Discussing New York’s crime figures yesterday on CNN — which are lower this year than last — Mayor Bloomberg pooh-poohed the general consensus that crime rises in a down economy. “This ‘park bench wisdom,’ as I call it, that there is a correlation between the economy and the amount of violence in our society just isn’t true,” he told Wolf Blitzer. “People that go out and murder people don’t read The Wall Street Journal.”
The Times took offense.
They even got a criminologist to disprove his theory, that, as they put it, “titans of American capitalism who subscribe to the newspaper are simply not the homicidal kind.”
“The mayor is wrong,” said James Alan Fox, a professor of criminal justice at Northeastern University in Boston, who referred a reporter to the local case of Lonnie Lee Gilchrist Jr., a stockbroker who fatally shot a Merrill Lynch executive in 1988. “People from all social strata commit murder,” he said.
They went on to cite several more examples of finance workers who have committed murder. While we understand the Times’ umbrage at being by default painted as the paper of killers, their argument strikes us as somewhat weird and pointless, since the more glaring error in the mayor’s statement is in his characterization of the “park-bench wisdom” regarding crime and the economy.
The conventional wisdom is not that people turn to crime because they’ve heard the Dow dropped a few points, it’s that crime goes up because of the effects of the dropping Dow, like unemployment, which leads to desperation etc. As the Times reported just this past October:
“Every recession since the late ’50s has been associated with an increase in crime and, in particular, property crime and robbery, which would be most responsive to changes in economic conditions,” said Richard Rosenfeld, a sociologist at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. Typically, he said, “there is a year lag between the economic change and crime rates.”
They could have just said that instead of taking it all personal-like. Or! If they really wanted to needle the mayor, they could also have pointed out that Bloomberg’s main argument in running for a third term is that the city really needs his strong leadership because of the faltering economy. But if everything’s going to be fine, then hey, maybe we don’t?