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Poverty, the Source of Crime

By Punkerslut

Image by Jordi Bernabeu Farrús
Image: Photograph by Jordi Bernabeu Farrús, Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License

Start Date: September 14, 2015
Finish Date: September 28, 2015

          What is Poverty? What is Crime?

     Every society throughout human history has faced two issues from the beginning: poverty and crime, want and disorder, hunger and theft. Even if these two problems are not confronted together, every society has at least confronted them individually. Absence of needed resources, this is generally what today is referred to as 'poverty.' Behavior that threatens the stability and security of society's members, this is generally what we use to describe crime. They are each their own words, their own definitions, and their own ideas; they each have their own interpretations, histories, and public image. But they are not always treated together; rarely is poverty faulted for being the source of criminal behavior. Rarely do writers, politicians, and speakers come forward to attack poverty as the source of criminality. That is what I'm going to do here.

     It is an argument which has been expressed before. There are others who have understood that disturbing society for its property is done so because the doers are dispossessed of property. But even the many who recognize a certain degree of association between stealing and poverty -- even these people believe in it only because of the simple logic that those without wealth have more to gain by trying to take it. Poverty is seen often merely as an attribute of the criminal, like the many other socially undesirable attributes used to describe those who commit crime; brutal, cruel, selfish, unclean, arrogant, inhumane. And so even the many who do believe that criminals are more likely to have an economically-limited background, they do not blame poverty for crime, they blame the criminal for crime.

     It is easier to attach blame to a single, living, breathing human being with a face and voice than it is to blame social situations that effect millions of individuals. A law-breaking citizen is a single person with a single name, but a society has a million names for every single one of its parts each expressed in the thousands of languages available to that society. One human being is an actuality, one society is an abstraction. Someone who can be studied for motive and cause is more likely to be chastised and punished than someone who can only be fully studied and understood after years of heavy, mind-consuming research. This is the attitude I wish to strike dead with my words.

     But even before I can begin to prove my case, before I can even put forth one piece of evidence showing that poverty is the soil of the weeds of crime, there are arguments about definition. There may be suggestions that the difference between poor and rich is relative, that someone who is poor in one nation might be regarded as a king or queen in another nation. There can be no proving that poverty makes crime when poverty is something that is constantly changing and evolving, not just with the era, but with geography, culture, and even the seasons. I accept that poverty is relative. There is no challenging the millions who have devoted hours to knowing whether they are better or worse off than their parents and grandparents. No matter how great the chasms between definitions of poverty, there will still be that association between poverty and criminal behavior. The definition of crime and the relative definition of poor are both satisfying enough to what I want to prove.

     On the other end, there are doubts about the definition of crime. After all, some of the worst atrocities ever committed throughout all of humanity were committed by governments, political parties, power mongers, and deeply-entrenched dictators. The most excruciating genicides, massacres, and mass killings have all been done by an organized, legal authority. These acts are very much so disturbing to society and its members, and yet they could never be classified as criminal in any meaningful, political jurisdiction. But even that extreme doesn't have a monopoly on that argument. Politicians bribed by some economic interest or some corporation also work against the common good, but the failure of a social structure to prevent this and fight against it effectively makes it legal activity. At the same time, petty crimes like drug use or voluntary prostitution or peaceful protest may all very well be outlawed and classified as crime, even if they do not threaten the security and stability of society.

     For the purposes here, crime is considered crime, not because of how it may be classified in the lawbooks, but because of how much it disturbs the peace, happiness, and liberty of the common people. And poverty is considered poverty, not because of some absolute measurement of total satisfaction and goods accumulation, but on the measurement of one's lot compared to the lot of all others in society -- on the evaluation of how much each individual takes to their home from the produce of the whole compared to the other individuals. The idea I am suggesting is that people are made into criminals by the poverty and the want imposed by their societies. If this idea is considered new, revolutionary, and ground-breaking by anyone, I hope that my choice of definitions is at least widely acceptable.

          Poverty, the Cause of Theft

               Product of an Environment

     It is a popular and well-known idea that people are the products of their environments, even if this hasn't met with full and relative acceptance. The theory that poverty is itself the cause of crime is similar, in that poverty is the environment, and crime is the individual's reaction. It is a much bigger and wide question to answer whether people are simply the results of their environment. My investigation is into whether the social aspect of lacking resources is the cause of the social aspect of public criminal behavior. It is not just a question of environment, but one of the bountifulness of that environment, one of the fairness and economy of that environment. To quote Confucus, "The faults of men are characteristic of the class to which they belong." [*1] My investigation is into the reaction of the individual to poverty, such that poverty is the real source for crime, to contradict the philosophies that would blame the individual; or as Confucius went on to say, "By observing a man's faults, it may be known that he is virtuous."

     Ancient, Chinese Philosophy isn't the only academy in pursuit of studying this idea. Ancient, Greek Philosophy is another. Separated more by distance than by time, we can find similar thinking in the works of Plato. From the first credited Philosopher of Western culture, "...in the human soul there is a better and also a worse principle; and when the better has the worse under control, then a man is said to be master of himself," but there are times when the man "is overwhelmed by the greater mass of the worse," which happens "owing to evil education or association." [*2] It is background environment, where you are given your education or who you are with when becoming cultured. Social background: that is what makes someone "the slave of self and unprincipled."

     "...the finest natures, when under alien conditions, receive more injury than the inferior, because the contrast is greater..." [*3] we read in another section of the Republic. Good people can be weakened and subverted by adversity and poverty more than bad, selfish people, because the first are not yet causing disorder in society to satisfy their needs, while the later almost always are. Or, to specifically quote Plato, "...great crimes and the spirit of pure evil spring out of a fullness of nature ruined by education rather than from any inferiority..." Before closing his book, he put the question like this, "The existence of such [criminal] persons is to be attributed to want of education, ill-training, and an evil constitution of the State?" Without leaving the reader much choice in the matter, he answered himself, "True." [*4]

     The Republic and the Analects are thousands of years old; can we find some preservation of the same idea in works that are only centuries old? The Prince, written in 1532 by Niccolò Machiavelli, is known throughout the world as the perfect guide for a ruler who intends to establish power through every device and measure possible, no matter how cruel, inhuman, or violent the means to accomplishing power. But in order to rule diplomatic negotiations against world empires and ancient kingdoms, one needs to know something of human psychology. To quote Machiavelli from his book, "...a man is not often found sufficiently circumspect to know how to accommodate himself to the change, both because he cannot deviate from what nature inclines him to, and also because, having always prospered by acting in one way, he cannot be persuaded that it is well to leave it..." [*5]

     But the world is not always the same, and one cannot always remain just accomodated to what they were raised with and grew up learning as comfortable. Miachiavelli continues, "...therefore, the cautious man, when it is time to turn adventurous, does not know how to do it, hence he is ruined..." [*6] What could have saved a human being who had always done what they knew? "...but had he changed his conduct with the times fortune would not have changed." And so when a legal method no longer proves fruitful, then illegal methods will become more and more appealing. By crime, someone may save themselves from being ruined, in the true Machiavellian spirit.

     The period that Confucius belonged to has been called the One Hundred Schools of Thought era, and Machiavelli's was known as the Renaissance, both considered to be epochs where human thought transcended every known boundary, producing amazing, new types of artwork, technology, philosophy, and science. We are not entirely too distant from such an era, and if I were to name the time we were living in it would be the Era of Revolution. It is from revolutionaries and those who rebel against tradition that we have achieved our newest ideas, dreams, and thoughts. "Take the most hardened criminal or the man with the poorest mind...the criminality of the one...is not their fault, nor is it due to their nature; it is solely the result of the social environment in which they were born and brought up." [*7]

     From a pamphlet by the famous Anarchist from the 1800's, Mikhail Bakunin. One doesn't need to listen to poets and philosophers to get an understanding of crime, though, no matter how useful and insightful it may be. The facts available to the historian and sociologist are also worthwhile.

               The Origins of Mankind

     It is difficult to really talk about human history from times and periods when writing was not a practiced activity. These ancestors leave us behind no testament, no will; we have to discover and unravel their intentions like a detective, and even if we think we can solve the case, we can never be sure, as there is nothing left remaining that can truly expose their thoughts and their thinking. Even against those odds, it is still something worth discovering and knowing about. Quoting a modern historian of Africa, John Reader, in 1997, on what makes us human, "Overall, the capacity to adapt to different and changing circumstances is the fundamental characteristic of humanity." [*8] Fully explaining the relationship of one's adaptive capacity to their humanity...
Aided and abetted by the brain, it has enabled people to identify and solve problems, to recognize and exploit opportunities, and to diverge and find new ways of doing things.
     The "problems" are the practical problems of getting, holding onto, and using resources. And the "new ways of doing things" is not always a legal and discreet way. By using modern anthropology and history, Reader came to a conclusion that it is responsiveness to change that defines human beings and our ability to survive and thrive. When you look to the writings of Jean Jacques Rousseau, a mid-1700's philosopher, adaptability is considered, but it isn't the main mode and message of the human experience. Humanity's first flirtation with property began "Before the invention of signs to represent riches..." and "when inheritances so increased in number and extent as to occupy the whole of the land, and to border on one another," so that "one man could aggrandise himself only at the expense of another..." [*9]

     Rousseau's view gives much more emphasis to the distinction of the rich, landed, and the wealthy, and those "who had been too weak or too indolent to make such acquisitions, and had grown poor..." [*10] His book did not focus entirely on this subject, exploring the many facets and avenues that connected to humanity's thoughts about the origins of society. But in the appendix, almost as an afterthought on his ground-breaking work, he added the following...
The more our capital cities strike the vulgar eye with admiration, the greater reason is there to lament the sight of the abandoned countryside, the large tracts of land that lie uncultivated, the roads crowded with unfortunate citizens turned beggars or highwaymen, and doomed to end their wretched lives either on a dunghill or on the gallows. [*11]
     The contrast of the city's affluence with the country's poverty. And where the city was the dwelling place of the merchant, the banker, the stock trader, and the real estate firm, there was that counter-activity performed by the poor, becoming the beggar, the highwayman, the gang member, and the incarcerated prisoner. In the view of the morals of the wealthy, the morals of the poor definitely expressed a new way of doing things. Much of this philosophisizing, though, will tell us what the world was like, but never as the inhabitants of the world saw themselves, no matter how far-seeing the view and how soul-moving the gaze.

               The Ancient World

     "The man who is fond of daring and is dissatisfied with poverty, will proceed to insubordination," [*12] we read from Confucius nearly 2,500 years ago. It is insubordination that offers the promise of release from misery, and that is the direction that the individual will tend when compromising with poverty. Insubordination, itself, is not crime, but being insubordinant to the greater will and collective desire may disturb society enough to be considered criminal. At other times, it can be a meritorious and honored activity, when one is insubordinant to the cruel, mighty rulers of the Earth. When asked how a government owned by the interests of property can remove thieves, Confucius responded, "If you, sir, were not covetous... they would not steal." [*13]

     Perhaps only separated by a few hundred years, the first Philosophers of Greece were finally waking up with some of the same thoughts and the same thinking patterns that you would find with Confucius and others from Chinese Philosophy. Writing in the Republic around 380 BC, Plato is not subtle about what he thinks of the relationship between poverty and crime: "...whenever you see paupers in a State, somewhere in that neighborhood there are hidden away thieves, and cutpurses and robbers of temples, and all sorts of malefactors." [*14] When posing the question, "...in oligarchical States do you not find paupers?", he answers with, "Yes, nearly everybody is a pauper who is not a ruler." Before concluding his work, he gave a much fuller and more passionate defense of his position...
When he has nothing left, must not his [mankind's] desires, crowding in the nest like young ravens, be crying aloud for food; and he, goaded on by them, and especially by love himself, who is in a manner the captain of them, is in a frenzy, and would fain discover whom he can defraud or despoil of his property, in order that he may gratify them? [*15]
     Plato wasn't the only ancient, Greek philosopher who had a grasp of the arts of rhetoric and satire. Aristophanes another one who was known as much for his wit as for his humor. Speaking about the troubles of poverty and want brought to the people by constant battle and a perpetual state of war, he wrote only a few thousand years ago in Lysistrata, "Then let the poor bring with them bag or sack / And take this store of food. / ... But O take care. / I had forgotten; don't intrude... / My dog is hungry too, and bites--beware!" [*16] Writing a half millenia later, Plutarch composed the great Parallel Lives, comparing famous Greeks with famous Romans. He bring us toward a truer understanding of ancient Greece. There was the intellectual utopia, Plato's Athens, but Greece also was home to Sparta, an authoritarian society focused on order and obedience. And the miserable, meager existence they provided to their youth almost guaranteed that nearly all of them would be criminals....
...the weaker and less able [are ordered] to gather salads and herbs, and these they must either go without or steal; which they did by creeping into the gardens, or conveying themselves cunningly and closely into the eating-houses; if they were taken in the fact, they were whipped without mercy, for thieving so ill and awkwardly. They stole, too, all other meat they could lay their hands on, looking out and watching all opportunities, when people were asleep or more careless than usual. If they were caught, they were not only punished with whipping, but hunger, too, being reduced to their ordinary allowance, which was but very slender, and so contrived on purpose, that they might set about to help themselves, and be forced to exercise their energy and address. [*17]
               The Enlightenment

