Have I been pwned?

The other day, I said that it was funny that discussions of crime statistics always start in the ’60s. Then, about a day later, this chart started making the rounds. (More data, which is slightly – though not hugely – more favorable to my contention, is available if you follow all the links).

These figures are being waved triumphantly by progressives of all stripes. Don’t be fooled, the figures are still a terrible condemnation of progressivism in general.

By these best estimates, murders rates are about the same as they were in 1900, not as low as they were in the ’50s and have experienced a couple big bounces during that time period.

Let’s think about the world of 1900. In 1900 there were no phones, fingerprinting was not yet in use and DNA was unknown. In short, forensics as we know it did not exist.

If you add up all the major technological advances since the 1900s you get . . . wait for it . . . nothing – no measurable decline in the murder rate of any kind.

Congratulations, progressivism, your crazy ideas coupled with massive technological increases have managed to hold the line steady over the last hundred years. This is truly progress!

Update: Lots of good stuff in the comments, including the observation that advances in medical technology are the only reason the homicide rate isn’t a lot higher. The broader crime figures from the study that Sconzey and Tenkev linked to are enough for me to rest my case.

Update 2: Frost has some very similar thoughts.

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26 Responses to Have I been pwned?

  1. tenkev says:

    Correct. And that graph only shows murder rate, which is heavily influenced by our much increased life saving technology.

    Let us see the graph for burglary, rape or assault. I guarantee the trend will be much different.

  2. sconzey says:

    Also in favour of your cause is that thanks to improvements in modern medical technology, most notably antibiotics, fewer attempted homicides result in an actual homicide.

    I will read the study in greater detail when I get home, but I don’t expect it to be that informative. Homicide is an exceptionally violent crime and thus not a good proxy for the general rise in low-level criminality engendered by progressive policy.

    Furthermore the chart is evidence in confirmation of your theory about the role of the War on Drugs in prosecuting violent crime.

  3. sconzey says:

    Ah, there’s also this document [pdf]. Which shows both indictable offences and homicides. The “indictable offences” shows pretty much exactly what you’d expect.

  4. sconzey says:

    Also notable is that this is *UK* and specifically *London* data.

  5. tenkev says:

    Data for other crimes can be found here:
    http://www.jrsa.org/programs/Historical.pdf

    Also, according to the above source the murder rate was about 1 in 100,000. So I question aratae’s source.

  6. tenkev says:

    From Moldug. “Crime in England has increased by a factor of 50 since Conan Doyle wrote.”

    http://www.parliament.uk/documents/commons/lib/research/rp99/rp99-111.pdf

  7. JL says:

    Yeah, it’s largely about improvements in medical technology. Quoting from an article by Harris et al. in Homicide Studies May 2002 vol. 6 no. 2 128-166:

    According to Vital Statistics, the gold standard of U.S. natality and mortality measurement since 1931, the U.S. homicide rate has not strayed more than 51% from its level of 9.2 per 100,000 population (National Center for Health Statistics [NCHS], 2000). By 1998, the Vital Statistics rate stood at 6.8, 26% lower than the 1931 level. In similar fashion, since the start of the FBI’s national Uniform Crime Report (UCR) data series in 1931, the U.S. homicide rate as measured by UCR has not strayed more than 45% from its baseline level of 8.2 per 100,000 population. By 1998, the published rate stood at 6.3, 25% below its 1931 baseline. In comparison, by 1998, the UCR aggravated assault rate was about 700% higher than its 1931 baseline (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 1931-1997). UCR data show increases in rates of other violent crimes similar to those for aggravated assault. It is homicide that has, paradoxically, barely changed.

    […]

    Compared to 1960, the year our analysis begins, we estimate that without these developments in medical technology there would have been between 45,000 and 70,000 homicides annually the past 5 years instead of an actual 15,000 to 20,000.

