Homicide rates are closely linked to the form of political economy that runs a nation, according to research from Northumbria University.
Senior Lecturers, Dr Steve Hall and Dr Craig McLean, claim in the latest international journal Theoretical Criminology that homicide rates are significantly higher in nations in neo-liberal politics where free market forces are allowed free rein, such as the USA, but are significantly lower in nations governed by social-democratic policies which still characterise most Western European nations.
Historically, says Hall, homicide rates are at their lowest when social-democratic policies govern nations. The US homicide rate was halved in the decades following the Depression, when the social democratic policies of the New Deal replaced ailing free-market policies. The nation experienced an initial rise from the mid-60s, when the nation’s brief social democratic project began to wind down, followed by sharp increases during the ‘crime explosion’ of the mid-80s and early 90s which followed Reagan’s abrupt introduction of free-market policies. Rates were eventually brought down in the late 90s, but only by imprisoning large numbers of violent offenders.
Similarly, in Britain, the homicide rate has almost tripled since its historical low point in 1956. These figures are even worse in areas blighted by job losses in the 1980s which have stayed in permanent recession. Hall claims that some of these areas have become breeding grounds for alternative forms of criminal ‘employment’– prostitution, loan-sharking, drug-dealing and distributing stolen goods, most of which appears on neither the Police nor British Crime Survey statistics. In some of the former industrial areas and inner cities devastated under Mrs Thatcher’s reign, homicide rates are six times higher than the national average. This contrasts sharply with Western European cities where the homicide rate is much closer to their national averages.
In the current recession, property crime is already on the increase and he predicts there will be a rise in career criminality, particularly as the UK has the highest number of young people not in work, education or training in Europe.
Hall lays most of the responsibility for higher crime rates at the door of the neo-liberals who claim competitive individualism and greed can be stimulated and harnessed to create wealth. That might be true, he argues, but it also corrodes our ability to empathise with others.
Hall said: “Britain and the US have the worst violent crime rates of the industrialised west – far worse than Western continental Europe – because we have the most competitive, individualist culture and the least developed sense of solidarity and common fate. In addition, consumer culture instils in so many individuals from an early age that their identities are incomplete without the status symbols carried by consumer goods, which of course makes crimes an attractive option for those who simply cannot afford to buy these goods.’’
Hall and McLean have conducted their research as part of a long-term study of the criminal community in the North East of England.
Hall has published widely on the subjects of violence, masculinity, consumerism and criminology theory. His most recent book Criminal Identities and Consumer Culture, published in 2008, received international acclaim.
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