The greatest cost of crime is the loss of trust. When you start looking at everyone as though they might harm you, something dies inside. How can a community grow when people fear to open their doors?
Measured against this cost is the explosive growth of the mass media over the past two decades. In exchange for building a perception that crime rates are increasing, news outlets of all kinds had been recording record profits right up until the beginning of 2009. "If it bleeds, it leads." From the earliest days of print media, journalists and authors have known that sensationalist crime stories beat everyday news anytime. In today's highly competitive news world, no news outlet can afford to give up such an advantage.
The next greatest cost of crime is the loss of potential. No one can really know what has been lost when a murder victim's life is cut short or a young man is sent to prison for the first time. The number of prisoners in the United States currently stands at 2.1 million, or 0.5% of the total population, with estimated rates of recidivism of as high as 60%. Not only the criminals and victims themselves but also the families lives are disrupted, sometimes tipping them as well into a life of crime.
Measured against this cost is the seemingly infinite advancement potential of the black market and especially the drug trade. The youngest gang members often make less than minimum wage running illegal drugs, but despite the risk they prefer this and its potential advancement to what they see as an uncertain future following years of unpaid school time.
The third greatest cost of crime is the loss of time. For every stolen wallet, for every compromised computer, hours are spent reporting all losses and canceling all credit cards. However quickly reported, some losses are never recovered, which puts a financial strain on the victim and on the insurance company.
Measured against this are the number of man-hours created in customer service and electronic security fields. Electronic security research is booming. Even where major financial institutions have laid off large numbers of their staff, almost none of those work in credit card departments.
Finally, the cost of crime can also be measured in purely financial terms. However, traditional statistics and analysis have not yet caught up to current economic realities. The perceived cost of goods and services changes when contrasted against unemployment rates of over 8% and trillion dollar government subsidies.
In the United States, the prison system alone employs almost half a million people, with nearly another million working in the field of law enforcement. Even though some parts of this system are privatized, the contract cost still comes out of taxpayer pockets. Domestic violence alone accounted for $5.8 billion in health care costs in 2003, according to the Center for Disease Control, as well as an estimated $0.9 billion in lost productivity. Despite an estimated underground economy of up to 1 trillion dollars in the United States alone, accounting for over 8% of its GDP, criminals don't pay taxes on the proceeds of their crimes.
Measured against this cost is the fact that the law enforcement and security industry is rapidly becoming one of the major surviving employers in the current job market, providing jobs that are virtually recession-proof. According to the American Bar Association, crime and contract disputes are keeping 1,143,056 American lawyers in business. Imagine those numbers added to the unemployment rolls. Nor is the economic impact isolated. A foreclosed house brings down the value of the houses around it, which may cause other homeowners to find themselves underwater with their mortgages. An unemployed person has less spending money, which in turn reduces the sales of those businesses he would otherwise frequent. Once set in motion, this is a difficult cycle to break.
Against all this, set the cost of individual loss of money, individual loss of time, individual injury, and especially individual loss of peace of mind. Whatever the numbers on paper, are they worth the agony of a single victim?