Dean Barber

Are Our Better Angels Reigning?

In Uncategorized on October 23, 2011 at 8:41 am

While making the 1980 movie “Stir Crazy” in Phoenix, the late Richard Pryor was a frequent visitor to Arizona State Penitentiary, where certain scenes were shot. He used his experience for future onstage material.

“Thank God we got jails,” Pryor said. “I said to one (inmate), ‘Why’d you kill everybody in the house?’

“He said, ‘They was home.’”

And while I think that is pretty funny in a dark sort of way, real crime is no laughing matter. It destroys lives and families. It blights entire neighborhoods, even where the vast majority of people live law-abiding lives.

And crime can be one of the many ethereal quality of life issues considered by companies during a site selection search process. Most people by nature want to avoid high-crime areas. Nobody and no company wants to be a victim.

Fast forward to this past week. Vice President Joe Biden on Wednesday urged lawmakers to pass President Obama’s jobs bill, warning that crime rates have spiked as more and more police are laid off.

“In many cities the result has been — and it’s not unique — murder rates are up, robberies are up, rapes are up.”

Now I like Joe Biden. Regardless of his politics, Joe comes off as a regular kind of Joe (even if he is not) who would be fun to have a beer with and talk about all sorts of things. But on this one, Joe is wrong.

The Experts are Scratching Their Heads

For reasons that truly baffle the so-called experts, violent crime continues a downward spiral. According to the FBI’s Crime in the United States report, released last month, violent crime dropped 6 percent in 2010. It was the fourth consecutive year violent crime declined. A second report, the National Crime Victimization Survey, found that violent crime fell by an even greater 12 percent nationwide last year.

The continued decline in violent crime is forcing some criminologists to re-examine their theories on the causes of crime.

“It will be years before we get the answer, if we do, to what’s going on right now,” said Professor William Pridemore from Indiana University in Bloomington. “Criminologists have been pretty stumped.”

According to conventional wisdom and many social scientists, a bad economy leads to increased crime. When people are out of work and out of money, they turn to crime. At least that is what everyone thought.

But facts can be a stubborn thing.

Crime rose during the Roaring Twenties then fell in the Depression. America’s economy expanded and crime rates rose in the 1960s. Rates fell throughout the 1990s, when America’s economy was healthy, and they have kept falling.  During the current downturn, the unemployment rate rose as the crime rate fell. Between 2008 and 2009 violent crime fell by 5.3 percent.

The one crime that one might expect to rise during tough economic times – robberies — fell by 9.5 percent between 2009 to 2010. The decline in violent crimes was sharpest in small towns, where the rate dropped by more than 25 percent, and among regions sharpest in the South, which saw a 7.5 percent decline.

Cavemen Had it Rough

In 1991, New York recorded 2,200 homicides. Last year, 536. Overall, America’s violent-crime rate is at its lowest level in around 40 years, and its murder rate at its lowest in almost 50.

Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker recently wrote a new book called “Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined,” in which he argues that our rosy view of a kind and gentler history is pretty much wrong.

In tribal societies, hunter-gatherers and hunter-horticulturalists, an average of about 15 percent of people met their ends through violence, Pinker said. But in the 20th century, combining all wars and genocides, you get to 3 percent. And keep in mind, that in the 20th century, we now have sophisticated killing machines like atomic weapons, laser-guided missiles, aircraft carriers and tanks.

There are a multitude of theories as to why violent crime has been falling.

For one thing, there are now 3 million people behind bars in the United States up from maybe 500,000. And we’ve hired a lot of police to police the streets and investigate crimes and put the bad guys (and gals) away.

The rise and fall of crack cocaine has probably meant for calmer surroundings in most U.S. cities, although drug gang violence in Mexico continues to claim lives at a war-torn pace.

The Unborn Criminals

And while this theory has a cold, almost Darwinian aspect to it, some posit that the legalization of abortion in the 1970s led many of the people most at risk for crime never to have been born. In other words, they weren’t here to do the crimes.

Another theory concerns the Exposure to lead in childhood, which has been linked to aggression and criminal behavior in adults. Jessica Wolpaw Reyes, an economist at Amherst College, argues that the decline in American children’s exposure to lead since it was phased out of gasoline in the 1970s, accounts for much of the decline in violent crime in the 1990s.

Still others contend that video games and the internet keep people indoors, and more removed crime and drugs on the streets. But let me interject here that video games and the internet have also produced a generation of pudgy kids who don’t have a clue about actually playing outdoors. A generation of fat and safe kids.

Ahh, for the good old days. Now when I was a kid, we knew how to be proper juvenile delinquents and petty criminals, which would later serve us well later in life as risk-taking hedge fund managers and consultants.

My Big Fat Deal of the Month

I have decided that it would be a good thing to occasionally highlight large (and mostly industrial) projects that have been announced in this great country of ours.

In doing so, I hope to demonstrate that while we might be down, we are far from being  out. Despite our current economic weakness and an onslaught of news stories predicting financial doom and gloom, we remain a manufacturing powerhouse.

And I would like to frequently remind you of that fact. And while October is not yet over, my “Big Fat Deal of the Month” goes to … (drumroll please) Continental Tire and Sumter, SC.

Continental announced on Oct. 6 that it would invest $500 million and build a new 1-million-square-foot plant in Sumter, to eventually employ more than 1,600 people.

“Somehow the word ‘big’ just doesn’t seem big enough,” said Greg A. Thompson, chairman of the Sumter Economic Development Board.

Competition for the “Project Soccer” was between North Carolina and South Carolina. Press reports would indicate that North Carolina blinked, when legislative leaders there realized they did not have the votes to approve a $45 million incentive package through the General Assembly.

The centerpiece of the Palmetto State’s incentive package was a $31 million infrastructure grant, which did not have to go to the state legislature for approval.

Continental officials say South Carolina won the plant because of it is a right-to-work state, making unionization more difficult; has lower labor costs; and that the Sumter site offered excellent access to the port of Charleston, rail and highway grids.

“The two most significant factors are labor and logistics,” said Tim Rogers, chief financial officer for Continental Tire of the Americas, in an interview with The State, South Carolina’s largest newspaper. “Those are the two biggest costs.”

Construction of the plant in Sumter will begin in mid-2012 with full production by 2017, company officials said.

Need a partner in results-oriented site selection? Contact me, Dean Barber, at 972-890-3733 or at Barber Business Advisors, LLC is a site selection and economic development consulting firm in Plano, Texas. Please visit our website at

  1. First, congrats to Sumter! Nice to hear of positive economic activity anywhere…maybe they can be the beginning of the trend. Interesting take on the crime issue. I’d heard Biden talking about the crime issue, but being over here in Afghanistan I don’t hear much local crime news. What I thought was interesting was the statement that crime dropped during the Depression, because as you were citing statistics that crime was actually dropping, I was thinking that it was because nobody had anything worth stealing, and people were too depressed themselves to get up the energy to go and rob someone. Anyway, keep the good news rolling in…I’d like to think I would have a chance to find a good job when I’m ready to be done over here.

  2. The reasons I have heard that crime is dropping is demographics. Baby boomers are aging out of their crime-committing years.

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