The Lead/Crime Connection

Kevin Drum’s new article about crime and leaded gasoline is a must-read:

Put all this together and you have an astonishing body of evidence. We now have studies at the international level, the national level, the state level, the city level, and even the individual level. Groups of children have been followed from the womb to adulthood, and higher childhood blood lead levels are consistently associated with higher adult arrest rates for violent crimes. All of these studies tell the same story: Gasoline lead is responsible for a good share of the rise and fall of violent crime over the past half century.

When differences of atmospheric lead density between big and small cities largely went away, so did the difference in murder rates.

Like many good theories, the gasoline lead hypothesis helps explain some things we might not have realized even needed explaining. For example, murder rates have always been higher in big cities than in towns and small cities. We’re so used to this that it seems unsurprising, but Nevin points out that it might actually have a surprising explanation—because big cities have lots of cars in a small area, they also had high densities of atmospheric lead during the postwar era. But as lead levels in gasoline decreased, the differences between big and small cities largely went away. And guess what? The difference in murder rates went away too. Today, homicide rates are similar in cities of all sizes. It may be that violent crime isn’t an inevitable consequence of being a big city after all.

The gasoline lead story has another virtue too: It’s the only hypothesis that persuasively explains both the rise of crime in the ’60s and ’70s and its fall beginning in the ’90s. Two other theories—the baby boom demographic bulge and the drug explosion of the ’60s—at least have the potential to explain both, but neither one fully fits the known data. Only gasoline lead, with its dramatic rise and fall following World War II, can explain the equally dramatic rise and fall in violent crime.

Regulations that eliminated leaded gasoline almost certainly have had a ridiculously high benefit-to-cost ratio, and as Kevin says programs to eliminate other sources of emissions from lead would too.

I don’t know if this was true in the United States, but one interesting thing to me is that growing up in an oil-producing province the phase-out of leaded gasoline was a major culture war issue, producing a lot of opposition. I suspect that if this issue came up today the Republican Party would be uniformly opposed to eliminating lead in gasoline and could have prevented it for years.

90 comments on this post.
  1. Lefty68:

    Other than general reactionary craziness, how and why did phasing out leaded gasoline become a culture war issue?

  2. jon:

    It’s a compelling correlation, and the case has been building for a few years. In tandem with this has also come lead-free paints and lead paint remediation in houses, removal of lead solders in electronics and plumbing. But I would stop well short of suggesting that it has a 1:1 relationship. There may be other environmental and social contributors to the trend. I would also be surprised if there aren’t efforts to tie the decline of criminality to harsher laws and sentencing, rising gun sales, increased suburbanization, decreasing drug use – there are any number of large scale trends that can be dragooned to take credit for lessening crime rates.

  3. c u n d gulag:

    Yes, and lead in paint, too.

    You can’t just explain away that level of crazy with just the lead in gasoline.

    As for the Conservative’s craziness over the last few plus decades, I can only assume that, to counter the effects of the flouride being put into the H2O, that they ate lead paint chips.

  4. Murc:

    This is a lot of words to say ‘I agree with everything Kevin says’.

  5. Hob:

    Here’s some background – long, but well worth the read. Basically, GM and its industrial allies were very good at media obfuscation and political chicanery, along the lines of what the tobacco companies did but even more impressive since there was no pre-existing demand for their ingredient. They got people convinced that tetraethyl lead (comfortingly renamed “Ethyl”) was synonymous with more powerful and reliable cars, and pretended there was no other way to eliminate engine knock, so if you were against Ethyl then you were against good cars and progress.

  6. DrDick:

    I am inclined to accept this theory as one factor anyway. It is also worth noting that many urban ghetto areas also have high concentrations of environmental lead from other sources (earlier manufacturing, lead paint and plumbing which has not been replaced, etc.).

    Banning leaded gas was also a culture war issue in Oklahoma where I grew up. I think it reflects the dominance of oil companies and their power to shape opinion.

