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The world is a scary place. Kim Jung Un has nukes and makes noises like he wants to use them. Pressure cookers are turned into bombs. People may be dying from poison gas attacks in Syria. We see and hear every sordid, gruesome, disgusting detail in the Jodi Arias trial. A Cleveland bus driver kidnaps and holds three girls hostage for a decade. And that’s just in the past month or so, right off the top of my head.

As bad as it feels, in fact the world isn’t nearly as scary as it used to be. Violence is at historic lows, but of course, that doesn’t make for a very compelling news story.

For some reassurance, read Steven Pinker’s 2011
book, “The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined.” Just 12 bucks for the paperback, or $9.99 for your Kindle. (In lieu of the book, here’s a quick overview from a
story on Huffington Post from 2011.)

What brought this all back to mind was a recent story about violent crimes in the U.S. They’re down substantially. Again, here’s an overview of the story with an emphasis on the decline in gun violence from Huffington.

The drop in violent crime is a trend that started in the early ‘90’s, but hasn’t gotten much coverage. There’s been a lot of discussion about the causes in law enforcement and academia, and a lot of competing theories.

Among them, the economy — crime goes down when the economy is good. The crack epidemic – it burned itself out in inner cities in the ’80s. Demographics – as the proportion of young men in the population increases, crime goes up. Tougher sentencing. More prisons. Increased gun control. More police on the beat.

Problem is, none of the theories holds up under real scrutiny. But there is one factor that matches perfectly with the graph of the rise and fall of violent crime: