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No Looting in Japan

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Another note on crime and culture -- Western journalists covering the aftermath of the tsunami in Japan have noted an absence of looting.  See, e.g., this post by Ed West at the London Telegraph.   Elsewhere in the world, disasters are regularly followed by looting.  Taking advantage of the chaos to make off with a big-screen Sony doesn't seem to have occurred to many Japanese.

Culture is the primary reason for differences in crime rates across jurisdictions, which is why simplistically comparing jurisdictions to see the effects of policy differences does not work.  Death penalty opponents regularly claim that Europe's lower homicide rates, relative to the U.S., disproves deterrence.  Substitute Japan for the U.S. in the same argument, and you get the opposite conclusion.

For crimes other than homicide, such as robbery and burglary, rates have risen in most of Western Europe to the point that they are close to or higher than America's rates.  See this post.  Not in Germany, though.  Why not, when Germany has been just as soft on crime as England, France, and Italy?  Probably cultural differences.

Although culture is a major determinant, it is the one that government can do the least about.  Government can avoid harmful policies, such as a welfare policy that undermines the family and corrodes the work ethic.  It can have some impact with public-service advertising, such as the "Just Say No" campaign that really did reduce drug use, despite the derision aimed at it.  But these changes are incremental and long-term.  Haitians will never think like Japanese, and there is nothing government can do about it.

When we discuss issues of policing and punishment and their effect on crime rates, we must keep in mind that other factors also affect crime rates.  But these are the factors within our direct control.


2 Comments

As you point out, government can change the culture, but like most things in government, probably on the whole it's for the worse.

With respect to Haitians, it's probably not entirely fair to bring them into this mix. Haiti is a desperately poor country. Japan is not. I assume that you were simply picking two countries as far apart culturally as you can, but Haiti underwent a debilitating earthquake, and there was looting. How much of the looting in Haiti can be explained by necessity is unknown. But to the extent that it can, there is at least an implied comparison and that may be a bit unfair.

I'm not a big fan of blaming the unborn for national crimes, but I would point out that the culture that is being lionized as orderly and law-abiding is the same culture that produced atrocities on a monumental scale during WWII (and I am including its war in China as part of WWII).

Admittedly, I am not an expert in foreign cultures. However,it is amazing how a weak family structure/high incidence of non-marital births go hand in hand with poverty and unstable governments. Haiti's problems are long-standing and not related to a natural disaster.

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