I just got back from a short and ridiculously busy trip to Mexico. (Next time, I want to make more unprogrammed time.) On the trip, of course, I spent some time thinking about the country’s future. Alejandro Hope thinks that by 2040, the place will have remarkably low crime rates. His reasons come down to three:
- Mexico is aging;
- Technology is disintermediating criminal markets;
- The rising middle class will demand better public policies.
I agree with the third point, although the cynic in me has to admit that Mexico has spent many years failing to live up to the demands of its electorate.
The second point rather confuses me. It is true that the opportunities for nonviolent crime are increasing. It is also true that the internet makes it possible to sell narcotics retail in new ways ... but so did the beeper. (I remember New York in the 1990s.) Moreover, the wholesale shipments will still have to move, and in Mexico it is the wholesale trade that attracts the violence. So I am not sure why technology should reduce crime in this way. (As opposed to reducing crime by letting the authorities surveille much more. I am not sure, however, that crime-reductions engendered in that way will increase human happiness.)
As for the first argument, well, Mexico is aging, but it is not aging that fast. For example, in 2050, Mexico will have 27.9 million people aged 15-29. That will be down only a bit from 30.7 million today. Given that most violent crime is committed by and upon members of that age cohort, the incidence of violent crime will decline as young people decline as a percentage of the population ... but the absolute amount of mayhem will not fall by much as a result of population aging.
In addition, aging is not as good predictor as people might think, since age-specific violence rates rarely remain the same. Venezuela, for example, has become one of the most violent societies in the world over the past 30 years as the population in the 15-29 age group fell from 28% to 27%. That is admittedly a less dramatic proportional fall than the drop from 26% to 19% that Mexico will experience in 2015-50, but it should make us doubt predictions that demography is destiny.
Finally, Diego Valle did a great look at levels of cohort violence in Mexico. He found, as you might expect, that violence decline with age and by cohort: i.e., each group of (say) 25-years-olds was less violent than the one before. Until you reached the group born in 1985-89, the proportionately-smallest group in Mexico’s modern population history. At which point their propensity to violence exploded. In other words, levels of cohort violence are not driven by the relative size of the cohort.
In short, I think Mexico will likely be less violent in 2040 than in 2016. But I do not think that it will be due to technological changes in illicit supply chain management or population aging.