Peter Turchin on rampage killings

Share on FacebookShare on Google+Email this to someoneTweet about this on Twitter

At the Freakonomics blog. Nothing too original.


  1. Sorry, Turchin, Aggro has a copyright on the whole New York Times crime graphing thing.  
    We know you be readin’…

  2. I am not concerned here with why killing rampages occur, but why they are on an increase 
    Seems like a stupid statement, along the lines of ‘I am not interested in why cars move, but rather why they accelerate’. 
    The rest is fluff and speculation. Maybe if he had something interesting he would have published it. Note that any explanation which (like his) blames poor economic conditions has to explain the lack of correlation with things like unemployment figures and inflation. Someone who wanted to gin up a hand-waving explanation more compatible with ‘conservative’ concerns could point to violence in media, breakdown of traditional support networks, and general alienation as drivers.

  3. I’d say a more plausible explanation would be the overall increased exposure to environmental toxins, xenobiotics, etc which has had an extreme increase, say, the last 50 years. 
    Many people are exposed to much of these substances daily, more than a person would get in the course of a lifetime just a hundred years ago, or so.

  4. I’m not too impressed — the data come from the NYT, not any kind of 
    official crime statistics. I’d also quibble that the index should be 
    “number killed in massacres” rather than “number of massacres”. When 
    you look over 60 years, it’s probably worth accounting for the 
    increase during that time in the number of articles that the NYT puts 
    out — maybe they report more on some type of crime because they’re 
    reporting more on everything. 
    If it’s real, the first jump in the data is in 1963 — long before the 
    worsening economic conditions he talks about in the late 1970s. 
    If straining economic conditions lead to more psychosis, and that 
    leads to more lashing out, why has violent crime plummeted since the 
    early 1990s? Higher incarceration is part, but crime fell even for 
    criminals who are hard to catch, like child abusers / neglecters. 
    I guess you could say that massacre guys are too rare to defuse, and 
    too rare to make lots of examples out of them to deter others. In any 
    case, the point is that whatever lead to their increase started in the 
    early 1960s, like violent crime in general, so that’s where we should 
    look for causes, not the difficulty of maintaining a middle-class 
    life. The idea that poverty causes crime is stupid and wrong.

  5. I think it’s perfectly fine to use “articles in the NYT on X” to measure the intensity of the opinion-makers’ focus on X, though, and that’s why I only use it in that context.

  6. I think looking at police statistics would be a much better idea. Controlling for population size is obvious as well.

  7. He got one significant factor obviously wrong. The best economists, like Robert Gordon of Northwestern, agree that the Consumer Price Index overstates inflation, and so understate the increase in real wages and standards of living.

  8. “Why is this happening? Note that I am not concerned here with why killing rampages occur, but why they are on an increase.” 
    How can you figure out why something is increasing if you dont’ figure out why they occur in the first place?

  9. agnostic: 
    Without forwarding it as the sole or primary explanation, it’s in that same time frame that  
    fewer of those who’d previously been locked away as “criminally insane” or even committed sans the “criminal” aspect—are now out and about to a great degree, both with and without benefit of the various psychtropics (and someone other than themselves to see to it they’re taken).