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Happiness and violence in Argentina: crime victims tend to favor more lenient measures
Are you happy? Did you smile yesterday? Increasingly economists are putting emotional questions like these at the heart of their studies in an attempt to uncover the links between happiness, human behavior, beliefs and policies.  Though crime has received relatively little attention in happiness research, a new study by the Inter-American Development Bank provides surprising insights: Victims of crime are no less happy than others. Moreover, they tend to favor more lenient measures to curb crime rather than punitive measures such as lengthy jail sentences and capital punishment.  The economics of happiness challenge narrow indicators of well-being such as income and GDP by capturing a range of other subjective factors impacting individual welfare, preferences and decision making. In this case, researchers Rafael Di Tella and Ernesto Schargrodsky found a significant correlation between victimization and beliefs often associated with liberal political leanings.  Published in November 2009, the study, Happiness, Ideology and Crime in Argentine Cities, was based on more than 2,300 interviews conducted over two years in six Argentine cities. About a third of those interviewed reported that they or a member of their household had been a victim of a crime in the previous year. However, researchers found no correlation between victimization and diminished happiness.  This coincides with previous studies in high-crime environments. Di Tella and Schargrodsky speculate that Argentine respondents, like those in other countries with significant criminality, may have adapted to high crime rates. Some may even expect to become victims of crime, thereby reducing its impact on happiness and wellbeing. According to the study, crime victims tend to believe that income distribution is very unequal and that criminals should not be punished too severely. Rather, they favor improving education and employment to reduce inequality. Victims of crime may become more aware of social inequalities than others, the study speculates. This may lead to a greater sensitivity about a lack of options leading to criminality.  These findings support previous studies that draw a link between crime and ideological beliefs in Latin America. People who were victimized tend to place themselves on the left of the political spectrum, believing income distribution is unfair and privatization is detrimental to a country’s economy. The link between victimization and left-leaning leniency may help explain why anti-market biases are often entrenched in relatively insecure environments. In Latin America, where crime is high and regional homicide rates are more than double the world average, this bias could have a significant impact on voter preferences. If redistributive policies hamper economic growth in the region and lack of growth helps fuel high crime rates, Latin America may be caught in a vicious cycle.  “Crime can encourage beliefs that promote policies that, in turn, reduce growth and foster crime,” the report concluded.
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