A fascinating article has just emerged tying increases in violence to airborn lead in gasoline before that was outlawed. It's an extremely thorough study that correlates 90% of rising violence to lead exposure, with about a 20 year delay from when the lead went into the air.
So is this all just an interesting history lesson? After all, leaded gasoline has been banned since 1996, so even if it had a major impact on violent crime during the 20th century, there's nothing more to be done on that front. Right?
Wrong. As it turns out, tetraethyl lead is like a zombie that refuses to die. Our cars may be lead-free today, but they spent more than 50 years spewing lead from their tailpipes, and all that lead had to go somewhere. And it did: It settled permanently into the soil that we walk on, grow our food in, and let our kids play around.
Lead is extremely damaging to cognitive function (IQ) and the ability to control one's impulses. The article explains all this in detail. But the conclusion is pretty startling - it's not that hard to fix as things go, and it would massively solve all kinds of issues, from violent crime to educational woes with classroom chaos and individual children's health.
Put this all together and the benefits of lead cleanup could be in the neighborhood of $200 billion per year. In other words, an annual investment of $20 billion for 20 years could produce returns of 10-to-1 every single year for decades to come. Those are returns that Wall Street hedge funds can only dream of.