This week, the Los Angeles Times reported a wave of theft plaguing area high schools. The objects at stake? Tubas. According to South Gate High School music teacher Ruben Gonzalez Jr., thieves broke into the band room and stole nothing but tubas. A few weeks before, thieves took eight sousaphones from a Compton high school. Either the original cast of "The Music Man" is criminally eager for a revival, or these thieves are selling the horns on the black market.
Now the left loves to claim that crime waves like this are caused by poverty. If you're poor, the logic goes, you'll have to steal a loaf of bread -- or a trombone -- to feed your child. Criminality thus becomes a moral act.
There's only one problem with this logic: It's absolutely wrong.
During the Great Depression, levels of crime actually dropped. During the 1920s, when life was free and easy, so was crime. During the 1930s, when the entire American economy fell into a government-owned alligator moat, crime was nearly non-existent. During the 1950s and 1960s, when the economy was excellent, crime rose again.
In Britain, where the social safety net is more like a social swaddling cloth, crime rates other than murder are significantly higher than in the United States. Actually, the highest rate of car theft in the world is in peaceful, socialist, unicorn-riding Switzerland. Next comes New Zealand. Then Britain, Sweden, Australia, Denmark, Scotland, Italy, Canada and Norway. That's right -- the U.S. isn't even in the top ten.
Why is that? It's not that these other countries are impoverished -- far from it. It's not that their poor are Dickensian urchins following the advice of newfangled Fagins. It's that these countries have bred generations of people who think they are entitled to the property of others.
That mentality predominates in poor areas more than rich ones. There's a reason for that: Those who succeed economically in a free market system do so based on the notion that they don't deserve anyone else's property unless they work for it. They don't sit back waiting for someone to take care of them. They don't wait for welfare checks. They go out into the world and earn their way forward.
In poor areas, the opposite is true. Spend five minutes with many poor inner city kids and the sense of entitlement drips from them. Many of these folks are refugee thugs from "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre": "Work? We ain't got no work. We don't need no work! I don't have to show you no stinkin' work!" And, by the way, they don't need no stinkin' badges, either -- because the people with the badges work for them, teaching them that sense of entitlement, impoverishing hard workers on behalf of those who think they're owed something by the world.
Persistent poverty, in short, is more often than not a moral problem, not an economic one -- stealing springs from that same moral failing. That is why affordable housing, provided for free by the government, is usually covered in graffiti, trashed and burned out. You'll never see a private, single-family home treated like that by its owner.
There's a basic rule in business: If you tell people that a product is free, they treat it like it has no value. We've spent the last 70 years in this country telling our poor that money and property are free. Of course, they don't attribute any value to money or property, then. Of course, they treat others' property as though it's valueless, to be stolen or taken at whim.
The liberalism of Franklin D. Roosevelt, Lyndon B. Johnson and President Obama hasn't turned thieves into sudden lovers of big-band swing. It's turned more and more Americans into thieves. Don't blame poverty. Blame morality. And blame a government and a society that have abandoned the notion of responsibility for juvenile delinquency.