Coping With StreetnCrimenby Murray N. RothbardnA ny cogent discussion of crime mustnbegin by casting aside the obfuscationsnof criminologists and social scientistsnwho habitually lump together allntypes of crime. But while most peoplencan be made to wax indignant againstnfraud or against such abstract “crimes”nas insider trading, or even become outragednat employees taking pencils fromntheir employer, these “white-collarncrimes” do not terrify them because theyndo not violate the physical integrity ofnthe person or the home of the victim.nThe latter crimes are the ones that terrifynand destroy the security of the averagenperson and wreck social peace. Wenmight call these malign forms “crimes ofnviolence,” except that we should alsonput in the same category home burglary,nwhich technically does not use weaponsnbut inflicts the same sense of personalnviolation as more directly violent crimes.nLet us then call them “street crimes,”nwhich would include crimes of violencenon urban streets or sidewalks, and also thenhome burglaries in suburban or ruralnareas.nElconomists have added their own specialnforms of fallacy and misdirectionnto the problem of crime. To most economists,nled by Chicago School economistnGary Becker, crime is a business like anynVITAL SIGNSnother, and the criminal, like any businessmannor investor, engages in a rationalncost-benefit calculation in decidingnwhether or not to commit a crime. Hencompares the expected monetary benefitnfrom the crime, with the expected costsnof getting caught and the type of punishmentnprobably received, all costs andnbenefits duly discounted by the rate ofninterest. This sort of analysis may wellnbe applicable to business-type crimes,nsuch as committed by organized groupsnof jewel thieves, bank robbers, or counterfeiters,nor to the sort of mafioso activitiesnimmortalized in The Godfather. Butnthese business-type crimes don’t terrify,nand they do not qualify in our definitionnof street crime as street assaults, rapes,nmuggings, shootings, as well as home burglaries.nTo apply monetary cost-benefitnanalysis to street criminals in the Beckernmanner is so divorced from realitynas to verge upon absurdity.nTake, for example, the latest fashionnin street crime, rampant in Detroit, whichnin so many ways has blazed the pathnin this field and now spread to othernurban areas: the drive-by shooting. A drivernpulls up alongside his victims, opensnfire, and then zooms off. How in thenwodd can this practice be encompassednby Chicagoite monetary cost-benefit analysis?nMore and more, it has becomenclear that much or all such street crimenis done not for the money but for psychicnbenefits. One young lad, when asked whynhe killed someone at random in a drivebynshooting, replied: “I just felt like killingnsomeone.” Some years ago, they wouldnhave replied “for kicks,” but it seemsnthat anomie has replaced a sense of joynamong young muggers and murderers.nOne reason why standard economicsnhas gone so far astray is that, ever sincenAdam Smith, economists have routinelynassumed that people are exactly thensame as every other, with the same values,nnorms, and preferences, and thatnthey only act differently because ofndifferent institutional indictments ornconstraints. Combine this egalitariannlegacy of the Enlightenment with Benthamitenutilitarianism, and it becomesnclear why economists’ analyses and policynconclusions have so often tendednto be far off the mark and even counterproductive.nFrom its mathematical calculations.nnnthe Beckerite remedy for crime is to makenpunishment not so much more severe asnmore probable: to increase the certaintynof getting caught and punished. Apartnfrom the fact that the Beckerites havencome out with precious few practicalnsuggestions on how this increased certaintyncan be accomplished, there is morenaskew here. For the Beckerites ignore onenof the important contributions of Ludwignvon Mises and the Austrian Schoolnof economics: that individuals all differnin their values, habits, and preferences,nand that a crucial aspect of that varietynis what Austrians call their “rates of timenpreference.”nWorking independently of the Austrianntradition, the political scientistnEdward C. Banfield—in his delightfullyncool, bitter, and hardheaded Then(Jnheavenly City (1970), and the later edition,nThe {Jnheavenly City Revisitedn(1974)—put his finger on a key to thennature of the street criminal: a very highnrate of time preference for the presentnover the future; in other words, a verynshort time horizon. The street criminaln.places a high value on present, instantngratification: whether it be from moneynstolen, from rape, or from the sheern”kicks” of beating or killing anothernhuman being. He commits these acts notnbecause punishment is uncertain, butnbecause punishment is sometime in thenfuture, and he simply doesn’t care aboutnthe future. In a later article applying hisnanalysis to street crime. Professor Banfieldnput the case well: “The threat of punishmentnat the hands of the law is unlikelynto deter the present-oriented person.n,The gains that he expects from his illegalnact are very near to the present, whereasnthe punishment that he would suffer—nin the unlikely event of his being bothncaught and punished—^lies in a future toondistant for him to take into account.”nBanfield goes on to add that “for the normalnperson” there are other strongerndeterrents to crime than the legal penalty,nsuch as disgrace, loss of job, hardshipnfor wife and children if he goes to prison.nThese deterrents do not exist, however,nfor the present-oriented person. Everyonenin his circle naturally gets “in trouble”nwith the police from time to time.nHe has no steady job anyway, and he contributesnlittle or nothing to the supportnof his wife and kids, who, Banfield adds,nMAY 1992 /47n