Let’s talk about the social condition that many people might be concerned about today. There are a few that I wanted to touch on, but the first one is the one I mentioned in the introduction-crime in New York city. Crime was a problem for a very long time in New York city and it was rising, and rising and rising. And then it started dropping. And I suppose there could be a number of different reasons for it, but I can’t really find that anybody really knows exactly for sure what caused it.

Crime is such a fundamentally contagious thing that once we reach the kind of tipping point, and once certain influential people in communities hard-hit by crime, stop behaving in that way. It was contagious. And there was a kind of sea change that happens all at once. Maybe we can go into those little triggers, because I find it’s really interesting. Because we are talking about such a big change that takes place. Being triggered by very small things, and what do you think some of those were?

Well, I’m very impressed by this idea called the “broken window theory”, which is an idea George Kelling has put forth in New England. He’s argued for some time, that criminals and criminal behavior is acutely sensitive to environmental cues, and he uses the example, the broken window. If there’s a car sitting on the street with the broken window, it is an invitation to someone to vandalize the car. Why? Because a broken window on a car symbolizes the fact that no one cares about the car, no one is in charge, no one is watching. And if you think about it, this is a fundamentally different idea about crime than the kind of ideas that we’ve been carrying for the past 25 years. We have been told by conservatives over and over again that crime is the result of moral failure, of something deep and intrinsic within the hearts and souls and brains of criminals. That a criminal is by definition, in the sword of conservative topology, someone who is insensitive to their environment, right? They just go out and commit crimes, because that’s who they are. They are criminals. Well, Kelling came along and said,”well, no, no, a criminal is like all of us, someone acutely sensitive to what’s going on in the environment. And by making subtle changes in the environment, you can encourage and induce much more socially responsible behavior.”

Well, in New York, we have the perfect test case of that idea. It starts in the subway. You know, in the early decided to clean up the subway. Well, how did they do it? The subway was a complete mess right? It was. Crime rates were going through the roof. They bring in a man who was a big disciple of this idea, of broken windows. And what does he do? Well, the first thing he does is he picks up all the litter. The second thing he does is he cleans up the graffiti, and the third thing he does is he says from now on, no one will ever jump a turnstile in the New York city’s subway station again. He put corps by the turnstiles, and if someone jumps, he arrests them. Everybody said he was crazy. But you’ve got a subway system where people are killing, and robbing, and assaulting and raping each other, and what do you do? You go after the two kinds of criminality, that the only two kinds of criminality that in fact don’t hurt anybody else, right? Turnstile jumping and graffiti, you know, littering and graffiti. But it turns out that those were tipping points. Once they put those three changes in place, the subway starts to come around really quiet dramatically. It’s because if you are on a subway that’s clean and if you are walking into the subway, and no one is allowed to jump the turnstile any more, all the sudden, everyone gets the message that someone is in charge, and somebody cares about this. It’s not a space that permits this kind of criminal behavior



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