Back in 2005, I invented the concept of the Crime Misery Index, which I modeled on the Economic Misery Index common in political discourse during the Carter Years: the inflation rate plus the unemployment rate. My 2005 graph of the Crime Misery Index added the homicide rate to the imprisonment rate, with both indexed so that 100 would be equal to the average of the 1950s.
Ta-Nehisi Coates’ giant article in The Atlantic on the “enduring myth of black criminality,” “The Black Family in the Age of Incarceration” (which I reviewed in Taki’s Magazine this week in “Occam’s Rubber Room“), features a graph much like mine from a decade ago (this new graph uses violent crimes while mine uses homicides, but the take-away lesson is the same):
To Ta-Nehisi and his editors, this graph just proves that locking violent criminals up doesn’t deter crime.
(By the way, as a commenter asks, why use two somewhat different y-axes in this Atlantic graph? The point of using an index is to be able to compare disparate measures versus some starting point on one Y-axis.)
Yet, by eliminating the pre-1960s years, their graph does a better job than mine of making the obvious more obvious: liberals wrecked the cities in the 1960s and 1970s by being soft on crime.
In the Sixties, the imprisonment rate went down as the crime rate went up, meaning that, increasingly, crime did pay. According to The Atlantic’s own graph, the imprisonment rate was no higher in 1970 than in 1960 even though close to 3.5X violent crimes were being committed. In other words, assuming all else being equal, your chance of doing time for committing a violent crime was only about 2/7ths in 1970 of what it had been back in 1960.
Why? Because the Sixties.
Like I said in “Occam’s Rubber Room:”
Coates’ autodidacticism is personally admirable, but it’s also embarrassing in that he doesn’t notice what he doesn’t notice. For instance, if you ask people what the most famous decade in the history of the world is, many would say: the ’60s. Everybody has a different opinion on the ’60s, but at least they have an opinion. Except Coates, for whom the sheer existence of the ’60s is an embarrassment for the tale he’s trying to tell.
It would be easier to take the fashionable conventional wisdom about how we have to let so many felons out of prison more seriously if it were first offered with an apology for what happened the last time liberals were handed the key to the national criminal justice car: “We’re sorry about what we did to America in the 1960s and 1970s. We really, really messed up. But we’ve learned from our mistakes and we promise not to do it again.”
But, instead, we get the bumptious, semi-educated Ta-Nehisi Coates turned into America’s Foremost Public Intellectual.
That’ real reassuring.
It’s interesting that Coates is semi-aware that he is rejecting Occam’s Razor in favor of Occam’s Rubber Room. In an interview with Vox’s Ezra Klein, Coates spells out his tribalistic emotion for rejecting scientific reasoning:
I think it’s a lot easier to talk about individual behaviors, to just say that if people would act better it would all be okay.
To me, that logic leads to racism. And let me try to make that plain for you, so I’m not being extreme. If you say the problem in the African-American community is a lack of individual responsibility, you’re talking about 40 million people. If you’re saying there’s less responsibility among those people, well, why would that be? And you say, a culture has developed in the last 30 or 40 years. But the problem is the crime rates have been higher in the black community at least since the time we came out of slavery. Was something wrong with the culture of those people, too?
It quickly and easily leads to the idea that something must just be wrong with those people. And I just reject that. I guess I have to reject that.
TNC concludes his interview by saying his goal is to see whites imprisoned as much as blacks:
If by some feat of magic we returned to 1970 levels of incarceration, it’s not enough for me to see those levels reduced but still see a 5-to-1, 6-to-1, 7-to-1 black-to-white incarceration ratio. How do you get to a place where the black-to-white incarceration ratio is 1-to-1? That hasn’t ever existed in post-slavery in America. It’s never happened. But if that’s what you want ultimately to happen, that’s a bigger conversation than imprisonment. It’s a bigger conversation than drug laws.
As you probably have noticed by now, “conversation” is SJW for “I’m going to lecture you some more, and I don’t want any of your impertinent backtalk.”