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Kevin Drum Sees a Glimmer of Light on Sweden, Crime, and Immigrants

Donald Trump seemed to suggest that some terrorist incident happened in Sweden a few days ago. For this he was justly mocked. Then it turned out he was merely commenting on a news report he had seen on Fox about crime in Sweden in general. This is the report he was referring to: 

As with most Fox reporting, this is a mixture of exaggeration, anecdote, and legitimate information. Like many reports you'll see anywhere, for that matter. American liberals have jumped quickly to Sweden's defense. But as Kevin Drum points out, some of the defenses are bogus:

Donald Trump at his pep rally yesterday on immigration:

You look at what's happening in Germany, you look at what's happening last night in Sweden. Sweden, who would believe this. Sweden. They took in large numbers. They're having problems like they never thought possible.

Nothing happened in Sweden last night, which has prompted lots of IKEA and ABBA joke memes. However, Zack Beauchamp thinks Trump was probably referring not to something that happened recently, but to the alleged "rape epidemic" in Sweden ever since they started taking in lots of Middle Eastern immigrants. This is apparently a staple of the Breitbart-o-sphere. Unfortunately, Beauchamp then says this:

The problem, though, is that this “rape epidemic” is as fake as the Bowling Green Massacre.

Canadian reporter Doug Saunders rigorously investigated the narrative, and concluded that it “falls apart as soon as you speak to anyone knowledgeable in Sweden.” Official Swedish statistics do indeed show a high rate of rape, but that’s because Swedish law has an extremely expansive definition of what qualifies as rape under the law.

....These panics about immigration, instead, reflect a long history of sexual panics in the West about non-white immigrants. Etc.

Whenever I see writing that carefully avoids providing comparative statistics, my BS detector goes off. Sure enough, Saunders didn't "rigorously" do anything. He linked to an old report that tallies crime rates for the years 1997-2001—which is all but useless in 20171—and then glided quickly past his eventual acknowledgment that the foreign-born have "a higher rate of criminal charges than the native-born." If you're interested, here's the actual data from the report (tables 3 and 6 in the appendix):

These are very big differences. Now, Saunders also links to a study which suggests that "half to three-quarters" of the difference can be accounted for by socioeconomic status. Maybe so. But crime is crime. If you're the victim of assault from a Syrian refugee, you don't really care if it happened because he's Syrian or because he's poorer than average.

There's plenty more to legitimately say about this. If poverty really is a causal factor, maybe it means Sweden needs to be more generous. Other statistics suggest that the children of the foreign-born have much lower crime rates than their parents. And as Beauchamp says, "rape" in Sweden is defined pretty broadly.

Still, if we bring up this subject at all, we have to present the statistics fairly. In the US, immigrants seem to commit crimes at lower rates than native-born Americans. But Sweden is a different country, and the statistics suggest that foreign-born immigrants do indeed commit crimes there in much larger numbers than native Swedes.

UPDATE: I don't know just how interested everyone is in the minutiae of Swedish crime, but here's the crime rate over the past decade:

Some are up, some are down, but the overall trend appears fairly flat despite the large rise in immigrants over this period. On the other hand, preliminary figuresshow that crime against persons was up 7 percent in 2016, including a 13 percent increase in reported rapes and a 14 percent increase in child abuse.

1Apparently this is the most recent report that examines crime rates by area of origin. I don't know why Sweden hasn't done anything more recent.

A few observations:

  1. "These are very big differences."
  2. "If poverty really is a causal factor, maybe it means Sweden needs to be more generous." Sweden already provides some of the most generous social welfare benefits in the entire world, including to asylum-seekers.
  3. "And as Beauchamp says, 'rape' in Sweden is defined pretty broadly." No, it's not
    "I think it is a bit of a myth that the Sexual Crimes Act is so much tougher than in most other countries. The truth is that it is not that different,” Mårten Schultz tells IPS.
    In 2005, the definition of rape in the Swedish Sexual Crimes Act was broadened to include, for instance, having sex with someone who is asleep, or someone who could be considered to be in a “helpless state”. This applies to situations when someone would not be capable of saying “no”. A typical situation where the law could be applied is if someone who is drunk at a party falls asleep only to wake up and realize that someone is having sex with them.
    That would constitute rape according to the 2005 law, and not “sexual abuse”, which was the case before the law was amended. In this respect the new law did not criminalize behaviour that previously had been legal, but rather broadened the definition of what constitutes rape to include a larger number of sexual crimes." 


  4. The second graph in Drum's post shows steady crime rates. As I've pointed out before, this is what you would expect in a country with an aging native population committing fewer crimes, mixed in with a burgeoning immigrant population committing far more crimes per capita than native residents. If Sweden's immigration policies were different, crime rates would be on a steady downward trajectory.
  5. "Apparently this is the most recent report that examines crime rates by area of origin. I don't know why Sweden hasn't done anything more recent." I do.

And now, the tiresome but necessary caveats.

1. Does this mean all immigrants are criminals? No, the majority of immigrants in Sweden have never and will never commit a violent crime. The statistics show there is a higher crime rate among immigrants. That is all. If the rate of sexual assaults per year is 2 per 100,000 for native Swedes, but 20 per 100,000 for immigrants, this means it is indeed 100% accurate to say that the rate of sexual assault by immigrants is 10 times as high as that of Swedes. However, it is still extremely rare even among immigrants.

2. Does all of this mean that Sweden is collapsing? No, Sweden has imported a raft of complex social problems, but is not going to drown in a sea of flames.

3. Do I think Sweden should stop allowing immigration? No, I think Sweden should stop allowing immigration of too many of the wrong kind of people. Many fewer semi-literate unaccompanied young males with no job skills. Many more women and children refugees (for humanitarian reasons) and well-educated people (for reasons of enlightened self-interest. It's really not that hard, it's how most countries manage things.