For Public Safety, a New Golden Age

Today, your chance of being murdered is lower than it was in the late 1950s, a time of enviable peace and order.

The 1950s are often recalled as a golden age in American life -- stable families, rising incomes, wholesome TV shows and low crime rates. Doesn't sound like 2011, does it? When it comes to crime, though, there is a striking similarity: We are, believe it or not, in a new golden age.

Crime has never subsided as a topic for local news or prime-time detective shows. Anyone looking for reasons to fear going out of the house can find plenty. But the truth is our streets are safer than they have been in a long time.

The latest evidence came last week, when the FBI reported that in the first half of 2011, "violent crimes were down 6.4 percent, while property crimes fell 3.7 percent." Murder declined by 5.7 percent, rape by 5.1 percent, and robbery by 7.7 percent.

Six-month drops don't mean much by themselves. But this one continues an established trend. Crime peaked in 1991 and fell steadily before flattening out somewhat in the mid-2000s. But since 2006, both violent crime and property crime have plunged.

Today, your chance of being murdered is lower than it was in the late 1950s, a time of enviable peace and order. Robberies have been cut by more than half since their peak. Car thefts are about as common as they were when the Beatles first appeared on "The Ed Sullivan Show."

It's an understatement to say we didn't see this coming. Back in the 1990s, when crime was at horrendous levels, experts told us things would only get worse.

Princeton University Criminologist John Dilulio warned of "a sharp increase in the number of super crime-prone young males." Northeastern University professor James Alan Fox said the coming crime wave "will make 1995 look like the good old days."

As it happened, lawlessness had already begun to retreat. The homicide rate, which in 1991 reached a level of 9.8 murders for every 100,000 people, sunk to 5.5 in 2000. Aggravated assaults diminished by a quarter between 1991 and 2000. Burglaries declined by 42 percent.

You would think such a welcome trend couldn't last, but it has. And the crime statistics may actually understate the improvement. Despite the recent sharp decline in sexual assault, the FBI puts the forcible rape rate at three times higher than in 1960. But rape data -- unlike homicide, which usually leaves a corpse behind -- are notoriously susceptible to the willingness of victims to come forward.

Today, compared to 50 years ago, women are undoubtedly more likely to go to the cops after an attack, and cops are more likely to take them seriously. So the actual rate of rape may be far lower than it was then.

What accounts for the gradual onset of domestic tranquility? Locking up more criminals probably did some good, but that trend has run its course. Last year, more inmates were released than admitted. There's been no recent boom in police hiring.

Abortion is another explanation for the decline of the 1990s -- a view popularized in the book "Freakonomics," by University of Chicago economist Steven Levitt and journalist Stephen Dubner. They surmised that by legalizing abortion nationwide in 1973, the Supreme Court prevented many births to women who were poor, young, unwed, or all three.

Those births, they argued, would have produced a high number of unwanted, abused and neglected children who would be prone to criminality. Eliminating them prevented a lot of felonious mischief that would have occurred a couple of decades later, when the kids reached adulthood.

In fact, as University of California at Berkeley law professor Franklin Zimring notes in his book, "The Great American Crime Decline," births to unwed teens didn't fall after the abortion decision -- they (SET ITAL) rose (END ITAL). "There were no visible signs of changes in the demography of births to match the theories," he writes.

Nor does abortion seem to account for the decline that has taken place lately. Abortion rates peaked in 1981, fell 12 percent by 1993 and have kept dropping. If higher abortion rates lead to lower crime, as "Freakonomics" suggests, shouldn't lower abortion rates lead to higher crime?

The truth, Carnegie Mellon University criminologist Alfred Blumstein informed me, is that "no one has a definite explanation." Lots of factors may have played a role, and simple lessons are hard to find.

Call it a Christmas miracle. We don't know how we reached the promised land. But we might as well enjoy it.

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  • ||

    Well, you know they are ALL corrupt as the day is long dude.

  • Glory and Praise to City-State||

    Can anybody recommend a political ideology that lauds City-Statism (civilization,) like libertarianism does, which also does not contradictorily use "statism" as an invective?

  • You're an asshole||

  • Asshole no like contradictions||

  • F Hart||

    Statism is a state of mind.

  • WI = Exposed as Charlatan||

    WI frequently cites "experts" and "scholars" who invariably are TENURED STATE EMPLOYEES or THOSE RECEIVING STATE GRANTS.