     "Give me neither Poverty nor Riches, feed me with Food convenient for me...Or lest I be poor, and steal, and take the Name of my GOD in vain." (Proverbs 30:8) It is something that mattered to those who worshipped according to the Bible thousands of years ago, but it was still being quoted and looked at by philosophers only hundreds of years ago. [*18] One of these was David Hume, the British philosopher and a prototype of the modern sociologist. When writing on the difference between nations in the year 1777, he concluded that "much depend on moral causes," or explaining himself more fully...
As poverty and hard labour debase the minds of the common people, and render them unfit for any science and ingenious profession... it must have a proportional effect on their temper and genius, and must banish all the liberal arts from among them. [*19]
     Hume spoke to the intellects of the 1700's. But Sir Thomas More, author of Utopia, spoke to the emerging Humanists of the 1500's. "...they are much mistaken that think the poverty of a nation is a means of the public safety. Who quarrel more than beggars? Who does more earnestly long for a change, than he that is uneasy in his present circumstances?" [*20] This is from his popular and celebrated work, Utopia, published in 1516. Those with nothing "...create confusions with so desperate a boldness," because they are "those who have nothing to lose..." In what may have been taken from a chapter in his life, he describes having dinner in public with a good friend, where nearby there were "English lawyers, who took occasion to run out in a high commendation of the severe execution of justice upon thieves, who, as he said, were then hanged so fast that there were sometimes twenty on one gibbet..." The philosopher More, surprised and shocked by this attitude, stood up and addressed the lawyers...
...there was no reason to wonder at the matter, since this way of punishing thieves was neither just in itself nor good for the public; for as the severity was too great, so the remedy was not effectual; simple theft not being so great a crime that it ought to cost a man his life, no punishment how severe soever being able to restrain those from robbing who can find out no other way of livelihood. 'In this,' said I, 'not only you in England, but a great part of the world imitate some ill masters that are readier to chastise their scholars than to teach them. There are dreadful punishments enacted against thieves, but it were much better to make such good provisions by which every man might be put in a method how to live, and so be preserved from the fatal necessity of stealing and of dying for it.'
     "...doubtless as the multitude of Poor, and necessitous, and uneducated persons, increase, the multitude of Malefactors will increase, notwithstanding the Examples of Severity." [*21] These are the words of Matthew Hale, writing in the late 1600's. He was "the greatest common lawyer of his age, and the most universally admired," according to the Cambridge University Press. [*22] And yet to study law, for him, really meant to study "Necessity and Poverty, and want of a due Provision for the Imployment of Indigent persons..." [*23] Hale preceded More and Hume by a century, but his thinking may have still been alive by the time his predecessors looked at the world for themselves and made their own judgments. It was in England that the modern world began to realize the connection between poverty and crime.

     "The punishment of robbery, not accompanied with violence, should be pecuniary.... But this crime, alas! is commonly the effect of misery and despair," we can read in Cesare Beccaria's famous Of Crimes and Punishments published in 1764. [*24] This crime is committed by "that unhappy part of mankind," who are first victimized by "exclusive property, a terrible and perhaps unnecessary right," which has had the only effect of leaving them with "but a bare existence." The book is well-known as for its advice to governments and legal authorities to limit themselves and their power, unless they commit evil against the individual citizen and oppress the masses. When the government authorizes the landlords and wealthy to dominate the working people, it is the government that "punishes the innocent, and, by reducing them to indigence and despair, tempts them to become criminal." [*25] The robber and the assassin, whenever questioned, may justly answer...
"What are these laws that I am bound to respect, which make so great a difference between me and the rich man? He refuses me the farthing I ask of him, and excuses himself by bidding me have recourse to labour, with which he is unacquainted." [*26]
     Beccaria is the original author of these words, but he had published this work just around the time he organized a group of anti-establishment rebels in Milan, Italy. The group had taken up the name, the Academy of Fists. [*27] The influence of this book, which may have been a summary of this group's intentions, was felt by the world: "Catherine the Great publicly endorsed it, while thousands of miles away in the United States, founding fathers Thomas Jefferson and John Adams quoted it." I wonder if the American Founding Fathers ever quoted Beccaria when he said that laws are "dictated by the avarice of the rich, and accepted by the poor..." [*28] As the individual is brought to poverty only because of "either the fraud or losses of others" or unavoidable misfortune, it is only an honest and logical question for the convicted to ask, "Why is he ranked with criminals?"

               The Imperialist Era

     In Spain, 1623, "the concentration of property in a few hands led to the decay of agriculture," which, ultimately led "to the urban migration." [*29] This from Rhea Marsh, one of the historians of Spain writing for the University of Michigan Press. And when the old world had reached its quota of travelers and wanderers, when it had reached its quota of sore feet and endless walking, it then began to fill "its quota of rogues, vagabonds, and beggars." Writing for a conservative, right-wing organization, though, meant that Marsh spent less than a few paragraphs talking about how the common people lived, with chapters and chapters detailing the inner mystery and lore of royal families, their clothing, their events, and sometimes even their association with Fascist parties.

