Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Liberalism and crime

From Political ideology predicts involvement in crime by John Paul Wright, et al. I can't get around the paywall so I take this as a data point at best. But even if only that it illustrates a couple of points.

Here is the abstract.
Political ideology represents an imperfect yet important indicator of a host of personality traits and cognitive preferences. These preferences, in turn, seemingly propel liberals and conservatives towards divergent life-course experiences. Criminal behavior represents one particular domain of conduct where differences rooted in political ideology may exist. Using a national dataset, we test whether and to what extent political ideology is predictive of self-reported criminal behavior. Our results show that self-identified political ideology is monotonically related to criminal conduct cross-sectionally and prospectively and that liberals self-report more criminal conduct than do conservatives. We discuss potential causal mechanisms relating political ideology to individual conduct.
Kind of hard to discern their findings from that. The finding was:
Liberal political ideology was significantly associated with crime cross-sectionally and longitudinally.
As I say, I'd take that with a pinch of salt. Till details are accessible, it falls into that expansive literature where the proponents of one political party, usually conservatives, are "proved" to be less intelligent, less educated, more hateful, ad infinitum. The only difference in this case being that they accidentally found that liberals are more criminal than conservatives.

The first point that it illustrates is that, since the finding is against liberals, it will not be taken up by the press. Had it found that conservatives were more criminal, it almost certainly would have gotten a lot of play.

The second point is that the finding might be true but that it is substantially a spurious correlation. I.e. it might be technically accurate but not meaningfully accurate.

So we know that something like 60% of crimes are committed in city limits (as opposed to suburbs, exurbs, smaller towns and country). We know that city limits contain only something like 20% of the country's population. We also know that the Democratic Party is made up primarily of those who self-identify as Liberal. We also know that the Democratic Party is increasingly isolated in a handful of states on the West Coast and the far Northeast and in cities. Without knowing any of the methodological details, population size studied, randomization, etc. we can conclude simply from the above mentioned facts that there will be a strong correlation between liberals and crime. Liberals live in cities and cities have a disproportionate share of crime.

It is not Liberalism per se that causes criminality. It is the conjunction of crime in cities that is the causal relation. Whether Liberalism causes cities to become more criminal is a different issue. It is quite possible that Liberals end up pursuing public policies which do in turn encourage criminality. For example, if Liberals, in pursuit of caring and mercy, were to implement a very forgiving policing and sentencing system, that likely would encourage increased criminality (see the Ferguson Effect).

My points are that 1) liberal press won't give this prominence because it goes against their preferred narrative, 2) it is likely that there is no causal relationship between ideology and crime, and 3) it misdirects attention from policies to ideology.

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