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Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Poverty and Crime: What Comes First?

     Many academic criminologists, most of whom are sociologists, believe that capitalism produces pockets of poverty, inequality, and unemployment, which then foster crime. The solution, they believe, is government intervention to provide jobs, stimulate the economy, and reduce poverty and other social ills. There certainly is a correlation between the geography of crime and the geography of certain socio-economic factors, but to interpret the correlation as evidence that poverty causes crime is to get it just about backwards.

     As James K. Stewart, the Director of the National Institute of Justice, has pointed out, inner city areas where crime is rampant have tremendous potential for economic growth, given their infrastructure of railways, highways, electric power, water systems, and large supply of available labor. There is every reason for these areas to be wealthy and, indeed, many of them have been rich in the past. But crime takes a terrible toll on the physical, fiscal, and human capital, making it difficult to accumulate wealth and break out of the cycle of poverty. Criminals steal and destroy property, drive away customers and investors, reduce property values, and depreciate the quality of life in a neighborhood. Businesses close and working families move away, leaving behind a vacuum of opportunity. As Steward says, crime "is the ultimate tax on enterprise….The natural dynamic of the marketplace cannot assert itself when a local economy is regulated by crime [and corrupt politicians]. What these areas need most from government is not economic intervention but physical protection and security. The struggling inner-city dwellers whom sociologist William Julius Wilson has dubbed "the truly disadvantaged" deserve greater protection from their truly deviant neighbors. [The city of Detroit is a good example of the application of the poverty causes crime theory.]

Charles H. Logan and John J. DiLulio, Jr., "Ten Deadly Myths About Crime and Punishment," in Criminal Justice?, Robert James Bidinotto, ed., 1994 

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