The people's voice of reason

Crime: Human Economics

In the two preceding articles we pointed out that the principle cause of crime is inadequate moral formation, and that spending money on law enforcement and penitentiaries does not solve the basic problem. In this column we will explore social dynamics that underscore these two points. Let’s start by saying that crime in general is not the product of brilliant minds. A great contest between extremely intelligent criminals and equally intelligent law enforcement officers makes good movies, but we are not filling the prisons with a lot of smart people. Statistically, the court system processes people who are below average in intelligence and below average in skills. The penal system is the recipient. Basically our penitentiaries warehouses ignorance. Let’s examine why that is the case.

In our social system everyone is required to make some contribution to the welfare of society. “Whoever does not work, neither shall he eat”. That ancient principle expresses our economic and social truth. After Adam Smith invented modern economics we began to assign value to commodities. The Industrial Revolution started the process of making every individual a unit of production in society. Then came the age of technology where greater skills were required in order to be a productive member of society. Education became a necessity. Graduation became the rite of passage to the world of useful adults. Salaries reward skills. It was inevitable that human beings would be assigned an economic value. A certain percentage of human beings do not have as much “economic value” in an industrial, technological culture as others. They are “worth less” but too often that translates “worthless”. Many of these unfortunate individuals wind up in the penitentiary. And the penitentiary is not likely to cause them to “be all they can be.”

The simplistic solution “We should teach them to read” is not a satisfactory answer. Not everyone has the same talents. The thing that makes a person a highly productive unit in society is the fact that he or she possesses the ability to acquire the necessary skills. Likewise, the same thing that makes them unable to read is what causes them not to have great economic value. If a person lacks ability, then the outlook is not real bright. The inability to read and lack of economic productivity result from the same underlying cause. Encouraging everyone to learn to read and to attain as much education as possible is a wonderful idea, but falls short of solving the problem for individuals who are “worth less”.

While the assignment will be quite difficult, society needs to recognize that God did not make any trash. We need to recognize that every person has worth, and we need to search for ways to help to achieve that worth. We need to find their strong points. We need a legal system that allows everyone to achieve his or her most beneficial station in life. We need group functions that promote individual achievement for those who are “worth less”. The task will not be easy. The solution does not include sending ignorance to the penitentiary, but it does not include rewarding the commission of crime by giving the person who committed crime greater educational and training opportunities than is provided to the general population.

Perhaps the answer lies in a system that identifies persons who are likely candidates for criminal activity and provides special opportunities for them, not as a reward for committing crime, but that provides opportunities before crime happens. We have to intercept the problem before it results in crime. My friends in the teaching profession tell me that it is probably not difficult to identify the likely candidates. At the same time, the difficulty will be identifying those candidates without stigmatizing them. Finding a totally positive approach is the challenge.

Ultimately, the laws of economics—supply and demand—operate on what human society believes to be important. If we think that money is the ultimate good, then the laws of economics will govern and be based on the demand for money. If we truly believe that every human being has intrinsic worth, the laws of economics will govern our lives together based on human worth being our most important value.

Reworking our value system is a task for churches and religious organizations. “I was in prison and you visited me…” But let’s not wait until the visit has to be in prison. “Even as you have done it unto one of the least of these….”


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