The statistics on crime came out last week and the murder rate in Canada has fallen to its lowest level since 1966. The most common method for committing murder was by stabbing, followed by shooting and finally by bludgeoning. Strangulation finished a distant fourth.
Still, the method is of less concern to me than the raw numbers. The lowest rate in over 40 years. And it’s not a fluke. The rate has been dropping since the mid-seventies. Maybe we’re all getting too old to engage in mayhem. It’s hard to say, though I suspect the shifting demographic is having some effect but it’s only a small add-on to other factors.
Some will claim that the tough on crime approach is having a meritorious effect but how to do you explain this trend beginning more than 25 years before the current government’s arrival?
In fact the interesting thing is — the rate of violent crime has been falling across the western world since the 1980s — including, believe it or not in the United States. They have their frequent outbursts of gun violence — and their murder rate is well above anyplace in Canada and Europe — but none the less the crime rate there is falling. It’s falling everywhere.
And the number of people who are put in prison, the number of cops on the streets, the severity or laxness of the court system. All apparently irrelevant. The crime rate has fallen no matter what was done. Of course, politicians have claimed it is the result of their policies — both those on the left and those on the right make similar claims. That’s what politicians do — make claims for big international trends over which they have no real control in the short or even medium term, while ducking responsibility for the little things, short term things and yes the big long term things where what they do would actually make a difference. I’d condemn them all if I weren’t so convinced that politics remains our best way forward into a viable future.
So what is going on? Is it the diminished size of the violent demographic core — that is, young men — due to increased access to abortion as Superfreak economist Steven Levitt claims? It might be a short term factor. But when we pull back a bit farther we find out that this reduction in violence has a much longer trend line. Steven Pinker has pointed out in The Better Angels of Our Nature that death by violence rates have been falling steadily for centuries. His argument is fascinating and I recommend you listen to his TED talk or read the magazine articles if you don’t have time for the book.
The long and short of it — as we become more civilized and inclusive, we become more peaceful. We may still hate each other but we figure out how to get along.
Just like Jack Nicholson would want.
And that’s ten minutes.