  7. NonyNony:

    I suspect that if this issue came up today the Republican Party would be uniformly opposed to eliminating lead in gasoline and could have prevented it for years.

    And I suspect that if the issue came up today, Republican candidates for President would have included doubling the amount of lead in gasoline as something in their red meat for the base campaign event idiocy.

    And possibly Glenn Beck or someone like him would have been the first person to contract lead poisoning on live TV by eating a big plate of lead shavings to piss off a liberal. (Or more likely eating a big bunch of graphite because I still know a few nuts who think lead can’t be that dangerous because it’s in all the pencils we give to schoolchildren. Sigh.)

  8. Lee:

    Is there any issue that isn’t culture war issue to somebody? Just one issue where we can have a nice, technocratic debate on the merits of a particular policy or program? Rightists are infamous for making even the most boring, routine government task a culture war but liberals and leftists fall into the trap to on occassion as recent threads on this blog demonstrated.

  9. NMissC:

    From the post:

    “I suspect that if this issue came up today the Republican Party would be uniformly opposed to eliminating lead in gasoline and could have prevented it for years.”

    You got that right. From my recall, exactly the sort of people now driving the tea party/NRA mindset of the Republican party were saying, about lead removal, “Don’t mess with my car’s mileage! I should get to buy what I want to buy!”

    And, of course, the phase-out in the US began in a Republican administration…

  10. bill:

    Europe’s crime rate has become quite a bit higher than the US’s over the last 20 years or so, is there any lead connection there?

  11. NonyNony:

    Nice link – bookmarked for later reading. Thanks!

    One thing missing in your summary – it became a culture war issue the same way catalytic converters (of all things) were a culture war issue. Liberals make noise about something being bad for the environment, conservatives decide that pissing off liberals is more important than anything else, plutocrats exploit conservative desire to piss off liberals to keep making money for as long as possible, no matter how much damage it does long term.

  12. elm:

    I once heard a story that after decades of trying to figure out why Camden, NJ had abnormally low test scores for children and high crime rates despite tons of public and private money spent on improving Camden, they discovered that the pipes in the public schools all contained high amounts of lead and the kids were all drinking contaminated water.

    I don’t know if this is just urban legend, but it does make sense.

  13. NonyNony:

    Just one issue where we can have a nice, technocratic debate on the merits of a particular policy or program?

    Probably not. “Culture war” issues are issues that are real problems that have been boiled down into tribal loyalties. All real problems are going to have this, because of marketing.

    Issues that have no “culture war” complications around them are going to be things where there aren’t “sides” – which means no real disagreement. Probably because either nobody is making money off of it, or everyone will make money if one particular path is chosen and there’s no social downside to that path. Those kinds of non-issues might happen all of the time, but nobody would know because who would talk about it?

  14. MPAVictoria:

    Isn’t a lot of that a result of the inclusion of the former Soviet Bloc in statistics for Europe?

  15. joe from Lowell:

    I like very much that author’s strategy of answering the question “What made crime fall?” by looking at what made it rise in the first place. The crime bubble from the 60s through the present is an unusual, specific historical phenomenon. The reason why rates turned around almost certainly has to do with the end of the force that caused those rates to rise in the first place.

    Lead is a good answer with a strong correlation. So is urban renewal/urban highways/large-scale public housing projects and the other insults we visited upon our historic cities in the post-WW2 era.

  16. Jon H:

    “decreasing drug use ”

    Could be related to reduced lead. Less self-medication, etc.

  17. Jon H:

    Um, why would graphite be dangerous? It’s just carbon, and people are sometimes given activated charcoal to swallow when they’ve been poisoned.

    Graphite isn’t lead.

  18. Steve LaBonne:

    Not till people my age (57) and older finish dying off.

  19. Steve LaBonne:

    So many fun counterfactuals. Would Richard Nixon, for example, have been elected without crime being a major issue?

