Did Violent Crime Drop Because Cocaine Got Cheaper?
At The Atlantic Cities, Llewellyn Hinkes-Jones has an theory about why violent crime in cities dropped so dramatically in the mid-'90s: Cocaine got a lot cheaper.
Once the margin of profit for dealing small amounts of crack cocaine disappeared, being part of the drug trade was no longer worth the persistent threat of violence or the stiff criminal penalties. A 70 percent drop in cocaine prices like the one that occurred in the mid 1990s combined with competition from decentralized sources for methamphetamines and prescription narcotics would completely eliminate the minimum wage drug dealer as a viable profession.
The same goes for turf wars, which [Sudhir] Venkatesh saw as the source of the majority of inner-city violence. He saw the life of a drug dealer as relatively violence-free up until territory conflicts with other gangs ensued. Without the high value of cocaine as a commodity, the incentive for protracted gang wars would dwindle as well as eliminate the economy for the illegal weapons, drive-by shootings, and mercenary “warriors” needed to help defend prime dealing locations. Without profit to fight over, Vankatesh thought that “gang violence would likely return to pre-crack levels.”
It's an interesting argument to add to a list of other possible reasons—like the 1974 ban on leaded gasoline, the economic boom in the '90s, the high rates of arrests and mandatory minimum sentencing—but not the most plausible. And besides, as Rend Smith wrote earlier this year, at least in D.C., there's still plenty of money to be made off a suitcase of cocaine.
Photo by andronicusmax via Flickr/Creative Commons Attribution 2.0