Monday, June 15, 2009

The Recession, Crime and Superhero Incentives


We've spoken before about the link between poverty, economics and crime. Consider the panel above, suggesting that rampant unemployment in Liberty Hill has contributed to the surge in violent crime and death. Well, it looks like there is more real-Earth evidence that links harsh economic times to crime. Specifically:

Emerging research from sociologists, journalists, trade journals, and law enforcement suggest that certain types of crime are rising and began rising in early 2009/late 2008 when the pains of the recession first began being felt. This has led some analysts to investigate a link between the two, theorizing that the anxiety, suffering, and loss of the financial meltdown has made criminals more likely to commit crimes.

Of course, the majority of these crimes are not violent crimes (as suggested in Ink), but rather crimes associated with a financial gain or incentive. According to USA Today, robberies and burglaries are on the rise and have been increasing 39% and 32% in 2009. Vehicle theft has been increasing 40%, drugs and prostitution have been linked to an increase in foreclosures, and domestic violence against women has surged since 2009. In addition, there has been a rise in insurance fraud and identity theft. Nationwide's 2009 survey demonstrated that 10% of the respondents had missed payments due to identity theft.

In fact, violent crime seems to be the only type of crime that is decreasing (at least in certain areas). According to Freakonomics, murder in New York has fallen compared to last year by 21%. Rapes are down by nearly as much.

Add to this the fact that police departments across the country are feeling the economic squeeze. McClatchy reports "Declining sales and property taxes are forcing law enforcement agencies across the country to postpone buying equipment, cut recruitment classes, freeze overtime and redeploy staff to save money." So the police officers that are still on staff end up having less of an incentive to effectively fight crime, as depicted in the following panel.


What are the implications of this recession for the major comic book universes? Well, one thing that I had not considered until recently is that mutants, aliens living on Earth, and all metahumans in general might be increasingly tempted to use their powers and abilities for evil rather than good. The recession could actually breed more supervillains, albeit ones likely interested in holding people hostage for ransom and robbing banks. If you're someone with the power of invisibility and you have just lost your dead-end job, have barely enough money to sustain an even meager living in New York, and are struggling with the difficulties and prejudices involved of being a mutant, you might consider walking into a bank and taking some cash. Consider Alan Moore's depiction of the Joker's origin in The Killing Joke. Here, the Joker was just an ordinary man, struggling with a career change and trying to make it as a comedian. Down on his luck and deprived of the funds to support his family, he agrees to be part of a heist against a chemical plant. He has a run in with the Batman and we know the rest. And he wasn't even superhuman!


So what can be done about the recession, crime, and supervillain problem? It seems to me that a crucial measure would be to encourage those on-the-fence metas to take up a life of heroism rather than villainy. This means offering monetary incentives and rewards for fighting crime. We've seen the likes of this scheme before with such organizations as the Thunderbolts, which employs "former" supervillains as employees of the government to catch unregistered, unlicensed superheroes. But we also see it here with the Tattooed Man, a former Green Lantern villain who has now apparently reformed and is enjoying a perks of being a superhero, being an official member of the Justice League of America, and who is apparently receiving money for his work.


I did not quite catch in this issue how the Tattooed Man is receiving a "payday," but I assume it is something similar to Booster Gold during 52, who received endorsement deals from companies and made some advertising revenues. Essentially, he promoted himself as a flying billboard. Indeed, the point is that the Tattooed Man now has an incentive to be a superhero. That means he is not causing trouble for the Justice League. It also means that he is helping to foil bank robberies, murders, heists, evil dark deities' schemes to take over the planet and force human beings into submissive obedience, and pretty much the whole gamut of comic book crimes.

Governments should do everything in their power to offer some sort of payment for these metahumans. This can even go beyond an actual paycheck, but include additional on-the-job benefits. As the Tattooed Man noted, he receives many extra perks for holding an official Justice League club card. It's just like being in a labor union. I am sure that the Tattooed Man now has health benefits, a pension plan, job security, influence on union policy, and discounts at all major alien technology outlets. These are the sorts of benefits that could deter wayward metas from a life of broken bones and exorbitant medical costs on account of being pounded by Superman. That in addition to reducing the potential supervillain population and helping the United States government alleviate its steadily augmenting crime problem.

37 comments:

Anonymous said...

It just occurred to me that incentives/benefits may be one of the reasons superheroes hold on to captured supertech. Even the big-name groups like the Justice League or Avengers aren't all that large in terms of membership, and a lot of their funds obviously go into headquarters and insurance costs. If you keep the alien healing ray or teleportation array you can use it to provide benefits to your members. It's useless to you if the government or LexCorp is reverse engineering it in a secure facility.

It may not be completely selfless to keep the tech for yourself, but it may be the only thing keeping some of the B-grade heroes from going into profitable supervillainy.

Alkibiades said...

Any research on why violent crimes specifically drop? I'd hate to think that murder and rape are "leisure" crimes, and that the recession is forcing criminals to focus on making ends meet.

Anonymous said...

@Alkibiades
Maybe it almost like that, sort of like a person been more worried about having food, money, etc., rather than bother to murder and rape somebody they would kill/rape for whatever reason.

ShadowBanker said...

Alkibiades - According to the Billshrink article:

"Experts from Cornell University argues that, in a down economy, fewer people walk the streets overtly shopping for flashy luxuries and pulling loads of money out of ATM machines. Because of this tendency to stay inside, they believe that potential targets for robbery become scarce."

I don't know how accurate this is and I can't find the specific source for it.

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CD Rates said...

I would say that this great economic recession contributed to crime. If we have a look at unemployment during this period which has certainly increased, and we know that this is the main cause of all crimes. So, the crime has also increased during this time.

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