Official statistics would certainly suggest that crime in China is extremely low. Murder rates in China are roughly one-fifth as high as in the United States. According to the official crime statistics there, all crimes are rare. China certainly feels safe. We walked the streets in rich areas and poor and not for a moment did I ever feel threatened. Graffiti was completely absent. The one instance where I thought I finally found some graffiti near a train station in the city of Shangrao, the spray painted message on a bridge turned out not to be graffiti, but rather a government warning that anyone caught defecating under the bridge would be severely punished.
Yet, there were all sorts of odd behaviors that made it seem like some crimes were a big problem.
First, there seemed to be an obsession with the risk of counterfeit money. Our tour guides felt the need to teach us how to identify fake money. Whenever I bought something with currency, the shopkeeper went through a variety of tricks to validate the legitimacy of the bills. Read More »
A working paper by Sergio Beraldo, Raul Caruso, and Gilberto Turati looks at time preferences and their relation to crime over a five-year period in Italy. Using proxies for patience (some of which may strike some people as rather far-fetched), they found more crimes in areas where residents are more impatient and discount the future more:
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In this paper we propose a first empirical test on the relationship between time preferences and crime using as a sample the whole set of Italian regions observed over the period 2002-2007. We consider both property and violent crimes. We proxy time preferences employing: 1) the amount of short-term debt to finance consumption (the consumer credit share); 2) the prevalence of obese people according to their body mass index (obesity); 3) 5 the willingness of individuals to engage in stable relationships (the marriage rate). In line with the theoretical prediction by Davis (1988), we find that where people are more impatient and discount the future more heavily, property and violent crimes are higher. In particular, the correlation between crime rates and time preferences is especially robust when time preferences are proxied both by the obesity and the marriage rates.
The last three months have seen several large corporate fines levied in response to various high-profile financial scandals, but an article in The Economist asks if fines are still not high enough to actually deter crime:
The economics of crime prevention starts with a depressing assumption: executives simply weigh up all their options, including the illegal ones. Given a risk-free opportunity to mis-sell a product, or form a cartel, they will grab it. Most businesspeople are not this calculating, of course, but the assumption of harsh rationality is a useful way to work out how to deter rule-breakers.
Extremely high and extremely low fines both carry costs, so The Economist suggests a middle ground: fines that offset the benefits of the crime itself. Read More »
A new survey study by Amir Hetsroni (who has also studied the difference between real doctors and TV doctors) and Hila Levenstein looks at the relationship between TV viewing and crime perception. The study, to be published next year in Psychological Reports, found a difference between religious and non-religious participants. From Ynetnews:
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Yet the data collected from the 778 residents of northern Israel who watched channels 2 and 10 during prime time viewing hours in 2009 revealed some unexpected information.
It soon became clear that among secular viewers there was a certain connection between television viewing and fear of falling victim to a crime. Whereas a situation called Counter-Cultivation was diagnosed among religious viewers. This means that the more they watched television, the less they feared becoming a victim of a crime.
Our latest Freakonomics Radio on Marketplace podcast is called “The Hidden Cost of False Alarms.” (You can download/subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed, listen via the media player above, or read the transcript below.)
The central facts: between 94 and 99 percent of burglar-alarm calls turn out to be false alarms, and false alarms make up between 10 and 20 percent of all calls to police.
There are at least three things to consider upon learning these facts:
1. If a particular medical screening had such a high false-positive rate, it would likely be considered worse than worthless; but:
2. With more than 2 million annual burglaries in the U.S., perhaps it’s worth putting up with so many false positives in service of the greater deterrent; as long as:
3. The cost of all those false positives are borne by the right people.
Can you already figure out whether No. 3 is in fact the case? Read More »
A fair trial is harder to come by than you might think. A few years ago, we wrote about a paper (ungated version here) by Shamena Anwar, Patrick Bayer, and Randi Hjalmarsson which found that “all-white juries acquit whites more often and are less favorable to black versus white defendants when compared to juries with at least one black member.”
This seems like a relatively hard way for a thief to earn a living, but a 38-year-old New Yorker has been arrested for siphoning off used cooking oil from a pair of restaurants in Connecticut. From the Westport News:
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Until two or three years ago, restaurateurs had to pay to get rid of used fry grease. Now they are able to sell it to a few companies in the area, who turn it into bio fuel that can be used to heat houses or operate diesel engines. …