Tuesday, May 24, 2011

When Good News Is Spun Badly

Crime continues to go down.  More than we expected, especially in a bad economy.  This article continues significant frustration that the models seem to be broken.  But isn't this a "good news" story?  I would think that the story would have less frustration and more, ahem, glee since fewer people are getting killed (with NY and Philly as notable exceptions).  And having the experts say:
“Remarkable,” said James Alan Fox, a criminologist at Northeastern University. “Given the fact that we have had some healthy declines in recent years, I fully expected that the improvement would slow. There is only so much air you can squeeze out of a balloon.”
Um, a city or country is not like a balloon.  We are far from empty.  Yes, crime is historically low, but it is not at or near zero.  Sure, my car was not stolen this year (just rammed by a school bus), nor did I lose any computers to theft this year, but there are still thefts, rapes and murders.  Less of them, but still not close to "squeezed balloon" status.

Anyway, the tenor of the entire piece is one of disappointment that we don't know why the numbers are down rather than taking seriously a big jump in the quality of life, even during a bad recession and with stagnant wages over the past decade.  Perhaps a new model of crime might have been useful.  Surely, there must be some sociologist/criminologist that has a take on this.

Here is one theory that was not brought up: the population is still aging.  Older folks do less crime.  Plus more of our youth are in prison than ever before (more or less), so perhaps we just have fewer people in the right demographic out on the streets.  Which suggests a way to get crime even lower--let's imprison even more of the population.  Oh, we are running out of space, huh? The bright side is that with California being compelled to release tens of thousands of prisoners, we can test my hypothesis that rounding up all the young folk might be doing the trick.  If California's crime rate does not jump up after the 30k-40k jailed folks are released, then there might be something else going on. 

The key takeaway is that the NYT can depress us even with good news.  Well done.

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