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What If the “Broken Windows” Theory Were Applied to Wall Street?

James Q. Wilson's famous “broken windows” theory led to strict policing of working class behavior. What if his ideas were applied to Wall Street?

James Q. Wilson, who died recently, was a political scientist who often studied the government response to blue collar crime. The public knows him best for his theory called "broken windows." The metaphor explains what happens to a vacant building when broken windows are not promptly repaired. Soon, most of the windows in the abandoned building are broken. The criminals feel little compunction against petty destruction because the building’s owners evince no concern for the integrity of their building. Wilson took social norms, community, and ethics seriously. He argued that as community broke down, fewer honest citizens were active in monitoring and policing behavior. The breakdown in community lled to widespread serious blue collar crime. Wilson urged us to take even minor blue collar crimes and breaches of civility seriously and to demand that they be contained through social pressure and policing.

New York City’s police strategy embraced “broken windows,” making it a priority to respond to even minor offenses that upset the community – like “squeegee men,” graffiti, and street prostitution. Reported blue collar crime fell. It also fell sharply in most other cities, which did not implement “broken windows” programs, but Wilson and the NYPD got the credit and popular fame. Wilson became one of the most famous blue collar criminologists in the world.

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