Economics Behind Violence

            The focus of the class this week was the relationship between violence and economics. The lecture speaker, Dr. Phaedra Corso, emphasized the economic implications that occur as a result of violence. This type of information was cited as being significant for policy-makers in public health, law enforcement, etc. because it allows these individuals to assess tangible data in order to formulate a large-scale response. For example, if hospital data shows a noticeably high rate of domestic violence patients, programs can be put into place in order to raise awareness about resources for abuse victims.
            This discussion reminded me of Dr. Robert Agnew’s lecture on strain theory and the social causes that lead to violent behavior. To paraphrase, strain theory holds that stress/stressors cause individuals to react negatively and may lead to violent crime. Also during this lecture, the idea of social control and social disorganization was discussed. Violence, it is held, can result from the loss of social control mechanisms, such as fear of punishment and positive family environments.
            Economics, in my opinion, has an important role in the discussion regarding these two theories. Although Dr. Corso focused on the economic effects of violence, there is also room for serious research and discussion about the economic motivators that lead to violent behavior. This idea encompasses many forms of violence, from war to interpersonal and self-directed violence. While not absolute, there seems to be a clear connection between economic difficulty and high rates of crime and violent behavior.
            There is a particularly direct relationship between poverty and crime. Gary Becker, the influential economist, is known for his idea (1968) that people resort to crime if the costs of committing the crime are lower than the possible benefits. Following this logic, people who live in poverty have a much lower cost/benefit ratio than those individuals who are not in poverty and, thus, have more to lose. Lack of education, unemployment, poor living conditions, drug use, and dangerous environments are all associated with poverty, and each of these factors is also linked with crime.
            This is an important relationship to consider because the economic aspect behind violent behavior helps perpetuate violence in low-income regions, from housing projects in urban American cities to the slums of developing countries. In fact, scholars and experts following this logic have designed responses that incorporate components of poverty, such as this study by J. Gilligan in which education of violent inmates is the primary suggestion for violence reduction. Ultimately, in order to successfully develop and institute programs that decrease violence and rehabilitate victims and communities, the economic situation must be considered, both as a result of and a reason for violent behavior.

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