December 1, 2021

The crime-and-cocooning cycle, and the futility of top-down interventions to halt or reverse crime waves

In a recent discussion at the Red Scare subreddit, the under-40 hip demographic is largely bemoaning casual sex. No surprise to the long-time readers here. I'll get back to that discussion in another post. For now, I want to review my crime-and-cocooning cycle, which casual sex is a part of (risky interpersonal behavior, distinguishing a wild-times zeitgeist from a lowkey zeitgeist).

The model is always relevant, but especially now that crime rates have started skyrocketing for two years in a row, which I predicted back in the early 2010s. Looking at previous crime waves, they lasted about 60 years, roughly 35 years up and 25 years down. The last peak was in 1992, so I figured the down-trend would last through 2017, and trend up after that. So it began in 2020 rather than 2018 -- close enough for vindication. Everyone else either said that crime would only ever go up, or only ever go down, that long-term cycles were impossible. Maybe a one-off shock to the system could touch off a wave, or maybe a one-off technological change could bring crime down -- but no long-term cycles with endogenous boom-and-bust dynamics.

I first began writing about the de-sexualization of youth culture way back in 2007 (for the Gene Expression blog), when I first read about the National Youth Risk Behavior Survey, which randomly surveys high schoolers every other year for a variety of risky behaviors -- early sex, being promiscuous (i.e. 4+ partners in the past year), drug use, getting into fights, not wearing a seatbelt, and so on and so forth.

The upshot: since the '90s, these behaviors have all been trending *down* among young people -- contra the conservatard propaganda about how debauched we are becoming -- in contrast to their clear rise during the '60s, '70s, and '80s. Ditto for crime rates (violent and property both). At the same time, cocooning has taken root, in contrast to the outgoing mood of the '60s - '80s.

Basically the correlation is between rising-crime and an outgoing mood, and falling-crime and a cocooning mood. And the social mood changes direction first, then the crime rate changes.

To summarize my crime-and-cocooning cycle, start when crime rates are low and people are cocooning. At some point they have only known safe environments, and awareness of the rising-crime times fades away. So they begin to ask what the point of constantly hunkering down is -- what's the harm in being more outgoing? Not just getting out in public more often, but letting your guard down and trusting strangers and the crowd more in these public places. Criminals now have far more easy targets -- people in public not reflexively defending themselves -- so the crime rate goes up. At a certain point, crime rises for so long -- despite all efforts to stop it -- that people conclude there is nothing that can stop it, so they simply retreat into their cocoons, spending less time in public, and spending what time they do in public with their guard up. That removes the easy targets for criminals, so the crime rate plummets. And then the cycle repeats.

The outgoing vs. cocooning mood is the only thing that explains cycles in crime rates, other than changes in the youthfulness of the population (i.e., the younger it gets due to a baby boom, the more crime-ridden it gets due to the overproduction of hotheads). You can forget all the other standard nonsense about incarceration and other top-down interventions. Having a police force only determines the long-term average for crime in that society, and the cycles up and down around that average are entirely unaffected by changes in policing and legal policies.

Crime rates plummeted throughout the entire Western world during the '90s, 2000s, and 2010s -- not just in nations like America that started locking everybody up for minor drug offenses, putting more cops on the street, etc. The closest comparison is Canada, where they are famously non-punitive in their criminal justice system, and where if anything there were *fewer* police per capita at the end of the '90s than the beginning. Also, soaring incarcerations in America began way back in the '70s, whereas the crime rate only peaked in '92 -- terrible delay, if you honestly thought this cause would have that effect.

Most conservatards stuck their fingers in their ears when I laid out all of this evidence, when it was my main topic from 2009 to 2012 (see the archives in the right-hand column). I don't see much of a sign that they have learned anything since then either. It's still largely, "BLM says defund the cops, so ackshually shit-loads of cops and long punitive sentences mean crime goes down". There's no point in debating with them, it's just one of those things they'll never understand, like how libtards can never understand anything about violations of purity and taboo. Their brains are just wired against it.

The simplest way to see it is in their blind insistence that locking up a criminal means the crime rate goes down a tiny bit, with him off the street, so if you lock up more and more, that tiny bit gets multiplied by all those individuals who are removed from the public, ergo the public space gets safer.

But this is an autistic mechanical engineer's view of a social system, which instead requires a model from ecology that has positive and negative feedback loops, stable states, perturbations, and so on. People respond to the top-down interventions -- the interventions are not the final word in the dynamics. So if the cops remove person A from the street, then person B will take his place, fill his slot, play his role. Zero change in the crime rate. If anything, removing A could destabilize the local ecosystem, cause a power vacuum, and lead to more crime as people B, C, and D all compete over who will replace the removed person A. It's like regime change, at a small scale.

