Greed, State Beneficence, and Crime

Mitchell B. Chamlin, University of Cincinnati
John K. Cochran, University of South Florida

Both Messner and Rosenfeld (1994 and Currie (1997) contend that as market economices mature, values that emphasize the importance of securing ealth through conventional means, as well as values that define being successful through the accomplishment of more altruistic endeavors, lose their capacity to regulate human passions and behaviors. Ostensibly, individuals are freed from the constraints of the larger moral order to use the "most technically efficient means" (Messner and Rosenfeld, 1994:85) or "whatever means will suffice" (Currie, 1997:163) to further their material interests. Empirically, each of these approaches implicate macro-economic pressures, as evidenced by high lebels of income inequality, in the production of high rates of violence crime among nation-states.

Although these two perspectives are in accord with respect to the societal level forces that promote violence, there is substantial disagreement between them concerning the ability of the state to assuage the criminogenic impact of the pursuit of financial rewards. Specifically, Messner and Rosenfeld (1994:99, 108) suggest that governmental efforts to reduce crime by the redistribution of wealth and/or employment opportunities (e.g., Lyndon Johnson's "war on poverty") may serve to reinforce the cultural induced preoccupation with monetary success goals. Consequently, governmental efforts to reduce economic inequality, though laudable for other reasons, would not be expected to reduce the level of violence crime within nations. In contrast, Currie (1997:168) maintains that the redistribution of economic resources and opportunities serves to integrate individuals into the greater social system, strengthen local communities, and increase the level of informal social control. Thus, according to this perspective, state-sponsored efforts to reduce relative and absolute economic deprivation are predicted to reduce the level of violence within nations.

The present investigation seeks to evaluate the contradictory hypotheses derived from Messner and Rosenfeld (1994) and Currie (1997). Specifically, we will examine the impact of governmental transfers on the leve of homicide for a sample of nations (n = 50). The multivariate models will include the standard array of statistical controls (e.g., population size, population density, GDP per capita, income inequality, percent urban) and be subjected to the usual tests of model adequacy (e.g., tests for heteroskedasticity, multicollinearity, functional form, and outliers).

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Updated 05/20/2006