Thursday, June 3, 2010

"Golly Moses, natcherly we're punks!"

Richard Cohen, the liberal Washington Post columnist, having reviewed the most recent crime statistics, wonders "Did liberals get it wrong on crime?":
The good news is that crime is again down across the nation — in big cities, small cities, flourishing cities and cities that are not for the timid. Surprisingly, this has happened in the teeth of the Great Recession, meaning that those disposed to attribute criminality to poverty — my view at one time — have some strenuous rethinking to do. It could be, as conservatives have insisted all along, that crime is committed by criminals. For liberals, this is bad news indeed. ....

...[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. [more]
Richard Cohen - Did liberals get it wrong on crime?