  20. Murc:

    Hell, I’ve had a chunk of graphite embedded inside me for years. Doctors say it just sits there inert and cutting it out of me would actually do more damage than letting it lie.

  21. Murc:

    Yes, it is. To an extent anyway, Italy has a genuine crime problem.

    But, for example, Germany’s stats on all manner of social ills and progress for the past twenty years all have an asterisk next to them, because they absorbed East Germany and that sort of skewed the numbers around.

  22. Malaclypse:

    Hell, Nixon never would have been elected without the one specific crime committed by Sirhan Sirhan.

  23. ralphdibny:

    For example, East St. Louis, where the soil and water is heavily contaminated with lead and other pollutants. It is this pollution which is preventing the gentrification of an area which once upon a time was a vacation hotspot.

  24. Hob:

    I don’t think the order of those events is as clear-cut as you say. It wasn’t just “liberals” raising the alarm about lead in the first half of the 20th century – it was pretty every scientist and politician who gave it any thought at all, and who wasn’t already bought. I think it’s more accurate to say that business interests have found it useful to convince people that environmentalism is anti-business and therefore might as well be communism*, and the political right has found it useful to conflate that sort of thing with social conservatism. It’s a multi-sided feedback system of deadly bullshit.

    * Like so many things these days, this reminds me of the great ’50s science fiction novel The Space Merchants, in which “Consies” (conservationists) are the new Commies, and corporate executives say things like “These doom-sayers don’t understand that science can always keep us one step ahead – when we ran out of meat, we invented soy protein!”

  25. AcademicLurker:

    I suspect that if this issue came up today the Republican Party would be uniformly opposed to eliminating lead in gasoline and could have prevented it for years.

    And let’s not forget the libertarians! The same baby Galts who have been whining about how efficiency standards for light bulbs are taking away their precious freedom would be all about keeping the darn nanny state from messing with their leaded gasoline.

    If the kids don’t want developmental disorders they should just exercise some personal responsibility by not breathing.

  26. Murc:

    Is it wrong that I’ve always been torn on urban highways?

    On the one hand, gutting large chunks of cities to ram a whole bunch of concrete through them is just obviously bad, especially when you do things like racially target on and off ramps so the neighborhoods those highways pass through can’t even reap the benefits of being near a major artery, as was done with the Cross-Bronx Expressway.

    But on the other hand, it also seems like making it really easy to transition into, out of, and through cities is something with great benefits. The only reason I ever go to my own decent urban core is because I can take a highway there and get off at a ton of locations throughout the entire urban area, as opposed to spending an hour wending my way through side streets and a million stop lights in order to travel twenty miles. Ideally we’d be doing this Japanese-style, with a million convenient train lines running everywhere, but highways do seem to have their place in city planning.

  27. Malaclypse:

    Just one issue where we can have a nice, technocratic debate on the merits of a particular policy or program?

    I have two words for you, two words that really are key to your question: light bulbs.

  28. Murc:

    Are we talking about ’68 or ’72 here?

    I think Nixon gets in in 1968 even without crime as an issue to demagogue, just because the Democratic meltdown that year was so awful. 1972 is an entirely different beast.

  29. Hob:

    I thought the point was that wingnuts think graphite is lead, and therefore Beck could just eat a plate of harmless graphite for his stunt.

  30. Brian Rogers:

    Beck wouldbe eating graphite because he got the meal by peeling the wood off of pencils, being unaware that the interior of pencils is no longer lead.

    It’s not that he thinks eating graphite would piss off liberals, it’s that he can’t tell the difference between the two

  31. NonyNony:

    That is in fact the point – that pencil lead isn’t lead, and yet there are still people of my acquaintance[*] who insist that lead can’t be harmful because of pencils.

    [*] and by “acquaintance” I mean “related to”. The “lead in gasoline” argument led to some of the stupider interactions I’ve had with a few of my cousins. Who, in retrospect, may be good examples of how lead affects the brain.

