• Chart of the day: Crime and lead

    Via Kevin Drum:


    Kevin’s longer piece on the crime-lead connection appears in Mother Jones (ungated and I haven’t read it yet). Coincidentally, Harold Pollack recently pointed me to this 2004 Steve Levitt paper (ungated PDF) on why crime fell in the 1990s. I haven’t read it yet either, but a quick search found this footnote:

    Reyes (2002) offers an additional intriguing explanation for the decline in crime: the reduction in levels of lead in the blood due to the elimination of leaded gasoline and lead-based paints. Because of the highly speculative nature of the Reyes conjecture at the present time, I do not discuss this hypothesis at greater length, although it is clearly an area worthy of continued future research.

    Also coincidentally, the recent Econtalk episode was on the prison population, but it also touches on changes in the crime rate.

    PS: My previous chart of the day on health care spending by age and country turns out to be highly misleading. Go read the comments to see why if you haven’t yet. Kevin and Arnold Kling point to other problems.


    • The problem with all of these things (lead, abortion, crime rates, prison population), is that everything gets skewed when you’re not talking about just lead laws or abortion laws… But how the other nonsense plays into it like the war on drugs and the 3 strikes laws.
      I saw the documentary that featured the Levitt story, and afterwards looked it up and found that there were some inconsistencies to be explained state by state… I wonder if I’ll find the same for the lead.
      (Not to say that I think either should be ruled out as cause factors, just saying seems to be needing some more study.)

      Thanks for that econtalk link… at first I thought perhaps it was about how the prisons are overloaded. But then saw this:
      “Because the prison population isn’t included in the main government surveys used by social scientists, data drawn from those surveys can be misleading as to what is actually happening among demographic groups”
      It’s news to me, and maybe worth a listen.
      Considering prisoners are regularly back out into society, seems kind of hinky & counterproductive that they’re not included in social studies!