Thinking About Crime—Again

Sometimes you see a headline like this (from the Washington Post) and wonder whether Democrats who run our big cities can perform basic logic when you remember the second picture also took place in DC:

Once upon a time this wouldn’t have been hard even for a liberal to puzzle out.

In fact, over in Britain the Labour Party, currently poised to wipe out the Tories in the next election, is campaigning to be tougher on crime than the Tories:

Gosh, from the looks of this, you’d almost mistake Rishi Sunak for the mayor of Chicago, or the DA of Manhattan.

When watching the cycle of rising crime brought on by the amnesia of the left, it is time to dust off James Q. Wilson’s influential 1975 book Thinking About Crime. I read it in college, and then relied on it in graduate school a few years later, and it could be easily republished today by simply updating the statistics. One reason Wilson’s book was so influential is that, rare for academics, he wrote about social science in plain English.

There are countless passages in the book that are spot-on for today’s urban liberal delusions. Let’s just use this one for today:

“Crime and addiction can only be dealt with by attacking their root causes.” I am sometimes inclined, when in a testy mood, to rejoin: “Stupidity can only be dealt with by attacking its root causes.” I have yet to see a “root cause” or to encounter a government program that has successfully attacked it, at least with respect to those social problems that arise out of human volition rather than technological malfunction. But more importantly, the demand for causal solutions is, whether intended or not, a way of deferring any action or criticizing any policy. It is a cast of mind that inevitably detracts attention from those few things that governments can do reasonably well and draws attention toward those many things it cannot do at all.

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