  32. Uncle Kvetch:

    Just one issue where we can have a nice, technocratic debate on the merits of a particular policy or program?

    “Policy or program” involves the government actually doing something.* Government is always the problem, and never the solution. The only thing government is capable of doing** is making things even worse.

    Therefore, no, there is absolutely no policy or program that cannot somehow be converted into grist for the resentment mill.

    And that’s why I wish we had a president with the backbone to declare a “National Don’t Drink Drano Day.”

    *other than killing or imprisoning people, of course
    **other than killing or imprisoning people, of course

  33. malraux:

    I suspect that if this issue came up today the Republican Party would be uniformly opposed to eliminating lead in gasoline and could have prevented it for years.

    Hell, look at MTBE vs Ethanol in gas. MTBE replaced lead in gas, but is now known to be a water pollutant, though not as bad as lead by a far measure. Ethanol (at 10%) replaces the MTBE and is thus a cleaner alternative. But I hear lots of internet talk about the evils of the government forcing ethanol gas on everyone.

  34. NonyNony:

    Just because the term “culture war” was invented recently to describe the antics of your generation, that doesn’t mean that your generation is the only one susceptible to it.

    Though I suppose it may turn out that brain damage from lead exposure at a young age makes people more susceptible to culture war memes. If that’s the case, we’ll see a downtick.

    I doubt it though – my cohort seems to be just as enamored with idiotic culture war ideas as yours is. Like Malaclypse mentions below: “light bulbs”.

  35. Mister Harvest:

    That’s completely different and irrelevant, because I have an emotional response to the light from incandescent vs CFBs.

    Oh, wait, I just proved your point, didn’t I? :)

  36. cooperstreet:

    But I would stop well short of suggesting that it has a 1:1 relationship.

    As would everyone else, ever. Including the people who authored these studies.

  37. cooperstreet:

    I would love to see more information on this.

  38. tonycpsu:

    There’s only need to choose between the evils of ruining the urban core with freeways and the benefits of getting people in/out of town quickly if you also require that those people drive themselves. Public transit can solve the commuting problem without ruining the city, but the auto industry and the American preference for big yards and driving kept that from happening just about everywhere.

  39. Lee:

    Japan is only able to use train lines in place of high ways because of a mixture of geography and demography. Its the only place in the world where a private corporation could operate trains at something of a profit.

    Even if America had a much more pro-transit transportation policy, we’d look nothing like Japan. We are simply to big and our density to low. I imagine that we would be like Canada. The major cities and metropolitan areas would have decent transit but other places would be very car dependent.

  40. Lee:

    You can even have suburbia and transit. You just need the major cities to have commuter rail systems like NYC, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Boston. Keep the jobs, shopping, and entertainment in the urban core.

  41. rickhavoc:

    MTBE was an alternative to ethanol at the time of the ethanol mandate, for the record.

  42. rickhavoc:

    Ladies and Gentlemen, give it up for TMidg

  43. DrDick:

    I know that there were still lead pipes and paint in many poor neighborhoods and in their schools in Chicago in the 1990′s because the Tribune ran a story on it. Many of those neighborhoods are also built on former industrial sites with high levels of lead and other heavy metals in the soil.

  44. marijane:

    Vancouver, BC seems to do pretty well with very few urban highways.

  45. Bill Murray:

    or his audience can’t tell the difference

  46. Lee:

    I actually thinks its the reverse. Nixon was most vulnerabnle in 1968. The 1968 was pretty close even with the Democratic meltdown. In 1972, nobody knew anything about Watergate and Nixon was very popular. Another Democratic politican might not have suffered such a staggering defeat against Nixon but they would have lost.

  47. Murc:

    We are simply to big and our density to low.

