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Are Blacks to Blame for Crime in America?

Something is wrong, when we even have to ask this question. Yet it has to be asked because people will not let it go.

I prefer to talk about policies, and how to organize society to the betterment of all people, rather than having to discuss the skin color of the people living within that society.

The problem resurfaced, as it often does, last when I was following a discussion of the prison system in Norway compared to the US. Again a number of people dismissed the Norwegian results, claiming they have nothing to do with policies and everything to do with the “whiteness” of the population. The attitude is that a humane prison system is all fine in a country such as Norway with “civilized white people.”

Arguing against this by screaming “racism”, does not really work.

So here I will use statistics to try to challenge the idea that the high crime rate and incarceration rate in the US is due to blacks.

From a very shallow analysis it may look that way. The American homicide rate measured for the whole population is 5.35 in the US. The incarceration rate is 655. In contrast the homicide rate in Norway is 0.5, 10 times smaller than that of the US. The incarceration rate is 63. Roughly ten times smaller as well.

The people blaming blacks, are essentially suggesting there is something fundamental to blacks as a people which makes them more criminal and violent. That suggests we should see the same behavior among any black population. Since apparently according to this logic, culture, tradition, history and social economic status has little to no bearing on this result.

So lets look at crime statics for different black-only populations. According to CDC the homicide rates for blacks in America (2015) was 20.9. The incarceration rate for blacks is 2300. These are shocking high numbers.

Lets look at these numbers for various sub-sharan African countries. Starting with incarceration rate, the worst we can find for Africa is Rwanda. It incarcerates 464 out of 100 000 people. This is however almost five times lower than the American rate for blacks. It is even lower than the incarceration rate for all people in the US. Remember this is the worst all of Africa has to offer. We can easily find African countries with lower incarceration rate. Central African Republic has a rate of 16. However this may also be a reason why they have among the highest homicide rate of Africa, at 19. However that is still lower than black America.

Other bad countries are the Congo with homicide rates of 13.55. However it just incarcerates just 29 out of 100 000 people.

Yet it would not be fair to compare one of the most prosperous countries in the world, such as the US, with a basket case in Africa such as the Congo, which has an exceptionally terrible history. Read up on how the Belgian King Leopold ran the Congo. Personally I did not have the stomach to keep reading very much about it.

How about better developed countries in Africa? Ghana has an incarceration rate of 51, which is lower than Norway. The homicide rate is 1.68, which is dramatically lower than the 20.9 rate among black in America. This is considerably lower than the US in total, and even all white countries such as Hungary, which has a homicide rate of 2.02. Tiny Estonia has even higher rates at 3.19.

America must acknowledge that its crime problems is not merely a question of skin color. There is something seriously wrong about how American society is run. In particular there is something wrong with how black people get treated. We can look at other numbers to confirm this. Infant mortality rates for blacks in the US is a staggering 14. This is considerably worse than poor countries such as Sri Lanka with 8.23. Poor and socialist Cuba has even lower at 5.5.

The Real Cause of Crime

If you actually look at the most crime ridden countries in the world, there is a different story that start to emerge. Almost all countries with sky high homicide rates are countries with troublesome histories of slavery and racism. The list of worst countries are dominated by Caribbean and south American countries with histories of racism, slavery and white suppression of indigenous people or imported slaves, such as El Salvador and Jamaica.

This pattern replicates across the world. What is the worst country with respect to crime in Africa? Surprise, surprise, it is South Africa with a homicide rate of 34. Should we be surprised that it also happens to be the African country infamous for its apartheid policy?

Inequality is a major driver of crime. Look at this economist article showing the correlation between crime and inequality. In countries with a racist history inequality will often be strengthened by one group maintaining power at the expense of another, and maintain their grip on power and privileges through racist policies.

Reversing these policies after many years often does not help. Look at South Africa, where things in many ways simply got worse.

The Accumulation of Human Capital over Generations

To understand why, I think one has to look at the concept of human capital. Capital is the accumulation of stuff that improves your ability to create economic value. It could be machines, wear houses, seed for planting crops, farmland etc. Human capital is similar. As you invest in development of humans, they acquire more skills which allow them to be more productive.

Capital can be passed down the generations. A farmer family can pass on a well developed farm to their children, giving them starting capital to increase their economic output. Likewise well educated parents can pass on their skills and knowledge to their children, improving their human capital. Hence human capital can pass down generations just like capital in the form of physical objects.

White Americans as a group accumulated and passed down vast amounts of human capital over hundreds of years. In contrast blacks as a group in America have only been able to pass down minuscule amounts of human capital. For a long time, blacks were not allowed to learn how the read and write even.

People think the end of slavery in 1865 was and end of this. The convict lease system that took over after slavery create a system even more brutal than slavery for black people. This system basically mean criminalizing being black, so blacks could be enslaved with the excuse that they were criminals. This was not a fringe thing. As late as 1898, 73% of Alabama annual state revenue came from convict leasing.

In terms of human capital development it was worse. When white farmers owned black slaves, they had some incentive to keep them healthy and alive. Thus food was not too bad. However when blacks became slaves leased out from prisons the logic changed. Their was no economic penalty for mistreating prisoners until they died. You would simply get new prisoners for free. Thus the condition for blacks deteriorated.

This system existed in some form all the way until the 1950s. Then we had Jim Crowe laws, KKK etc. Black America has thus only had about 50 years to start building up some human capital.

Policies Not Skin Color

My motivation for writing this, is to get people who read about my part of the world such as the Nordic countries, which tend to top UN human development indexes, to focus on the policies we employ rather than our skin color.

Sweden and Norway is not prosperous due to blue eyes and blonde hair. It is because of sensible policies being implemented over many decades, combined with a favorable history and geography.

Written by

Geek dad, living in Oslo, Norway with passion for UX, Julia programming, science, teaching, reading and writing.

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