4
$\begingroup$

Robert Shiller writes (2000 Irrational Exuberance, 2015 3rd edition):

A decline in crime rates also, on the flip side, encouraged materialistic values by making people feel more secure, less worried that they would be robbed or physically harmed. In the United States, the rate of property crimes per 1,000 people fell 49% between 1993 and 2003, and the rate of violent crimes per 1,000 people fell 55%. One could then more comfortably flaunt wealth, and so wealth became more attractive. Living in an ostentatious home was now more appealing. Fear of terrorism increased, but terrorists did not seem to strike wealthy people preferentially, and generally not in their homes. The declining crime rates in the U.S. made a capitalist lifestyle seem a better model for the entire world.

These are interesting claims but Shiller does not seem to offer anything to back them.

I wonder if there has been any actual research showing that "a decline in crime rates ... encourage[s] materialistic values by making people feel more secure"?

$\endgroup$
1
$\begingroup$

Did/does a decline in crime rates encourage materialistic values?

These are interesting claims but Shiller does not seem to offer anything to back them.

Much of it sounds quite logical, whence I would not expect the author to present evidence on that. But, despite my consistent preference for neoliberalism, I think the author's conclusion is unverifiable and is rather an opinion that leaves several gaps unaddressed.

People seek and compete to impress and to be admired. That is part of our nature. For that purpose, some people develop their talent & skills, others --regrettably-- get tattoos, and others who can afford it show off goods and services that they think will make them stand out. Unlike a talent or a tattoo, objects such as jewelry, cars, or the latest iPhone can get stolen or at least vandalized. Thus, it is entirely reasonable that a generalized perception of safety will make the materialistic sector uninhibited to go out and engage in a materialistic competition.

Likewise, the author's remark on terrorism follows almost from definition. A terrorist's targets are those he views as strategic to his political motive: typically public figures, and/or masses whose support of a regime or institution would weaken upon terrorist acts. By contrast, targeting a merely wealthy person or household would not significantly impact the public's mindset in a way that advances the terrorist's purpose.

But, as I mentioned above, the author's conclusion that

[t]he declining crime rates in the U.S. made a capitalist lifestyle seem a better model for the entire world

is hardly susceptible to verification, research, or consensus. That conclusion entails multiple facets and subjectivity gaps that the author apparently did not address.

For instance, Marxists will disagree with the author's conclusion by portraying the state as the mechanism specifically devised to preserve the elite's capitalist lifestyle. In short, Marxist will refute any link between "declining crime rates" and "capitalism as a better model".

Likewise, an analyst will dispute the adequacy of extrapolating a trend of "declining crime rates in the U.S." for reaching conclusions about what exactly would be "a better [economic] model for the entire world" (brackets and emphasis added). Much of the capitalistic lifestyle in the U.S. relies on its indebtedness, whereas already in the 1920s Hjalmar Schacht was concerned about how the capitalistic lifestyle (perhaps frenzy) in Germany was undermining the German economy.

An environmentalist, a Catholic priest, or a Buddhist monk will refute the notion that materialistic values are any beneficial for a single country --let alone for the entire world--, no matter how the idea of "declining crime rates" is slid in the argument.

$\endgroup$

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.