Grumble grumble

So some time ago I had this flash that maybe the 1990s drop in crime was not due to the improving economy (really, the economy during the Clinton boom stank by the standards of the 1970s), or because of legal abortion meaning fewer unwanted criminal babies (as Freakonomics would have it) but because of lead.

Specifically, lead in gasoline.

The more I thought about it, the better the idea seemed to fit the data:

Lead was first put into gasoline in the 1920s, thanks to one Charles Kettering, who also invented freon (a CFC, the ozone-destroying thing) (and who is probably the single person who had the most influence on the composition of our atmosphere since James Watt). But then came the Depression, when people weren’t driving so much, and then WWII, when driving was discouraged by various measures (I don’t think gas was rationed, but rubber was, which had the same effect). Then the war ends, the auto industry starts churning out cars in unheard-of numbers, and half the freaking country starts the move to car-intensive suburbs. Exactly twenty years later (1965), just as the first kids to breathe all that lead as infants hit their most crime-prone years, the crime rate suddenly shoots up, ghettos burst into riot, and high crime becomes a simple fact of life in America. And oh, yeah–the first riots were in Watts, Los Angeles, which totally baffled observers at the time–Watts was apparently far better off than the ghettos that flared up later. But if lead was the culprit, that would be exactly what you would expect: Watts was in LA, whose residents breathe far more car exhaust than pretty much anyone else in the country.

So why the gripey title? Well, right before I started to write this post I thought I’d do a search on the idea to make sure it was original. And no, it’s not.

Grumble grumble.

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