California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is one politician who can credibly claim that he is truly responsible for reducing crime, at least if you believe a new study by economists Gordon Dahl and Stefano DellaVigna. It isn’t his policies as governor, however, that he can take credit for, but rather his acting roles.
In their new paper entitled “Does Movie Violence Increase Violent Crime?” they actually find that assaults are lower when a blockbuster violent movie is released, and their results have attracted the attention of the media. Although it might be tempting to an economics world outsider to react with knee-jerk negativity to this research and discount it as being flawed or nonsense, Dahl and DellaVigna are both outstanding young economists who do excellent work. I have only read the paper quickly, and I did not find anything obviously wrong with it. In fact, it seems like they have done the analysis with great care. The one thing I find strange about the paper is that they put tremendous emphasis on violent movies, but really they find pretty similar magnitudes from people attending non-violent or mildly violent movies as well. More or less, it looks like going to movies is good, clean, wholesome fun that substitutes for other activities, such as heavy drinking, that tend to lead to violence.