  • Hypocritical Moralizer = WI||

    WI: Call Off Your Sleep-Inducing Old Ethics. Go have an organic-beef, or better yet organic-buffalo burger -- it is good brain food.

  • Hypocritical Moralizer = WI||

    WI believes if your sustenance is provided by tax dollars expropriated by the POLICE STATE from the producing class, you can be more honest about envy of the producing class.

  • WI = FireBrimstone Ranter||

    WI believes in the concept of Original Sin: as applying to everyone except WI. So WI must preach, preach, preach and if that doesn't work, call out the ECO_COPS to stop folks from sinning.

  • White Indian No Likey||

    this murder drought. City-State must end=billions must be murdered NOW.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    They surmised that by legalizing abortion nationwide in 1973, the Supreme Court prevented many births to women who were poor, young, unwed, or all three.

    I imagine it won't be long before we're pointing to the same event as a cause of the worker deficit in replacing an aging workforce.

  • Bee Tagger||

    Simple solution: we'll just have ATM machines procreate.

  • Almanian||

    But that will put everyone out of work! It's madness!

  • ||

    The projection of US population in 2050 is 450 million. These will not be old folks retiring here from Asia or Latin America - these will be young people from the Second Aztec Empire.

  • Ice Nine||

    Wonder if 95% of black men in Washington are still semi-criminal or entirely criminal.

  • F Hart||

    It depends on how many of them carry guns.

  • SIV||

    "Your ideas are intriguing to me and I wish to subscribe to your newsletter"

  • Dave||

    What percentage of black men in Washington work for the Government, directly or indirectly?

  • adam||

    The ones who work live in PG County, not DC.

  • Juice||

    I'd say 50% of the population of PG county is criminal or semi-criminal (whatever that means).

  • ||

    This is fascinating: I've typed "pg county" into Google and the 1st link was "Prince George's County, Maryland" from Wikipedia, the 2nd was "Prince George's County Police Department"...

  • Ron Paul Political Report||

    I tried to warn you about this in the 1990s but you didn't listen to me. Lets just hope the PG County Police Department hires former track stars, like I was in school. Now I fight for your freedoms, and by your I mean white people just like our founders intended.

    Just as my blood crawled when I first touched the sinister New money, that's how I feel whenever I deliver one of those animals into this world. I say to myself..."another three square for at least 10-15 and just as we are done paying for your formula."

    To hear more send $49.50 to the Ron Paul Political Report, Lake Jackson TX.

  • I'm Lovin' It!||

    McDonald’s failure in Bolivia
    The country closed its stores and left Bolivia in 2002. Why couldn't it succeed there?

  • ||

    Once, walking down the street in La Paz, I smelled this yummy smell coming from an alley. There were several indians squatting around a 55 gallon drum that was cut off to about a foot tall, and they were frying something in it. I walked over and looked in. It was 4 in deep in hot oil of some kind and what was frying in it appeared to be about 50 sheep's assholes. They offered me some, but I passed.

  • Ice Nine||

    You missed a treat, I think. Always eat the asshole first - 10,000 lions can't be wrong.

  • ||

    Yeah, there is less "crime" if you disregard the rise of the busker menace. Once rare, these enemies to peace and quiet are now everywhere, blocking the sidewalks and filling the air with discordant sounds.

    End the busker menace! No more violins and sax in the streets!

  • Almanian||

    You can't walk a block in Toronto without tripping on an inveterate bagpiper (playing horribly, natch)

  • Almanian||

    Or even an itinerant one...derp!

  • BakedPenguin||

    [a]... bagpiper playing horribly...

    How can you tell?

  • Mr. FIFY||

    Oh, man, and here I was going to create Bagpipe Hero for the PS3 and make a fuckin' fortune...

  • Mr. Chartreuse ||

    I actually like pipe and drum music, so I might be have bought your game on the Wii. However, I also like the run and shoot offense, soccer, and watched such long-lived shows as Space: Above and Beyond and Lone Gunmen, so my tastes might be a bit skewed.

  • Mr. FIFY||

    You might have been the only buyer... lol.

  • ||

    Love Space: Above and Beyond! And I contend that it was its terrible time slot that killed the show...

