« What I know today | Main | Britney's fanny and the Guardian »

August 31, 2007


Mark Wadsworth

Hang about here, crimes like burglary are done for profit, so you could explain it with "inequality", but what about rape, domestic violence, 'happy slapping', 'honour killings', random acts of violence against strangers, drink driving, tax evasion, Enron, fraud, terrorist attacks etc.

Where's the supposed link between these and inequality, exactly?


@ Mark -- there probably isn't an economic link in there. Sociopathic violence isn't explained away. But things like heroin addicts and teenage tearaways stealing car stereos, busting into students flat's and stealing laptops, etc. probably can be.


I think Mark Wadsworth's valid point could be answered by looking at the volume of different crimes couldn't it, and adding the qualification that you were just talking about the total volume of crime (as reported in the statistics).


Ah, the old 'people make rational choices' and the reason why economics remains politics with numbers and not a science. Where did the fallacy that people make rational choices come from? People quite frequently make choices that are neither rational, nor in their best interests. If you want prove, look at my love life........Oi vey.










Well, large-scale corporate fraud a la Enron is certainly done for profit. There's no real difference between a rich businessman thinking he can get away with a spot of fraud or tax evasion, and someone who thinks they won't be caught claiming incapacity benefit whilst working cash-in-hand driving a minicab. In each case, the criminal decides that the benefits outweigh the risks.

One point that hasn't been mentioned is the effect of social censure on behaviour. This can have a much stronger effect that increased punishments. Driving whilst drunk used to be socially acceptable, and those that were caught by police were comiserated with. Driving home drunk and wrapping your car around a tree would result in laughs and backslaps when you returned to the pub. Today, at least in most social circles, driving whilst drunk isn't acceptable, and is more likely to result in social ostracism.

Costs (and indeed benefits) don't have to be financial.


"We liberal commentators point as usual to overwhelming evidence that crime and violence thrive most in the most unequal societies." Isn't that historically bollocks? Was Britain in - I guess - 1890 to 1960 so much more equal than now that it can explain why it was so much safer a society?

Infoholic UK

While the facts may be right, the inferences are spectacularly wrong.

It is true that the guys from my bog-standard mixed comprehensive who became criminals were the ones who left with no qualifications, however this was largely down to them being the same scrotes who were not paying attention, being deliberately disruptive, and generally making the school experience as unpleasant as possible for everyone around them.

Now I work in the City, and I'm sick to death reading about how my bonus is somehow unethical and due to inequality. In fact, its due to the entirely unequal amount of effort I put into exactly the same opportunities as those work-shy wankers, who are still drawing the dole twenty years later.

Inequality may well be undesirable, but we must stop this woolly thinking that all inequality is due to circumstance - much of it is self-imposed due to people's personal choices.

There are exceptions, but generally in this life, rewards are directly proportional to the effort required.


Yonks ago I bought a book on West Africa (as we were going there on holiday). It stated that crime was much lower in The Gambia than neighbouring Senegal not because the people in Gambi were any better but because in Senegal there was wealth next door to poverty, whereas in The Gambia there was only poverty.

Jim Donovan

Ask any policeman - the typical crim is uneducated, stupid and irrational. (Apart from white collar crims, relatively rare but some arguably super-rational). Too many economic arguments are based on some mythical concept of rationality. You see the same flaw in government policy too. Rational behaviour would see people not squander limited income, not overeat, not smoke, not forget to take the pill, not beat up their kids. Sometimes people are innocently or stupidly irrational - and economists (and lawmakers) need to recognise that.


[...crime and violence thrive most in the most unequal societies.]

Via its obsession with "diversity", the British elite is busily importing "inequality". Most people will admit that, on an individual level, all men are not created equal. But the unspeakable truth is that, in a larger social, demographic sense (i.e. on average), some forms of inequality are readily observable between racial/ethnic groups. And this "inequality" persist across generations, and resist all remedies. Which is a real problem for competitive, egalitarian western societies.

The average Englishman should not be blamed for noticing that, on average, Blacks are no more (relatively) economically successful in the UK than they are back in Africa or the Caribbean.

People who like to blame society at large for this "inequality" (unequal average academic or economic outcomes) are willfully ignorant of statistics like this (from the US):

Black children from the wealthiest families have mean SAT scores lower than white children from families below the poverty line.

Black children of parents with graduate degrees have lower SAT scores than white children of parents with a high-school diploma or less.

Which make it hard to use pet excuses like 'institutional racism' to explain the problem.


P.S It's regrettable that commenting here does not support simple HTML formatting, e.g. for italics and links.

Bob B

What holds for a America doesn't necessarily apply in Britain too.

"An ethnic breakdown of this year's GCSE results [2004] in England shows that 'black African' girls are scoring higher grades than 'white British' boys. . . The analysis of exam results shows that all ethnic groups are improving their average results - but it also shows wide differences between boys, girls, rich, poor, blacks, whites and Asians."

