Coping With Street Crime, by Murray N. Rothbard

The ideas in this article may seem anachronistic (the article was written in 1992), but they wouldn’t have to have much merit to be better than current methods of dealing, or not dealing, with street crime. From Murray N. Rothbard at

Any cogent discussion of crime must begin by casting aside the obfuscations of criminologists and social scientists who habitually lump together all types of crime. But while most people can be made to wax indignant against fraud or against such abstract “crimes” as insider trading, or even become outraged at employees taking pencils from their employer, these “white-collar crimes” do not terrify them because they do not violate the physical integrity of the person or the home of the victim. The latter crimes are the ones that terrify and destroy the security of the average person and wreck social peace. We might call these malign forms “crimes of violence,” except that we should also put in the same category home burglary, which technically does not use weapons but inflicts the same sense of personal violation as more directly violent crimes. Let us then call them “street crimes,” which would include crimes of violence on urban streets or sidewalks, and also the home burglaries in suburban or rural areas.

Economists have added their own special forms of fallacy and misdirection to the problem of crime. To most economists, led by Chicago School economist Gary Becker, crime is a business like any other, and the criminal, like any businessman or investor, engages in a rational cost-benefit calculation in deciding whether or not to commit a crime. He compares the expected monetary benefit from the crime, with the expected costs of getting caught and the type of punishment probably received, all costs and benefits duly discounted by the rate of interest. This sort of analysis may well be applicable to business-type crimes, such as committed by organized groups of jewel thieves, bank robbers, or counterfeiters, or to the sort of mafioso activities immortalized in The Godfather. But these business-type crimes don’t terrify, and they do not qualify in our definition of street crime as street assaults, rapes, muggings, shootings, as well as home burglaries. To apply monetary cost-benefit analysis to street criminals in the Becker manner is so divorced from reality as to verge upon absurdity.

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