Why does A get replaced by someone else, instead of the system just tolerating or accepting the absence of A forever? Because there was some kind of "demand" for A, not in a good way of course, just that he was getting rewarded, making a living, earning status, getting chicks (perhaps by force, if the role were "rapist"), or whatever else made it appealing to A. Just because that particular occupant of the role gets removed, does not remove all of those appealing aspects of his role -- therefore someone else will fill his empty slot. Again, if anything several people will be competing for his vacant spot.

The easiest way to think of it is removing someone from their "turf" -- well, either an existing criminal is going to take over their turf, or an upstart is going to take it over. Either way, *someone* is taking over that turf and doing those activities, which means the crime rate stays the same, it's only being done by someone other than the original turf-lord.

Drug dealer A gets locked up, then existing drug dealer B expands his turf, or upstart dealer C enters the game in A's place.

Rapist A gets locked up, now his prowling grounds are uncontested for existing rapist B to expand into, or for local upstart C to get into the role.

Hothead A who picks fights at a bar gets locked up, now the next-most hotheaded regular at that bar becomes the one who is always beefing with others.

Thief / robber / carjacker A gets locked up, now all those homes, cars, and wallets inside his turf are going unstolen -- so existing thief B will expand his turf to take advantage of A's absence, or upstart C will decide now is the perfect time to get into the role.

And so on and so forth.

During rising-crime times, it used to be common knowledge that cops were powerless to halt, let alone reverse, a crime wave. They always got to the scene of the crime too late. At best they could interview witnesses (the only thing they do that statistically helps to close a case -- forensic evidence rarely helps without witnesses and interviews, another classic autistic delusion by the NCSI-watching nerds from falling-crime times). Closing a case may provide epistemic and moral closure, and locking the criminal up can be a kind of just punishment for his offense -- but closing cases does not drive down the crime rate. It is not an intervention that can change how the system is behaving.

All of the cops-and-robbers movies from the '80s show the police as bumbling, ineffectual, outsmarted, or outright dismissing the complaints from the citizenry. ("Yeah right, buddy, a masked robber is breaking into your house -- what do you think this is, the movies? Is he wearing striped pyjamas, too? Go bother somebody else with your fairytales.")

And please, don't start with the techno-utopian bullshit. "Sick of rising crime? -- there's an app for that!" The nerds couldn't even make that happen when they built real physical machines like the ED-209 from RoboCop -- and QE-funded boondoggles that run on your smartphone are capable of even less. Christ, just imagine how much more dystopian the outcomes could be, with wunderkind Elon Musk tasked by the central bank with manufacturing the human-free police force and their equipment! "Woah bro, check it out, I call it the EM-42069..."

I'm not beating up a straw man -- leading theories about the falling-crime trend since the '90s were techno-utopian. We removed lead from the water / gasoline / etc. We started using steering wheel locks. We started having cell phones everywhere (this was offered during the dumbphone era, as well as the smartphone era). THE INTERNET. Just the most mind-numbingly moronic things you could think up, and all of them adhering to the autistic orthodoxy of "no long-term cyclical dynamics in crime". It had to have been some novel, exogenous shock to the system, whose crime levels would have otherwise kept on getting worse, or at best remained at the same awful level, were it not for the external shock.

This is not to say that this crime wave will be a perfect repeat of the last one. They never perfectly repeat, because of how they interact with other cycles. Our last one was not taking place amid the backdrop of imperial decline and de facto national fragmentation. Only the '80s leg of the wave was during the neoliberal era, while the '60s and '70s legs were during the New Deal era.

The point is, a lot of the big-picture outcomes will look like they did all the other times that crime has risen for decades.

I'm setting all of this down, not because convincing people or winning an intellectual debate will affect crime rates or social behaviors -- that's idealism. It's purely for its own sake, to get the model right, and to preserve the fundamental truth against an onslaught of clever-silly faggotry.

NB: This topic is a perennial attractor of dumb arguments, objections, and nitpicking. So unlike usual, I'm not going to just approve any old comments. If you reiterate an objection I have already dealt with in the OP, or try to develop a variation on that theme, or pick another member of an entire family that has been dealt with, I'm not going to rehash things in the comments.

If you're going to make a substantial point, at a minimum it had better apply to the entire Western world during both the recent rise in crime from the '60s - '80s, as well as the decline from the '90s - 2010s. Anything less than that is narrow, nitpicking, ad hoc stuff that does not explain the big picture. Even better if you deal with the previous crime wave, rising from ca. 1900 to '33, and falling during the rest of the '30s, '40s, and '50s. Good observations and models apply broadly, not narrowly.


  1. Does the rising crime/wildness cycle apply to ALL age groups or primarily just young people?

  2. Have you read this paper on the hypothesis trying to explain long term decline in Medieval European Murder rates from 1500AD-2000AD?

    Often murders weren't directly solved. But all Highway Bandits caught by the State were killed. Until investigative techniques improved enough to hunt down and kill murderers themselves.

    This is reflected in the centuries long data especially from 1500-2000 on Homicide rates:

    Yes there are cycles in the short term. But in long term people are impacted by the predation pressure on crime by the state.

    1. I am wondering about selective pressure as well, from disease cycles (the great famines) as well as man-made disasters.

      This next goes into what drives the cycle: Are there waves of ruling class funding of criminal gangs?

      And finally, what of perceived lower crime because damage from physical bodily harm and property tax have moved out of sight of the productive people?

      Not quibbles, curious.

      What I know of ecology makes your assertion intriguing.

  3. The cycle applies to all age groups, but what I mean is that when the age pyramid gets a bulge in the 15-24 section, due to a baby boom, it juices up the level of criminality in that society because those are the crime-prone years.

    I haven't read that specific paper, but I covered the topic of the long-term trend in European homicide rates in 2010-'11 or '12. I don't think most people would disagree that the presence vs. absence of a standing police force affects those centuries-long changes in homicide rates.

    The claim he's making is that it could drive gene-culture co-evolution, whereby the presence of standing police forces weeds out crime-promoting genes, and after centuries, the population is genetically pacified.

    I covered that aspect of the changes as well, pretty sure.

  4. But the larger centuries-long change in Europe is the age structure, where people used to have lots of kids and did not live to be 90 or 100, vs. the Demographic Transition of (roughly) the 19th C., when birth rates started declining over the long-term (with some medium-term reversals like the Mid-20th C. baby boom).

    The population of England in Chaucer's day, with the highest homicide rates on record, was a lot more tilted toward young people. The same country 500 years later, in the late 1800s, had lower fertility rates, a more middle-aged population, and a far less everyday opportunistic crime.

    The age-structure alone must capture a lot of that change in crime rates, and that does not rely on their being a standing police force.

    I looked through the Roman census, once upon a time -- it was like a Third World country today, tons of young people and few old people.

    We only call it a "baby boom" these days because it's so unusual. But it was ordinary in pre-modern societies to be full of hotheaded young people, and comparatively fewer coolheaded elders.

  5. Just for the record, police forces and incarceration did not exist before roughly the 19th C. This is standard knowledge in the history of crime / justice / etc., but most conservative commentators project today's police and prison system back into the distant past.

    Nope -- it's thoroughly modern, industrial, and managerial / technocratic. It is for the management of crime, a concept and practice that did not exist before.

    Before, the criminal justice system was mostly about settling scores, in one way or another, and the state's role was a mediator in such disputes. That way, a victim could not just make up and exact whatever arbitrary retribution they wanted, against their offender. So, uniform codes from the state, or common law traditions, not individual biased whims.

    They were not based on deterrence or prevention of crime, and they therefore never bothered to see whether their policies lowered crime rates, to fine-tune their policies.

    They were based on reciprocity, and restoring order when it was thrown outta-whack. If you stole something, you got your hand cut off. If you were a liar, you had your tongue cut out. If you falsely accused someone of a crime, you suffered the penalty that they would've received if you had gotten away with your lies.

    If you caused a certain harm, you had to pay a certain amount of a fine.

    Notice: no police carrying out their modern functions of investigating, interviewing, gathering evidence, arresting people for specific violations, etc. And no prisons, in the sense of a medium-to-long-term confinement in a designated building outside your home. At most, a jail or holding cell before your trial.

    Writing criminal codes, mediating in disputes between the plaintiff and defendant, etc. -- not at all about lowering crime rates. Rather, helping to put society back in karmic order.

    How do vendettas, feuds, wergild, and vigilantism reduce crime rates? They don't, they're just what you do to right a wrong against you. How does "an eye for an eye" reduce crime rates? It doesn't -- it's just right, fitting, and proper to repay your assailant in kind. Reciprocity.