    Link: http://people.umass.edu/zguo/iraqi%20war%20/murder%20and%20medicine.pdf

  8. sconzey says:

    It’s not like Moldbug made a novel observation. A quick google indicates that it’s a fairly well accepted in criminology that crime in the western world has been rising since 1960-1970, and that this represents a reversal of a long term trend, rather than a statistical anomaly.

  9. josh says:

    I once came accross an old NYtimes article on crime statistics for (I believe) 1876. There were three indictments for murder, which the article noted was up two from the previous years where there was one indictment for murder.

  10. josh says:

    http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?res=F50810F6385E137B93C7A9178AD85F438784F9

    Here it is.

    10 total Homicides in 1875, not indictments. 7 in 1876. It has more on other crimes as well.

    Here is a follow up article on whether crime was then increasing:

    http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?res=F10F16FC3D5A1A7B93C3A9178AD85F428784F9

  11. red says:

    Crime is a really a factor of how random the event is for people. Man killing his unfaithful wife? Not considered a threat to me. Random gang banger raping and murdering some couple? Much great threat to me. 2 drunk guys duke it out in a bar and one is killed? No threat to me. Gang bangers open up at each other in a crowed street as happened this last weekend? Huge threat to me. That’s the true measure of crime.

    Also remember that progressive have been messing with the criminal justice system for some 200 years now. I remember a case in San Fransisco in the 1890s where a negro murdered a man in his bed who he thought was his landlord (Chop chop with an axe). It turned out to be some other Irishman and he was sent to jail for 2 years(Very progressive sentencing). He got out and committed at least 1 more murder that we know of.

    The very fact that we send people to jail instead of flogging them or publicly shaming them is a progressive “innovation”. Progressives felt that jails would allow them to re-ability the prisoners. Today we know for a fact that low impulse control people are better are able to better restrain themselves with a punishment that comes quickly after the crime and a punishment that is invoked from the most primitive pain functions.

    Quite honestly jails are a form of mental torture that screws people up in the head and teaches them to be better criminals. It’s deterrence effects are largely worthless on low impulse people.

    One final point: We’ve always had more violent groups within the larger group that’s committed more crimes than the majority group. What’s different about today is we are no longer able to force these more violent groups to keep their activities to themselves. People naturally keep trash people down with the threat of mob violence against the entire group unless this group keeps it’s crime to it’s self. The attitude was: you can kill and rob you’re own, but if you attack decent people you and yours will swing from light poles. This allowed for some crime without normal people having to fear about being victimized. This was the primary reason for all the anti black groups after the civil war in the south: To get trash blacks to keep the criminality to themselves by punishing the group as a whole.

    • PRCalDude says:

      A post on how criminal justice was run before the progressive “reforms” of the past 200 years would be extremely interesting.

    • sconzey says:

      Crime is a really a factor of how random the event is for people. Man killing his unfaithful wife? Not considered a threat to me. Random gang banger raping and murdering some couple? Much great threat to me. 2 drunk guys duke it out in a bar and one is killed? No threat to me. Gang bangers open up at each other in a crowed street as happened this last weekend? Huge threat to me. That’s the true measure of crime.

      This is a really good point.

      And so is this:

      Quite honestly jails are a form of mental torture that screws people up in the head and teaches them to be better criminals. It’s deterrence effects are largely worthless on low impulse people.

  12. Fake Herzog says:

    sconzey and tenkev,

    I was just going to post that link but you two beat me to it. I first learned about that study from Moldbug, who opened my eyes to some of the greatest hits of the “progressive” 20th century. I do think, like James Q. Wilson and Sailer, that we are getting better at dealing with crime because we are locking up more criminals. We just can’t give up and let the PC hordes stop us — if I read one more stupid comment about how terrible it is that so many black men are in jail, my head is going to explode. If crime indicies are going to continue to improve we need to continue to keep locking up dangerous black men.

