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More International Trade Means Less Homicide, Study Finds

By Rachael Grahame ’17

While the jury’s still out on how much international trade benefits the economies of participant countries, a new cross-border research project involving an eminent University of Maryland criminologist adds a check mark in international trade’s “pro” column.

Countries that frequently trade with others have fewer “cross-national homicides”—or homicides compared to other countries—according to a recent study of 78 countries’ 1960-2013 homicide rates and “globalization” measures published last month in the journal Social Forces by Gary LaFree, a Distinguished University Professor in the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice, and Bo Jiang Ph.D. ’19 of the University of Macau.

“Globalization, measured as total trade divided by the size of the economy, has been widely critiqued by both the political right and left in the United States; it’s one of the few things that Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders agree on,” LaFree said. “The main critique is that globalization increases income inequality and poverty—two variables that are also associated with rising crime rates—however, our analysis of the worldwide effect of globalization on homicide rates over the past half century shows that countries that have globalized more have lower homicide rates than those that have globalized less.”

The researchers’ results provide support for the arguments globalization proponents put forth centuries ago.

“This would not have surprised the scholars of the Enlightenment like Montesquieu or our Founding Fathers, who believed that international trade, or ‘doux commerce’ or ‘gentle commerce,’ would decrease all types of violence, including homicide, by providing individuals with a rational interest in engaging peacefully with others, offering opportunities for cross-border commerce and travel, and encouraging greater understanding of diverse cultures,” LaFree continued. “This is exactly what our results show, as well as that the largest benefits of globalization for homicide happen in countries that are poorest and with the greatest income gap.”

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