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Did cell phones reduce violent crime?
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It’s practically an American pastime to blame cellphones for all sorts of societal problems, from distracted parents to faltering democracies. But the devices might have also delivered a social silver lining: a de-escalation of the gang turf wars that tore up cities in the 1980s.

The intriguing new theory suggests that the arrival of mobile phones made holding territory less important, which reduced intergang conflict and lowered profits from drug sales.

Lena Edlund, a Columbia University economist,  and Cecilia Machado, of the Getulio Vargas Foundation, lay out the data in a new National Bureau of Economic Research working paper. They estimate that the diffusion of phones could explain 19 to 29 percent of the decline in homicides seen from 1990 to 2000.

“The cellphones changed how drugs were dealt,” Edlund told me. In the ’80s, turf-based drug sales generated violence as gangs attacked and defended territory, and also allowed those who controlled the block to keep profits high.

The cellphone broke the link, the paper claims, between turf and selling drugs. “It’s not that people don’t sell or do drugs anymore,” Edlund explained to me, “but the relationship between that and violence is different.”

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Edlund and Machado are not the first to suggest that phones could have played a role in the decline. Among others, the criminologists Erin Orrick and Alex Piquero were able to show that property crime fell as cellphone-ownership rates climbed. The first paper on the cellphone-crime link suggested that phones were an “underappreciated” crime deterrent, as mobile communications allow illegal behavior to be reported more easily and quickly.

But cellphones are far from the only possible explanation. Any measurement that was going up in the ’90s correlates with the decline of violence. Thus, there are probably too many theories out there, each with limited explanatory power. One commonsense argument that’s been made is that certain police tactics (say, stop-and-frisk or the “broken windows” approach) or the explosion of incarceration rates must have been responsible for the decline, but most careful reviews have found little evidence to suggest that they had more than a marginal impact.

from The Atlantic


(I am tempted to believe that the cell phone is one of the best deterrents to crime because it makes reporting a crime easy. I once used one against a drunk driver).
The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the dedicated Communist  but instead the people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction, true and false, no longer exists -- Hannah Arendt.


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