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June 17, 2005

Cops and Crime

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

Virginia Postrel's latest Economics Scene column discusses a study that asks some fascinating questions: Does raising the number of cops generally reduce crime? And, if so, by how much?

Fun to notice that the co-author of the study is Marginal Revolution's Alex Tabarrok, who has a brief posting about the study here.

To relieve the suspense, here's a brief passage from Virginia's column:

So far, the case for adding more police officers is strong. Professor Tabarrok said, every $1 to add officers would reduce the costs of crime by $4.



posted by Michael at June 17, 2005


You sign on to that argument, Michael? Let's say -- purely hypothetically, just for the sake of argument -- that every $1 spent on increasing the size of welfare checks would reduce the costs of crime by $4. Would you then sign on for increasing welfare?

Posted by: Felix on June 17, 2005 5:39 PM

I like your hypothetical! But was the Taborrok study actually recommending anything? I'm not sure it was. I'd be hesitant to institute any policy changes based on purely economic data anyway. In the case of cops and crime, for instance: maybe more cops would lower crime, but maybe the presence of more cops would also drive away tourists. Who knows? In the case of your welfare hypothetical: maybe more bucks spent on welfare would reduce crime, but maybe the same bucks would also promote a longterm culture of dependency. Who knows?

Still, an interesting study, no?

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on June 17, 2005 5:58 PM

The article implied that the number of tourists didn't change on days with increased police presence.

Posted by: lindenen on June 17, 2005 10:34 PM

Felix -- why wouldn't he? The problem is that welfare doesn't provide anywhere near that level of benefits.

Posted by: jult52 on June 21, 2005 1:04 PM

Actually, I think Felix's thought-experiment is an interesting one. My objection to it isn't that it isn't interesting, it's that politics doesn't operate via thought-experiments. It's a practical, bloody, unprincipled set of battles and tradeoffs, out of which a lot of (mostly stupid) laws and policies emerge. I can't imagine a situation in which a "policy maker" (whatever that is) sits there thinking, "Hmm, do I spend this dollar on A or on B?"

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on June 22, 2005 5:41 PM

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