Monday 11 April 2011

A law and order agenda I can support

I'm not worried about overall crime rates, which seem on the long term decline. But if we have to do something, why not do something sensible?

Frances Woolley over at WCI points to three potential policies. The first two: voluntary incapacitation of at-risk youth. What's voluntary incapacitation? Give them something that makes them want to hang out indoors instead of committing crime. And the published evidence suggests that violent movies (the kinds of movies that attract would-be thugs) reduce violent crime rates. Same for violent [read too quickly, study can't distinguish across game types] video games.

Sure, you could argue that violent movies and games might turn some marginal kids bad. But the overall effect seems negative:
Using nation-wide US figures, Dahl and Della Vigna find that "an increase of one million in the audience for violent movies reduces violent crime by 0.5 to 0.9 percent." (Part of this is due to the incapacitation effect, part is also due to decreased alcohol consumption).

Yet even a great movie will only lead to a few days of voluntary incapacitation. Is there a way of getting at-risk youth off the street for longer?

A study by Michael Ward published this month in Contemporary Economic Policy (earlier version ungated here) suggests that there is. He finds that an increase in video game availability, as measured by the number of video game stores, leads to a significant reduction in rates of robbery, burglary, larceny, motor vehicle theft and mortality.

Video game availability makes more difference than police officers, Ward argues. He found that the relationship between crime rates and the number of police officers was statistically insignificant, except in the case of robbery.
So the usual folks on Radio New Zealand's The Panel can stop their endless handwringing about those awful movies and video games that ruin kids.

The policy conclusion would then be to ease up on age restrictions for movie access.

Frances's third suggestion: legalize and tax marijuana. Agreed.

I'll add one more: pornography reduces rape rates. I don't think any policy response is necessary, at least in countries without censorship. But it's worth remembering.

Update: LemmusLemmus says the study above linked is inconclusive. I'll trust him on this. Inconclusive is hardly sufficient for the crusades against pornography that we do see though.

1 comment:

  1. Presumably wealth is controlled for? Because wealth is going to be HELLS of correlated with access to videogames.