distractionary tactics, Bill chooses to ignore the premise of Lifelong Learner that the crime rate has not declined. Understandable since this is contrary to Bill's belief that mass incarceration has reduced the rate. And, as Grits so accurately pointed out, Learner very clearly stated, "UCR measures traditional street crime, they are not measuring, as effectively, cyber crime."

Mmmmm, perhaps there is a sixth grade reading comprehension problem afoot on the part of some.

Posted by: Thomas | May 26, 2011 11:01:31 AM

"Bill chooses to ignore the premise of Lifelong Learner that the crime rate has not declined."

The notion that the OVERALL crime rate has not declined over the past 20 years is massively contrary to BJS figures and the overwhelming consensus in the field (and outside the field for that matter). Indeed the only serious question now being asked is why crime has declined, not whether it has declined. Two days ago, Doug posted a NYT article in which various scholars were discussing possilbe reasons, http://sentencing.typepad.com/sentencing_law_and_policy/2011/05/wonderfully-puzzling-violent-crime-rate-continue-to-decline-despite-nfl-lockout.html#comments. Not one of the experts the NYT interviewed expressed any doubt that crime has declined over the last generation.

"Understandable since this is contrary to Bill's belief that mass incarceration has reduced the rate."

What I said was that the increase in incarceration is the single most important reason for the reduction in overall crime. This is not just my "belief." It is the finding of a University of Chicago study I linked two days ago, and that no one has even attempted to rebut. The study is here:

http://pricetheory.uchicago.edu/levitt/Papers/LevittUnderstandingWhyCrime2004.pdf

As I did before, I'll give a quick summary. Six factors commonly mentioned as possible explanations turned out to have little or no effect: the strong economy of the 1990s, changing demographics, better policing strategies, gun control laws, concealed weapons laws and increased use of the death penalty.

Instead, the drop was attributable to four factors: increases in the number of police, the increase in the prison population, the waning crack epidemic and the legalization of abortion.

Of these, the increase in the prison population was found to be by far the most significant.

Posted by: Bill Otis | May 26, 2011 11:47:52 AM

Bill, as a longtime reader but very infrequent poster, I suspect no one is engaging with your story partly because you are using it for support, not illumination. I feel based on the history of your posts that you will forget this Chicago study the next time a debate about the deterrent effect of the death penalty starts. I invite you to prove me wrong and concede that, as the study you cite concludes, the death penalty has little to no deterrent effect.

Further, playing "gotcha" with a study is a particularly poor method of advancing a discussion. As an example, in 2005 a professor of law and economics published a study comparing the deterrent effect of the death penalty with the brutalization effect, and concluded that the death penalty causes more deaths than it prevents. 104 Michigan Law Review 204 (2005). Challenging you to refute this particular study is unfair because this is a complicated issue, there are many studies coming at this issue using many different methods and focusing on one study obscures the complexity of the issue. What you are doing with your study is equally unproductive.

Posted by: Paul | May 26, 2011 4:58:37 PM

The "sixth grade reading comprehension problem" may well exist; the question is who has it.

"Lifelong Learner" (whoever and whatever that is) is cited as having adopted the "premise" that the crime rate has not declined. Of course a premise is just that; it's where the inquiry starts, not where it ends.

There is no argument, or even a suggestion, as to why that premise is correct, or why anyone else should adopt it. Nor does it make a grain of sense to think that whatever may have been the trend with the small fraction of crime known as cyber crime is representative of overall crime. Since use of computers has exponentially increased over the last generation, it would be surprising if cyber crime had NOT increased, no matter what had been going on with the usual violent and property crimes.

In other words, use of the "Lifelong Learner" piece about cyber crime is misleading, and intentionally so. Not that this should come as a surprise.

By contrast, just today, Doug has up yet another entry, http://sentencing.typepad.com/sentencing_law_and_policy/2011/05/interesting-brookings-report-on-us-crime-rates-in-various-regions.html, adding substantiation to what I have said before, to wit, that precisely over the period in which "incarceration nation" has taken hold, the crime rate has plummeted.