     "The dreadful Deed for which I die, / Arose from small Beginning; / My Idleness brought poverty, / And so I took to Stealing," this may have been one of the first poems in American history where a criminal tried to explain why they steal. [*30] If America's Founders were reading Beccaria and feeling the influence of the Academy of Fists, did they ever look over their shoulders to hear the musings of the beggars, the poor, and the homeless who slept in society's gutters? Or was it strictly an academic interest? Or, maybe worse, an opportunist interest, to appear radical and revolutionary against the backdrop of an age of tradition and persecution? This is not merely something which belongs to the recorded dialogues of "vagabonds" and "rogues." Official reports during Colonial America described how the ancestors of the modern generation in America got by...
Our Affairs are in so deplorable a condition (on the score of provisions) as to fill the Mind with the most anxious and alarming fears.... Men half starved, imperfectly Cloathed, riotous, and robbing the Country people of their subsistence from shear necessity. [*31]
     The West alone did not have a monopoly on Imperialism and the focus on national wealth to spite the poverty among the common, working masses. In the East, we know that "...the economic and political conditions of old Russia were so miserable that the bad far outweighed the good." [*32] The very system that describes how the Russian peasant lived and worked can best be summed up as "...economic privation, political oppression, and social ostracism ..." which was always being imposed by "...an authoritarian father, a bureaucratic official, or a powerful landlord..." In order to live, "...the peasant became known as a man who was patient, cautious, suspicious, shrewd, ruthless, dishonest, and even treacherous. In effect, he was what he had to be in order to survive..." This is the description of a Russian historian, Jules Koslow, but if we look to the famous Russian writer, Gleb Uspansky, we find a similar theme...
He [the Russian peasant] is not responsible for a thing, not for a single step he takes. Once he acts as his mistress, the earth, commands, he is answerable for nothing. He has killed a man who was stealing his horse -- and is guiltless, since without the horse he cannot work the land. All his children have died -- again, he is not at fault; the land did not bring forth, there was nothing to feed them with. [*33]
     These wits to escape all oppression, to escape absence of bread and absence of liberty, would bring the Russian peasant thousands of miles from home. Those who ran away would accept almost anything as an alternative to death; they would even "voluntarily become servants of new masters who promised to feed them." [*34] According to Koslow, everything was done to restrain the peasant, but "Neither innumerable government decrees dealing with runaway peasants nor harsh punishments deterred the peasants or those who sheltered them." Regular poverty was enough to make these illegal departures a constant part of Russian life, but "in times of droughts, plagues, or political disturbances", these runaways "increased tremendously..." With so much vast amounts of lands, you cannot blame independent, hearty souls for trying to find something new and freeing in some place far and distant.

               The Industrial Era, Recorded by Revolutionaries

     Within revolutionary and radical theory, the Industrial Era is considered to be the defining epoch of modern society. For Marxists, Socialists, and Anarchists, it is the point at which humanity became unevenly divided between those who have and those who have not, between the factory-owning Capitalist and the factory-working Proletariat. But for Liberals and Conservatives, it is the period of time when elective governments and party politics were first introduced as a young and immature guardian of society -- society was would become ready to stand on its own once enough time had graduated it to the ranks of full responsibility.

     For the rebels, it is where the abuses of wealth and property-based domination reached their climax. For the defenders of propertied and traditional society, it is where the wealthy, cultured elite of society finally began to give the directing voice to all operating parts of civilization. These are two views, two ideologies. Between the two, there was no arguing that Capitalism was most horrific, cruel, demanding, and oppressive at this stage in social existence. But the Liberals thought it was necessary, while the Revolutionaries believed it was very much unnecessary.

     Ba Jin, the Chinese Anarchist, was very direct when he gave his estimation of the causes of crime in 1921: "...the system of private property makes people compete with each other; crime increases and morality declines." [*35] Elaborating on this point of view elsewhere, he wrote that when the people have "nothing to eat," then they have "no option but to steal..." [*36] For when a people "goes naked," it has "has no option but to steal clothes... no option but to steal all that it needs." And these brutal system of the poor fighting each other over breadcrumbs while the rich bask in peace and tranquility is given the perfect touch when we find "the State, in its grandeur, dismissing us as brigands and decreeing that we are fit for nothing but the execution picket."

     Ravachol, the French Anarchist, stood staring at the guillotine where he was to be executed in 1892, and he, too, had many of the same thoughts as Ba Jin. He intended to give a thorough defense at his trial, but he was forbidden from giving testimony to the court on his own case. But we can still read what he would have said, "...the Anarchists are right when they say that in order to have moral and physical peace, the causes that give birth to crime and criminals must be destroyed." [*37] What was it that Anarchists were saying exactly that was attuned to Ravachol's heart? It may have sounded much like the words of Emma Goldman, the Russian Anarchist who emigrated to the United States in 1885...
Crime is naught but misdirected energy. So long as every institution of today, economic, political, social, and moral, conspires to misdirect human energy into wrong channels; so long as most people are out of place doing the things they hate to do, living a life they loathe to live, crime will be inevitable, and all the laws on the statutes can only increase, but never do away with, crime. What does society, as it exists today, know of the process of despair, the poverty, the horrors, the fearful struggle the human soul must pass on its way to crime and degradation. [*38]
     "...crimes are of social origin and would change with a change of institutions," these are the words of Errico Malatesta, the beacon and mouthpiece of Italian Anarchism, in the early beginnings of the 20th century. [*39] Herbert Read, the English Anarchist, had advocated for Anarchism to produce an organic society, "...so a community can live naturally and freely, without the disease of crime." [*40] Writing in 1940, some decades after Malatesta and Goldman, he promoted a similar view of criminal behavior, "Crime is a symptom of social illness -- of poverty, inequality and restriction. Rid the social body of these illnesses and you rid society of crime. Unless you can believe this, not as an ideal or fancy, but as a biological truth, you cannot be an anarchist." And it was on this question of poverty and crime that the case for Anarchy revolved, for "...if you do believe it, you must logically come to anarchism."

