2010 U. Chi. Legal F. 165 (2010)
Consuming Obsessions: Housing, Homicide, and Mass Incarceration since 1950

handle is hein.journals/uchclf2010 and id is 167 raw text is: Consuming Obsessions: Housing, Homicide,
and Mass Incarceration since 1950
Jonathan Simon t
When we think about the relationship between crime and
the economy, the nexus most likely to come to mind is employ-
ment.1 In this Article I propose a very different framework for
thinking about the economic context of crime-one based on
housing. Like the employment-crime nexus, the relationship be-
tween housing and crime can point to a multitude of different
dynamics, concerning the incentives to commit crimes and the
incentives of the public to react to fear of crime. Here, I focus on
just one dynamic: many Americans switched from renting to
owning their homes during the second half of the 20th century,
and this shift, I will argue, made the public more fearful of crime
and thus more inclined to support aggressive law-and-order poli-
cies. Alongside the well-documented rise in violent crime (homi-
cide in particular) in the early 1960s,2 the post-WWII trend of
t Professor of Law, UC Berkeley, School of Law. Thanks to Omari French, Berkeley
Law, Class of 2010 for research assistance. Any errors have been introduced through my
efforts to speculate on the record.
1 Economists, sociologists, and criminologists have identified no shortage of links.
During periods when jobs are scarce, the potential gains from crime may become more
attractive. See Richard Freeman, Why Do So Many Young American Men Commit Crimes
and What Might We Do about It?, 10 J Econ Persp 25, 31 (1996) (noting that rewards of
crime appeared to be rising in the early 1990s). Periods of unemployment might also lead
to changes in the social networks and social capital of the unemployed, changes that may
be associated with deviant behavior and ultimately criminal behavior. See John Hagan,
Social Embeddedness of Crime and Unemployment, 31 Criminol 465, 469 (1993). Long-
term unequal stratification of opportunity (class) may produce structural incentives for
crime, as those with significantly fewer opportunities attempt to fulfill general cultural
goals of success without access to the approved institutional means necessary to achieve
those ends may turn to antisocial means to do so. See Robert K. Merton, Social Structure
and Anomie, 38 Am Sociol Rev 672, 674 (1938). In periods of growing economic inequality,
governments may face populist demands to respond to crime with harsh punishment as
an alternative to welfarist policies ruled out by the logics of neoliberal political economy.
See generally Loic Wacquant, Punishing the Poor: The Neoliberal Government of Insecuri-
ty (Duke 2009). Meanwhile, the punishment of crime through incarceration clearly reduc-
es the economic opportunities of the formerly incarcerated, predisposing them to all the
risks of the unemployment-crime nexus. See Bruce Western, Punishment and Inequality
in America 109 (Sage 2006).
2 On the rise of violent crime, see generally Franklin E. Zimring, The Great Ameri-
can Crime Decline (Oxford 2007); David Garland, The Culture of Control: Crime and


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