Saturday, October 28, 2006

Latin American countries are the most criminal in the world: In response to my point that the U.S. does not have a high property crime rate as predicted by popular theories that claim that love of the market breeds crime, a reader argued that the U.S. would have a high rate if not for astronomical rates of incarceration (the adjective I would use is appropriate). Let's set aside the United States for a moment and look at the rankings of national robbery rates around the world (International Crime Victimization Survey) :

Percent robbed last year

Brazil 11.3
Colombia 10.6
Paraguay 6.7
Argentina 6.6
Tunisia 6.3
Bolivia 6.2
Costa Rica 5.8
Zimbabwe 4.8
South Africa 4.6
Uganda 4.4
Spain 3.1
Philippines 2.4
Botswana 2.0
Egypt 1.9
Polish 1.8
Italy 1.3
England/Wales 1.2
Australia 1.2
Indonesia 1.2
Portugal 1.1
France 1.1
Belgium .9
Sweden .9
Canada .9
China .9
Netherlands .8
W. Germany .8
India .8
Switzerland .7
Denmark .7
New Zealand .7
Scotland .7
USA .6
Finland .6
Norway .5
Austria .2
Northern Ireland .1
Japan .1

According to anti-market theories, countries with the greatest economic freedom should have the most theft. But the 10 worst countries have weak to terrible rankings on economic freedom ( Costa Rica is the best at 46. With the exception of India, the 10 countries with the lowest levels of robbery are highly ranked on economic freedom. The only one who doesn't make the top tier is Japan, and its rank is 27th. If anything, a market orientation reduces theft.

Criminologists love to find an appealing theory that suits their politics. They don't bother to look at the data first. Anti-market theories have reigned in sociology and criminal justice classes for decades, with the one little problem of having no empirical validity.

In the spirit of the name of this blog, what do these data points lead us to conclude concerning the cause of national levels of violent theft? Rates are highest in Latin America and lowest in Europe and Japan. This looks like a simple case of wealth except that Latin American countries are richer and yet more thieving than sub-Saharan African countries. Plus, China and India have low rates. Spain has the highest European rate, and the Tunisian rate is very high.

What about distributions of traits? Hispanics have higher IQs than Africans. The rankings on extraversion, based on a recent post by Agnostic at, don't line up all that well with robbery (although if there is one thing a robber needs to be, it's bold).

Let me complicate things by adding that in my previous post on burglary, Africans exceeded Latin American countries. Is there some reason why Africans would prefer breaking into houses, while Latinos prefer mugging people? Housing in Latin America is more secure?

What is it about Hispanics? Machismo? Any ideas? I did not plan this at all, but isn't it funny how so many of my analyses make one wonder if mass immigration to the U.S. from the south is such a great idea? Now the Tamar Jacoby's of the world will say that Hispanic immigrants have low rates of crime, but she is looking at a little selective slice of the Latin population--an above-average behaving slice. The criminal mean for this international population is very high, and the American descendants of these immigrants regress to that very high mean.


  1. Anonymous11:15 AM

    Why are you using the Heritage rankings of economic freedom? The ones from Fraser are much better.

  2. Re: personality, criminals do tend to be extraverts, but more important is Psychoticism (or the combination of low Agreeableness and low Conscientiousness for the "Big Five" measures). In that post, there's a list of Psychoticism scores, but they appear only weakly related to the robbery rates. Some reasons why:

    1) As you mentioned, a high Extraversion score is a must (so Japan and Hong Kong are out).

    2) There must be a steady stream of rich-country tourists to pickpocket. That's why Spain is so high -- their economy was built on & still relies almost entirely on tourism. If memory serves, Barcelona's the pickpocket capital of Europe because it's the most heavily visited European city, mostly by rich-country tourists.

  3. Pick pocket turist victims are not likely to be included in this data, since they don't live there.

  4. Anonymous1:33 AM

    In order to go further out on the limb of unPCness, here is an observation:
    Half of the top ten countries
    for robbery are mixed-race populations
    which could of course be a coincidence.
    That is, not mixed in the sense of having different races in the same country more than others do, but having long-term admixed populations from sources originally at high, or even maximum genetic distance.
    Maybe other countries similarly endowed are much lower down on the list.
    In any case, though, this does not argue for hybrid vigor regarding behavioral reticence and restraint, when the interbreeding occurs across maximal genetic distances.
    That is, for there to be such over-representation of the most-mixed among the topmost robbery-prone countries.

  5. To clarify -- a steady influx of pickpocket targets would embolden many to take up the practice of pickpocketing, with robbery against co-nationals as collateral damage or their "night job" compared to their "day job" of robbing tourists.

  6. I'd ammend jsbolton's claim about half of the top 10 being mixed -- true for Brazil, Colombia, Paraguay, and Bolivia, but not for Argentina, Tunisia, Costa Rica, Zimbabwe, Uganda, nor (the extra one he's probably thinking of) South Africa (which is only 8.8% mixed).

    Here's how you could test that, though -- if only additive genetic factors were at work, then you'd expect the mixed population's mean to be halfway between the two parental populations' means (or a different fraction if the two parental pops didn't contribute equally to the mixed pop). If the mixed pop's actual criminal value is above, then you've got the antagonistic epistatic effect jsbolton mentioned. If it's below the expected value (even if higher than the less criminal of the two parental pops), then you've got synergistic or positive epistasis.

    Or, the mean may equal the expected value, but epistatic effects could increase the variance in the mixed pop, leading to proportionally more law-abiding and more criminal individuals in the mixed pop.

    Has anyone written on this in the race & crime lit?

  7. Anonymous7:17 PM

    Just to clarify, I meant "astronomical" in relation to the other First World nations, not as some sort of negative value judgement.

    According to the ICVS, the differences between the robbery figures from Poland (1.8%) down are statistically insignificant. Suggesting that the USA, for example, is a low-robbery nation is inaccurate.

    Could greater wealth and income inequality have something to do with the greater prevalence of robbery in S. America vs. Sub-Saharan Africa. For example, people in Uganda and Zimbabwe are so poor (per capita GDP $2000) and so uniform in their poverty (relative to S. America) that the average man on the street probably isn't walking around with anything worthwhile in his pockets. If he has anything of value, it's going to be in his house.

    In contrast, S. America is relatively richer and with a less equitable income distribution. I imagine there are a lot of lupine, impoverished favela-dwellers eyeing Ipod-wearing middle- and upper-class types.

  8. Fred S: Yes, I had (reluctantly) thought about inequality because it is the standard sociological explanation, and there is cross-national research showing a link, at last with homicide. Sociologists, however, usually focus on motivation (e.g., resentment, envy) more than opportunities for crime. The Occam's Razor rule give your idea the advantage.

  9. Anonymous2:50 AM

    I may have found some statistics that lend credence to my spitballing: (scroll down to "Table 2" under the heading "Using victimisation surveys to rank countries").

    The sub-Saharan cities listed seem to have generally higher assault rates than the S. American ones. This suggests that Latins are not inherently more violent then blacks and that some sort of structural economic explanation could account for the higher robbery rates. If they're not doing it because of an overarching love of violence, then they must be doing it for the money.

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