This study uses rainfall variation as an instrumental variable for padi-rice production to estimate the impact of poverty on different types of crime across British colonies in South and South East Asia (1910-1940). Using original primary sources retrieved from annual administrative and statistical reports, it provides some of the first evidence in a historical setting on the causal relationship between poverty and crime. Extreme rainfall, both droughts and floods, lead to a large increase in property crimes (such as robbery, petty theft and cattle raiding) but not to an increase in interpersonal violent crimes (such as murder, homicides and assault). In line with a growing body of literature on the climate-economy nexus, we offer evidence that loss of agricultural income is one of the main causal channels leading to property crime. Additional historical information on food shortages, poverty and crime is used to explore the connection in greater detail.
- subsistence crisis; poverty; crime; climate shocks; British colonialism; rural livelihoods; rice economies; agrarian societies