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.

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