he prevailing wisdom is that crime rates rise as people get increasingly desperate during tough economic times. But, despite the lingering effects of a recession, the number of violent crimes across the U.S. dropped by 5.5 percent last year — to what might be the lowest rate in nearly 40 years, The New York Times reports. Why? Here, four theories:
1. We're steering people away from crime
These stats "justify both celebration and head-scratching," says Douglas A. Berman at Sentencing Law and Policy. Perhaps the internet is helping law-abiding people identify and avoid dangerous areas. Or maybe programs requiring the registration of sex offenders are really working — and helping to prevent some sex-related crimes.
2. We're getting better at identifying would-be criminals
Improved success at diagnosing and medicating kids with emotional or psychological problems could also be a factor, says Berman. Sussing out those issues early in life may help problem children avoid becoming "crime-prone adults."
3. Tough times don't actually cause crime waves
Intellectuals love to argue that money trouble turns people bad, says Tyler Cowen at Marginal Revolution, but that doesn't make it true. People perpetuate this fallacy whenever they want to bolster their proposals on financial or social policy, using the threat of potential mayhem, should the other side prevail.
4. Crime actually isn't down across the board
If you live in New York City, this debate makes no sense, says Adam Martin at The Atlantic Wire. NYC's murder rate climbed by 14 percent, and Boston, too, saw "an extremely sharp rise in the murder rate." San Antonio, like New York, saw its overall crime rate go up. Granted, these local stats don't overshadow the nationwide trend, but they are "very glaring exceptions" that complicate the effort to draw any fast conclusions.
- WATCH: Jon Stewart and Bill O'Reilly spar over the Obama scandals
- Could the Cleveland kidnapping victims have been rescued sooner?
- WATCH: Suspect defends brutal beheading of London man in broad daylight
- How the White House's war on media backfired
- Sadly, you are uglier than you think
- 10 things you need to know today: May 23, 2013
- A linguistic dissection of 7 annoying teenage sounds
- 7 grammar rules you really should pay attention to
- Is Greek yogurt hurting the environment?
- 7 horrifying details from the Cleveland abduction police report
- The politics behind Kanye West's 'New Slaves'
- Are we on the cusp of a solar energy boom?
- Why Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn doesn't want tornado relief money
- WATCH: Jon Stewart hates everyone in Washington now
- LIVE UPDATES: Massive tornado tears through Oklahoma City area
- Angry at the government? 5 ways you can fight back
- 7 purported health benefits of drinking coffee
- What is a quantum computer — and why does Google need one?
- Why NASA is funding a 3D pizza printer
- The cool backstory of the Slurpee