Economic Growth Leads to Lower Crime

A new study from the International Monetary Fund shows that there is a strong link between economic growth and lower crime. Specifically, the study examines the relationship between crime rates and economic activity in the three “Northern Triangle” countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.

Strong economic activity helps to decrease crime
Source: International Monetary Fund

The driving factor, according to the study, is the cost-benefit analysis for an individual’s choice of finding a lawful job versus a life of crime. In an environment of widespread poverty and lack of economic opportunities, as well as perceived corruption, criminal activity becomes a viable option for some, potentially explaining why crime is high in Northern Triangle countries.

As a result, the study finds that policies that promote more jobs and higher productivity—such as better infrastructure, lower barriers to entry for new firms, and more-efficient tax systems—are key to strengthening and sustaining growth and lowering crime.

Economic Growth vs. Wealth Redistribution

This conclusion is neither shocking nor counterintuitive and should add to debate on whether economic and social polices should focus on economic growth or on wealth redistribution. Unfortunately, too many politicians today push policies that use wealth redistribution to fight inequality, but at the cost of slowing economic growth.

If adopted, these redistributive policies would be counterproductive from their purported goals. The resulting lower growth rates would discourage individuals from looking for lawful jobs instead of opting for a life of crime. Rather than reducing inequality, these policies would cause many of the underprivileged to remain trapped in crime-ridden communities that offer few opportunities for improving their lives.

In the US, this policy debate is likely to manifest itself in this year’s presidential election. Although Bernie Sanders, a self-avowed socialist, is the worse of the lot, all of the Democratic Party presidential candidates are advocating for policies designed from a Marxist-derived emphasis on inequality. President Trump’s policies, which are more focused on encouraging economic growth, are a better long-run solution for actually reducing crime, poverty, and inequality.

Housing Starts Remain Strong

Privately-owned housing starts showed continued strength in January, coming in at a seasonally-adjusted annual rate of 1.567 million units, according to the US Census Bureau. This was 10 percent higher than the 1.42 million expected by most economists and 21.4 percent higher than in January 2019. The already strong December number was also revised upward from 1.608 million units to 1.626 million units.

As I mentioned previously, housing construction is now the main driver of private investment spending, compensating for continued weakness in non-residential fixed investment. This strong showing, if continued, should spill over into new durable goods orders in coming months and provide a solid base for GDP growth through at least election day in November.

Non-Residential Construction Spending Shows No Sign of Revival

Construction spending shows a continuing split between residential and non-residential construction, according to the latest data from the US Census Bureau, with non-residential construction continuing to fall. Total construction spending rose by a seasonally-adjusted annual rate of 0.2 percent in December, failing to meet economist expectations of 0.5 percent growth. Total construction spending in December rose by 5.0 percent on a year-on-year basis.

Graph showing construction spending in December.

Private residential construction continues to show strong growth, rising by 1.4 percent in December, or by 5.5 percent on a year-on-year basis. Low interest rates and a housing shortage likely will help maintain healthy residential construction during rest of this year.

Private non-residential construction fell by 1.8 percent in December, or by 0.1 percent on a year-on-year basis. All categories of private non-residential construction showed declines, mimicking the fall in non-residential fixed investment in the fourth quarter of 2019 reported last week.

Public construction also fell in December, declining by 0.4 percent at a seasonally-adjusted annual rate. On a year-on-year basis, public construction spending was up by 11.5 percent, reflecting higher growth in public construction in previous months of the year.

The fall in the monthly figure for private non-residential construction is particularly worrisome in that it indicates that there is still no revival showing up in data for non-residential fixed investment.