  • Ted S.||

    Love Space: Above and Beyond! sounds like an interesting name for a Wii game. I didn't think they did sex-themed games, though.

  • ||

    I'm practically up to my balls in jugglers.

  • Fluffy||

    Wow, 3 out of 5 of the first messages here are new Reasonable Ignore names.

  • Old Man Winter||

    Great. Now I am going to have to switch over to chrome.

  • Almanian||

    Interesting. I suppose the gummint stats don't count the reguiar ass rapings of The Publick by Congress in the form of various laws and taxes, which suggests rape is actually probably UNDERreported.

    Just a guess.

  • tarran||


    One answer is clearly videogames!

    Adolescents who want a thrill now have a great option that wasn't there prior to the 80's in that they can play awesome video games. Prior to that the little whipper-snappers would alight into a jalopy and go engage in the gateway drug of petty criminality.

  • ||

    Damn, you beat me to it. Ha!

    Of course there is one other thing to take into account....the stats. I am ever suspicious of govt generated stats. Well, any stats really.

  • adam||

    Particularly in an age where police often get rewarded based on those stats. There have been several reports of police fudging stats, including in the NYPD.

  • ||

    "...police often get rewarded based on those stats."
    I thought the cry for more law enforcement funding went out when crime increased.

  • BakedPenguin||

    Obesity. Damn kids today are too fat to steal. (shakes fist and cane)

  • Live Free or Diet||

    Sugar's to blame. Yeah, they get all hyped up at first (glucose), but they crash too fast to actually do anything. And it keep them hungry (fructose). Gluttony and sloth, all wrapped up in one neat little chemical package.
    OK, I'm kidding.
    But I really do have a cane to shake if I cared too, though my usual gesture with it is more like a spear raised in a victory salute.

  • BakedPenguin||

    Of course, for this to be a valid theory, cops and donuts would need to be explained.

  • juris imprudent||

    Caffeine, sugar and a tiny bit of adrenaline creates an urge to kill dogs - but nothing more dangerous.

  • Tod F||

    absolutely!!! Why can't everyone else see this! It is the best way by far to channel male aggression.

  • ||

    When I was a kid and a young man there was nothing to do hanging around the house. We had to go out and make our own amusement. Now young people have access to fantastic video games my generation could never have foreseen. Just a guess, but maybe those games are keeping potential mischief-makers busy doing harmless things.

  • Old Man||

    Why, back in my day, we didn't have anything to play with but sticks. So we'd chase each other around with sticks. And every so often you'd trip, and the stick would JAB you in the eye, and you'd be blinded.

    And that was the way it was and we LIKED it!

  • tarran||


    Back in my day, we couldn't afford sticks!

    We had to stick a finger out, and pretend it was a stick. And we'd play until we were blind or had broken all eight fingers.

  • ||

    Don't you mean that you'd play until you were blind AND had eight broken fingers? If it was a good day, there'd be broken thumbs too.

  • tarran||

    No, it was "or". We were so poor we could only afford one logical operators.

  • ¢||

    I'm bothered by the coincidence of this "we're safer than ever" meme with the shift in police focus from criminal apprehension to revenuin'.

    Remember all the "police departments disincentivize/punish reporting of actual stabby/rapey/punchy/stealy/shooty crimes" stories we recently stopped hearing? I remember some.

    I have no idea what's actually going on crime-wise. And I doubt anybody does. But one of my eyebrows is up really high.

  • Hey, Look!||

    John Belushi lives!

  • EDG reppin' LBC||

  • F Hart||

    "They surmised that by legalizing abortion nationwide in 1973, the Supreme Court prevented many births to women who were poor, young, unwed, or all three."

    Sure. Poor, young, unwed women always have abortions so that they won't be forced onto Welfare.

  • juris imprudent||

    You really need a PhD to understand deep thoughts.

  • ||

    What does it tell us when a writer for a libertarian rag asserts that crime is going down and the basis porivded for such assertion is the FBI?

    Journalism does not consist of being a stenographer of the state.

    Thus, any person who makes the generalized statement that crime is going down is FULL OF SHIT if he cites government statistics as his "proof".

    Part of growing up and maturing is recognizing that government statistics are fiction.

  • Live Free or Diet||

    As someone who has been debating for a long time, I have always seen evidence cited from the other side as something of a victory in itself.

