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Poverty causes crime?

One of the first clues that this Columbia-educated, liberal, Democrat, New York Jew had that there was something wrong at the heart of progressive/left-wing thought was when I read and was taught over and over that “poverty causes crime.”
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November 12, 2014

One of the first clues that this Columbia-educated, liberal, Democrat, New York Jew had that there was something wrong at the heart of progressive/left-wing thought was when I read and was taught over and over that “poverty causes crime.”

I knew from the first that this was dogma, not truth.

How did I know?

First, I thought about the world that I knew best — my own. My paternal grandparents were extremely poor immigrants from Russia. They lived in a small apartment in Brooklyn, where they raised four children, none of whom, of course, ever had his own room. Moreover, my grandfather was a tailor and, as such, made little during normal years, and next to nothing during the Great Depression.

They were considerably poorer than the vast majority of Americans who lived below the poverty line as it existed when I was in college and graduate school. And they would have regarded most of those designated poor today as middle class, if not rich, by the standards of their day.

Here is a story that illustrates that point:

On the 25th anniversary of the United Nations in 1970, the U.N. convened its first and only World Youth Assembly. The purpose was to bring young delegates from every country and the major nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to New York to the U.N. to engage in dialogue. 

I was 22 years old and named as one of the two delegates of world Jewry. (I represented B’nai B’rith International; the other Jewish delegate was a European who represented the World Union of Jewish Students.) In every way, the young delegates did what real delegates did — everything we said was simultaneously translated into five languages, and we convened in the actual Security Council and General Assembly.

One day, the communist and many of the Third World delegates demanded to be taken to Harlem. They insisted on seeing real American poverty and, of course, racism — things they were not able to see in the Midtown Manhattan area in which the U.N. building is located.

So, the U.N. chartered buses to take these delegates from around the world to Harlem.

When they returned from the visit, they convened a press conference to protest that the trip was a set-up — they were only shown neighborhoods where a few rich blacks live, not the real Harlem.

In fact, they had been taken to some of the poorest areas of Harlem. And what did they see? Apartments and homes and cars that almost anywhere in the world would be regarded as middle class, or even upper middle class.

That is worth remembering whenever an American claims that violent crime in America is caused by poverty. The poor who commit murder, rape and robbery are not only not starving, they have far more material things than the word “poverty” suggests. 

According to the U.S. Energy Information Agency’s Residential Energy Consumption Survey for 2005 (the last year I could find in detail — but it doesn’t matter what year, because those who say that poverty causes crime have said it for 100 years and continue to say it), among all poor households:

More than 99 percent have a refrigerator, television and stove or oven. Eighty-one percent have a microwave; 75 percent have air conditioning; 67 percent have a second TV; 64 percent have a clothes washer; 38 percent have a personal computer. 

As for homelessness, 0.5 percent living under the poverty line have lost their homes and live in shelters. 

Seventy-five percent of the poor have a car or truck. Only 10 percent live in mobile homes or trailers; and half live in detached single-family houses or townhouses, while 40 percent live in apartments. Forty-two percent of all poor households own their home, and the average home is a three-bedroom house with 1 1/2 baths, a garage and a porch or patio.

According to a recent U.S. Census Bureau report, 80.9 percent of households below the poverty level have cell phones.

When the left talks about the poor, they don’t mention these statistics, because what matters to the left is inequality, not poverty. 

But that is another subject. Our subject is the question: Given these statistics, why do the poor who commit violent crime do so? Clearly, it is not because they lack the basic necessities of life.

Now, I didn’t know any of these statistics back in college and graduate school. So how did I know that “poverty causes crime” was a lie?

I thought about my grandparents, and I could not imagine my grandfather robbing anyone, let alone raping or murdering. 

Why not? Because it was unimaginable. They were people whose values rendered such behaviors all but impossible.

But there was another reason.

I was as certain as one could be that if I were poor, I wouldn’t rape or murder — and would rob only for food, only if my family were starving, and only if I couldn’t find work.

Which leads me to wonder about people who believe that “poverty causes crime.” 

When people say this, there are only two possibilities: Either on some level of consciousness they think that if they were poor, they would commit violent crimes. Or, if they are confident that they wouldn’t, then they would have to conclude that poor Americans who do rob, rape or murder are morally inferior to themselves.

Which is almost always the case. In America, people who rob, rape and murder do so because they lack a functioning conscience and moral self-control. It is not material poverty that causes crime, but poor character. And once you acknowledge that, you have begun the journey toward affirming the essence of conservatism and Judaism, both of which are rooted in the belief that values, not economics, determine moral behavior. 

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