Monday, May 29, 2006

The Economics of Crime

There have been a couple of events in the last few weeks that have made me stop and think a little bit about crime. In one case, someone I know had their vehicle stolen (it was found a few days later), and then very close friend arrived at home to discover that some lowlife had broken in and ransacked the place this past weekend. (Readers who know me personally already know that story in more detail than I'll go into here).

Both of these crimes constitute what I call "petty property crime" - the people who commit it are interested in the "economic value" of what they steal - whether it is the short term use of a vehicle to get between point A and B, or the theft of a few items of apparent value that might be readily fenced.

However, petty property crime is precisely the form of crime I would expect to start seeing more of in Calgary lately. Calgary is an expensive city to live in these days - housing prices have exploded in the last year, and it appears that rental costs are making a similar leap upwards. Add to this the near impracticality of getting around Calgary without access to a car. Except for Downtown, most "work centers" in this city really do require a car to get in and out of. With gas prices over $1/L, and forecast to hit $1.30/L or so over the course of this summer, a lot of people are going to start finding their cars brutally expensive to operate.

Let's put this in perspective for a minute - at $0.65/L, a tank of gas in a car with a 60L tank (pretty average, and includes a lot of SUVs built since the 1990s) costs $39. At $1.00/L (pretty average recently), that same tank suddenly costs $60. It's not terribly difficult to burn through a tank a week - just driving to and from work in this city. So, getting to and from work has gone from costing $160/month to $240/month. For someone living "on the edge" - just paying the bills - rent, phone, heat, food and car, they start to find that they have to make a choice - steal in order to get to work, or not work. With rents pushing over $1000 for a modest place to live, $240 for gas starts to look like a lot of money when your take home pay is around $2000 each month.

I'm not condoning these kinds of crimes - there are other alternative courses of action - but I find it hard to ignore the reality that some people will find such a course of action "appealing" - especially if they feel that their choice is between a crime that they might get away with, and losing their job or home. It's the interesting second edge of the sword that is Alberta's economic boom.

(BTW - I don't _know_ the motives of the perpetrators in the two cases cited above - this discussion springs from my own musings on the subject)


MgS said...

I reserve the right to remove spam comments.

Anonymous said...

Well, think about it... crime is GOOD for the economy.

You see, the victim goes out and makes purchases which enables the stores and manufacturing companies to maintain a certain level of business - keeping those all important jobs.

Proof in point... had my laptop not been appropriated illegally, I wouldn't be considering buying a new one right now.

Plus, look at the police force, insurance companies, pawn shops, glass companies... they all remain busy as a result of crime as well. Plus, the perpetrator has money to spend to help the economy keep moving... (albiet MY money).

And you can't forget the value of aerobic exercise. The heart rate of the victim of crime certainly goes up when the crime is discovered... in the case of the individual whose car had been stolen - he's now going to either bike or walk to to work; and in my case, well, cleaning up the house certainly can raise a sweat... So the criminals only have the health of those whom they target at heart.

One final tongue-in-cheek thought... realizing that my deductible is $1000, all I can say is this... it would have been a lot cheaper and less distressing just to hand the bastards a cheque for $1K and call it even. Suddenly Pratchett's version of "organized crime" has an appeal.


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