"The research says: 'One striking fact is that poor white students are the lowest performing of all groups at age 16, showing a substantial deterioration in their relative scores through secondary school.'"

"White British boys from poor families perform worse at GCSE than almost any other racial group. Official figures show that only 24% of those entitled to free school meals gained five or more good GCSEs last year, compared with 65% of the poorest Chinese boys and 48% of poor Indian and Bangladeshi boys."

The Economist report of 26 October 2006 on: The forgotten underclass:

"Last year white teenagers entitled to free school meals—the poorest tenth—did worse in crucial GCSE examinations than equally poor members of any other ethnic or racial group (see chart). In the borough of Barking and Dagenham, the contrast is sharper still. Just 32% of all white children there got five “good” GCSEs last year, compared with 39% of blacks and 52% of Asians. In Leicester, just 24% of whites got five decent GCSEs"

On differences between America and Britain, according to this the only OECD countries with higher infant mortality rates than the US were Mexico and Turkey!!

How come when infant mortality rates are widely recognised internationally as a sensitive indicator of average standards of healthcare?

Bob B

I've just found an interesting IEA monograph on crime by an (sceptical) economist, Paul Ormerod:
Crime - Economic Incentives and Social Networks (2005):

A Civitas publication: Crime and Civil Society, reports:

"the US Department of Justice has published a comparison of England and Wales with the US from 1981-1996. It will be discussed in more detail below, but the findings may be summarised as follows. From 1981 to 1996 the risk of imprisonment increased in the USA and the crime rate fell. In England and Wales the opposite happened: the risk of imprisonment fell and the crime rate increased. Take one example: in the USA the number of imprisoned burglars for every 1,000 alleged burglars increased from 5.5 in 1981 to 8.4 in 1994. In England and Wales the number of imprisoned burglars per 1,000 alleged burglars fell from 7.8 in 1981 to only 2.2 in 1995. What happened to the burglary rate? In the USA, burglaries per 1,000 households fell by about half from 105.9 in 1981 to 54.4 in 1994. In England and Wales, burglaries per 1,000 households increased from 40.9 in 1981 to 82.9 in 1995. . . David Pyle and Derek Deadman studied burglary and robbery between 1946 and 1991. They found that personal consumption was negatively correlated with changes in crime (increasing personal consumption led to falling crime). Unemployment, however, was positively correlated with crime."

The trouble is that attempts to unravel economic motives for crime are rather bedevilled by this:

"The Prison Reform Trust estimates that around 90% of prisoners can be diagnosed as suffering from at least one of the five main categories of mental disorder: psychosis; neurosis; personality disorder; alcohol misuse; and drug dependency. Seventy-two per cent of male and 70% of female sentenced prisoners suffer from two or more of these mental health disorders. Around 20% of those on remand and 12% to15% of those serving sentences suffer from four of these five mental disorders. A high proportion of prisoners have been treated in psychiatric hospitals : 20% of male and 15% of female sentenced prisoners have previously been admitted for in-patient psychiatric care."


The review "The American Prison Nightmare" s
http://www.nybooks.com/articles/20056 says
"He (Bruce Western) identifies mass incarceration as a major cause of modern inequality, with large and uncounted collateral effects. Imprisonment does more than reflect the divides of race and class. It deepens those divides—walling off the disadvantaged, especially unskilled black men, from the promise of American life. While violent criminals belong in jail, more than half of state and federal inmates are in for nonviolent crimes, especially selling drugs. Their long sentences deprive women of potential husbands, children of fathers, and convicts of a later chance at a decent job. Similar arguments have been made before, but Western, a Princeton sociologist, makes a quantitative case. Along the way, his revisionist account of the late 1990s detracts from its reputation as an era of good news for the poor. Its appearance coincides with several other instructive new studies of American incarceration."

Matt Munro

"Now I work in the City, and I'm sick to death reading about how my bonus is somehow unethical and due to inequality. In fact, its due to the entirely unequal amount of effort I put into exactly the same opportunities as those work-shy wankers, who are still drawing the dole twenty years later."

I agree with that, most working people have equally strong views on "work-shy wankers", but that isn't the reason city bonuses are perceived to be inequitous;
a) Many people who worked hard at school, got qualified and work long hours doing difficult jobs will not earn a city bonus in their lifetime. Are you really worth that much more than them ?
b) Let's face it, you could train a chimpanzee to make money in the markets with a Goldman Sachs balance sheet behind it.
Red screen sell, green screen buy, or is it the other way round......

chi flat iron

CHI flat iron by Farouk system. Direct from the manufacturer, this genuine Chi ceramic iron comes with valid, one year warranty!

The comments to this entry are closed.

blogs I like

Blog powered by Typepad