    Despite the fact that my own personal preferences are for low density (I like being able to have a house and a yard while simultaneously being able to travel damn near anywhere on my own terms) even I have to admit that our low density is PURELY a result of public policy choices and could easily be changed the same way.

  48. montag2:

    Oh, I think Repugs would love the reintroduction of lead to gasoline, if only because it might very well lead to an increase in crime, thus preserving their electoral advantage as the authoritarian “tough on crime” party.

    Why else is there so much whinging and whining about the relatively benign weed of choice? Even for politicians, crime–even of the manufactured sort–pays.

  49. UberMitch:

    Now why don’t you just take it easy, Group Captain, and please make me a drink of grain alcohol and rainwater, with a lead-paint chip garnish.

  50. Malaclypse:

    You can have my incandescent bulb when you pry it from my cold, dead, but burnt-from-wasteful-heat hands.

  51. (the other) Davis:

    …being unaware that the interior of pencils is no longer lead.

    Just picking a nit, but I’m pretty sure pencils have *never* used lead. The term “pencil lead” apparently came from a misunderstanding of what graphite actually was.

  52. Gone2Ground:

    I’m stealing a “Multi-sided feedback loop of deadly bullshit”

    That works on so many levels for so many different issues.

  53. Lee:

    Yes but our public policy choices for low density are due to the fact that we can geographically afford to be low density in addition to cultural preference. Even in the pre-car era, American cities covered larger areas and were of lower densities than European and Asian ones.

    Japan could not be low density even if the Japanese people really wanted McMansions. Their geography doesn’t allow it. Its why wealth is frequently symbolized by generous living spaces in Japanese media.

  54. AR:

    I worked in state government when we phased in a statewide ethonal requirement. As the lowest ranking person who could take complaints without it looking like a brushoff I got to hear a lot of complaints about how ethonal was killing their gas mileage, even though over half the state lived in local jurisdictions that had required ethonal for years (the state rule forced smaller rural areas to go along with the urban core). Any problems they had in the year of the phase in need to be directed to their mechanic, not their state senate.

  55. Left_Wing_Fox:

    If for no other reason than the horrible drving conditions encourages everyone to take alternate transit.

  56. Barry:

    “Its the only place in the world where a private corporation could operate trains at something of a profit.”

    I doubt that many roads in the USA are runnable at profit (after the BS is pulled out of the data). Maybe a very few prime chunks of the interstate system.

  57. DrDick:

    Frankly, my 18 year old students are as much avid culture warriors as my fellow Boomers (I am 60).

  58. stickler:

    Leaded gasoline and its phase-out came at a very important moment in American economic and social history, too, and it didn’t exist in a vacuum. This was during the post-Vietnam malaise era, post-riots, post-Civil Rights, post-1973 oil crisis. The related mandates of calalytic converters and higher vehicle MPG hit Detroit with its pants down, engineering-wise. Big V8 engines that might have had 250 horsepower in 1970 suddenly only wheezed out 145 by 1975, while the big American sedan still weighed 4500 pounds (or more, partially due to newly-mandated 5MPH bumpers and other safety equipment).

    Unleaded gas and catalytic converters really did seem, to a lot of Americans, as a successful attempt by environmentalists, hippies, and Communists (but I repeat myself) to emasculate American industry and American drivers. And GM sure as hell didn’t spend any money publicizing how their engineering efforts were pathetically late and half-assed. No, the fact that your 1976 Caprice was a slow, thirsty barge was all because of Big Gubmint.

  59. Vance Maverick:

    But wait, your link is to a query with not two, but three terms! Liberal fascist!

  60. Gepap:

    Being left unsaid is that is this is true, the unintended consequences of various chemical developments can become massive. It would seem to indicate that we need to be a hell of a lot more careful when making even seemingly beneficial changes to substances we use in mass quantities.

  61. JL:

    There were many problems with the implementation of Boston’s Big Dig, but the basic idea of having a highway go through the city via underground tunnel seems like a good one, in areas where the geology permits.

