A Civilized Context
I think of people as basically good. Most folks treat me well enough. I can navigate my neighborhood at night; I can go to an ATM unmolested in most cities I visit; often, I get smiles — and it isn’t because of my extraordinary good looks (alone).
But evil is all around us. Some folks harbor deep resentments, and worse. Garett Jones, writing at EconLog, notes that “a lot of people are actually just awful. . . .
In a series of studies of male college students in the 1980’s, Malamuth found that about 35% of these students in the U.S. and Canada said they’d consider committing a rape if they knew they wouldn’t get caught; 20% would seriously consider it. . . . And these studies are just detecting those students who are willing to state their proclivities in a survey; the true number is surely higher.
We are, all of us, constantly surrounded by such people.
Jones draws a startling moral: “I suspect that if people were more aware of the awfulness of their neighbors, support for the welfare state would decline.”
He may be right, but contemplating crime is different than committing it. The move from wish to action often depends on “context.”
Studies have shown this. Clean up your neighborhood, replace broken windows: crime goes down.
Some social engineers argue that the welfare state is more than mere window-dressing, it’s a swap: The dole buys off potential criminals.
I suspect the opposite is true: It funds criminals, supporting their bad habits, and serves as a trap for everyone else, preventing the vast majority from climbing out of the velvet cage.
We should work for better contexts.
This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.