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At a minimum, fixing broken windows discourages more broken windows

I blog a lot about the lead/crime hypothesis. Most of my link-blogging comes from posts by Kevin Drum, who always cautions that it doesn't mean that other crime theories aren't also true, but i've always seen the lead theory as being at odds with the "broken windows" theory popularized by Rudolph Giuliani. So it's interesting and maybe a little eye opening to see Vera te Velde's post saying that there's a lot of evidence that the broken windows theory works. Now, if you can stomach reading the comments, you'll see that Velde agrees that there's nothing saying that preventing or allowing minor graffiti-like crimes has any effect on violent crime, which is what the broken windows theory is really about. And she also acknowledges that the theory led to harassment (or worse) of minority citizens.

Seems to me the theories can work hand in hand. The lead theory should lead to less "crackdown" policing, but that doesn't mean we can't put up more No Littering signs.

By fnord12 | May 15, 2015, 2:55 PM | Liberal Outrage


One of the biggest problems with "broken windows" in practice is that it very specifically and explicitly neglects entire categories of crime. (All corporate crime, for instance). I'd recommend checking out the work of Bernard Harcourt, in particular 'The Illusion of Order' and 'The Illusion of Free Markets.'

Also this is a great piece that talks about what it would look like to actually apply the broken-windows concept to Wall Street, in a way that isn't just sophistry:


(Maybe this is all tangential to your point with the post, but thought you might be interested!)

Thanks for the link, cullen (i'll probably never read the books). Personally i have no problem being a sophist or polemic, and i've always contended that while the death penalty has proven to not be a deterrent for what William Black at your link calls blue collar crimes, i think it would be a great deterrent for white collar crimes. I also think a "three strikes rule" aimed at corporations that consistently break environmental and labor regulations would be great. Violate three such regulations, lose your right to incorporate. Again, just being provocative as a shorter way to make Black's point.

But like you say, none of that is really related to this post. I think it's important to knowledge that violent crime really was way up in the 80s and 90s, not just because it's true but because it shows the contrast with today. Our police and news media are still geared up to fight a war that is over (even regardless of whether we were fighting it correctly at the time).