“Just because the average has improved massively, doesn’t mean there is not severe problems of unequal distribution.”
by Gregory Saville
The above quote is from the controversial psychologist, latter-day populist, Jordan Peterson, someone to whom I seldom pay much attention. To me, his views are too politically motivated and aligned with the far right, even though he claims otherwise. He is addicted to cultural drugs that I don’t take.
Yet there I was, watching Peterson, recently returned from his traumatic medical crisis, in a long discussion with radio host Russell Brand talking about the power of community and the powerful global trend of incremental rational progress - topics I thought he discounted.
Peterson was discussing the difference between the overall average conditions versus the relative conditions around the globe. It is the difference between the average altitude of a mountain range and the peaks and valleys. Both are important.
Consider the altitude crowd: The progressive incrementalists, people like Hans Rosling, Steven Pinker, or Ronald Bailey and Marian Tupy’s landmark book Ten Global Trends Every Smart Person Should Know, argue that things in the world are getting better and the evidence is conclusive.
Then look at the peaks and valleys: We’re in the midst of a global pandemic, social unrest and riots continue in certain countries, and just two weeks ago some local kid in my neighborhood shot up a grocery store with an assault rifle and killed ten people.
Sure doesn’t look good from this altitude!
WHO IS RIGHT?
Peterson has nailed this – the incremental progress people are right and the sky is falling crowd are right. Both are happening at the same time.
Take, for example, crime rates around the world. Whether you get your stats from the World Bank, the World Development Indicators index, or the United Nations, the stats show an undeniable incremental improvement.
In spite of some alarming homicide increases in American cities this past year (discussed in a prior blog), the overall national homicide rates per 100,000 people have been plummeting in country after country.
This is true in the United States...
... in Canada
... in Australia
... and the Netherlands
Then I came upon some Canadian policy planners inviting a Dutch criminologist to Canada to describe the remarkable crime reductions in the Netherlands. If you look at the murder rate declines in both countries, you see that the rates in both countries are fairly similar, except Canada’s decline started from a higher rate than in the Netherlands. The Netherlands should be asking Canada how it was so successful!
Apparently, Canadian policy planners are paying attention to the peaks and valleys and ignoring the averages!
Or consider Mexico, in one of the world’s regions where crime rates are not declining.
Let’s not do what Mexico is doing! We are told by criminologists that Mexico’s crime problem is driven by opportunistic drug cartels taking advantage of illicit drug demand in the U.S. If so maybe we should do what some Mexican politicians suggest – de-criminalize drugs. Since the primary reason for Mexican crime is uncontrolled illicit drug demand in the U.S., decriminalizing would cut demand and thereby, cut crime.
Or is that a case of the pot calling the kettle black? Maybe Mexico should deal with its own drug cartels who create the drug supplies and not focus on the U.S. market that creates the demand? In any event, for ten U.S. states, the marijuana de-criminalization process has already been in place for years, and yet Narco crime has not subsided.
WHAT TO DO?
Ultimately, while averages – especially overall crime rates – are improving, it is difficult to see that in everyday life. It is in the valleys and peaks where we suffer every day. Gang wars, deprived neighborhoods, and crime concentrations still plague our cities and too many people suffer needless violence.
In SafeGrowth we commit to our discovery that the most powerful way to improve quality of life and prevent crime is to work within the neighborhood with local groups and to provide the capacity for community safety planning by residents. Building community capacity at the local level is, ultimately, the way forward.