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Dennis Prager
Dennis Prager
11 Nov 2014
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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."

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 their 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.

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 Department of Energy'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 a hundred years and continue to say it), among all poor households:

Over 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, one-half of one 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, half live in detached single-family houses or townhouses, and 40 percent live in apartments. Forty-two percent of all poor households own their home, the average of which is a three-bedroom house with one-and-a-half baths, a garage and a porch or patio.

According to a recent Census Bureau report, 80.9 percent of households below the poverty level have cellphones.

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 in America, I wouldn't rob, rape or murder.

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

When people say this, there are only two possibilities. One is that, on some level of consciousness, they think that if they were poor, they would commit violent crimes. My hunch is that this is often the case. 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.

The other possibility is that they are not speaking about themselves, in which case they would have to admit that poor Americans who rob, rape or murder are morally inferior to themselves.

Which, of course, happens to be true. People (of any income level) who rob, rape and murder do so because they lack a functioning conscience and moral self-control. It is not material poverty that causes violent crime, but poor character. But the "poverty causes crime" advocates refuse to acknowledge this because such an acknowledgment blames criminals — rather than American society — for poor peoples' violent crimes.

And that they won't admit. Because once they do, they will have begun the journey toward affirming conservatism and Judeo-Christian values, both of which are rooted in the belief that values, not economics, determine moral behavior.

Dennis Prager's latest book, "Still the Best Hope: Why the World Needs American Values to Triumph," was published by HarperCollins. He is a nationally syndicated radio show host and creator of



1 Comments | Post Comment
Sir;... A lot of personal drivel cited as proof is not proof. There are a lot of people who come poor who are not demoralized. There are a lot of people demoralized in the process of becoming millionaires, and a whole lot of poor people are demoralized in the process of having nothing or working for nothing. America is a dream people buy before they ever touch this land, Once here the dream is repeated over and over to them as nauseum, but I have talked often enough to new arrivals who still have their cultural roots, and are not demoralized, and will tell what a shock this place is, all glitter on the outside, and poverty on the inside.
Look at our inner cities which could protect their tax base and their people. Germany can certainly keep their cities in the cities and their farm lands and forests as forests and farms; but that represents a level of social control by the people that the rich will not stand for. All the way from Detroit to Jackson, and beyond, and all the way from Detroit to Flint some of the best farm lands in the world were given over to factories even though that industry will not pay enough of taxes to keep their roads and bridges in repair. The wages they pay will not pay enough income tax to support the infrastructure and bit by bit the society is hollowed out and tossed in the trash in the name of profit.
It is sickening, Not just to me, but to the whole society. Profit is this little fetish to which we sacrifice the people and the resources of this country, and when business is done with them, the workers walk around as animated as rag dolls wishing their lives away, as much or more than they have always done.

Meaning is life, and what takes life takes meaning out of people. When life and labor is one long process of short changing the worker of taking life and meaning out of him, and handing him less of life in return it is demeaning. My boss pays what the market will bear. He does not admit that he conspires to rig that market. He tells me I am worth less, when knowing what it takes to live, and how hard I work, I say I am worth more, but to stay in that process I must accept less- so I am demeaned because meaning is value. In one sense only is the morality of the man reinforced. Labor is not simply creation, but recreation. When a person sees their continued existence coming out of their own hands, they see themselves recreated by their own wills, then the morality of this process is re-inforced.
When people see themselves only deeper in the hole that will be their graves with every hour they work, when the full process and product are denied even their sight, and when they are denied wages equal to the cost of their lives they are demeaned and demoralized. And those who witness this process can become as demoralized as the worker.
We say that life is a right, and not only a right, but an inalienable right. This may astonish anyone who has seen an on the job death. The job can kill you as surely as a gun, but it is not murder. It is only a financial transaction in which the dead man's worth to family and job will be minimized. What is happening in the process of labor is the alienation of the worker from the product of his labor, but it is also the alienation of the man from himself, from his life, from his time; and time is life. And you can bullshet yourself, and this I know; and say: Tomorrow I will get my meaning. Tomorrow I will be valued as I should be. For the life and love I put into this process, I will be rewarded with life and love; but such a person is doomed to wait until death to have his life. What good fortune is life after death who thrive on the theft of life in this day?

It is thought moral to keep the peace; so most people keep the peace. Some go off the deep end, and start shooting anything that moves, and if this happened all at once, something might happen in a positive sense. Such people attack the victims of the process of profit rather than the profiteers. Is it really moral to keep the peace until everyone is ready to move and change this nonsense forever? If not moral, it is at least smart.
In demoralizing people the very thing people need most in order to have democracy and to make revolution is robbed from them. People give up their right to instant justice when they join society, and everyone joins society at some point. Once people have agreed to wait for justice that wait will take their lives. You will never recieve what has been stolen from you: your life, and your meaning; and the waiting will only leave you more hopeless and demoralized. And youth is a witness to this, and they are absolutely right to identify with the rich and live as parasites and practicioners of violence. What does it matter if such empty lives are lived in prison or in the human mill that grinds people to gristle? And still it is wrong to say that poverty causes crime.

It is correct to say that poverty contributes to crime, and all the more so when the poor can see the obvious wealth they are so much denied. Wealth causes more crime than poverty because no one ever commits a crime to be poor, and almost all commit crimes to have a little wealth. In a money society there is no amount of poverty that is honorable, and there is no amount of wealth that is dishonorable. In an honor society, which are always poor, no one having wealth could get by without it being questioned. Where dja get the loot, Jack? Here; no questions are asked.

Wealth is taken for granted here, taken as honorable, and left unquestioned. Poverty is presumed to be the result of immorality, of a moral flaw, and this fits with Protestantism's U-turn toward Judaism which accepts Tangible Justification. The proof of God's love is found in your porfollio and bank balance. No true Christian would agree with this, but Christianity is a slave religion. So look at the facts:
Labor, the return of life for effort should be the most honorable of relationships. As we can see from the Old South, slave labor demeans all labor. White men by the thousands so demoralized that they would not lift a finger to improve their own situations who were in every sense poor, and demeaned -threw their bodies and souls into the greatest criminal act in our history in defense of the immorality of slavery: Seccession and the Civil War. Losing that war did not cure the South of their immorality, for criminalism and terrorism were ingrained into them and is still a part of their natures. There is nothing about wage labor that will improve them, and the more that poorer people still watch them being torn visibly from their souls the less moral will everyone become.
It is very correct to say that poverty in the midst of plenty causes demoralization, and it is true that demoralization causes poverty, but it is the demoralization of the rich that causes the demoralization of the poor.
Comment: #1
Posted by: James A, Sweeney
Tue Nov 18, 2014 8:44 AM
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