Crime and Punishment in the US: Political Systems and Technology Regime Change
32 Pages Posted: 13 Dec 2019 Last revised: 16 Dec 2019
Date Written: November 24, 2019
One of the most extraordinary social science phenomena of the postwar period has been the rise in violent crime in large American cities from the 1970s to the mid 1990s and the consequent rise in incarceration; and then its subsequent dramatic decline in most of those cities and the correspondingly decisive decline in the increase in imprisonment. An echo of these ‘waves’ occurred in almost all advanced economies; but their amplitude in the US case is quite exceptional. We seek to explain: why the waves, and why the exceptional American amplitude? Comparative political economy has had little to say in recent decades about American exceptionalism in general and about American crime and punishment in particular. We take the UK as comparator, with a common liberal market economy framework, a non-consensus based political system and a broadly similar welfare state. The American exceptionalism in crime and punishment is generated institutionally by the exceptional local democratic autonomy over key relevant policy areas – education, zoning and law and order; and hence, we argue, the domination of the preferences of ‘homevoters’. We see the waves as reflecting the massive changes in technology regime: the postwar stable Fordist system through the 1960s; its collapse especially felt in the large cities through the 1970s and 1980s; and the knowledge economy from the early 1990s on.
Keywords: crime, punishment, United States, political systems, technology regimes
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