Sunday, July 08, 2007

Leaded or Unleaded?

We talk here a lot about how the various explanations for crime waves rising and falling don't really have the linkage to government action that our politicians and policymakers like to claim or blame because too many jurisdictions do too many different things and have the same rises and falls. Something else clearly must be going on. I attribute it to the cycles common to complex interactions, but here's an alternative to that with more grounding in the material world. Lead consumption has been linked to violent behavior. Lead in gasoline peaked in the 70s (which then got emitted into the air we breathe) when the children who, in the mid-80s to early 90s, would turn into the largest group of violent offenders in our history were born. Lead goes down, inhaling by children goes down, violent crime goes down. Turns out that the parallel is strong across our history and other nations as well. And the current upswing in violent crime again in many places? Not juveniles, the researchers say, but the recidivists from those leaden days.

Again, this explanation doesn't claim to handle all the variation in crime rates or that lead was the sole cause. It certainly doesn't absolve the offenders. But it's a compelling argument, even for those who work in government agencies whose purpose is to have an impact on crime. And it reminds us one more time that all this government activity with intent to impact crime is probably just a sideshow to the real causes and effects, hopefully engendering a little more humility and reality in what we do.

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