Brr. It sure is freezing in Vladivostok! The vodka’s great, though 🙂 However, seeing some ramshackle buildings here brought to mind this old post from March 2006:
The Boston Globe had a fascinating article a few weeks ago, that I just ran across (so my apologies if this has scorched its away across the blogosphere and I’ve missed it). Is the “broken window” theory a legitimate theory?
The broken windows theory first came to prominence in 1982, when criminologists George Kelling and James Q. Wilson published a lengthy article on the subject in The Atlantic Monthly. The theory, as they explained it, holds that people are more likely to commit crimes in neighborhoods that appear unwatched and uncared for by residents and local authorities.
The crux of Wilson and Kelling’s argument was that perceptions affect reality-that the appearance of disorder begets actual disorder-and that any visual cues that a neighborhood lacks social control can make a neighborhood a breeding ground for serious crime. As Kelling and Wilson put it in The Atlantic, ”one unrepaired broken window is a signal that no one cares, and so breaking more windows costs nothing.”
The remedy for this, as proposed by Wilson and Kelling, was to get tough on the small crime. Small crime begets big crime, the theory posits. So if we nip crime in the bud, as it were, neighborhoods will be safer and more peaceful.
Recently, however, new critics have emerged and old ones have been emboldened by the rising crime rates in Boston and elsewhere. One widely read challenge comes from ”Freakonomics,” the best-selling book by University of Chicago economist Steven D. Levitt and journalist Stephen J. Dubner, which presents a controversial theory claiming that the legalization of abortion in the 1970s was the biggest factor in the crime drop of the 1990s. According to this hypothesis, the decline in the birth of unwanted, often poor and fatherless children in the ’70s, led to a decline in the number of juvenile delinquents in the ’80s and hardened criminals in the ’90s. As for broken windows, Levitt and Dubner write, ”There is frighteningly little evidence that [Bratton’s] strategy was the crime panacea that he and the media deemed it.”
I could quote the whole article, but that would be wrong, so please take 5 minutes out of your day to read (if you haven’t already) and then come back to give me your thoughts (if you’d like).
Personally, I don’t think the broken window theory, by itself, is the cure for crime. It strikes me as rather simplistic and ignorant of the underlying rationale for crime: social and economic environment. Maybe this is the defense attorney in me speaking, but I believe (perhaps foolishly), that most tendencies to commit crime can be traced to a disadvantageous socio-economic background.