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Lecture 26

01:790:340 Lecture Notes - Lecture 26: Crack Epidemic, Narrative Journalism

Political Science
Course Code
Jefferson Decker

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Crime, Pollution, and Society
Music: Warren Zevon, “Lawyers, Guns and Money” (1978)
I. The Rise and Fall of American Crime, Revisited
A. Dealt over several classes with the U.S. legal system and issues of pollution or
environmental harm (Harr, Coase).
B. Today: revisiting the spike in violent crime in the 1960s through 1980s and its decline
since 1990 in that context.
C. Theories we have discussed already in this class: Crack epidemic, drug war, lenient or
punitive criminal justice system.
D. Connection (or lack of connection) to era of “mass incarceration.”
E. Problems with the timelines.
II. America’s Real Criminal Element?
A. Drum: Maybe we should be looking somewhere else, instead.
B. Tetraethyl lead: compound added to gasoline in significant quantities in the 1940s-60s;
prevented knocks and pings in high-performance engines.
C. In the 1970s, leaded gasoline was phased out in the United States due to concerns about
its impact on the environment.
D. Remarkable correlation between quantities of atmospheric lead being pumped into the
atmosphere and crime rate roughly 23 years later.
E. Correlation holds in several foreign countries, which banned leaded gasoline
sooner/later than the U.S.
F. Atmospheric lead concentrated more heavily in the dense, heavily trafficked
neighborhoods of America’s biggest cities.
G. Those same neighborhoods saw the largest rise (and drop) in crime rates in the
twentieth century.
III. Notes of Caution/Possible Implications
A. Scholarship on this topic is in its infancy.
B. Sometimes the first few studies in an area look promising, but fall apart as more research
comes in.
C. But … to speculate a little.
D. Implications for criminology: key questions of crime control might be biological, not
social, in nature.
E. Effective policing or ameliorating desperate poverty might seem less important than
they used to.
F. Implications for history: the social upheavals of the 1960s and subsequent restoration of
law-and-order as sideshows in another plot.
G. Implications for legal theories.
H. Social costs cause serious problems when transaction costs are high or information is
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