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March 27, 2009

Would "spreading the wealth" help reduce crime and punishment rates?

This new little criminology paper that just showed up on SSRN, titled "Income Inequality and Crime in the United States," ought to help generate a robust debate on a friday.  Here is the brief abstract of the brief paper:

This paper investigates the relationship between income inequality and crime.  Results show that there is a strong and robust effect of relative income inequality on burglary.  Effect on robbery is also strong and robust in most cases.

Of course, these results linking economic crime to economic conditions should hardly be surprising.  But, in light of the apparent reality that all sorts of crime and punishment levels often also to correlate to inequalities in wealth (and educational attainment), one cannot help but wonder if Senator Jim Webb's new proposal to "create a blue-ribbon commission to look at every aspect of our criminal justice system with an eye toward reshaping the process from top to bottom" will have to both start and end with "spread the wealth" recommendations.

March 27, 2009 at 10:21 AM | Permalink


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I guess we could finance "spreading the wealth" by selling heartburn medicine to wealth conservatives.

Posted by: John Neff | Mar 27, 2009 1:21:23 PM

There is very little crime in Cairo, where people with 8 children live on stair landings, and take care of their families on $1000 a year. They live next to millionaires. This study needs to be repeated in Cairo to have validity.

For now, the study is lying lawyer masking ideology and pretext, to rob the productive to give to the parasite lawyer clients. Without meaning any offense, the biased postings of this blog require a nearly full time truth squad. Only left wing agenda items make it in.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Mar 27, 2009 1:28:36 PM

Thanks for posting. While income inequality has been looked at quite a bit, wealth inequality has not. It's striking how many academics avoid the subject (the word 'wealth' is not mentioned once in this paper).

Posted by: DK | Mar 27, 2009 2:07:33 PM

Well, part of the problem with studying "wealth" is that economists don't agree on what "wealth" actually is. They don't agree on what income is either, but the disagreement is more technical and hence less controversial.

The question is not can a society be built that avoids crime, there can be. The question is why would anyone want to live it that society. Freedom by definition means the freedom to go astray. In my opinion, a society where there was no crime would be a society where there was no freedom, a dead society.

It's interesting that someone brings up Cairo. I been to Egypt several times and if there is a definition of a police state, even more so than North Korea, it's Egypt. A society that achieved its freedom from crime by every other person being a part of or afraid of the secret police is no society I want to live in.

Posted by: Daniel | Mar 27, 2009 2:33:49 PM

How much of this is an egg problem and how much a chicken? I've seen plenty of work tending to show that the people who commit crimes and especially those who are caught just don't think very much about what they are doing.

I can easily see those same traits leading to extremely low incomes, as well as being learned behaviors. Somewhat like the number of lottery winners who end up in bankrupcy, I have a hard time seeing this as an income issue.

If it were purely an income issue you would expect to see far fewer stories about folks like Michael Vick, Adam Jones etc getting in trouble.

State sponsored education will only take you so far as well, unmotivated parents can easily undo any amount of effort you pump into the system.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Mar 27, 2009 2:40:38 PM

Daniel: The subject is income disparity. It is extreme in Cairo.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Mar 27, 2009 3:04:55 PM

Income disparity added to the power that prosecutors now have can lead to "no justice for the poor." I've certainly seen it in my small town of 8,000 when 16 men who were very poor were rounded up, jailed, charged with charges which amounted to hundreds of yearsm bail set over $100,000 for each. Thirteen of them had all been accused of sexual crimes by 15 year old girls who went to the same small high school. There had just been an "Advocacy Center" created at the hospital with large amounts of funding by government and by feminist groups. The prosecutor was up for election in 2008. This round up happened in late 2006 and early 2007, all 16 men. There had been one sex crime in 2005 and none before that.

One of the men was deaf, one was mentally retarded, one was mentally ill, one was illiterate, and they were all terribly poor. (I suppose a "tough on crimer" would say they SHOULDN'T have been deaf, mentlly ill, retarded or illiterate, therefore its all their fault.) They all took pleas for 7 to 20 years of prison time, after being held in jail about 18 months.

That is what justice is like for poor people. In late 2007, the Advocacy Center got notirfied there would be very little funding, and the accusations and the charges stopped. There was none in late 2007, none in 2008 and none this year. The prosecutor got re-elected. That is what is so horrible for the poor when the laws become so exaggerated for certain crimes. People who want to protect the children should be come familiar with the children of these imprisoned men!
I am sure that most of these men did nothing. The 15 yr old girls were friends, there was hysteria, profit, greed, corruption, and gossip. The legal system needs to be reformed.

Posted by: Donna | Mar 28, 2009 11:25:43 PM

Donna: The criminal law is in utter failure. It allows 23 million crimes, 5 being violent. It executes innocent people, likely at a rate of 20%. Prosecutors use it for self-promotion, going after celebrities on trivial lawyer gotcha, a form of lawyer bad faith that requires criminalization. It is used to impose vile political causes, such as feminism. It allows terrorists to attack our nation. It prosecutes our warriors for tactical battlefield decisions.

What can explain the above anomalies? The Rent Seeking Theory. The lawyer uses the criminal law as a form of coerced job generation. Rent seeking is a polite term for armed robbery. Armed people would help you, if you ever refused to pay your taxes.


The criminal law is itself a criminal enterprise by a criminal cult enterprise, the lawyer profession. It controls the three branches of government, and is the biggest wealthiest, most powerful criminal enterprise. Some of the forbearance for massive criminality may also be just professional courtesy. The indoctrination is so good, almost no lawyer knows it has taken place. Yet modern, intelligent students emerge from law school believing and using supernatural doctrines and putting cult rent seeking above all other values, including their families and their health.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Mar 29, 2009 9:12:18 AM

The point I'd want to look for is how much of the income inequality effect is really an "extreme poverty" effect. Poverty alone is a less good predictor of crime than one might expect, but places with concentrations of extreme poverty have very high crime levels.

Posted by: ohwilleke | Mar 31, 2009 1:43:39 PM

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