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The theory: crime is harder because people don’t carry cash as much anymore

The case for: If a criminal sees someone with cash, he’s probably more likely to attempt a robbery than if the person is carrying a credit card. This makes sense: Real dollars are anonymous and untraceable, while a credit card can be cut off with one phone call.

Surveys show Americans are using less cash than they did before, as people use debit cards, credit cards, and other electronic payments more often. One study found this could have an impact on crime: Researchers at the University of Missouri St. Louis and Georgia State University found that Missouri counties that moved to electronic welfare benefits saw bigger crime drops than those that stuck with cash.

The case against: As with many of the exotic theories about the crime drop, there’s just not enough empirical evidence showing that people moving away from cash had a significant role.

The bottom line: Still unclear. Richard Rosenfeld, a University of Missouri St. Louis criminologist who was involved in the welfare study, said there needs to be more evidence. In particular, he’d like to see the results replicated outside of Missouri.

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