What's my alternative? Crime is just one of many, many "social pathologies" that are over-represented among the poor: alcoholism, drug abuse, smoking, obesity, illegitimacy, etc. None of these are good escape routes from poverty. So instead of trying to explain why "poverty causes crime" or "poverty causes obesity," it makes sense to look for common causes of poverty and social pathologies.

Like what? In a paper just accepted by Kyklos, Scott Beaulier and I point to a simple candidate: irrationality. People who have biased beliefs about practical matters, and/or exercise poor impulse control, are likely to screw up their lives across the board. So it's hardly surprising that poverty and self-destructive behavior go hand in hand. Rather than being a natural response to poverty, a lot of crime can be seen as objectively self-destructive behavior that happens to have an unusually large amount of collateral damage.

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Have you seen the WaPo review of Shermer's book? by lm (2.00 / 0) #1 Fri Jan 25, 2008 at 04:11:45 AM EST
In For Sale: Big Ideas About Humanity George Mason professor of Philosophy Tyler Cowen reviews Michael Shermer's latest book about free markets and evolutionary psychology. I'm a mild fan of Shermer but I found the review mostly interesting for the way that Tyler brings out the questions that seldom get asked about the application of economics.

There is no more degenerate kind of state than that in which the richest are supposed to be the best.
Cicero, The Republic
I saw that by R Mutt (2.00 / 0) #2 Fri Jan 25, 2008 at 04:40:08 AM EST
It went through both the "Marginal Revolution" and the "Arts and Letter Daily" RSS feeds, like, hours ago ;-)

It didn't seem like a useful review to me. He spends two short paragraphs summarizing the book in such vague terms I barely know what it's on about. Then he spends six paragraphs on "why he's wrong to disagree with me". I don't really trust his representation.

If you follow marginal revolution, Cowen has reading habits that I don't really trust. (here, here). He seems to scan books looking for factoids to agree or disagree with: "I start ten or so books for every one I finish." Actually understanding the context, or the arguments in detail, or the conceptual framework of a book seems to be regarded as a inefficient investment of time. (He's an economics not a philosophy professor).

[ Parent ]
The rationale by yicky yacky (2.00 / 0) #3 Fri Jan 25, 2008 at 05:48:29 AM EST

(and I've only skimmed it at this point) seems a bit too close to the old Marxist charge of false consciousness, or the Sayyid Qutb assertion of Jahiliyyah; an "it is thus therefore it must be so" teleological argument justifying a certain condemnation of "the other".

Trans: I suspect they're talking bollocks.

Vacuity abhors a vacuum.
I'm particulary fond of . . . by Christopher Robin was Murdered (4.00 / 3) #4 Fri Jan 25, 2008 at 06:29:22 AM EST
They're use of the following quotation:

"[T]he lower-class individual lives moment to moment.  If he has any awareness of the future, it is of something fixed, fated, beyond his control: things happen to him, he does not make them happen.  Impulse governs his behavior, either because he cannot discipline himself to sacrifice a present for a future satisfaction or because he has no sense of the future.  He is therefore radically improvident: whatever he cannot consume immediately he considers valueless.  His bodily needs (especially for sex) and his taste for "action" take precedence over everything else — and certainly over any work routine."

I was waiting for them to mention the "jungle rhythms of ragtime music" or the threat of our women being seduced from their God-fearing ways into a life of wanton white-slavery. Sadly, it seems that was outside the scope of this particular paper.

[ Parent ]
Also, by yicky yacky (4.00 / 1) #6 Fri Jan 25, 2008 at 07:59:28 AM EST

the comments and assertions that criminality is inversely proportional to IQ tickled me. How the sweet-effing-whatever would they know? "Aha!", they'd reply, "it is trivial to correlate convicted criminals with their measured IQ scores". Indeed it is, Batman, but that, if true, would only tell you that getting caught is inversely proportional with IQ.


Vacuity abhors a vacuum.
[ Parent ]
Irrationality... by Metatone (4.00 / 1) #7 Fri Jan 25, 2008 at 08:32:27 AM EST
is Caplan's favourite explanation for anything he doesn't understand. He wrote a whole book about democracy/politics/voting which he thinks is about irrationality, but in fact is largely an illustration his inability to understand that if people have a different circumstance than being a "smug Ass. Prof. at GMU" then they might actually have a rationale for wanting different things...

[ Parent ]
Well, by yicky yacky (2.00 / 0) #8 Fri Jan 25, 2008 at 09:11:04 AM EST

to play devil's advocate on that specific point, he may be referring to the specific economist's game-theoretic definition of rationality but, even if so, it raises a couple af key issues. The first is that, like many such missives, he'd then run the risk of a kind of equivocation error over the term. I've seen a number of game theorists talk about the specific sense only to segue into the general sense when it suited their argument. The second is that the game theoretic sense of rationality is intrinsically bound up with the competition model in question; if your model is wrong, your calculations as to whether something is rational or not in that context will also be wrong, albeit internally correct.

One of my secondary school English teachers once used the question, "Why are so many women attracted to rich and powerful men?" as an example in a discussion over the definition of a tautology ("because they're rich and powerful, duh" etc.). It strikes me that a similar implicit-denial might be at work in the question "Why do the poor commit more crime?"

Thirdly: It is in the interests of Friedmaniacs to dismiss the notion that poverty might cause crime. Thatcher, infamously, refused to countenance a connection, and Labour have been very wary about doing so openly (while using phrases they hope people may interpret in that manner, without the need to state it explicitly). I'd like to see a game-theoretic analysis of the rationality involved in so doing. It strikes me that, if the free market is your goal, advancing any explanation as an alternative to poverty is desirable, whether it's [known to be] a crock of shit [in advancing a bad faith argument] or not [honest research]. In the interests of fairness, I can completely see the point of exploring numerous different explanations of the complex causation / correlation minefields involved; my point, though is that there is a valid -- and rational -- reason why many of the arguments may well be spurious a priori. [I'd note that this also applies to the politically-motivated who may seek to find a connection with poverty in the hope of curbing capitalism as a goal in itself].

Vacuity abhors a vacuum.
[ Parent ]
poverty and crime by ucblockhead (4.00 / 2) #5 Fri Jan 25, 2008 at 07:53:21 AM EST
From the fucking obvious department, I presume. Not that the guy manages to see the obvious.

From what I can see he didn't have the obvious realization which is that there are different sorts of crimes with different motivations. People don't smoke crack for the same reason that they rob banks, even if both are correlated with poverty.

He also doesn't seem to realize that enforcement of many laws is biased against the poor. It is a lot easier for a rich person to avoid getting caught when snorting coke than it is for a poor person to avoid getting caught smoking crack, both because enforcement is biased against the latter and because rich people have a much easier time arranging things so that they won't run into cops.
[ucblockhead is] useless and subhuman

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