In particular, the new entry says this: "'Many people know the rates of violent and property crimes have declined significantly in recent years,' said Steven Raphael, Professor of Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley and one of the report authors...Crime rates have dropped everywhere, but they have declined the most in the nation’s inner cities that are often poorer, more urbanized, and more minority than their suburban counterparts.'"

The report, incidentally, hails not from Fox News, but from the Brookings Institution.

What's actually going on is this: There are some so ideologically dug in to the mantra that there is too much incarceration that the idea -- ANY idea -- that incarceration has played a role in reducing crime -- must be denied. Thus the "premise" of "Lifelong Learner" gets center stage, and the findings of the University of Chicago study and the Brookings Institution go over the side of the boat.

That the anti-incarceration Received Wisdom on this board would have to go to the lengths of denying what is routinely accepted by experts across the spectrum tells you how desperate it has become.

Posted by: Bill Otis | May 26, 2011 6:37:59 PM

Paul --

"[A]s a longtime reader but very infrequent poster, I suspect no one is engaging with your story partly because you are using it for support, not illumination."

Of course the reasons I'm using it are irrelevant. Do you contest the study's FINDINGS that crime has plummeted and that the increase in imprisonment is the single most important reason?

"I feel based on the history of your posts that you will forget this Chicago study the next time a debate about the deterrent effect of the death penalty starts. I invite you to prove me wrong and concede that, as the study you cite concludes, the death penalty has little to no deterrent effect."

I never said that the DP has a deterrent effect on CRIME GENERALLY. What I have done is point to the great majority of deterrence studies, gathered here, http://www.cjlf.org/deathpenalty/DPDeterrence.htm, which show that the DP has a deterrent effect ON MURDER.

"Further, playing 'gotcha' with a study is a particularly poor method of advancing a discussion."

In other words, I should just ignore a serious study of exactly the issue here. And why is that? Because the study refutes the ideologically hide-bound view that imprisonment is An Unadulterated Evil?

"As an example, in 2005 a professor of law and economics published a study comparing the deterrent effect of the death penalty with the brutalization effect, and concluded that the death penalty causes more deaths than it prevents. 104 Michigan Law Review 204 (2005). Challenging you to refute this particular study is unfair..."

Tell ya what. I'll take my two dozen or so studies saying that the DP reduces murder to your one saying it produces an increase.

"...because this is a complicated issue, there are many studies coming at this issue using many different methods and focusing on one study obscures the complexity of the issue. What you are doing with your study is equally unproductive."

Is the Brookings Institution study, cited by Doug just today, equally "unproductive?"

Whenever we hear that there are just too many studies and that the question is too darn "complex" to figure out, we know what the real skinny is: The studies support a conclusion the Left dislikes.

And so it is here. When the overwhelming professional consensus is that the crime rate has dropped just as more and more people have been imprisoned -- well, shucks, we just can't know, because it's soooooo complicated.

Posted by: Bill Otis | May 26, 2011 7:07:16 PM

Bill, your page of links includes Paul Zimmerman's 2006 study. That study found a deterrent effect in death by electrocution alone; it did not find a deterrent effect from any other method of execution. That is a pretty substantial caveat, especially considering I believe no state uses electrocution to execute anymore, unless the defendant requests it.

If we are using competing studies, I would point out the 2008 survey of the American Society of Criminologists in 99 Northwestern Journal of Law and Criminology 489. 88.2% of the criminologists polled said they do not believe the death penalty is a deterrent. The same percentage in 1996 was 87.5%. Only 2.6% agreed that executing people deters others from committing murder. Most of the econometric studies you rely on were done in the last decade, but they have not changed the minds of those who study criminology for a living. (18.8% say they agree there is a brutalization effect, which is both an overwhelming consensus that it does not exist and far greater support for brutalization than for deterrence). You claim the research overwhelmingly supports a finding of deterrence, when the expert consensus overwhelmingly rejects that view. Considering your selective citation only of studies that support your view on this topic, I am not inclined to trust that the Chicago study you cite is the strong proof you claim.

