April 8, 2009

"The Great Black Hope" in Claremont Review of Books

Here's a good article by Barry Latzer in The Claremont Review of Books, which draws upon an argument I made back in my 1999 debate in Slate.com with freakonomist Steve Levitt over the falling crime rate in the 1990s: that one explanation for the sharp decline in black juvenile homicide rates beginning in 1995 was the dawning realization among black youths from watching older brothers wind up in prisons, wheelchairs, or cemeteries that getting yourself killed in the Crack Wars was a really stupid idea.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

8 comments:

simon newman said...

I was just thinking about this idea of yours, Steve.

It sounds plausible; but plenty of societies, especially primitive societies, have had and do have endemic traditional warfare, where the young men of Tribe A raid and kill those of Tribe B, and vice versa. And this can go on indefinitely (If A wipes out B, meet your new neighbours, C), with very high death rates over time.

I don't think there is anything in human psychologically that prevents a permanent state of war; whether the Crack Wars or warfare between hunter-gatherer bands.

So, what's the difference? Why did the Crack Wars end? One possibility that occurs to me is that it's not about death. Death does not end wars, as long as there are still combatants. The victors get the glory & loot, the dead are forgotten or celebrated.

What *does* end wars may be incarceration. The imprisoned are still around, not as romantic martyrs like in all those songs eulogising dead gangstas, but as visible signs of failure. Alternatively, as more and more combatants go to jail, control shifts to the jails, and this can have a chilling effect on street warfare.

Certainly in the Northern Ireland conflict between the terrorist groups, State forces etc, the desire of imprisoned terrorists to be released helped propelled the peace process. As dead martyrs they'd have had the opposite effect.

Something worth thinking about?

d.c. watcher said...

In the book "Sick Societies", the Papuan New Guinea head hunters, who had been in a continuous state of vicious warfare literally forever, were happy once that had been outlawed by modern (read white, European) government. They didn't really want to live (?) like that, but what's a headhunter to do? The rules of the game require it and there is no alternative. That's the difference--are there options? The author found this to be the case in many societies. We talk about cultural relativism but in fact those who suffer from their "culture" are more than often glad to give it up when they have alternatives.

robert said...

It would've been nice if the original Claremont article had actually cited Steve Sailer's researches and commentary on the subject, but no such luck.

josh said...

"Why did the Crack Wars end?"

Wars usually end because somebody wins. Maybe gang turf borders have become well enough established.

Mr. Anon said...

He doesn't bother to give you any credit. But hey, you only had the idea ten years before he did, and I'm sure he never did a Google search on the topic. I got to hand it to you Steve - you're a more generous man than me. Myself, I'd want more than just the satisfaction that I had an impact on the debate - I'd want the credit too. Must be that selfless Catholic upbringing.

"....one explanation for the sharp decline in black juvenile homicide rates beginning in 1995 was the dawning realization among black youths from watching older brothers wind up in prisons, wheelchairs, or cemeteries that getting yourself killed in the Crack Wars was a really stupid idea."

I buy this explanation, but if so, it probably only works for a generation - two generations at most - especially among a group of people with short time horizons and little collective memory. For young Jamal, the fact that uncle Derrick is in the grave because he joined a gang may be a deterrent. But for young DeMarius, the fact that uncle Jamal's uncle Derrick was killed in a drive-by has no more significance than events that happened a hundred years ago.

"simon newman said...

What *does* end wars may be incarceration. The imprisoned are still around, not as romantic martyrs like in all those songs eulogising dead gangstas, but as visible signs of failure."

The problem with that is that for a lot of young black men, prison doesn't seem to be a feared deterrent, so much as an expected rite of passage. The seeming indifference to imprisonment of many homeboys is truly disturbing.

simon newman said...

Mr Anon:
"The problem with that is that for a lot of young black men, prison doesn't seem to be a feared deterrent, so much as an expected rite of passage. The seeming indifference to imprisonment of many homeboys is truly disturbing."

Certainly, for hardened warriors/violent criminals, a brief period of incarceration that releases them when they're still young and fit, will not be a deterrent. "Three strikes" laws in the US have imposed very long jail terms in the past 15 years or so, though; most people sentenced to them are still in jail. If you're in jail, you're not committing crime on the street, so there is an incapacity effect.

Another thought - does the takeover of the drugs trade by Hispanic gangs have an effect? Crime data indicates that US Hispanics are only about half as violent as US blacks (about 3.5 times the white rate, compared to ca 7 times), so once an area has been ethnically cleansed of blacks the violent crime rate may drop considerably, although still remaining high compared to when cities and their criminal networks were white-dominated.

Big Wave Dave said...

Incarceration rates and prison populations are useful measures only up to a point, for instance:

Super Mario, a burglar by trade, was arrested and convicted a handful of times during the first decade of my police career, a decade when he might burgle as many as six homes a day (to feed his heroin addiction). Due to the court's rehab philosophy, his sentences were short, concurrent, and, from a crime prevention perspective, largely ineffective. His short stints in custody did little but dry him out and get him back into shape for contorting himself through small openings and running from the cops.

Decade Two: I walk into court and am immediately intercepted by a young deputy DA telling me that a deal has been stuck (big surprise). Mario, who is charged in six cases, will cop out if the mother of his child, who'd acted as his lookout/wheelman, is sentenced to only county time (less than a year). I ask what Mario will get and the prosecutor answers, "18."

That was not an answer my brain was prepared for... I was ready for an answer in years, something along the lines of three or four (which would get Mario back on the street in two).

"He'll do what?" I asked again, hoping he wouldn't say 18 months, which would mean a year.

"Eighteen years," came the answer, with the explanation that under the new career criminal statute, 18 was a lot better than the 25 to life he deserved. I felt like I'd just walked through the looking glass.

That second decade, Super Mario was incarcerated only once, and counted as only one person in prison, but because of cases like his (and maybe fifty others), our burglary stats took a Dow-like plunge and over the next decade untold thousands were spared the outrage and indignity of having their homes burglarized.

Ronduck said...

Big Wave Dave said...

That second decade, Super Mario was incarcerated only once, and counted as only one person in prison, but because of cases like his (and maybe fifty others), our burglary stats took a Dow-like plunge and over the next decade untold thousands were spared the outrage and indignity of having their homes burglarized.Another cause of this drop in home robberies is the willingness of some homeowners to simply shoot burglars. Think of Joe Horn in Texas shooting those two men outside of his neighbors house. A guy like Super Mario could have his career end suddenly if he chose the wrong house.