     Spartan children thousands of years ago were not the only ones who were deprived of food and nourishment in their early life. We can read from a modern writer how it was to grow up in a British boarding school, where children were sustained entirely at the whim of their educational masters, "The food was not only bad, it was also insufficient. Never before or since have I seen butter of jam scraped on bread so thinly." [*41] Even with ritualistic and merciless beatings as punishment, being a student in such a school meant inevitably to be a criminal. And if there is any doubt about the truth of these statements, they are from the writings of George Orwell -- if you want to doubt it, you need to first get in line behind Hitler and Stalin before it's your turn to decry Orwell as a reckless and irresponsible journalist. Writing far from those miserable days in school...
I so not think I can be imagining the fact that we were underfed, when I remember the lengths we would go in order to steal food. On a number of occasions I remember creeping down at two or three o'clock in the morning through what seemed like miles of pitch-dark stairways and passages -- barefooted, stopping to listen after each step, paralysed with about equal fear of Sambo [the violent schoolmaster], ghosts and burglars -- to steal stale bread from the pantry.
     It is not merely in China, Russia, Italy, and England that you will find revolutionaries speaking out against the cruelty of these impoverishing, social systems. Eugene V. Debs, an American Socialist, was one of the organizers of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), and in a speech given in 1905, he explains the origin of thievery, "A man is out of work a good while and he gets hungry; he still has a little self-respect and steals rather than beg." [*42] It is from poverty that "men become tramps and thieves and criminals; that is why we have an army of tramps..." In another speech, he said that the children of the working class are brought up "under conditions that make it morally certain that they will become paupers, or criminals, or both." [*43] This was from a man who spent his life fighting with the workers for recognition of their rights -- it wasn't from a lack of will that workers turned criminal, but from lack of a good, social environment...
Every few years there is a panic, industrial paralysis, and hundreds of thousands of workers are flung into the streets; no work, no wages; and so they throng the highways in search of employment that cannot be found; they become vagrants, tramps, outcasts, criminals. It is in this way that the human being degenerates, and that crime graduates in the capitalist system, all the way from petty larceny to homicide.
     It was by unionizing that the working class first gained some sort of real power and civilized existence in America. Before the laborers united and realized their common enemy of the powerful and propertied rich, there was nothing the worker could do, either against the exploitation of masters or for the benefit of themselves. "...it is 9 out of ten girls living the life of the underworld who come from parents who had large families and whose fathers belonged to the unskilled & unorganized laborers," this is from a speech by Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, in 1915. [*44] A year earlier, writing in her forbidden and censored magazine the Woman Rebel, she gave a similar diagnosis of the criminal behavior of young women bound to the traffic of their bodies, "...poverty and destitution has driven them to prostitution." [*45] Her deep devotion to alleviating the suffering of children in these poor families led to her working with the IWW and other radical, Leftist organizations.

               The Industrial Era, Covered by Journalists

     The muckrakers during the late 19th and early 20th centuries should need no introduction. Henry Demarest Lloyd is among them, "pioneer and leader of the great movement that has disillusioned Americans and probably has saved them
from an abominable industrial despotism," [*46] according to his biographer, Charles Edward Russell. It was not enough for him to be rely on anecdotal evidence or simply reasoning. He wanted a hard, scientific investigation into what really produced crime. Some of his results, published only a century ago, are still very impressive...
Dr. Drysdale, of London, at the last session of the Social Science Congress, pointed out how the deathrate rose with scarcity of food. The mean age of the rich in England, at the time of death, is fifty-five; among the poor it is not thirty. The death-rate among the children of the comfortable classes is eighty in a thousand; among the working people of Manchester and Liverpool it is three hundred in a thousand. Dr. Farr shows that the death-rate of England decreases three per cent, when wheat declines two shillings a quarter. As food grows dear, typhus grows plenty. Scarcer bread means more crime. An increase of one larceny to every hundred thousand inhabitants comes with every rise of two farthings in the price of wheat in Bavaria. The enemies of the men who corner wheat and pork could wish for no heavier burden on their souls than that they should be successful. As wheat rises, flour rises; and when flour becomes dear, through manipulation, it is the blood of the poor that flows into the treasury of the syndicate. Such money costs too much. [*47]
     Tenements and low-quality housing were the signs of the new, industrialized city. One muckraker decided "to investigate the records of our reformations, hospitals, dispensaries, and institutions of similar kind," to find out how many "inmates come from tenement houses." Lawrence Veiller, the well-known social reformer, concluded: "Here in New York we know that nearly all are tenement-house dwellers." [*48] E.R.L. Gould, the Canadian social scientist, wrote in 1900 that this new urban decay "saps vitality, while noisomeness and unattractiveness impel a search for outside relief..." [*49] Gould stated that he was "bound to believe that the massing of saloons in low neighborhoods where the worst housing conditions exist is more than a simple coincidence." More scientifically, though...
Some years ago the Church Temperance Society published a chart showing that 148 saloons were all located within a space 514 yards long by 375 yards wide. St. Giles Ward in Edinburgh contains 127 drinking-places to 234 shops where food is sold. Possibly there is a fair index to relative patronage in the fact that the rental of the latter amounts to only 80 per cent of the rental of the former. This ward contains one-eleventh of the population of the city, but it furnishes one-third of its total crime. Notwithstanding that 17 1/2 per cent of its area is made up of parks, the death-rate is 40 per cent higher than for the whole city. (Italics mine.)
     This impulsiveness towards objective measurements of crime and poverty were a part of the attitude that brought in the new field of Sociology -- the new ideas were to apply the scientific method to social problems. This was the way of new thinkers, and many of them deeply believed in their scientific work, in getting the results of "comprehensive statistics" through "years of research." [*50] Owen Lovejoy, a Sociologist and muckraker who had spent his life fighting the abuse of child labor, described what he discovered, "We know that one Industrial School in New York State shows that, of 378 inmates examined, 59 had been at one time [child] night messengers; that in a similar institution in Ohio, of 1125 boys 138 had been [child] night messengers and many had records of social offenses dark enough for barbarism." Being a part of a family that sent its children out as child laborer had an association with criminal behavior.

