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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DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily crazy—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America will move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

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