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Decreasing the murder rate by decreasing lead

Crime is down by 40% in Jamaica, and one of the major reasons is the banning of lead in gasoline (Matthew Yglesias' Slate article here).

Wait, what?

Well, the symptoms of lead poisoning include insomnia, delirium, cognitive deficits and confusion. People don't naturally go around murdering people. Murder isn't intrinsic human behavior. However, if a person suffers from delirium, a lack of sleep and cognitive disorders, mix in a bit of poverty, frustration and free time and you have a good recipe for abnormal, pathological human behavior.

I'm sure there were other sociological factors at play, but I wouldn't be surprised of lead poisoning were the dominant factor. After all, when was the last time we saw a 40% decrease in the murder rate in the US? As pointed out by Yglesias in his article, "Climate change tends to outshine all other environmental worries these days, but the lead-crime link is a powerful reminder that a whole range of issues people care deeply about have significant environmental aspects."

Personally, I'd like to add that this is a really good reason for having government agencies to set policies that benefit the populace, even though it might mean imposing an unprofitable regulation on industry. This should be obvious, but in today's political climate it's often important to remind people that "big government" isn't always a bad thing. Let's hear it for unleaded gas, (relatively) clean air, and clean water. Yay for the EPA! 


Suneet Upadhyay said…
"After all, when was the last time we saw a 40% decrease in the murder rate in the US?"

For one specific example, consider the period between 1995 and the present :)
40% in the US? Really?!

Must be all that stop and frisk, eh? :)

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