Self-Promotion Watch: Lead and Crime in Postwar America


I’m usually a little reticent about tooting my own horn, but since I’ve always had a lot of respect for James Surowiecki, I was sort of chuffed to see this in his year-end roundup of his favorite business stories:

Kevin Drum’s brilliant Mother Jones piece, “America’s Real Criminal Element: Lead,” explores the relationship between lead in the environment and crime (and a host of other social ills). It is not, I guess, a classic business story. But it’s a rigorous and enormously enlightening look at how businesses’ and regulators’ choices—in this case, the decision to keep lead in gasoline and paint—end up shaping society in ways that few expect. I’m not entirely sure that lead explains the entire drop in crime we’ve seen in cities across America. But Drum has certainly convinced me that getting lead out of the environment is one of the best, and most cost-effective, social interventions that regulators can make.

Thanks, James! More here for those who want to dive into some of the other reaction to the lead-crime story, as well as a few items that got left on the cutting room floor.

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