  • SIV||

    I wonder if property crimes are now way underreported?In my purely anecdotal experience the police only write reports if you intend to make an insurance claim. Most people, knowing this, don't bother wasting the time to report anything else.

  • ||

    Why accord any legitimacy to government statistics?

  • EscapedWestOfTheBigMuddy||

    That one is easy: they're the only people who even purport to have society-wide statistics on this matter.

    Are the statistics any good?

    Well...maybe. If people believe in the government. Even then there are probably a few anomalies.

    Of course there is nothing stopping private organization from trying to collect such data, but it would cost a lot and it is unclear what value it would have.


  • Maxxx||

    I'm sure that by using statistical sampling you could test the claims. It would be relatively easy to verify the stats or refute them if crime is wildly under reported in government stats.

    Maybe a non profit that claims to be skeptical of government could fund such a survey and publish the results instead of blindly accepting what the government says.

  • ||

    VALID point in my town a person reported a stolen gun the police asked if they could see where it was store, he did and they arrested him for some "illegal" guns. so the word is if your robbed don't call because they can get you for anything now. Also last time I was robbed the police didn't bother listing it because my tool weren't worth their time.

  • ||

    There is no question that the quality of Reason's writing / journalism continues to decline.

    Champman, if you were working for me, you would be fired for incompetence. A writer who cites FBI statistics for the proposition that crime is down, without more, is a HACK.

  • Ice Nine||

    Bad precedent set on Friday, I think. Once you've managed to deprive loyal readers of Morning Links that first time, doing it repeatedly becomes easier and easier. Oh the callousness!

  • RoboCain||

    Right, it's not like today is a holiday.

  • Ice Nine||

    It is? Thought that was yesterday. Hmmm, been retired and out of the country too long, I guess.

  • RoboCain||

    I wasn't being sarcastic. Today is not a holiday.

  • Ice Nine||

    You're screwing me all up, man. Actually - I looked it up - today is a Federal and a bank holiday. Don't know what that means for everyone else.

  • RoboCain||

    Yes, that seems to be true because Christmas fell on a Sunday. But Reason isn't a bank!

    It's also the first day of Kwanzaa. And tomorrow is Boxing Day.

  • Ice Nine||

    Kwanzaa - that explains it! Surely everyone at H&R pays deference to that. The question is, would RP's newsletter approve?

    Today is Boxing Day, incidentally.

  • RoboCain||

    Oh right, I read that wrong.

  • Ice Nine||

    Guess no one told Chapman either.

  • ||

    Boxing Day!

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Harvey Silverglate would remind us that crime has done anything but gone down.

  • Dave||

    A couple points: The abortion effect would be (at least in part) cumulative, especially if genetics had a significant role (rather than being purely environment).

    During the same period, significant progress was made in eliminating a number of pollutants. While it is premature to say which pollutant(s) may have played a role, this might explain both the gradual rise and the gradual fall in crime rates - as many pollutants were effectively phased in over many years, and later phased out over many years. The effects of lead (formerly used in paint, pipes, and gasoline) are well known and include retardation, but many other types of pollution also peaked in the 1970s, and would have affected children who would be of prime crime-committing age around 1990.

  • Dave||

    I also like the videogame explanation, and the internet probably also plays a role for many of the same reasons. There is less need to cause trouble for entertainment these days.

    One might also ask questions about cultural influences. Could the civil rights movement and related causes in the 1960s have sparked a change in cultural attitudes that temporarily increased crime rates?

    Of course, the police could be lying about much of it, but it's more difficult to sweep murder under the rug, and murder appears to be decreasing.

  • ||

    In the early nineties Jello Biafra wrote a song called "Nostalgia For An Age That Never Existed." The lyrics touch on this same subject matter.

  • ||


  • Mr. FIFY||

    Flash: Hollywood actor says something sensible for a change!

  • Dave Anthony||

    Craig grew up in Liverpool where poverty was "inflicted" by Thatcher's spending cuts. *groans*

  • ||

    Dude that is just so so totally cash. Wow.

  • El Commentariosa||

    When will Reason mention the Ron Paul newsletters?

  • ||

  • Ken||

    As far as the point about declining abortion rates, leading to increasing crime, that obviously has a time delay. If you figure most crimes are committed by 30 year olds, than 2011 should be the bottom of the crime drop, and we should see an increase in the coming years. Don't know about the rest of the analysis, but this criticism is at least questionable.

