Maybe Bonnie and Clyde getting shot? by mattsteinglass
August 12, 2009, 11:23 am
Filed under: Crime


Eric Rauchway (Corpses as artifacts of a cowboy culture. « The Edge of the American West) posts a Douglas Eckberg chart showing the US murder rate was a lot higher than we usually think, or than the Census figures showed, up to 1930 or so. (Via Matthew Yglesias.)




US murder rate in 20th Century



Yglesias notes that high murder rates tend to be self-reinforcing. My question is: what the hell happened in the mid-30s? It was the middle of the Depression. People were starving and living in shacks. Photos make much of the country look like Darfur today. You’d think that would lead to resource conflicts. Yet the murder rate fell steadily. Why? Because the New Deal was magic? Because the economy, though still at a miserably low level, had bottomed out and was growing rapidly? What?

Also, you’d think that sending all the country’s young males to other continents from 1942-45 to legally kill foreigners would drive the murder rate down, but instead it seems to have briefly shot up. Weird.


7 Comments so far
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End of prohibition.

Comment by cheesefondue

Prohibition began in 1919 and ended in 1933.

Comment by sputnk780

I sort of thought you were joking at first, but now I suspect you’re genuinely perplexed. What the other commenters said: ending the Prohibition of alcohol drove down the murder rate pretty precipitously. Check out those big gains in the late 60s and early 70s: they coincide with passage of the Controlled Substances Act.

Comment by motion

“You’d think that would lead to resource conflicts. Yet the murder rate fell steadily. Why?”

Maybe because bullets were too expensive?

Seriously though, it could be that the repeal of prohibition had a large effect in this regard. It looks like the graph change matches the repeal (Dec., 1933) pretty closely.

Comment by tedsaid

Oops … didn’t see the other comments when I posted that. Oh, well … at least I’m in good company.

Comment by tedsaid

Looks to me like there’s a dip in the early 40s that corresponds to wartime, and a small spike that roughly corresponds to the end of it.

On the prohibition/drug war aspect of it, wasn’t there also a marijuana panic in the 40s, focused on Hispanics? I wonder whether immigration patterns and response to them might also be a factor.

Comment by akreed

Another fact that will be disregarded in the search for a logical world drug policy.

People are dying due to lack of healthcare and we as a country are worrying about “death panels”. We already have death panels, they are called HMOs.

The facts smack you in the face on so many issues, and we continue down towards proven dead ends.

We can only hope that when Grandma dies, she’ll take the last of bit of paranoid insanity with her. Sorry to all the cool Grannys out there.

Comment by chuckyarla

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