     These sociologists I have quoted so far have all been from the ancient era, but one is simply not limited to what social reformers from centuries ago have said. "The fear of urban crime, violence, and rioting pervaded the late 19th century..." [*51] notes Raymond A. Mohl in 1985, a historian of the era of mass migration to urban areas. Mohl mentions The Dangerous Classes of New York, an 1872 title by Charles Loring Brace, which was "about 'outcast street-children' who grew into adult criminals preying on the city's respectable citizens and their property." But not all reformers believed that poverty was the cause of crime. It was largely those who had the most interaction with poverty that finally decried it as the source of criminal behavior. It was those reformers who "lived in city slums" that "soon came to recognize that the urban poor were victims of the economic system..." [*52] Citing Mohl again...
Living in the slums often engendered a more sympathetic and practical understanding of the problems of the urban masses. For most social workers in the nonsectarian [social work] settlements, environmentalism gradually replaced morality as an analytical explanation for poverty and social disorder. Thus, Jane Addams of Chicago's Hull-House, perhaps the most famous of the settlements, spent much of her time promoting various social and political reforms. The settlements, historian Allen F. Davis suggested, became "spearheads of reform in the progressive era." [*53]
     It was not only Brace and Addams that fought against the poverty that brought about crime. "Jacob Riis exposed the horrible living conditions of the city's tenement slums in an interesting book, How the Other Half Lives (1890)... another journalist, Benjamin O. Flower, described the wretched and degraded conditions in boston's slums in Civilization's Inferno, or Studies in the Social Cellar (1893). Both men attributed much of the poverty, crime, and disorder of the modern American city ot filthy and inhumane living conditions." [*54] Where human beings were brought up and raised like cattle in rearing pens and bloodsport arenas, the resulting human beings became a reflection of the cruelty and inequity of their social systems. In the book Misery and Its Causes, 1909, the Sociologist Edward T. Devine summarized the modern problems of humanity, which lay...
...not in the unalterable nature of things, but in our particular human institutions, or social arrangements, our tenements,.... our politics, our industry and our business. [*55]
     More recently, in Detroit, in 1962, when unemployment insurance began to run out for many senior workers, we can read about "One shop owner in Detroit, dismayed by increasing petty thievery, had his counters caged in with screening wire, and pushes the candy bar under the opening to the customers." [*56] Another pair of Sociologists from the 1960's, William H. Form and Delbert C. Miller, provided a rather simple formula for the determination of success: "Children of manual workers inherit their father's occupation or fall below it." [*57] Ten years later, B.J. Widick, the labor and socialist activist and United Auto Workers organizer, described the contrast in Detroit between the focus of crime and the focus on poverty...
The campaign of the Detroit News against "crime waves" keeps the city in a state of fear. Perhaps, in consequence, an early 1971 survey showed that people of metropolitan Detroit think that crime is their most important problem. Thus, at a time when one out of eight persons in the city of Detroit was on welfare, unemployment rates were 50 percent among black youth and 25 percent among black adults, and the general city unemployment rate was 14 percent. [*58]
               The Revolutionary Era

     Revolution and struggle was not something limited to speeches and writings, though. It was not a thought that could only be expressed through essay and article. It was and is something that can come to life, take hold of society, and transform the way people live and work. The Paris Commune was one such experiment in the new ways. But with the city under siege in the dead cold of Winter, wood became one of the most valuable objects. "To keep warm in her house, Juliette Lambert noted that she needed 100 kilograms of wood per day, while in fact she was entitled to only 75 kilograms a week..." [*59] This description comes from Alistair Horne, the British journalist, writing in 1965. This resulted in people destroying public trees and even buildings to warm themselves, "...huge trunks lay prostrate, around which swarmed an eager crowd of women and children, hacking with their puny hatchets at the twigs and bark..." Elihu Washburne, the American diplomat in the city during the French Civil War, described other events in late December in the city...

...several yards were broken into last night. The high board fences enclosing the vacant lots on the Rue de Chaillot, near the legation, were all torn down and carried off last night.

     The Paris Commune was a unique experiment involving millions of people; it has caught the admiration and enthusiasm of Anarchists, Communists, and Socialists; for, it was the first attempt to establish a society organized by the working class without appealing to authority or hierarchy, without recourse to coercion or oppression. There was some history that brought France to that point where it could try such put these new social theories to the test. Looking onto the situation that brought about the French Revolution of 1848 and the later Paris Commune of 1871 was Honoré de Balzac, who described the French people as "Emaciated, wrinkled, sallow and dried up, they are horrible to look upon... men whose distorted, eager faces distil through every pore the thoughts, the desires, the poison that is seething in their brains..." [*60] And from a much longer reading, from a French historian reflecting on that period of time predating the Paris Commune, there is Roger Price, who tells us...
This is a picture of a separate world, of a different form of humanity. The tendency is to confuse poverty and criminality, and indeed the one might often lead, from desperation, to the other. Chevalier emphasizes how contemporary literature saw particular occupational groups as especially suspectible to crime.... Misery breeds crime. Crime for many decomes an occupation. These elements occupationally and in their attitudes to life separate themselves from other more cohesive groupings. [*61]
     We cannot simply excuse this as dire sentimentality or an attempt to influence how the world perceives the results of poverty. During this period of the First Frinch Republic, the French Canton of Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines organized a commission to investigate the condition of the working class, discovering that, "The worker is generally badly lodged, badly clothed and especially badly nourished.... His family sleeps crowded together on a straw bed, with father, mother, sons, brothers and sisters all together. Here begins demoralization then comes prostitution and finally hospital or prison." [*62] In regards to prostitution, Price also commented on how such miserable existence brought it into being, "Drunkenness has been emphasized, add to it crime, concubinage, illegitimacy and prostitution, the latter especially during economic crises." [*63] More explicitly, from the Communist Manifesto, written by Karl Marx in 1848, we find, "But this state of things finds its complement in the practical absence of the family among the proletarians, and in public prostitution." [*64]

     The resulting government of 1848 in France was a Revolution against any system that allowed such economic lows, any system that allowed an "increase of death by natural causes, or by suicide, the increased need for charity, and commonly a substantial increase in the number of crimes committed." [*65] The French historian of the working class, Rémi Gossez had made a map "pinpointing disturbances due to the high price of foodstuffs, including attempts to stop food exports, pillaging of convoys, forced sale in markets, riots, threats, and the appearance of bands of beggars." [*66] In Nord, the North of France, when the depression struck, "the symptoms of extreme misery in the form of luddism, bands of beggars, attacks on bakeries, the pillaging of boats, waggons and markets, were all present." In Haut-Rhin, in Eastern France near the Rhine, there were "some shortlived strikes and one serious riot occurred in protest against the high price of bread...." Price, speaking on the workers in Rouen, also in Northern France, commented....
Some centres of more traditional textile production were also affected by unrest. In the Rouen region that most primitive form of popular action, begging, was increasingly common from the winter of 1845-6 and by the beginning of 1847 the situation was worsened from the point of view of the authorities by a large number of riots in the market places of small market towns or industrial centres in which participated primarly domestic weavers and industrial workers, with a majority of women.
     War brings poverty, because the normal fabric of daily existence is broken up by the struggle of two large groups of people determined to exterminate each other. During the Russian Civil War, between the Bolshevik Reds and the Imperialist Whites, there was a growing class of criminals who lived through the black market in Russia and Poland. To quote the Polish Professor of Philosophy, Roman Dyboski, who had endured life in American, Japanese, and Soviet concentration camps, "These sought here their Eldorado, and from almost every family you could learn of some relative or other who had made his fortune there by methods more or less criminal. Unfortunately most of the tales had some basis in fact." [*67]

