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Weekend reading: Crime has crashed

Weekend reading

Good reads from around the Web.

I was woken this week at 2am by a Metropolitan police helicopter circling overhead. Quite annoying, considering what a feat it was to get to sleep in the first place in the heatwave.

Fear not, dear reader! The fuzz wasn’t about to rappel into my garden, kick down my back door, and bust open my piggy bank on suspicion of my having stashed an undeclared and surprisingly tiny Russian oligarch in there.

No, the helicopter was in pursuit of a stolen vehicle, as well as searching “nearby open spaces” for one of the thieves who’d bailed.

I know this because of MPSintheSky, the improbably named Twitter account where London’s airborne finest report what they’re up to.

And it’s surprisingly effective. The Twitter account, I mean.

Before Twitter, these helicopters circling overhead had seemed one step from the capital becoming a Mega City One of Judge Dredd’s worst nightmare.

But when you read that a human being is up there looking for a missing person or even a mugger, it’s easier to fall snugly unconscious again.

Where did all the criminals go?

Do the Met’s choppers also cut crime? I’ve no idea, but it’s possible – because something has.

In another stick in the eye for grumpy 50-something middle-class men who think everything has gone to pot – many of whom read Monevator, so I stress my baiting is in their own best interest – crime has been sharply falling across the Western world for years.

Check out this illustration from The Economist this week:

Red area is crime now, blue is crime in 1997.

Red area is crime now, blue is crime in 1997.

Crime has crashed, with the exception of homicide, where I presume a majority of victims know their murderer, and hence you’ll probably learn as much from Shakespeare as you will from CrimeWatch.

Bump offs aside, nobody is quite sure what’s caused the incidence of other crimes to fall so far, so fast, particularly in the UK – and that gives everyone a chance to ride their own hobbyhorses.

The Economist runs through the laundry list, from better policing and improved private security to an aging population, more young people in education, wider access to abortion, and more prisoners behind bars.

Strangely it doesn’t make much of the long economic boom that proceeded the bust in the UK. Nor does it really delve into New Labour’s redistribution efforts, which even I think is worth a nod.

I don’t really have an investing angle, I just thought the graphic was pretty stark. If you can think of a way to make money from the trend then let us all know below.

It’s nice to have some good news to report. Shame the newspapers don’t do so more often.

From the blogs

Making good use of the things that we find…

Passive investing

Active investing

Other articles

Product of the week: The Guardian reports that a new project to train ex-offenders by renovating derelict houses is to raise money via a bond. The Midlands Together bond offers an eye-catching return of 14%, and has the backing of the specialist Triodos Bank. But that 14% is after tax relief, there’s a minimum investment of £20,000, and it’s not a true retail bond so you’ll be stuck holding it for the full five-year term.

Mainstream media money

Some links are Google search results – in PC/desktop view these enable you to click through to read the piece without being a paid subscriber of that site.1

Passive investing

Active investing

  • Are emerging markets worth the bother? [Search result]FT
  • An investor’s greatest enemy: Overconfidence – Motley Fool
  • ‘Strange, diverse’ frontier markets doing well [Video]CityWire
  • Nationwide’s shares lifeline – Peston/BBC
  • What returns can you expect from the US stock market? – Swedroe/CBS

Other stuff worth reading

  • How to minimise inheritance tax [Search result]FT
  • £500 punt on 1980s privatisations is now worth £4,270  – Telegraph
  • Undercover in the ‘learn to trade’ market – The Guardian
  • House prices tipped to rise 18% by 2018 – Telegraph
  • How to fearmonger about the Fed in two easy steps – The Atlantic
  • Amazing: The making of a Tesla Model S [Video]YouTube

Book of the week: You can pick up the Kindle version of Mebane Faber’s Shareholder Yield for free this weekend. This book – which looks beyond dividends to all the ways that companies can return cash to shareholders – is aimed at the US market, but most of the principles hold everywhere. And you can hardly go wrong with free!

Like these links? Subscribe to get them every week!

  1. Reader Ken notes that: “FT articles can only be accessed through the search results if you’re using PC/desktop view (from mobile/tablet view they bring up the firewall/subscription page). To circumvent, switch your mobile browser to use the desktop view. On Chrome for Android: press the menu button followed by “Request Desktop Site”.” []

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{ 19 comments… add one }
  • 1 ermine July 20, 2013, 1:29 pm

    Well as one of those grumpy old gits, in the sticks we also have the problem of police helicopters overhead at night, indeed one of my projects is to get a 365 day continuous recording of the acoustic enviroment in a place before everybody gets drones.

    And I seriously have to ask the question of whether it really makes sense to get a helicopter in the air interrupting thousands of people’s sleep to nick a couple of tearaways in a stolen motor. It does make the town feel like a bad war movie, and the financial cost shows up on the council tax. It would be nice to see an attempt to quantify how much of an improvement in detection/arrests a helicopter makes, compared to the alternatives. Which I guess is the financial angle.

    Mucha appreciated however – you’ve warmed me up to look for an equivalent Suffolk twitter account and here it is. And no, I’m not Steve Smith 😉

  • 2 The Investor July 20, 2013, 1:43 pm

    @ermine — Morning! Interesting idea about the drones. I do think they’re one of the most interesting emerging technologies, but I hope they’re not ushered in unless they’re on of the most surprisingly quiet, too. (Although noisy enough to warn birds out of the way!)

    I’ve added a Tesla Factory video I forgot to include in my pre-Ashes rush this morning, too. Something in there for both the optimists like me and the what’ll-we-do-now-the-robots-do brigade in there. 😉

  • 3 Grumpy Old Paul July 20, 2013, 2:23 pm

    As a grumpy 63 year-old man, I am well aware of the falling crime figures. Given that crime has been falling across the developed world and has continued to fall post credit-crunch, I’m minded to suggest environmental factors. I suspect that the introduction of lead-free petrol is a major factor.

    The graphic also shows some other startling statistics:

    – The difference between US homicide rates and their UK equivalent.

    – The relationship between robbery rates in the two countries

    I can offer no explanation for the difference in robbery rates but it could be related to the vast prison population in the US of some 2.66 million (2011 statistics). Or perhaps the large number of guns in circulation serves as a deterrent.

    So far as investment is concerned, the number of guns in circulation, hot weather, levels of inequality and political polarisation make me uneasy about the US. However, the correlation between stock markets and the lack of obviously attractive alternatives makes it hard for me, despite my best endeavours, to reach any serious conclusion.

  • 4 Johnny July 20, 2013, 2:26 pm

    It’s sad that so many people believe the scaremongering of our media that crime is out of control in this country. Crime is at a 20 to 30 year low (depending on the measures you use), and as noted in your article, this pattern is happening across the developed world.

    Why people are so desperate to hold to the negative (and incorrect) view of skyrocketing crime is beyond me. If you ask people why they think crime is increasing they won’t have any evidence – they’ll usually say it’s because they see so much crime in the news. But even if crime dropped by half there’d still be more than enough to fill the news. They can’t back up their claim with any statistics.

    Sadly people tend to believe their emotions rather than facts.

    By the way Investor, I believe homicide is now at a 30 year low. And that’s despite having a greater population than ever before. The Economist images use the figure from 2010 rather than the latest available figures.

  • 5 dearieme July 20, 2013, 8:47 pm

    The family next door were burgled last week.

  • 6 The Investor July 20, 2013, 11:45 pm

    @dearime — Not sure if that was offered as a comment/counter-point, or just an observation, but while I am sorry for the family concerned (and would naturally be more apprehensive if the house next door was robbed, so hope you’re not too shaken up), anecodote is of course not evidence.

    Thousands of people were robbed last week. The important point is the data shows that it was thousands fewer than were robbed in the comparable period 15 years ago.

    @Johnny — Yes, I think homicide has fallen, it’s just (going on this Economist data) not fallen anywhere near as fast. As I say I’m sure it’s because much of it is of the ‘crimes of passion’ / domestic nastiness variety, which isn’t necessarily impacted by most of the purported reasons why crime overall has fallen so sharply.

    @Grumpy Old Paul — The Economist does mention the lead poisoning factor. Fascinating! I wonder what we’re consuming now that will have been shown to be doing something rotten to us in 30 years time. *Something* must explain all this reality TV and bad music!

  • 7 BeatTheSeasons July 21, 2013, 10:18 am

    Fascinating stuff.

    As this excellent short clip shows, the man who is now Police & Crime Commissioner for Cambridgeshire believed in the 1980s that violent movies would increase violence in society, and would even affect dogs:

    Probably still a widely held view (ok, perhaps not the part about the TV-watching dogs).

    Not surprised to hear that burglaries have fallen now that consumer goods have got so much cheaper, as there is presumably nothing worth taking in most houses. And car theft has of course plummeted with improved security.

    But I must admit I would have expected more robberies – what were criminals stealing before everyone was carrying £400 iPhones around with them?

  • 8 dearieme July 21, 2013, 11:48 am

    That Peston article on Nationwide took my interest: are these new bits of paper going to be better or worse than PIBs for someone seeking income? Are they going to be truly tax-free in ISAs, or faux-tax-free, like normal equities? And when’s it going to happen?

  • 9 Lee July 21, 2013, 12:48 pm

    Don’t fall into the “recorded crime” stats trap. There is less crime because less crime is “recorded” by police. There are fewer police, so less crime is investigated, or even reported in the first place.

    Even if it is reported, and even if a police officer turns up to investigate that fight you reported outside the kebab shop at 2am, and even if they are still there when someone turns up, if neither party makes a complaint, then there has still been “no recorded crime”. So it never happened.

    That doesn’t change the fact that in the real world, there was a fight, that many people saw, that has affected all those who saw it and/or were involved in it.

    Just like the economy of late, it’s all smoke and mirrors.

  • 10 The Investor July 21, 2013, 12:50 pm

    @BTS –Indeed! And what about computer games? Seems people are now too busy playing them to nick them…

    @dearieme — UK equities ARE completely tax free in ISAs. That 10% rebate from many years ago was an anomaly, and everyone should forget about it.

    As for Nationwide, events of the past few years and recently with Co-op mean personally I’d be thinking risk first, risk second, reward third…

  • 11 The Investor July 21, 2013, 1:45 pm

    @Lee — Hi, long time! 🙂 Always worth inverting so your point is well made, but I don’t believe it explains more than a fraction of the decline. For starters, while now declining police numbers actually rose from 1999 to 2010 or so, according to Home Office stats. Moreover, whatever other strengths and faults they had, I don’t think “dutiful note takers of crime” is a charge that could be leveled at say the Met in the 1980s.

    Perhaps the cheapness of everyday “stuff” does mean some amount of less crime is reported. If my £50 Zara jacket is nicked off a chair in the pub, I’m probably not going to report it nor if a £20 portable radio is taken from my unlocked car. In the 1980s I might well have.

    Finally, the same trend is evident across the developed world, even though different companies have had very different political parties in power, responses to law and order etc.

    So part of the mix, but I don’t think naive to doubt it’s anything like the full explanation.

    On another note, who stole the Australian cricket team and put this bunch in? It’s like watching England in the early 1990s!

  • 12 Lee July 21, 2013, 1:58 pm

    I lurk still! Always around, soaking up information lol.

    All valid points, I didn’t mean to claim it the only reason. You’d be interested to read the National Crime Recording Standards introduced April 2002. A veritable instruction manual on how to cook the recorded crime books (if you read in between the lines).

    YoY crime is up in almost all categories from a raw data point of view. That isn’t translating to recorded crime. I stick by my smoke and mirrors statement but it is unfortunate I cannot evidence it legally. That makes it hearsay of course, and should be taken with a pinch of salt.

  • 13 Greg July 21, 2013, 4:09 pm

    The world is getting better very rapidly. Deal with it. 🙂

    For a solid read in this area, try “The Better Angels of Our Nature” by Steven Pinker. Bill Gates recommends it too!

    @Lee: If only there was some sort of Crime Survey for England and Wales that might be used to see if the trends hold for stats gathered in a different way…

    (Obviously this data is difficult to get right, but I tend to trust statisticians, though obviously not lay-people who then quote them.)

  • 14 dearieme July 21, 2013, 10:27 pm

    How many people die in road accidents per annum in the UK (or in England & Wales if you prefer)?

    Some years ago I learnt that there were two different answers – the police give one and the NHS gives another. And yet compared to counting crimes, counting corpses from accidents is easy-peasy.

  • 15 Neverland July 21, 2013, 11:10 pm

    Crime has moved to the electronic age

    In the 1970s all the old armed robbers met obscenely rich hippie drug dealers in prison…

    …when they got out they sold drugs…

    ….in the 1990s all the yardies met obscenely rich computer hackers in prison…

    ….when they got out they all do computer fraud because they are nearly impossible to catch

    dont get me wrong this is a good thing…i would rather have my card cloned than get mugged

  • 16 Richard July 22, 2013, 10:46 am

    One thing I’ve not seen mentioned is the growth of the internet, twitter, facebook, smartphones and the like. Idle hands now have plenty to keep them busy, what with sending picture messages, txt, posting general guff, online games, etc.
    Perhaps that has an effect. I suspect it does.
    Values have changed and its not material goods which are in demand these days. Its being cool and trendy with loads of followers, hits and links 😉
    You know the story Mr Monevator!

  • 17 I shall remain nameless July 22, 2013, 4:06 pm

    For those that still don’t get it, it is nothing to do with police resources and ‘creative’ crime categories, it is people’s own experience (or increasingly, lack of experience of crime:

    “The Crime Survey for England and Wales measures the extent of crime in England and Wales by asking people whether they have experienced any crime in the past year.

    The Crime Survey records crimes that may not have been reported to the police and it is therefore used alongside the police recorded crime figures to show a more accurate picture of the level of crime in the country.”


    It is not some corrupt, left-wing plot to piss off Daily Mail readers, but an objective tool to measure ‘reality.’ Now if this doesn’t fit your model of the world, what will it take to convince you?

  • 18 Jim July 22, 2013, 8:23 pm

    How to make money from the trend? Invest in companies that make drones, manufacture CCTV, improve snooping and build prisons as it seems the more crime goes down, the more the perception that crime is getting worse goes up!

  • 19 Evan July 29, 2013, 5:42 am

    What about the idea that there is nothing other than jewelry in a home that has any value. When computers were all a couple grand it may be worth it to steal that and a tv, but today why risk jail time for a 400 computer if it were new.

    Just a random thought

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