The reason Americans have an exaggerated fear of crime is that for decades the System has promoted anti-crime hysteria in order to justify the building of a police state. It is true that crime rates started to dramatically increase in the late 1960s when Nixon introduced the “war on drugs” as a means of repressing the antiwar, black power, and counterculture movements. American involvement in Southeast Asia also had the effect of creating a heroin pipeline from Southeast Asia to the United States. The simultaneous growth of the heroin trade and the drug war resulted in an increase in violent crime in large cities, mostly rival drug-dealing organizations fighting over markets, and by addicts trying to finance a drug habit at illegal market prices. At the time, black market heroin was worth about 20 times its actual value.
In the 1980s, the illegal drug market in the US shifted from an orientation toward heroin to cocaine because increased US involvement in Central and South America created a cocaine pipeline. At the time, cocaine was seen as harmless alternative to heroin (no needles, hangover, withdrawal symptoms) and cocaine became the drug of choice for the chic crowd. When crack was invented, it became more marketable to lower-income people because it was only about half as expensive as powdered cocaine, and cocaine rather than heroin became the hard drug of choice. Meanwhile, Reagan and Poppy Bush were ratcheting up the “war on drugs” as a cover for building our present-day police state, and urban gangs were going to war in order to gain control of crack markets. Drug-related crime has fallen in recent decades for several reasons.
First, crack cocaine has gone out of fashion, and crack markets have diminished or stabilized. “Opioids” like heroin are back in style, which correlates with America’s involvement in Afghanistan for the past 20 years. Additionally, street-level heroin has largely been replaced by pharmaceutical-grade opioids, which are typically distributed either legally through the prescription system or illegally through “white collar” criminal networks rather than through lower-class street dealers. Also, the price of heroin has fallen in part because it is now easier to manufacture it domestically, and the heroin market is not as reliant on the international drug trade, which disincentivizes crimes like theft and robbery by addicts. For all of these reasons, drug-related crime has fallen dramatically in the past 25 years.
Five Thirty Eight
Will you get robbed this year? How would you rate your chances?
Over 10 years, from 1994 to 2004, the national Survey of Economic Expectations asked respondents to do just that. People estimated their risks for a whole host of bad-news life events — robbery, burglary, job loss and losing their health insurance. But the survey didn’t just ask respondents to rate their chances: It also asked whether those things had actually happened to them in the last year.
And that combination of questions revealed something important about American fear: We are terrible at estimating our risk of crime — much worse than we are at guessing the danger of other bad things. Across that decade, respondents put their chance of being robbed in the coming year at about 15 percent. Looking back, the actual rate of robbery was 1.2 percent. In contrast, when asked to rate their risk of upcoming job loss, people guessed it was about 14.5 percent — much closer to the actual job loss rate of 12.9 percent.