Blinding-flash-of-the-obvious Dep’t: Crime and social capital

An individual’s criminal history, criminal habits, or criminal associates constitute negative personal social capital.
The overall level of criminal activity by, against, or (especially) within a group constitutes negative collective social capital

“Social capital” can refer either to an individual’s relational and reputational assets or to the collective efficacy of a neighborhood, group, or organization: roughly speaking, its capacity to get its members to contribute resources or effort for collective purposes (that is, to make public contributions to the public goods of that collectivity).

Financial assets and transactions are far easier to measure than social assets and the processes that produce and destroy them. But that doesn’t mean financial matters are more important. Policy analysts in particular need to pay more attention to social assets and processes, and to the distribution of social as well as financial resources.

Application to crime control policy:

At the individual level, having a habit or law-breaking and/or an official criminal record, or a group of friends and acquiantances with such characteristics, constitutes a negative relational/reputational asset.

At the collective level, a high crime rate by, against, or (especially) within a group saps collective efficacy and therefore constitutes negative group social capital.

Moreover, good or bad behavior by anyone with a given social identity tends to rub off on the reputations of others who share that identity: that’s the phenomenon called “reputational externality.” Crime is an important source of negative reputational externalities.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact:

2 thoughts on “Blinding-flash-of-the-obvious Dep’t: Crime and social capital”

  1. Except: at the individual level in some subcultures having an official criminal record, particularly of time-serving, may be a positive reputational asset.

    (And yes, the group thing helps explain why resumes with “black-sounding names” and a college degree get the same level of attention as resumes with “white-sounding” names and a crminal conviction…)

  2. I couldn’t agree more. I think social and human capital are exactly the right eay to go about looking at social transactions and the ability of any individual in a society to leverage himself. When ethnic, gender, etc. studies people talk about privilege, this is exactly what they’re talking about.

    I think the real update should be to the Marxist critique of financial capital inequality and its impact on cultural and social enfranchisment, as money is power. Social and human capital is also power, and without them one is at least as disenfranchised, if not more so.

    True social reform will come about not by focusing on financial inequality, but disparities in these other forms of capital, which are ultimately the nuts and bolts of individual consciousness and agency. But I think we’re getting there. Evidence for the ways in which these forms of capital are leveraged has been building for decades. It will, however, pose a considerable challenge to existing paradigms regarding human behavior and self-efficacy. But hopefully as culture becomes more diffuse, and we realize more and more the extent to which our own consciousness exists in the “cloud” – to borrow a tech term, the resulting humility and objectivity will alow us to embrace a more fluid notion of individual agency, an agency part and parcel of the society in which we develop.

Comments are closed.