    It might even be a little easier in a city that’s not landfill. Workers in Boston were a little surprised when they ran into, for example, sunken ships, while tunneling through the city.

  62. quercus:

    And — just for the record — an adult eating a chunk of metallic lead probably won’t kill himself and –I think — likely not even cause too much harm. Metallic lead (like metallic mercury) isn’t absorbed very easily by the body in the first place (it’s the organic compounds when the lead is combined with an ethyl or something that are a big problem). And the biggest damage is done to developing brains (fetuses, children), rather than fully-developed adults.

    So, just in case it does happen, it’s not a proof of harmlessness if Glenn Beck eats a chunk of lead and survives apparently unharmed (though it raises the question of how you’d tell if he did have brain damage — would he start forgetting to act dumb for the rubes and sound smarter for a while?)

  63. Origami Isopod:

    “Rising gun sales” decrease crime? Uhhhhh…

  64. Brandon:

    Visiting Chicago from the sururbs via public transit largely sucks.

  65. Karen:

    People call the graphite in pencils “the lead.”

    Jokes lose all fun when they have to be explained.

  66. OC toll roads:

    Even in the land of the Uber Galts, the toll roads are deeply in debt and with bonds reduced to junk status.

  67. Richard:

    Question I have is this.

    All crime has gone down over the last 20 years, not just violent crime. I can understand why exposure to lead could influence the brain so as to lead to violent behavior. Is there something about exposure to lead that would influence the brain so as to lead to nonviolent crimes like theft?

  68. (the other) Davis:

    I’m just riffing here, but it could have something to do with adherence to social norms more generally. There are probably parts of the brain that help prevent antisocial behavior, and lead ingestion could in theory interfere with their development.

  69. Witt:

    Off the top of my head: Because a lot of property crime is driven by addicts? Although I don’t know if any of the lead research shows any correlation with propensity toward addiction….

  70. bad Jim:

    Not so fast. Artists used to draw with metalpoint, typically silver but sometimes lead or tin. I recall an illustration of a Continental soldier’s possessions, from an old American Heritage article, which included a stick of lead for writing.

  71. Marc McKenzie:

    It certainly is interesting….definitely worth looking at (I mean Drum’s article!).

  72. Ian:

    Not if you’re part of the 75% of the metro population that doesn’t live in the City of Vancouver. Actually, most of the East Side arterial streets are overwhelmed during rush hour; it’s only on the West Side (of course) that things stay bearable.

  73. Jon Hendry:

    I know that, I just didn’t get that it was a joke.

  74. Jon Hendry:

    It probably helps if the city is already disrupted by something natural, for example Philadelphia, where the expressway runs along the west side of the Schuykill, but the other side of the river has Fairmount Park, etc.

  75. Jon Hendry:

    Depends on the suburb. If you’re close to the blue line it’s not bad. The problem of getting to/from a suburban rail station is pretty universal.

    If you’re traveling at the wrong time of day, visiting Chicago from the suburbs via car can such pretty bad.

  76. Rhino:

    And artists draw and paint with way more dangerous things than lead. Not safe, your artistic career. Not safe at all.

  77. Rhino:

    Supposedly you can drink elemental mercury with relatively little harm. It was fashionable around the time of newton to drink it as ‘medicine’.

    Not immediately lethal, at least, and these reactions are so often obscure and misunderstood.

  78. melior:

    “No gummint bureaucrat’s gonna tell my kid how much cadmium he’s allowed to eat.”
    /teabagger

  79. herr doktor bimler:

    I have two words for you

    Checking Malaclypse’s link I find that there are actually 3 words there. I will never trust Malaclypse again.

  80. herr doktor bimler:

    Back in the days, it was a cure for constipation, relying on gravity to keep a dose ploughing through the system and pushing everything ahead. Also you could retrieve it from the outcome for future re-use.
    Inhaling mercury vapour was popular as a cure for syphilis and whatever else ailed you, although apart from the obvious neurotoxicity it caused copious salivation and made your sweat smell like rancid potatoes.

  81. melior:

    Somewhat more seriously, I recall a possibly mythical anecdote from a long-ago Intro to Statistics course about a man who, walking along the side of the highway one day after running out of gas, noticed by the side of the road a lead weight of the sort once used to balance tires. A little farther on he spied another, then another.

    Pondering these as he continued to walk, he took a rough swag at the number of linear miles of US highways, and devised an estimate of the total mass of environmental lead from this source — a staggeringly large figure.

    So unbelievably large that even in its less harmful metallic form the particulates ultimately dispersed through weathering turned out after more careful study to be a largely unrecognized contributor to the total environmental load. Seizing the opportunity to publish his discovery helped to support restrictions which eventually came to include such tire balancers as well as the ubiquitous fishing weights from bygone days.

    The story ended of course as a paean to the value of an alert amateur statistician with the skills to estimate rough-orders-of-magnitude from clues whose significance others fail to appreciate even though they lay in plain view.

  82. (Late to the Party again):

    Hey, I’m not saying anything about any subset of the populace, but when did NASCAR stop using leaded gas?

  83. joe from Lowell:

    highways do seem to have their place in city planning.

    They do. It’s a complicated question.

    Suffice it to say here that the actual, historical urban highways program this country implemented between the 40s and the present was done in a way that caused tremendous damage.

  84. joe from Lowell:

    But then you lose the waterfront. This was considered no big loss in the 40s-70s, when urban waterways were stinky and dead, but waterfront redevelopment has played a huge role in the urban renaissance since the 1990s.

  85. Emily:

    I read a book once about the history of pencils. Graphite wasn’t discovered until the 15th or 16th Century (I’ve forgotten exactly when.) Before that, some writing implements were rods of lead wrapped in string to keep the lead off of your fingers. After graphite, people still called the stuff that did the writing “lead.”

  86. Tracy Lightcap:

    The big problem with the hypothesis is that it doesn’t explain similar shifts in crime rates in the past or variations in crime rates between countries or even between states.

    We don’t have good overall crime stats from the past, of course, but there is one crime – and it’s indicative – that we do have some pretty decent series on: murder. Take, for example, the gigantic secular decreases in violent crime observed in Europe over time by Gurr back in the ’80′s. These did not take place because the continent got rid of leaded gasoline. It was almost surely due instead to identifiable social causes.

    Same goes for the differences between murder rates in, say, Trinidad and the United States. Yes, rates are down in both places. Yes, that coincides with getting rid of leaded gasoline. And, yes, crime rates are still much higher in Trinidad then they are here. Same goes for violent crime rates in, say, Minnesota and South Carolina. Something else – God knows what – is at work here.

    I’m not saying that the leaded gas hypothesis is nonsense, largely because there is a sound causal mechanism that works with it. But an explanation for the shifts in violent crime in the last three decades? Sorry, it doesn’t ring true to me. And it’s a pretty slim reed to use to support spending $20B a year on.

  87. Davis X. Machina:

    Henry Petroski. The Pencil: A History of Design and Consequence. One of my favorite books ever.

  88. Pamoya:

    One key thing to keep in mind is that the decline of crime rates is not a US-only phenomenon. Any explanation using trends that occurred solely in the US cannot be the full explanation.

  89. Matt McIrvin:

    There were people who actually went out of their way to have the catalytic converters removed from the cars they bought. The father of a friend of mine did this. I think this was before emissions testing became a standard part of yearly state inspections.

  90. Links 1/6/13 | Mike the Mad Biologist:

    [...] Drug Mooning Over St. Christopher We’re Screwed Through 2022 Sign the Petition The Lead/Crime Connection (last paragraph is key. Answer: yes) Does Lead Paint Produce More Crime Too? Share [...]

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