This article caught my eye in the Economist (Paul Marks, avert your gaze now), stating that in many nations, crime rates for offences of property, violence and the like have fallen significantly over the past few decades (but that’s no reason for complacency):
Both police records (which underestimate some types of crime) and surveys of victims (which should not, but are not as regularly available a source of data) show crime against the person and against property falling over the past ten years in most rich countries. In America the fall began around 1991; in Britain it began around 1995, though the murder rate followed only in the mid-2000s. In France, property crime rose until 2001—but it has fallen by a third since. Some crimes are all but disappearing. In 1997, some 400,000 cars were reported stolen in England and Wales: in 2012, just 86,000.
Cities have seen the greatest progress. The number of violent crimes has fallen by 32% since 1990 across America as a whole; in the biggest cities, it has fallen by 64%. In New York, the area around Times Square on 42nd Street, where pornographers once mingled with muggers, is now a family oriented tourist trap. On London’s housing estates, children play in concrete corridors once used by heroin addicts to shoot up. In Tallinn you can walk home from the theatre unmolested as late as you like.
What is behind this spectacular and widespread improvement? Demographic trends are an obvious factor. The baby-boom in the decades after the second world war created a bubble in the 16- to 24-year-old population a couple of decades later, and most crimes are committed by men of that age. That bubble is now long deflated. In most Western countries, the population is ageing, often quite fast.
The magazine looks at a range of others issues, ranging from drugs, policing methods, fewer opportunities, stronger protections on things like cars and houses, and so on. (Of course, modern burglar alarms and all the rest cost money, and there are the potential civil libertarian issues arising from developments in modern policing, arguably). Even so, with all the ifs, buts and niggles about statistics, etc, it seems there has been a genuine improvement, and in quite a short – relatively – period of time.
Maybe we are seeing, in accelerated form, the sort of decline in misbehaviour that Steven Pinker has written about in his book, The Better Angels of Our Nature.
And perhaps because certain forms of crime are in decline, that might also explain how this creates a vacuum for the worriers out there, as they focus on issues such as health, drinking, smoking, paedophiles, and the rest. I am not trivialising such concerns – especially the latter – but it might explain part of what it is going on. It is almost as if we humans need to have stuff to get anxious and worry over and there are plenty of people, with good and less positive motives, who are only to keen to pander to that need.