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People choose to commit crimes

Blog | By Theodore Dalrymple | Mar 07, 2019


The proximate cause of crime is the decision to commit it. But, since there are no final causes in the sublunary world, it is perfectly legitimate to ask what its secondary causes are.

The current wave in London and other big cities in England of wounding and murder by stabbing – especially by those whom we pensioners call yoof – and particularly affecting some ethnic minorities both as victim and perpetrator, has called forth much speculation by journalists at to its causes. Decisions, after all, are not made in a vacuum, and are affected by circumstances.

Mrs May, who knows a thing or two about making bad decisions, reduced the numbers of police officers in her time as Home Secretary. Britain already had half the number of policemen as Spain, and there are no prizes for guessing in which country crime is more prevalent. The perpetrator of a violent crime in Spain has between five and six times the chance of imprisonment as has such a criminal in Britain.

One of the ways in which decisions are made is by assessment of the likely consequences. I understood this by the age of 10, but many of our intellectuals do not understand this, will never learn it and spend much of their mental energy finding reasons to deny it.

They prefer, on the whole, what might be called the ping-pong theory of crime, according to which it is the absence of opportunity to play ping-pong, or some such, that drives young people to stab one another. And behind the absence of ping-pong tables lies austerity – that is to say the sheer cruelty and callousness of trying to make expenditure approximate somewhat more to income.

A necessary, though not sufficient, cause of knife crime is a sense of impunity, the latter being a lesson that has been well and truly learned by yoof, which after all is highly impressionable. It knows that the criminal justice system does not mean what it says – if a judge sentences you to six months’ imprisonment after you have been convicted ten times, in which case you have probably committed at least fifty crimes, in reality he means three months’ imprisonment at most, if you are unlucky – and is therefore a broken reed. Where petty offence flourishes, major crime is sure to follow.

Knife crime is the fruit of our zero intolerance.