I am citing death penalty deterrence and brutalization because I happen to have the research in front of me. But the way we are throwing studies out is not producing a worthy discussion. The readers inclined to believe your position will credit the studies you cite, and readers inclined to believe my position will credit the studies I cite, and in the end we produce a great deal of heat and very little light. I would like to do better. But if you wonder why no one who disagrees with you bothers to respond to a study you cite, well, I do not bother reading it because I do not find you credible. I am willing to change my opinion and start reading what you cite if you start acknowledging research and evidence that does not support your position.

(In the interest of fairness, I mentioned brutalization partly as a needless provocation. I have considerable doubts that a brutalization effect actually exists and do not think it is a valid argument against the death penalty at this time.)

Posted by: Paul | May 26, 2011 10:51:40 PM

Paul --

"But if you wonder why no one who disagrees with you bothers to respond to a study you cite, well, I do not bother reading it because I do not find you credible."

Of course whether I am credible has absolutely nothing to do with whether the authors of the Chicago study are credible or their methods sound. So why does the reliability of their work depend on what you think of me?

"I am willing to change my opinion and start reading what you cite if you start acknowledging research and evidence that does not support your position."

With all respect, sir, I don't believe for one minute that you would change your opinion about the death penalty no matter what I did, what studies I cited or what arguments I made. If I'm wrong about that, I will stand to be corrected. Am I? Is there any realistic chance that you would become a death penalty supporter?

"In the interest of fairness, I mentioned brutalization partly as a needless provocation. I have considerable doubts that a brutalization effect actually exists and do not think it is a valid argument against the death penalty at this time."

I appreciate this, but I have a question: What's the point, in a "worthy" discusssion of the kind you seek, of a needless provocation?

As you will have seen if you're a longtime reader, some of the discussion on this site seems to be more interested in me than in the subject matter. Just on this thread, we have a frequent, and reasonably intelligent (when he wants to be) commenter (Gritsforbreakfast), saying that he's going to "show up and kick [my] ass." I guess that's also a "needless provocation," although I suppose it could be a threat.

Either way, what's the point? Is that the path to a worthwhile argument?

Posted by: Bill Otis | May 27, 2011 10:01:46 AM

Bill-

You stated:

"By contrast, just today, Doug has up yet another entry, http://sentencing.typepad.com/sentencing_law_and_policy/2011/05/interesting-brookings-report-on-us-crime-rates-in-various-regions.html, adding substantiation to what I have said before, to wit, that precisely over the period in which "incarceration nation" has taken hold, the crime rate has plummeted."

This same time period also happens to correspond to the rise of the internet. In fact, crime and incarceration statistics seem to more closely mimic the rise of the internet then the rise of the incarceration rate. Incarceration rates took off around 1980, but the crime rate peaked in the early/mid '90s. This is exactly the time period when the internet first started to take off.

I am not saying that the internet is the one and only cause of the crime rate, but I believe it helped by decreasing criminal idleness and increasing community bonds.

Posted by: Shawn | May 27, 2011 2:22:05 PM

Shawn --

"I am not saying that the internet is the one and only cause of the crime rate, but I believe it helped by decreasing criminal idleness and increasing community bonds."

Could you provide some analysis supporting that belief? Is there some study showing that people who were otherwise thinking about going out to commit a crime gave up on the idea so they could use the Internet?

One could just as easily say that the increased use of cell phones over the last generation decreased crime, citing the reason you do (increased community bonds). But, absent some demonstrated link between cell phone use and crime, it's no more than unanchored speculation.

On the other hand, it's not speculation to say that when a criminal is in jail rather than on the street, he is going to commit less street crime. And when you multiply the criminal in jail by several hunderd thousand -- which is what has happened with the rise of "incarceration nation" -- you're going to get a WHOLE LOT less street crime -- which is also what has happened.

The dogged refusal to acknowledge the link between more prison and less crime is not the result of analysis. It's the result of ideology.

Posted by: Bill Otis | May 27, 2011 2:45:17 PM

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