Enlightened Capitalism

Essays about how to harness people's natural desire to create wealth and improve their quality of life to solve global problems such as war and poverty.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Crime and Prison

I really like the analysis of crime presented in "The Tippping Point" by Malcolm Gladwell.

This is my understanding of it:

1. Everyone has a different genetic disposition to crime. So there are people who are very likely to commit crimes (genetically defiant, rebellious people), those who are very unlikely (genetically docile, rule-following people), and everything in between.

2. Everyone has a different upbringing and history and culture, which tends to incline them more or less towards committing crimes.

3. BUT, the biggest factor in crime is neither of those two things. The biggest factor is the physical environment in the time and place where the crime is committed. The next biggest factor is the physical environment in all the places along the path the person took for the 24 hours before they committed the crime.

Our prison system locks up people who got caught doing a crime. We only lock up people after the crime is done, and new people are constantly being born, so this model isn't very good at preventing crime.

Whereas, the environmental model of crime says that everyone will be acted upon by the environment, and the worst environments will cause the most susceptible people to commit crimes. By altering the environments that cause crime, we can reduce crime without needing to lock anyone up.

Just like when you childproof your home you don't need to discipline your kids as much. Some kids are safe even in non-child-safe places. But all kids are safe in child-safe places. It's not that difficult to childproof a home, and it's not that difficult to crime-proof a city. In either case it's totally worth it!


  • At 12:18 am, Blogger Dale said…

    Plummeting crime rates in the 1990's is also analyzed by Levitt in "Freakonomics". Though Gladwell was seduced like many others into believing "broken windows" theory, Levitt presents more compelling data for the Roe v. Wade theory. This is flammable stuff, but undeniable.


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