Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Poverty is innocent

Friday night conversation with the officemates turned to that oft-repeated dictum that poverty causes crime. The theory goes that poor people, when their backs are against the wall, would turn to a life of crime, their instincts for survival taking precedence over their adherence to the laws of the land. Who would not steal bread to feed a hungry child?, the theory goes. It's a reasonable assumption to make: Poverty and crime go hand in hand. But I took up the cudgels for poverty. It has been maligned for so long that I felt its innocence needs to be defended and that old canard that poverty causes crime be laid to rest once and for all, at least in our beer-lubricated Friday night conversations.

I didnt have data to back me up. (We were in a bar, what're you gonna do?) But a logical examination of this theory alone is sufficient to blow it to smithereens. IF poverty causes crime, I said, then wouldnt it logically follow that there wouldnt be rich criminals? And yet we see crimes being committed by rich people all the time. If not by rich people, then by people who we can describe as far from being poverty stricken: big-time kidnappers, drug lords, corrupt politicians, corporate criminals, and the list goes on. It might be true that more crimes are committed by poor people, but that is because there are more of them. And compared to the crimes committed by not-poor people, crimes committed by poor people tend to be 'petty' in comparison. A poor man can murder an entire family, but it takes a rich man to murder a population; a poor man can steal several thousand pesos, but it takes a rich man to bankrupt an entire country. Corruption in high places is a major cause of poverty in most countries. In fact, I said, I daresay that since there are more poor people than not-poor people, and given the number of crimes attributed to each strata, we could easily conclude that a higher percentage of not-poor people commit crime within each strata. Although there certainly are poor criminals, not all poor people are. A poor man will not necessarily steal to feed his hungry children. He could take another meaningless and demeaning job, or beg even.

Crime is not an economic problem, but a moral one. And to fight crime, a country has to rediscover the moral basis of its existence, and its leaders have to be moral leaders who lead by example.

Poverty doesnt cause crime. Criminals cause crime. Far from being the cause of crime, I submit that crime is the cause of poverty.

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