  6. Right-wing orthodoxy about police as a crime-prevention force, is just rationalizing the continued existence of a managerial and bureaucratic patronage network that sprung up in the 19th century, and has generally allied with the right side of the partisan spectrum, along with the military.

    Because we're so polarized right now, the right can't see how their own factions operate, nor the left for their factions. The right is gung-ho about the Thin Blue Line, while the left is all "WTF now I love Big Pharma!"

    The police and drug-makers are just two factions with enough power and leverage to muscle their way into partisan politics, and they rationalize their material self-interests with noble stories about preventing crime or improving public health, whether they accomplish those things or not.

    Unless you're a party man, you don't need to simp for any of these factions by rehearsing the over-glorified mission statements from their federal grant proposals.

  7. The pre-modern vs. modern justice system came into sharp relief during the transition from US-occupied Afghanistan, to Taliban-led Afghanistan.

    There's a socially conservative gay Marxist of Afghani background on Twitter (@neobactrian, but since suspended). He simply could not believe that Westerners thought it was better to lock somebody up for months or years after stealing something, rather than just cutting their hand off or other forms of corporal punishment.

    Pre-modern societies don't have the surplus wealth that comes from industrialization to lavish on a standing police force and ongoing prison system, which do not generate profits (their funding is from state coffers, directly or indirectly). So they opt for punishments that are not resource-intensive, and not labor-intensive.

    If someone steals something, make them give it back, and then whip them 10 times real hard -- and let him go on his way, to think about what he did, and let others take heed of his example. Such an affordable way to mete out justice!

    By this point, the police-and-prisons sector is largely a right-party jobs program, with dubious contributions to the public good, just like the education sector is a left-party jobs program, with dubious public benefit.

    Their core functions were done before their modern, managerial, technocratic bureaucracies existed -- and that is the real alternative, not "no criminal justice system whatsoever" or "no education system whatsoever".

  8. henlo to my special fren again. :) Just wanted to take some time here to say, once more, how charming your habit is of mirroring someone's communicative style, apart from the substance of what you or they are writing about.

    I noticed a tweet with the phrases "for its own sake" and "fundamental truth", mirroring the 3rd-from-last paragraph here. And more asterisks around words for emphasis, which I started doing again recently to see if you would mirror them again.

    I'll never forget when you caps-shouted the phrase SAD SACKS after all my writing about the protags of Manic Pixie Dream Girl movies. Hehe.

    You have a reputation for being argumentative, combative, etc., but it turns out that's only on the level of substance. You have certain views and stick to them, unless something really persuasive comes along. Why alter views just to please your conversation / debate partner? It can come across as brusque or bull-headed.

    But then there's the total opposite behavior you show, where you instantly and reflexively and continually mirror your conversation partner on a stylistic level. Like a call-and-response pattern from musical performances. It establishes a social bond, independent of the substance of the conversation.

    Like, "We can debate the substance, but I still want to be your fren."

    If you were actually argumentative in an anti-social or autistic sense, you wouldn't be so complaisant in demeanor. You're not aloof or misanthropic, you want to get up close and form a bond. You're touchy-feely, not prickly.

    That's why you'll always be such a special fren, special fren.

  9. Speaking of pre-modern methods. Rodrigo Duterte managed to make his local City of Davao safe by killing off its criminals:

    "Until Duarte got elected [mayor] in the 1990s Davao City was an economic mess and had one of the highest crime rates in the country. The local government was corrupt and Duarte said he would fix it. He did, but not by using methods anyone expected. His most alarming tactic was to approve the use of death squads to murder criminals caught in the act. In the past bribes and a well-connected lawyer could get the worst criminals set free. No more. The use of death squads by powerful men was not unusual in the Philippines, especially in the south. So Duarte was able to get away with it. Soon people realized that he maintained control of the death squads and the crime rate plunged after about a thousand accused criminals were murdered. Duarte also cracked down on corruption in general and hired competent economic and business advisors to create an economic boom. Duarte describes himself as a socialist but not anti-business.

    Davao City is now the safest city in the country and one of the ten safest in the world. The economy continues to prosper and the rest of the country was envious. One thing led to another and Duarte ran for president and won big. This is expected to shake up the Philippines more than any new president has for decades. Most Filipinos want less crime and more prosperity…"


    It certainly is deterrence. If enough criminals are in the grave and are being killed fast enough that the fear factor plays a role.

  10. Philippines' murder rate fell off a cliff during the '90s and 2000s, and there was no nation-wide policy of killing criminals caught in the act, or whatever else was unique to Duterte.

    There was a spike around 2010, and another decline since about 2015.