     Revolutions the world over have tend to inspire humanity towards better and more humane goals, no matter how badly the governments of these Revolutions fell to bribery, corruption, and petty politics. And, similarly, there have always been Reactions to the Revolution, in the form of agitation, conspiracy, and outright war committed by conservatives and traditionalists against the new society and for the old world. The most famous example is Nazism. When the Allies began bombing cities in Germany during World War 2, Hitler told the small cluster of the upper ranks in the Nazi Party, "You are responsible for morale in your Gau or district..." [*68] Hitler, who may be classified as being one of the most vicious beings ever to have existed, instilled fear and terror into his subordinates. What happened when bombs began to drop and the German people lost their spirited patriotic feelings towards the Third Reich? What did the Nazi leaders of districts and counties do when Hitler asked them to perform? To quote Orlow Dietrich, a historian of the Nazi Party...
...they blithely ignored national directives, interfered in individual court cases, and stopped supply trains headed for other areas of the Reich, distributing the goods in their own Gaus instead. The last-named practice reached such proportions that Hess issued a specific order not only prohibiting it, but stating that in the future he would not protect Hoheitsträgers who engaged in this sort of activity from criminal prosecution. [*69]
     So much for the modern defenders of the ancient tradition of law and order. But for someone caught between a stealing goods on one side and the wrath of Hitler on the other side, many were more ready to steal goods; many broke the law in order to escape the camp, the gallows, or the expectation of suicide. From the Revolutions in Paris to those in Russia, with the hindsight in mind of the Reaction in Germany, poverty has almost always been an attendant attribute of crime. Want led to need, and need led to action.

               The New Times

     Pietro Merli Brandini, the Italian Sociologist, described the effect of the early 1980's recession on the working class in his country in as humble terms as possible for the professional scholar, "More than 2.25 million persons were officially recorded as unemployed, with many more shifting to categories that were not enumerated in the surveys." [*70] And this type of shifting and unspecified category of "extra-legal" occupations is not something that only faces Capitalist economies. In Vietnam, after the transition to Socialism, we can read about economic problems during the 1980's from William J. Duiker, noted professor of East Asian studies at Pennsylvania State University: "With unemployment, especially among the youth, at alarming levels, such social evils as crime, drug addiction, and prostitution have become endemic in some areas of the country." [*71]

     In the developing world, where the many are still downtrodden and poor, and the self-sufficient and powerful are the few, we can find poverty in some of its most offensive forms. And, similarly, we can also see the principle relating crime to poverty at work almost in a clearer light. In one of the world's largest cities, a hub of humanity and commerce in Brazil, we find that "Poverty and insecurity had pushed the city's crime rate to record levels -- sixty homocides per year per 100,000 people in São Paolo compared to seven per 100,000 in New York..." [*72] Crime was everywhere there was poverty, in the world-reknowned favelas. The Washington post published a story in 2001 that "documents the rise of helicopter travel in Brazil's largest city, São Paolo, during a period when its economy had been in recession." It was not only in the air that the wealthy took protection, as when they did travel on ground, they traveled in "armored vehicles with bulletproof glass; drivers take special courses in escaping ambushes and foiling kidnappings." I had described earlier the influx of crime in the rural-urban shift when cities became filled with the poor in midevil Spain. That same force has been at work in Brazil...
More and more, the degrading poverty and economic sluggishness of rural Brazil showed itself to be glaringly inconsistent with the nation's spectacular industrial progress -- a disgrace that was neither necessary nor excusable. At the same time, people in Brazil's cities became increasingly alarmed by the rapid influx of rural people into the cities, a shift that contributed to massive social problems that posed immediate threats to person health and well-being, ranging from inadequate sewage disposal to crime. [*73]
     From an interview of 2,000 South Africans in 2008, covering all racial and religious backgrounds, it was discovered that "Most South Africans believe that poverty is the root cause of escalating crime levels in the country..." [*74] But this view is confirmed by a 2003 study by Gabriel Demombynes and Berk Ozler, published by the World Bank, that reported in an almost disinterested tone, "The findings are consistent with economic theories relating local inequality to property crime and also with sociological theories that imply that inequality leads to crime in general." [*75] It is the world over that you can find these social problems, and it is the world over that you can find crime and poverty co-existing in spheres of urban life.

     In the depths of a concrete and metal jungle, the words of Confucius and Plato are still softly resounding between the factories and the apartments; what modern society offers in place of ancient, majestic trees and inspiring, breath-taking mountains; the former having been cut down to make an office building that now obscures the latter. Even if the times change, some of the fundamentals always remain. Even through constantly evolving standards, cultures, and technologies, there is still that quiet, little edict, that simple, observable tendency, that testable, empirical observation -- poverty makes crime.

          Some Peoples' Reaction to the Theory

     There are some who object to my thesis that poverty is the cause of crime. But if it is not poverty, then what is it that causes individuals to be driven toward criminal behavior? It is quite clear the attitude of these critics when we hear them. "Crime is caused by people without character, people without morals, people without goodness!" is my succinct summary of their criticism. Crime is caused by absence of morals. In fact, if we don't mind turning a phrase around, we could even say: crime is caused by poverty in morals, poverty in character, poverty in goodness; but I have a reason to think that these critics would disagree with the extension of the meaning in this term.