  13. Tschafer says:

    So, the murder rate in the United States had been falling for over 200 years and had fallen to historic lows in the 1950’s; then, in the 1960’s, “progressives” undid several centuries of progress in about ten years. I don’t really see how this gives the left any ammunition at all, especially since there’s a really strong correlation between declines in the murder rate and number of criminals executed.

  14. PRCalDude says:

    (OT) The only thing left now is to start stealing IRAs and 401(k)s.

  15. Jehu says:

    An interesting small scale survey of the medical technology effect could be to look at the various US presidents who have been assasinated in the past. How many of them would probably have survived with modern trauma medicine? Would Reagan have survived with 1920s medicine?
    The thing is that murder is the only crime that is actually pretty consistently reported. I’ve had cars broken into, bad checks written and credit card fraud done against me and mine and the police never even deigned to take a complaint, much less seek out the perpetrators. The lucrativeness of identity theft type crimes and the lack of real vigor in enforcement probably siphons off a large amount of more physical criminality.

  16. Handle says:

    This is really no different from how the “KIA-to-Wounded, casualties per hostile incident” ratio from how the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is significantly lower than in past wars.

    And anyway, like Charles Murray says, the way one measures the effect of public policy on an phenomena is to look at the (population age-cohorts adjusted) trend discontinuity at the time the policy was initiated.

    From 1960 to 1980 – where the criminal-procedural rights revolution was at its height and we can be more confident in the statistics, the historical trend reversed and the homicide rate ballooned 150%, and the major domestic political discussion of the 1970’s was crime and disorder (and see all the neoconservatives emerge at that time). That’s called policy failure.

    If the historical trend has continued without the intervention of the Warren court, the homicide rate would be half of what it is today.

  17. M.G. says:

    We’ve always had more violent groups within the larger group that’s committed more crimes than the majority group.

    Indeed. I’ve compiled some representative tables on this question from three historical sources, covering Philadelphia 1829-1855, the U.S. globally and by region in 1910, and the U.S. globally in 1938. They can be consulted here:

    http://thosewhocansee.blogspot.com/p/statistics.html

    Not surprising, perhaps, that if you click through the link in the original ‘isn’t-crime-low-today’ story, you find the following:

    To put these numbers in perspective, however, note that the homicide rate in New Orleans today is 52 per 100,000 and in Detroit it’s 40 per 100,000 so even with a lower average there is lots of variation.

    …if you know something about the racial demographics of these cities. Corresponds to what my historical (U.S.) research has shown in any case.

  18. icr says:

    Controversy over the level of violence in the Wild West:
    http://blog.mises.org/7151/the-violent-and-wild-west-after-all/
    (…)
    The problem with drawing broad conclusions, as Roth does, is that the California case may be unique, and gives some indications that it is in fact unique, and not suited to be used as a generalization for the entire Western frontier. Roth notes that the areas he examines are areas of high Anglo-hispanic conflict, and that even among the areas he surveys, there are wide variances in the murder rate. In other words, we can’t even generalize a murder rate to the sample area, let alone all of California or the entire West.

    Also, if we really see such a large difference in murder rates between that of Kansas (as shown by Dykstra) and the murder rates in Southern California or Oregon (as cited by Roth) doesn’t this all the more call broad conclusions into question?
    (…)

    • icr says:

      About those Oregon statistics:
      (…)
      First of all, I would have to point to the methods in the Oregon research right away. If the research is based on newspaper articles as Roth notes, then that could be thoroughly unreliable. As noted here about killings in Bleeding Kansas, contemporary accounts of killings on the frontier can be notoriously unreliable due to exaggeration. The same may be true of the California data as well, depending on its reliance on contemporary journalism.
      (…)

  19. K(yle) says:

    I like how there are spikes in that chart for ‘homicide rates’ right around the American Revolution, the Civil War, Reconstruction and Prohibition. So what happened in the 70s-90s?

  20. Matt Weber says:

    What does it even mean to talk about the American homicide rate in 1700?

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