The Public Interest

The (continued) vitality of mythical numbers

Peter Reuter

Spring 1984

THIRTEEN years ago in these pages Max Singer dealt with the following puzzle. Heroin addicts were believed to commit numerous crimes, particularly burglary and shoplifting, to support habits that then cost $30 per day and made addicts unable to function in regular jobs. There were estimated to be 200,000 addicts in New York City. Even with adjustments for addict time in prison and estimates of their non-criminal incomes, these figures jointly implied that addicts stole almost ten times as much as was estimated actually to have been stolen in New York. Singer argued that the number of addicts in New York must be overestimated; it was more likely to be 70,000 than 200,000.

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