Crime’s costs are even higher than we thought

Tuesday, August 16th, 2022

How bad is crime?, Ben Southwood asks:

In the paper, whose calculations were done in 2006, Americans were willing to pay $25,000 to avert a burglary across their society, $70,000 to avoid a serious assault, and nearly $10m to avoid a murder.

A more practical situation comes when juries award money to ‘make people whole’ for physical injury, pain, suffering, mental anguish, shock, and discomfort that they have experienced due to some illegal action. For example, one 68-year old lady was shot through the spine in a drive-by shooting, and left paraplegic — a jury gave her $2.7m in addition to her medical costs.

If you combine these awards, in a large sample, with separate ‘physician impairment ratings’ — basically how bad doctors think the injury is compared to death — then this is another method of estimating the statistical value of a life, something we have hundreds of estimates for, which typically comes out somewhere above $5m, depending on the wealth of the country and the methodology.


Their central estimate is that crime costs America $2.6 trillion annually, mostly coming from violent crime. This is about 12 percent of US GDP. By this metric, it would be, in GDP terms, one of the US’s biggest problems, on par with housing. For a country like the UK with a murder rate about five times lower, the problem is probably about five times smaller.

I actually think the American problem is considerably bigger than this estimate, because this study only includes the costs of crimes that actually get committed. However, people try their damnedest to avoid being the victims of crime. This leads to many extremely socially costly behaviours.

What are some of these extremely socially costly behaviors?

For example, one study by Julie Cullen and Steven Levitt finds that when crime rates across the city rise ten percent, city centre populations fall one percent — with people generally moving to the suburbs. One crime tends to push one person out of the city centre, on average.

Quantifying this in terms of a real world city, the roughly 400 percent increase in New York City’s murders from 1955 to 1975 (from around 300 to over 1,500 per year) would have been expected to empty the densest parts of the city out by about 40 percent, assuming that other crimes rose in line with murder. And indeed, the population of the centre city — Manhattan — fell about 35 percent over that period, while the population and physical extent of the suburbs grew rapidly.

Murders in New York City peaked in 1990 at over 2,000 per year, roughly as population reached its nadir in the city centre. They have cratered by over three quarters, to about 300. This would have likely driven city centre population up massively, much moreso than it actually did recover, but building restrictions have prevented this happening anywhere near as much as it might, meaning that it has driven up prices instead.

So this story implies that crime in city cores drives people to the suburbs, creating urban sprawl. If so, then crime’s costs are even higher than we thought.


  1. Gavin Longmuir says:

    This ignores the impact of the biggest crime of all — Government!

  2. Altitude Zero says:

    Picking our own damned cotten is looking better all the time…

  3. Bob Sykes says:

    Immediately after WW II, the move into the suburbs was driven mainly by a desire for personal space, and it was facilitated by the ready availability of cars, the GI Bill, cheap loans, cheap housing, etc. Crime was not at first a driver, although it did so later.

  4. Hoyos says:

    Honestly, I almost thought “no kidding”, but I do appreciate someone doing the math.

    It’s worse than that. People moving out to suburbs is largely about crime avoidance, so also is using cars over more dangerous public transport, private schools can partially be driven by this as well, leading to people who pay for their childrens education twice, once by taxes and once out of what’s left.

    Next you’ve got someone paying for security twice, first law enforcement through taxation, then security systems and companies, etc.

    And we can’t address any of this because to do so would naturally impact some communities more than others, and I mean absolutely race blind policies would still lead to some communities being impacted more than others. We’re being drained for fear of being called racist.

  5. Jim says:

    Black crime is generated by welfare payments made to unwed mothers. In other words, it’s engineered.

    This social engineering causes social breakdown. The resulting disorder, disfunction, and chaos is then put to good use as a key leverage point to keep the downwardly mobile white middle class under pressure.

    The pressure is economic pressure, to be sure, but more importantly social pressure.

    Because through social pressure white people can be made to ignore their sensory input, can be made blind to what appears before their very eyes, they can be caused to act schizophrenically.

    There is no apparently no limit to this phenomenon.

  6. Mike-SMO says:

    There is no longer a reason for the cities to exist except as a dumping ground. No one travels by train and the railroads prefer bulk or containerized cargo that go to facilities in the surround. Communication advances mean that dispersed offices and work-from-home allow many urban workers to avoid the risks of the city. Entertainment and support businesses are following the workers into the surround. What is left is the population who can’t or who refuse to work in the modern economy. That is likely to include a reservoir of “dangerous” people who helped drive the exodus in the first place.

    The drive for a mass Illegal Alien influx is a way to have a new urban population. It worked in Compton, California where the new Hispanic population (and their gangs) drove the defective and violent African-American population out of town. That municipality went from ~100% Black with about 100 murders per year to
    ~70% Hispanic with virtually no violent crime. It’s a plan to preserve profit and grift in obsolete cities. Otherwise, the urban concentrations will be nothing except a burden.

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