Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Social disorder

The recent crime wave in the usually staid and wealthy upper NW neighborhoods of DC (see one of several stories in WaPo here) has a feeling that the stakes have just been upped. What started as a series of thefts from vehicles and breaking and entering have entered into a phase of armed robberies and home invasions. The police say that the criminals who commit these crimes are very different in the sense that someone who does a smash and grab is different from someone who would commit a home invasion. In the parlance of economists criminals specialize based on their comparative advantage.
While there may be an element of truth, it seems that one crime is just a hop, skip and a jump to another - it is easy for breaking and entering to become home invasion, armed robbery and murder. After all it is straightforward to acquire the tools and skills. It is whether they have the nerve or the guts to grab a gun and start pointing it at people and perhaps even using the weapon. It is whether they have the audacity to simply invade people’s homes by getting together a group to just smash windows and barge in shooting and for lack of a better word, pillaging the homes.

After all, social order is very much voluntary. We all pay our taxes - voluntarily. If we suddenly woke up and decided not to do so there is very little that the IRS can do. They simply do not have the manpower to to enforce tax laws on everyone. Sure as they say, you may get a few of us but you won’t get us all.

In a similar vein if a proportion of the population decided to start committing crimes, there is very little that the police can do. Sure, they may get a few of them but in the end as there are more of those who decide that it is profitable to commit crimes enter the market so to speak, they can overwhelm a civil society. In a sense there is point at which everyone starts to rebel and there is little that can be done. Think of how riots can erupt, for instance.

Yet like riots, the madness for lack of a better word dies down - somehow. So hopefully, this crime wave is what it is - just a wave.

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