  • Esteban||

    Why do you assume that most crime is committed by 30 year olds?

  • Britt||

    Can't forget the increase in CCW. The people are armed now in a way I'd argue they haven't been in decades, if ever.

  • first||

    Our models come to us in many ways but none more unusual than En. In Germany to be married, she had second thoughts and – free spirit that she is – took off for Barcelona to pose for us.

    Perhaps it was because, in her own words, “The camera is in love with me”. The feeling is mutual. She loves posing and it turns her on.

    En is originally from Moscow. She is a child of the new Russia with the traditional love of dance and ballet and also the new internationalism of American Apparel clothes. She is creative in her own right and her startling paintings are as erotic and vivid as she is.

    They flow from her passionate nature. The girlish pink which is her favourite colour is a thin disguise for the red heat of her inner sexual intensity. “My pussy is an instrument of pleasure” she proclaims. Her fetishes and delights are there to be shared.

  • ||

    “My pussy is an instrument of pleasure”

    Or extortion, as the case may be.

  • KR||

    The cause of the drop in crime is obvious to those of us living outside the gun-free Utopias of the Beltway, NYC, LA, and Boston. Gun ownership and concealed carry are at record peak levels. Ask any gun dealer or shooting instructor how business has been since 9/11 or the Obama election.

  • ||

    When's the last time you heard about a car jacking??

  • Gerard||


  • anarch||

    "For Public Safety, a New Golden Age."

    How does public safety differ from private safety?

  • ||

    one works well as a justification for gov't overreach, and the other doesn't?

  • anarch||

    That's what I thought.

    And at a magazine called...

  • There is no "we"||

    No big mystery:

    Mugging and raping is a young man's game.

    Move along, everybody. Nothing to see here.

  • Mr. FIFY||

    Between you, Derider, Max, Tony, and other assorted scum... it's a tough pick as to which one of you is more bastardly, "we".

  • There is no "we"||

    I was wondering if someone could actually take offense at the argument that an aging population is decisively less crime-ridden than a young "baby-boom" population. It is, I think, the most benign, non-partisan, non-confrontational argument one could possibly make on the issue.

    And yet, the "scum-bomb" gets dropped in less than an hour.

    This board is poisoned. Rotten to the core. Hatred for the sake of hatred. Big-L Libertarianism lays its soul bare here.

  • Maxxx||

    Crime is a complex problem and as such the drop off of the last two decades is not attributable to any silver bullet but rather an aggregation of a number of changes in society. Among those:
    Abortion (voluntary eugenics but whatever you do, don't call it that)

    The elimination of apartheid in the US (Jim Crow and less virulent forms in the north).

    More diversions for young men (video games being a prime but not the only example)

    Increased surveillance - cameras are everywhere, this has increased the reality and the fear of getting caught.

    Similarly, the increase in all media but especially the rise of social media is making the idea of anonymity obsolete, again increasing the fear and reality of getting caught.

    Tougher prison sentences - a percentage of the population really is violently criminal and should be removed from society.

    The plastification of money. Cash is becoming rare.

    Concealed carry and fear of other forms of retaliation by victims inhibits criminal attacks.

  • ||

    Plastification of money is spot-on. Who carries cash? People pay the pizza guy with plastic.

  • Publius||

    Yet assaults on police are at highest levels.

  • ||

    I say that it is due mostly to the Baby Boom generation. It's not just the demographics either, although seeing a peak in the numbers of young men in a society would correspond to increased crime. It is also the Boomer sense of self indulgence and entitlement.

  • There is no "we"||

    Oh, yes. The dirty hippies of the '60s have been replaced by a cohort of self-effacing saints, to be sure.

    Any more fresh and scintillating social observations to pull out of that ratty hat of yours, Mike? How about "white people dance like this, and black people dance like this..."? Or maybe some jokes about airline food? Or maybe you could do your droll impression of William Shatner.

    Keep it coming, Mike. What would we do without you?

  • ||

    Where is the data for these statistics located? While the overall rate may be down, what about cumulative totals? If we have twice as many people and half the rate, then we have the same number of murders... Also, have the demographics of the victims changed over the years?

  • ||

    I blame porn and violent video games for the decline of our violent society.


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