[I]t now seems fairly clear that something akin to culture and not economics is the root cause of crime. By and large everyday people do not go into a life of crime because they have been laid off or their home is worth less than their mortgage. They do something else, but whatever it is, it does not generally entail packing heat. Once this becomes an accepted truth, criminals will lose what status they still retain as victims.
A good deal of social policy was predicated on such an outlook. It made victims of criminals and criminals of victims (all wealth comes from theft, etc.) -- and in so doing, insulted the law-abiding poor who somehow lacked the wit to appreciate their historic plight. This ideology was mocked by Stephen Sondheim in his lyrics for the "West Side Story" song "Gee, Officer Krupke": "Dear kindly Sergeant Krupke, you gotta understand, it's just our bringin' up-ke that gets us out of hand. Our mothers all are junkies, our fathers all are drunks. Golly Moses, natcherly we're punks!" In other words, all the gang members were the unavoidable products of their environment.
Common sense tells you that the environment has to play a role and the truly desperate will sometimes break the law -- like Victor Hugo's impoverished Jean Valjean, who stole bread for his sister's children. But the latest crime statistics strongly suggest that bad times do not necessarily make bad people. Bad character does.
Wednesday, June 02, 2010
Are Progressives Wrong on Crime?
As I noted last week, crime has been down during the recent recession, which ought to put the lie to the notion that poverty causes crime. It is culture that leads economics, not the other way around. Richard Cohen(!) has made the same observation: