There has been much discussion lately of the direct costs of the criminal justice system. Many people (too many, in my opinion) of conservative leanings have been sipping the soft-on-crime Kool-Aid because they are appalled by the high costs of locking up the very large number of criminals we have, and they have been too quick to accept the line that they aren't really that bad.
As long as we are talking dollars, we must not forget the economic costs of crime. Crime causes people to spend time, effort, and money on unproductive self-defense measures that could be spent more productively. Crime causes people to abandon or sell cheaply real estate that could be much more valuable. Crime is a drag on the economy, like driving with one foot resting on the brake pedal while the other pushes the accelerator.
Stockton, California is a chronically depressed city. Its government is just emerging from bankruptcy, and Forbes infamously branded it America's most miserable city a few years back. Yet this weekend a developer actually got a group of people to come out from San Francisco, interested in possibly relocating to a building he is renovating downtown. For those unfamiliar with intra-California regional attitudes, let me assure you that to get anyone in San Francisco interested in Stockton is huge.
A few hours later the developer was found dead in a downtown Stockton street, apparently murdered. Joe Goldeen has this story in the Stockton Record. What do the potential buyers think now?
It will be a while before we have confirmation that this is a homicide and then more time before we know who did it and why. Whether the specific crime can be causally linked to the misguided policies of California's current government is also unknown at this time.
Even so, we are seeing more indications as time goes on that the trends we have decried on the Crime and Consequences blog are having their expected effect. There is a lag between policy and effect, a further lag between effect and official statistics, and a yet another lag between the availability of data and studies that provide a solid basis for an inference of causation. So all we have for now is preliminary information. Yet what we do know is not good.
Attacking the police and abandoning the policies that brought down crime are having their effects. Those effects fall most harshly on the direct victims of crime, but the economy as a whole is also a victim. Turning criminals loose is not free. Sending a message that crime can be committed with impunity is not free. There is a cost in blood and a cost in dollars. People who care about a robust economy need to understand this.
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Cross-posted from Crime and Consequences blog.