There's much of value in the Home Affairs Committee's report about young blacks and crime. But there's one thing I want to question. It's this:
In the perceived absence of alternative routes to success, some young people also actively choose to emulate negative and violent lifestyles popularised in music and film.
I'm not sure whether this is irrational.
The thing about crime is that it's like sport or music - the rewards are hugely skewed, as Steve Levitt describes here (pdf). There might be a one in 10,000 chance of making a million a year, but most people get minimum wages or worse; it's a tournament in which winner takes all.
By contrast, the expected value of a conventional professional career is higher, but has less skewness and variance.
However, I reckon there are (at least) four reasons why a black youngster might rationally choose a career in crime or music over a conventional professional career, even if the odds of success in the former are tiny, and even if he's well-informed, clever and rational:
1. Time preference. The rewards to success in crime or music come earlier than those in a profession, where you'll be lucky to even clear your debts by age 30.
2. Regret aversion. Even if you do well in a profession, you might still wonder what might have been; could you have made millions in music or crime? If you try your luck, you'll avoid this regret.
3. Non-linearities. £1m a year is more than 20 times as valuable as £50,000 a year. It buys you status goods - bling, big cars, a new house for your mum. More importantly, it buys you freedom; a crime boss or rapper doesn't have a boss. And autonomy makes us happy. The best thing money can buy is the ability to tell people to fuck off. £1m does this. £50,000 doesn't. So, a one in 10,000 chance of making £1m might be preferred over a 50-50 chance of making £50k, even if the expected financial value of the latter is greater.
4. Non-pecuniary advantages. Success in music or crime brings you some mix of fame, respect or affection. It gets you the girls. Modest professional success doesn't. Quite the opposite. Roland Fryer shows (pdf) that blacks who do well at school have fewer same-race friends. Conventional "success" therefore, gives you isolation.
Now, the thing about these four factors is that they can't be solved by giving young black men good role models. Indeed, quite the opposite. I suspect that if a young man looked at my life - which has as financially rewarding as one could reasonably hope for a university graduate - he'd prefer to follow a life of crime.
The problem of young men choosing crime rather than "conventional" careers, then, is not neccesarily one that can be solved easily.