The Global Crime Wave

By Stephens, Gene | The Futurist, July-August 1994 | Go to article overview
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The Global Crime Wave

Stephens, Gene, The Futurist

And What We Can Do about It

Around the world, nations are reporting more murders, rapes, and robberies. A criminologist explains the underlying causes of this wave of lawlessness and suggests steps to combat it.

Crime is increasing worldwide, and there is every reason to believe the trend will continue through the 1990s and into the early years of the twenty-first century.

Crime rates have always been high in multicultural, industrialized, democratic societies such as the United States, but a new phenomenon has appeared on the world scene--rapidly escalating crime rates in nations that previously reported few offenses. Street crimes such as murder, assaults, rape, robbery, and auto theft are clearly escalating, particularly in some formerly communist countries such as Hungary and in western European nations such as Scandinavia and the United Kingdom.

U.S. crime rates remain the highest in the world overall, but some offenses, such as breaking and entering, have actually decreased over the past decade. Other offenses, such as murder, rape, and robbery, have stabilized. In adjacent Canada, property crime rates decreased significantly in all categories in the 1980s.

Statistics on white-collar crime are harder to find, but every indication is that this, too, is rapidly increasing worldwide and can be expected to spiral upward well into the twenty-first century.

What is driving this crime explosion? And what steps can be taken to curb it?

There are no simple answers. Crime is a lot like cancer: It is serious, potentially deadly, comes in many varieties, is difficult to diagnose, hard to treat, and almost impossible to eradicate.

Still, there are certain conditions associated with rising crime: increasing heterogeneity of populations, greater cultural pluralism, higher immigration, realignment of national borders, democratization of governments, greater economic growth, improving communications and computerization, and the rise of anomie--the lack of accepted social norms.

These conditions are increasingly observable around the world. For instance, cultures that were previously isolated and homogeneous, such as Japan, Denmark, China, and Greece, are now facing the sort of cultural diversity that has been the norm in the United States for most of its history.

Meanwhile, the breakup of the Eastern Bloc has led to attempts to democratize formerly communist countries and has also put many citizens on the move, in a search for a better life.

International migration has hit an all-time high and will not peak for several more years.

The Challenge of Multiculturalism

Multiculturalism can be a rewarding, enriching experience, but it can also lead to a clash of values and frequent warfare if peaceful systems of conflict resolution are not established and accepted. Heterogeneity in societies will be the rule in the twenty-first century, and failure to recognize and plan for such diversity can lead to serious crime problems, especially in emerging multicultural societies.

The connection between crime and culture cannot be overemphasized: There are high-crime and low-crime cultures around the world. In the years ahead, many low-crime cultures may become high-crime cultures because of changing world demographics and politicoeconomic systems. In general, heterogeneous populations in which people have lots of political freedom (democracy) and lots of economic choice (capitalism) are prime candidates for crime unless a good socialization system is created and maintained.

To understand why this is so, we can begin by recognizing that the very nature of crime is culturally defined. What is legal and desirable in one culture may be viewed as a serious crime in another; for instance, making a large profit on a business transaction is highly acceptable in the United States but, until recently, considered "profiteering" in China, where the government executed those found guilty of it.

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