Here is a paradox – Why have Crime Rates increased, despite better living standards in the West?
In the past 80 years, we have witnessed unparalleled improvements in GDP per capita. Average living standards have increased. Furthermore the incomes of even the poorest have increased in real terms. Government benefits have ensured that no one in the UK or US live in absolute poverty. This was not the case pre 1939. Why then, despite increases in material prosperity have crime rates also increased at unprecedented rate.
1. There is More to Steal.
In the Great Depression of the 1930s there wasn’t much to steal. There was no mobile phone theft, motor cars were a rarity, if you broke into your neighbours house, chances are you wouldn’t find anything particularly worth stealing. There were no videos, computers, tv’s e.t.c. Nowadays, there is so much more material goods, there is always a constant temptation.
2. Markets to Sell.
A lot of crime is steal to order. If you have an easy way to sell goods it makes crime more profitable. E.g. ebay makes it easier to dispose of stolen goods. However, ebay is a relatively recent phenomenon.
3. Relative Poverty
It is true that the incomes of the poorest have increased. However, relative poverty has not necessarily fallen. Relative poverty is the difference between the highest earners and the lowest earners. Whilst there is a yearning gap between the poorest and highest earners, it could be said there is a motivation for people to steal. However, it is worth remembering that criminals are not necessarily the poorest in society.
4. Laxer Prison Sentences.
It is debatable that prison sentences are significantly more lenient. Nor are prison conditions much better than they were in the past. Prison is as much a deterrent as it ever was.
5. Changing Moral Standards.
This goes far beyond the remit of an economist. But, it could be argued that people have less compulsion about stealing than in the past. It is hard to say, but I don’t think there was a golden age, when everyone was a saint.
Another argument is that there are higher levels of unemployment in this age, but, it was much higher in the Great Depression of the 1930s.
7. Increased levels of Alcohol and drug abuse
Drug activity accounts for a significant aspect of crime rates in the Western world. True, drug misuse occured before the war. But, arguably it has got worse in recent decades