Over seven million lost jobs later, crime has plummeted to its lowest level since the early 1960s.
The response to the theory is described;
If crime was a rational response to income inequality, the thinking went, government can best fight it through social services and wealth redistribution, not through arrests and incarceration. Even law enforcement officials came to embrace the root causes theory, which let them off the hook for rising lawlessness. Through the late 1980s, the FBI's annual national crime report included the disclaimer that "criminal homicide is largely a societal problem which is beyond the control of the police." Policing, it was understood, can only respond to crime after the fact; preventing it is the domain of government welfare programs.
Of course, it wasn't only the US that went down this path.
The writer concludes that policing and incarceration have kept the trend moving in the right direction and looks specifically at Los Angeles and New York;
At the start of the recession, the two police chiefs who confidently announced that their cities' crime rates would remain recession-proof were Los Angeles Police Chief William Bratton and New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly. As New York Police Commissioner in the mid-1990s, Mr. Bratton pioneered the intensive use of crime data to determine policing strategies and to hold precinct commanders accountable—a process known as Compstat. Commissioner Kelly has continued Mr. Bratton's revolutionary policies, leading to New York's stunning 16-year 77% crime drop. The two police leaders were true to their word. In 2009, the city of L.A. saw a 17% drop in homicides, an 8% drop in property crimes, and a 10% drop in violent crimes. In New York, homicides fell 19%, to their lowest level since reliable records were first kept in 1963.
The Compstat mentality is the opposite of root causes excuse-making; it holds that policing can and must control crime for the sake of urban economic viability. More and more police chiefs have adopted the Compstat philosophy of crime-fighting and the information-based policing techniques that it spawned. Their success in lowering crime shows that the government can control antisocial behavior and provide public safety through enforcing the rule of law. Moreover, the state has the moral right and obligation to do so, regardless of economic conditions or income inequality.
That may be right. But I think there is more to it. There has been a sea-change in US thinking over the past 30 years. Americans were focussing on welfare and its role in society long before Clinton's federal legislation was enacted. For instance from the 1970s people receiving social security because they were drug or alcohol addicted had to attend rehab courses, have a benefit payee and there was a 36 month time limit. I am not saying this was particularly successful but use it as an example of their keenness to prevent long term worklessness. More importantly, various states were trying out different approaches to prevent welfare undermining the institution of family, particularly black families, recognising that strong and enduring families are one of the greatest deterrents to crime.
All of this culminated in the famous 1996 Clinton welfare reform act - PRWORA - the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act. It's a mouthful but when you break it down and think about it, the words embody the opposite of what leads to crime. Irresponsibility and idleness.
The state can and does influence moral thinking. Americans do not wince about using the words "personal responsibility". They use them to name laws.
In NZ too many people do wince. For them it means "individual responsibility", which translates to "individualism", which translates to "selfishness and greed" (see a comment from Friday that directed me to "stop thinking only of yourself").
So what do we have as a result. Our crime rate, specifically violent crime, continues to grow. And it would appear we are going to go down the unavoidably hard line of locking up more and more people but without any accompanying move towards instilling in society a different attitude towards responsibility. It has to start with the individual.