     There are a number a very loud individuals who have decried this idea of blaming poverty for the result of crime. Some of these responses to the idea are simply invaluable. Far from distorting the issue, they can actually help us focus the lens on the object of our study. They can help us better understand some of the attitudes of mankind. Dennis Prager, writing for Townhall.com, a Conservative web publication, and National Review, another Conservative publication, opposed the theory of poverty causing crime in America because "Seventy-five percent of the poor have a car or truck," and those who would defend this theory would have to be criminals, "Just as the whites who say all whites are racist are obviously speaking about themselves, those who claim that poverty leads to violence may well be speaking about themselves, too." [*76]

     In National Review, Prager explicitly described what he was thinking: "Progressives won't admit that Judeo-Christian values, not economics, determine moral behavior." [*77] One blogger for Psychology Today, Stanton E. Samenow, Ph. D., declared a "reversal of the conventional wisdom" by stating "crime causes poverty." [*78] In his more elaborate description of the cause of poverty: "It is criminals who seize upon an opportunity when there is social disorder. In the name of a cause, they strike -- destroying property belonging to fledgling entrepreneurs." Emphasize the immorality and ignore the social conditions that created the situation. This is some peoples' attitude towards crime, which shows itself in what they read, who they listen to, and who they vote for.

     "...to fight poverty, fight crime," [*79] another reversal of the theory by Theo Lippman Jr., a writer for the Baltimore Sun in 1991. The solution is obviously clear to Lippman, "If the feds shifted enough billions from military and welfare budgets to grants for more urban police, crime -- and its resultant poverty -- would go down dramatically." The solution is not to absolve poverty and eliminate it; it's to violently repress any form of that poverty from striking out against the social environment that produced it.

     To say that it's a bad sense of morals when people become criminals is actually a rather broad classification. There are some who point to the rising rate of divorce as the cause of crime, "Over the past thirty years, the rise in violent crime parallels the rise in families abandoned by fathers....The father's authority and involvement in raising his children are also a great buffer against a life of crime." [*80] This is from the Heritage Foundation, a right-wing, Conservative organization of some popularity. The main argument in opposition to the theory that poverty causes crime is put most eloquently by Patricia L. Dickson, writer for Heritage Foundation: "My friends and family were poor growing up, but we did not murder anyone or steal."

     Writing for Breitbart.com, an extremely conservative publication, John Howard declared in 2015 that "Unemployment and cultural weakness cause crime, not poverty." [*81] This statement seems so unusual, because poverty is when there is an absence of necessities, and unemployment is when there is an absence of being able to provide for necessities -- it is a contradiction to describe them as opposite situations. Howard elaborated on this claim, stating that "the most insanely dangerous misconceptions of the Western political elite is that poverty causes crime.... They're wrong, and they are insulting the large numbers of impoverished people who commit no crimes..." The real solution is not to eliminate poverty, the real solution, according to John Howard, is: "control the rate of immigration."

Image by Bart Everson
Image: Photograph by Bart Everson, Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License

          How to Really Eliminate Crime: Eliminate Poverty

     When it comes to solving the problem of crime, and doing something about its source of poverty, we can have a number of attitudes. If we thought in terms of practical solutions, like Benjamin Franklin, we might say to those who want to eliminate crime that "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure," [*81] or, if we were to be passionate, spirited participants of society, we might look to the words of Jean Jacques Rouseau, "the subject wants crimes punished, the citizen wants them prevented..." [*82] But there is no justification for an attitude that believes poverty is not the source of crime. To eliminate poverty would be to eliminate crime. I don't want to simply destroy the socially-disrupting behavior itself, but I want to destroy the proud superiority of judges and the lowly shameful subordination of convicts -- I want to destroy that culture which has ignored the society that educated individuals who commit crime.

     Have I killed hope? Is the association between poverty and crime so strong that we would look at a human being and say that they are nothing more than the environment that raised them? Do not try, because what you succeed in and what you fail in, they are both the results of your environment, and not the results of you? Is that what I have reduced all of these threshed-out explanations to? It is a worthwhile question. But I think the answer is very simple. Sustenance and the things that provide for material well-being are the soil of human culture. You may have soil, without flowers, but it is impossible to have flowers without soil. You will never eliminate crime, as long as there is poverty, but you will not guarantee a utopia by simply guaranteeing that there is no poverty.

     Communal, material wealth available to all is not going to produce the great philosophers and poets and scientists and engineers and artists -- but it is necessary for them. That wonderful variation that we find throughout humanity, though, proves that it is really impossible to determine these limits for a single individual. That we can determine them for entire societies, by averaging individuals into masses, is a simple matter of research, statistics, and logical deductions. Even if there are true ascetics who will never take advantage of society because of their absence of wealth, they are so few and far between that they almost prove my thesis: poverty causes crime, at least for the great, vast majority of humanity. It is best that we keep in mind the trends that effect the many when designing and forming social policy.



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*74. "Poverty the Root Cause of Crime," published by News24, 2008-10-06, 11:22, http://www.news24.com/SouthAfrica/News/Poverty-the-root-cause-of-crime-20081006 .
*75. "Crime and Local Inequality in South Africa," Gabriel Demombynes and Berk Ozler, December, 2003, Abstract, http://econ.worldbank.org/external/default/main?theSitePK=477894&contentMDK=21163843&menuPK=545573&pagePK=64168182&piPK=64168060 .
*76. "Poverty Causes Crime?" by Dennis Prager, Nov 18, 2014, Townhall.com, http://townhall.com/columnists/dennisprager/2014/11/18/poverty-causes-crime-n1920159?utm_source=thdaily&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=nl .
*77. "Poverty Doesn't Cause Crime," by Dennis Prager, same exact article as the Townhall.com piece, November 18, 2014 12:00 AM, http://www.nationalreview.com/article/392865/poverty-doesnt-cause-crime-dennis-prager.
*78. "Crime Causes Poverty: A Reversal of the Conventional Wisdom," by Stanton E. Samenow, Ph. D., Dec. 24, 2014, https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/inside-the-criminal-mind/201412/crime-causes-poverty.
*79. "Cause crime. Crime causes poverty..." by Theo Lippman Jr., March 30, 1991, Baltimore Sun.
*80. "Poverty Is Not The Cause of Criminal Behavior," by Patricia L. Dickson, August 22, 2014, http://www.americanthinker.com/articles/2014/08/poverty_is_not_the_cause_of_criminal_behavior.html.
*81. "Unemployment and cultural weakness cause radicalism, not poverty," by John Howard, Jan 16, 2015, http://www.breitbart.com/big-government/2015/01/16/unemployment-and-cultural-weakness-cause-radicalism-not-poverty/ .
*81. "The Electric Ben Franklin," by USHistory.org, http://www.ushistory.org/franklin/info/ .
*82. "The Social Contract, or the Principles of Right," by Jean Jacques Rousseau, 1762, Translated by G. D. H. Cole, Book 3, Chapter 9.

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