    So the decline in Duterte's city was part of a nationwide trend of declining crime at the same time. Anything that does not generalize to most or all of the nation can be dismissed as a cause.

    Same as both the left and right attributing New York City's new security during the '90s to Giuliani's tough-on-crime policies -- only disagreeing over whether the drop in crime is morally justified by the other effects of tough-on-crime policies, like higher incarceration rates for minor drug offenses.

    But Giuliani was not President, and his policies were not national in scope, so we can dismiss what he did as the cause, since it was part of a nationwide trend of falling crime starting in the '90s.

    Again, across the entire Western world -- did Canada have a national Giuliani during the '90s to send their formerly rising crime rates down? No.

    Narrow causes never explain broad phenomena. That's the point of clever-sillies -- to focus in on as small of a scale as possible, so that their pet cause is plausible within that tiny little picture.

    1. During a mass climate shift, either short term (volcanic activity) or long (solar weather) species all adapt similarly or die. Some options are more conducive to survival, so they do better, if in the same mold.

      Can that be applied to your NYC vs. the world model? Perhaps it is just a microclimate, but perhaps Guliiani's broken window methods created a superior adaptation. So in high crime waves NYC would still have less high crime than other places, but still higher overall?

      Not of significance to your model, so much as to the individuals living their who dodged a bullet.

      My question also does not address the police as modern techno-oligarchy, of course. Another interesting observation. Thank you.

  11. What incarceration rates *do* correlate with is inequality, both cross-sectional (nations, or American states, compared to each other), and temporal (rising inequality goes with rising incarceration).

    The soaring incarceration rates only took off when the rest of the neoliberal agenda did, roughly the mid-late 1970s. Same as rising inequality.

    Incarceration rates were falling, and the overall attitude among elites was not to lock everyone up, during the Great Compression / New Deal era, when inequality was falling.

    The last time incarceration rates were this bad, and the overall attitude one of locking people up for minor offenses, was the Victorian era in Britain / Gilded Age in America. That was the birth of the modern police forces (circa 1830 in England, right at the close of the Tory-led egalitarian era, and beginning of the Whig-led Victorian era).

    They had not only prisons for violent criminals, but workhouses and debtors' prisons. Maybe in a few decades, overdraft fees will be replaced by a few months' stint in the reborn debtors' prison.

    Tough-on-crime programs always end up throwing lots of harmless people in cells for no point other than to extract some more value out of them on behalf of the elites.

    The only exception to this pattern is for the insane -- they were locked up in institutions during the good ol' days of the New Deal, and then de-institutionalized, i.e. let loose, starting in the mid-'70s. Now no one can get locked up for being threateningly crazy.

    During egalitarian climates, the elites lock up those who cannot be reformed (violent sociopaths, and the insane), and don't bother with the lesser offenders. During inegalitarian times, the elites do anarcho-tyranny -- unleashing the hordes of crazies, while locking up two-bit drug dealers, or in Kamala's case as California Atty General, mothers of kids who skipped school.

  12. Earth-mother Tulsi would never lock up her children-citizens for minor offenses, only if they were beyond any help.

    Even Trump's biggest domestic accomplishment was on the theme of de-carceration.

    Right-wingers who continue to fuel the tough-on-crime attitude will find themselves first inside the newly built bigots' prisons, part of President Kamala and Senate Majority Leader McConnell's bipartisan INFRASTRUCTURE bill.

  13. Special fren's new avi has her head tilted a little to the side, as though curious and inquisitive. It makes her look more gentle than the straight-ahead stare from the usual pic (which is better for intimidating her haters and the wimps among her suitors).

    The softer side of the deranged prophetess. :)

  14. "Philippines' murder rate fell off a cliff during the '90s and 2000s, and there was no nation-wide policy of killing criminals caught in the act, or whatever else was unique to Duterte.

    There was a spike around 2010, and another decline since about 2015.

    So the decline in Duterte's city was part of a nationwide trend of declining crime at the same time. Anything that does not generalize to most or all of the nation can be dismissed as a cause."

    No doubt that is true. But perhaps there was a much sharper drop in crime in Davao. That while it is in accord with the overall crime rate I would think should show an impact.

    When Rome dealt with rebels like with Spartacus slave revolt. And the rebels were all killed. No doubt said rebellion was over.

    Dead criminals don't re-offend that's for certain.

    And as you say. Prisons didn't have much impact of crime rates and pre-modern methods of dealing with crime is much better at least retribution wise.

  15. And I think Fatherlessness also plays a role in many of the petty crimes that kids are committing:


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