For instance, how much do you think a single murder costs society? According to researchers at Iowa State University, it is a whopping $17.25 million....Looking at UCR statistics, in 2009 we had approximately 15,241 murders, 88,097 forcible rapes, 408,217 robberies, 2,199,125 burglaries, and 806,843 aggravated assaults. That would mean for those crimes alone, the total cost to society was more than $647 billion dollars. I'm not sure how much the authors of the "study" would tell us were lost to the 6,327,230 incidents of larceny, 794,616 vehicle thefts or 9,320,971 incidents of property crime, but it's difficult to imagine how their inflated numbers wouldn't put the annual cost of crime somewhere well north of a trillion dollars. A simple reality check of that type of projection would be, "In years when there's a significant drop in crime, is there an associated significant increase in productivity or in the nation's GDP, and if not, why not?" (Perhaps it's that a significant percentage of people who are murdered tend to be criminals themselves, so in high murder years there's a "dividend" by virtue of murder victims no longer being able to commit crimes, whereas when crime rates are lower society bears the cost? It all comes out in the wash?)
(They also calculated that each rape costs $448,532, each robbery $335,733, each aggravated assault $145,379 and each burglary $41,288.)
Instead of explaining why at this magnitude their statistics appear to only function in a vacuum, the authors argue:
DeLisi sees the expensive monetary costs associated with incarcerating murderers supporting both sides of the political fence when it comes to crime.The first non-sequitur: the economic harm caused by a person's action does not automatically translate into it's being more heinous than a less costly act. If the extent of economic harm caused by a bad act automatically translated into "how bad" an offender is, the $18 billion in losses inflicted by Bernie Madoff would mean that his crime was approximately 35 times as "bad" as the serial murder spree of John Wayne Gacy. The second non-sequitur: if conservatives see this as an economic argument, with the "badness" of an act correlated to its harm to society, we would have seen them demanding the prosecution of the bankers whose dubious and often fraudulent activities led to the recent economic collapse, rather than yammering about how the government needed to pay multi-million dollar bonuses for bailed-out companies because of the "sanctity of contract".
"I think that the left and the right are both right and wrong on crime," he said. "Where the right maybe has to bend is in acknowledging the benefits of prevention. It's simply more humanistic and it's just smarter to invest up front, and the costs are so much smaller than allowing it to unfold.
"On the flip side, conservatives are absolutely correct in noting how bad some offenders are," he continued. "And here's where liberals generally aren't as strong in admitting how bad these offenders are. They really are [bad], and when you can bring out costs that show this, you can really see it."
We also have the hollow man - "the right maybe has to bend is in acknowledging the benefits of prevention" - who on the right is arguing against prevention, and what of the response that the current system is focused on prevention in tht prosecution followed by long prison terms both prevents recidivism and deters others from committing similar crimes? Also, "liberals generally aren't as strong in admitting how bad these offenders are" - which liberals, and how does that translate into policy? Outside of parody, where can I find "liberal" voices arguing that it's not fair to incarcerate rapists, murderers, robbers and burglars?
I recognize that the authors of the study hope that the figures will inspire more programs designed to prevent crime. Coming up with high dollar figures for the cost of crime can be used to justify the cost of programs designed to prevent young people from becoming criminals. Or, as Charles Blow puts it,
Many crimes could have been prevented if the offenders had had the benefit of a competent educational system and a more expansive, better-financed social service system. Sure, some criminals are just bad people, but more are people who took a wrong turn, got lost and ended up on the wrong path. Those we can save.Maybe I was too hard on the researchers in relation to that second hollow man - if they're arguing from the standpoint of prevention research and believe that prevention is "more cost effective than allowing these careers to unfold", they're endorsing the idea that most criminals aren't "bad" people - they're people who given better structure and support won't make the same bad choices. Perhaps their sin was in overstatement. But wouldn't that mean that the researchers, themselves, are the "liberals" that they told us "aren't as strong in admitting how bad these offenders are"? Painting with too wide a brush....