The Collapsing Crime Rates of the ’90s Might Have Been Driven by Cellphones

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The Collapsing Crime Rates of the ’90s Might Have Been Driven by Cellphones - The Atlantic

Did technology disrupt the drug game, too?


It’s practically an American pastime to blame cellphones for all sorts of societal problems, from distracted parents to faltering democracies. But the devices might have also delivered a social silver lining: a de-escalation of the gang turf wars that tore up cities in the 1980s.

The intriguing new theory suggests that the arrival of mobile phones made holding territory less important, which reduced intergang conflict and lowered profits from drug sales.

Lena Edlund, a Columbia University economist, and Cecilia Machado, of the Getulio Vargas Foundation, lay out the data in a new National Bureau of Economic Research working paper. They estimate that the diffusion of phones could explain 19 to 29 percent of the decline in homicides seen from 1990 to 2000.
 
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