Rethinking the Crime Drop: Cheaper Drugs and thus Less Crime?

After 1990, crime dropped 80% in New York City. Crime also dropped 40% across the United States.  In fact, crime also dropped across the western world.   For example in Britain crime dropped nearly half after a peak in 1996/1997.   Across North America, Europe, and Australia crime dropped by half or more.  The lack of a coherent set of ideas about why this happened by criminologists is appalling.  Social scientists have failed to explain the decline in crime.  There are many ideas out there, but most are simply just not plausible.

Imagine being in a room full of criminologists at one of their annual conferences in the United States listening to a panel of crime drop experts.  Each speaker addresses the audience on their theory of why crime declined.  First, one person speaks about the legalization of abortion, then someone about increasing incarceration, and finally someone about policing strategies.  After this demonstration, a person from the audience asks the following question.  “I am from Canada and crime also dropped their by more than half but none of your esteemed theories can explain this crime drop as they are all US specific.”  Nobody can satisfactorily address this person’s question, thus the experts conveniently ignore it and continue their career work.

We put forward an alternative theory in “More Drugs, Less Crime.”  The argument goes as followed.  When supply increases and demand drops at the same time, the price of a good will drop.  In our article we try to demonstrate this trend for heroin and cocaine.  While there is an increase in supply, we use ethnographic work to demonstrate a decrease in demand in New York.  There is a steep drop in the price of heroin and cocaine across the western world.  We use a commonly used econometric technique to argue that this is not just a correlation but that the drop in price granger-causes the drop in crime.  We then contextualize this “cheaper drugs, less crime” relationship by theorizing it and why this might make sense.

“More Drugs, Less Crime” is the lead article of the Dialectical Anthropology Special Issue: Crime and Punishment in the United States, where different criminologists respond to our argument.  We close the series of seven articles with a rejoinder where we discuss our commentators’ criticisms and look towards future research. You can read the entire special issue for free until Friday February 3, 2017.

Geert Dhondt

Geert Dhondt

Geert Dhondt's teaching and research focuses on the economics of crime and justice.He is particularly interested in the relationship between race in the post-segregation era, the logic of neoliberal capitalism, and the criminal justice system.The National Institute of Justice awarded Geert a grant to study the empirical relationship between prison cycling and crime rates.Geert received a distinguished service award in 2012 and a distinguished teaching award in 2015 at John Jay College, City University of New York where he is an Assistant Professor in the Economics Department.He lives in Brooklyn with his wife and three children.In his free time he is a PTA Treasurer.
Geert Dhondt

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