Hot on the heels of the New York Times innocently wondering whether Fred Thompson’s attractive and accomplished wife Jeri
may be seen by “values voters” as could succesfully be tagged by the Times as a bimbo, here comes the WaPo looking to deflate Rudy’s star accomplishment with a bit of rather controversial science:
Although crime did fall dramatically in New York during Giuliani’s tenure, a broad range of scientific research has emerged in recent years to show that the mayor deserves only a fraction of the credit that he claims. The most compelling information has come from an economist in Fairfax who has argued in a series of little-noticed papers that the “New York miracle” was caused by local and federal efforts decades earlier to reduce lead poisoning.
The theory offered by the economist, Rick Nevin, is that lead poisoning accounts for much of the variation in violent crime in the United States. It offers a unifying new neurochemical theory for fluctuations in the crime rate, and it is based on studies linking children’s exposure to lead with violent behavior later in their lives.
This theory is like the perfect storm for the Left–not only does it denigrate Rudy specifically, but it also impugns law and order approaches generally even offers a behavioral, neurochemical-level explanation for criminal behavior that does an end-run around conventional notions of individual responsibility. Your Honor, I shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die, but it’s not my fault because the solder in my crib contained lead:
Children in inner-city neighborhoods were the ones most likely to be poisoned by lead, because they were more likely to live in substandard housing that had lead paint and because public housing projects were often situated near highways.
Chicago’s Robert Taylor Homes, for example, were built over the Dan Ryan Expressway, with 150,000 cars going by each day. Eighteen years after the project opened in 1962, one study found that its residents were 22 times more likely to be murderers than people living elsewhere in Chicago.
The cherry on top is that this mysterious X factor is an industrial pollutant. One wonders whether the Left, always so eager to downplay any linkage between illegal psychoactive drugs and criminality, will maintain a similar laissez-faire attitude toward the fruits of the internal combustion engine. And with guns, too, of course. Shooting ranges and ammunition makers should look for a new round of regulations coming out of this news, as dewey-eyed gun-grabbers wistfully fantasize yet again about a positive correlation between private gun ownership and crime, while statist bureaucrats and slick trial lawyers take them by their hand and say, “I’m there for you.”
I’m not saying the guy is completely full of it. Why, he’s published in peer-reviewed environmental journals, no doubt right next to those same peers’ global-warming-will-kill-us-all articles. But clearly, lead does make you stupid and it may make you a criminal as well. There may be something there.
But I have to stop and ask myself–why is it lead that is the cause of this? Tracing crime waves in the 70’s to an increase in national leaded-gasoline consumption in the 50’s may track well on the charts, but Americans were using more lead because they were driving more cars. It was a time of enormous social change, many of it which challenged traditional norms and institutions. The privacy and mobility afforded by the automobile certainly had far reaching effects on families, on sexual ethics, and on economics as well. Gasoline use and lead output may have been associated with these changes, but that’s very different from saying it causes them. Roosters crow at dawn, but they don’t cause the sun to come up.
Likewise, drops in crime are attributed to a removal of lead from circulation. Of course, a government that is A: aware of and concerned about lead and B: prosperous enough to enforce such a change and C: capable of enforcing such a change has not always been the norm. Modern democracies that decided they needed a lead-reduction scheme probably did a lot of the same things at about the same time they thought of regulating lead–some of it good, some of it bad, but a lot of it that could potentially affect criminal behavior. A country that decides it needs a lead-paint policy probably also gets to work on a homelessness policy, a mental health policy, combating corruption, and a lot potentially significant factors all around the same time.
But Nevin thinks he has a silver bullet theory, one that explains criminal behavior variations anywhere and everywhere. So I’ve got to laugh when I see him say stuff like this:
“In Britain and most of Europe, they did not have meaningful constraints [on leaded gasoline] until the mid-1980s and even early 1990s,” he said. “This is the reason you are seeing the crime rate soar in Mexico and Latin America, but [it] has fallen in the United States.”
Yeah, you don’t think a series of violent turf wars among the various players in the nose candy industry, along with Marxist rebellions and even ongoing civil war had anything to do with that, do you?
I also wonder, why the focus on violent crime? Why hasn’t this theory been extended to white-collar crime as well? If lead contamination “decreases the ability to tell yourself, “If I do this, I will go to jail,” as a psychiatrist quoted in the article explains it–why don’t we see a similar increase in forged checks, insider trading, and money laundering as a result of lead?
Well, maybe such a surge has been measured–the article doesn’t make that clear. For the WaPo’s purposes, a theory that explains violent crime is good enough, because that is what Rudy Giuliani is credited with reducing. And now here’s a chance to denigrate his accomplishments, and also to make him look like a martinet:
Nevin’s finding implies a double tragedy for America’s inner cities: Thousands of children in these neighborhoods were poisoned by lead in the first three quarters of the last century. Large numbers of them then became the targets, in the last quarter, of Giuliani-style law enforcement policies.
Oh, waaah. Not sure what’s in the water at the Washington Post, but it’s making them mean and rather pathetic as well.
UPDATE: Some bloggers customarily include a “hyperlink” to the article being discussed. But not me, because I’m a player–who doesn’t play by the rules.
Oh, fine, here you go.