Essay on the Relationship between Economic Structure and Crimes !
During eighteenth century, intensive researches were conducted by criminologists in Europe on the impact of economic conditions on criminality. But unfortunately their findings differed radically and it was difficult to reach any positive conclusion in this regard. The relationship between economic conditions and crime is founded broadly on two main conflicting views, namely:
(1) The relationship between economy and crime is inverse; that is when economic conditions are favourable, the incidence of crime is comparatively low but in times of economic depression criminality records an upward trend. This assumption finds support in all Marxist doctrines and leftist policies. William Aldrian Bonger, the noted Dutch social scientist strongly supported this contention.
(2) The relationship between economic structure and crime is direct or positive; that is to say, criminality being an extension of normal economic activity, increases or decreases with the rise or fall in economy. Thus, according to this preposition, the crime rate shows an increase in periods of prosperity and decreases during periods of economic depression. This view has been most explicity developed by Fillips Polett as a supplement to the original research of Enrico Ferri and his famous work ‘Law of Criminal Saturation’. Thorsten Sellin, however, concluded that unemployment which is necessarily an off shoot of depression, did not have an adverse effect on crime rate perhaps because of governmental relief measures.
Russel emphatically stated that there is a direct inter-relation between the food prices and the crime rate. As the prices shoot up, the crime rate records a corresponding increase. He attributed increase in crime rate in England during 1815-1842 mainly to the general distress and deterioration in commercial manufacturing and agricultural yield.
Another writer R.H. Walsh suggests that crimes multiply during the period of depression and unfavourable economic conditions. Frederick Engels also adopted similar approach and attributed increase in crime to the abject condition of people due to class exploitation.
John Clay asserts that summary convictions are more common in periods of prosperity than in periods of economic depression. He opines that during the period of hard times, “the young and thoughtless who, when thrown into idleness, are liable to lapse into dishonesty”.
Miss Mary Carpenter, a well known social worker with women and children find a long time Superintendent of the Red Lodge Reformatory for women at Bristol, however, did not agree with the view that poverty and bad economic conditions are responsible for increase in crime.
She did not totally rule out the influence of poverty on crime but refused to give it undue importance. This view has been further supported by Charles Booth who stated that 56% of the crimes are due to poverty and deteriorated economic conditions. Cyril Burt concurred with the findings of Charles Booth and attributed criminal behaviour to adverse economic conditions.
Most Italian criminologists also subscribe to the view that there is direct relationship between criminality and poor economy. However, Albert C. Wanger in his Philadelphian studies on “Crime and Economic Change” found no significant correlation between economic depression and crime rate. But David Bogen in his study in “Juvenile Delinquency and Economic Trend” expressed a contrary view and observed that delinquency decreased during depression and increased in periods of prosperity.
Shah and McKay, in their theory of social disorganisation have reiterated that poverty, by itself is never a cause of crime, it only facilitates crime by deprivation of adequate resources to deal with crime. They, however, agreed that “poverty areas” tended to have high rates of mobility and racial heterogeneity which actuated crimes. Therefore, in their view, poverty could be considered as only one of the factors contributing to criminality but not the sole cause of crime.
While attributing poverty as a potential cause of criminality it must not be forgotten that it is rather a subjective concept. What one man considers poverty, another may view as a level of satisfactory comfort, if not of abundance. Unemployment too is a subjective factor depending on the “willingness to work” and to the degree of fastidiousness exercised by the worker as to the kind of work he will do. Although poverty and unemployment are genuine matters of human experience, but they are not capable of being subjected to accurate or uniform statistics.
Charles Goring also drew conclusions about the proximate relationship between the crime committed by each of the criminals and his occupation after a careful study of the occupations of about three thousand criminals. According to Gabriel Tarde crimes are the result of man’s craze for luxurious life.
If a person who is used to a luxurious way of life becomes poor for certain reason, he is likely to resort to crime in order to satisfy his urge for easy life. Goring further argued that this egoistic tendency of men can be satisfied only through ‘money’. Therefore, if people cannot meet their ends by legitimate means, they are likely to resort to unlawful acts which we term as ‘crime’.