Thomas Sowell

Oakland, California, continues to suffer the high crime rate, and especially the high murder rate, which has long afflicted that city. Judging by a recent speech by its current mayor, long-time leftist Ron Dellums, it can look forward to a future all too much like its past.

Why is Oakland so crime-ridden? According to Mayor Dellums, "we have closed our eyes to the injustices and inequities, and now we are reaping the wild winds of that disregard for a whole range of people."

This is the "root causes of crime" rhetoric of the 1960s, still going strong on the left today, despite mountains of evidence to the contrary that have accumulated in the decades since then.

That is what makes Oakland's problem more than just Oakland's problem -- or even America's problem. The same kind of thinking prevails on the left in other countries, producing the same kinds of dire results.

As British writer Peter Hitchens put it: "England is rapidly becoming a place where the good are afraid of the bad and the bad are not afraid of anything."

He also said, "The sheer concrete-headed stupidity of most political statements about crime defies belief." Both statements would apply as much in Oakland as they do in London -- and in many other places in between.

A newspaper account of Oakland mayor Ron Dellums' speech said that he was "clearly comfortable with what he was conveying and speaking without notes."

Why should he be uncomfortable or need notes to be repeating the same politically correct notions that the entire left -- here and overseas -- has been repeating like a mantra for nearly half a century? Would you need notes to recite the alphabet?

The idea that "injustices and inequities" explain crime goes back more than two centuries. You can find it in William Godwin's 1793 book, "Enquiry Concerning Political Justice" in England and even earlier in a number of writers in France.

It is the hallmark of the left around the world.

While such ideas have been around for centuries, they did not become the dominant ideas among those making legal and political policy until the second half of the 20th century -- more specifically, the 1960s in the United States.

What was crime like in 1960, before these ideas took over in our courts and in the legislative and executive branches of government?

As of 1960, the murder rate had been going down for decades -- among blacks and whites alike -- and was just under half of what it had been back in 1934.

Were there no "injustices and inequities" in 1960 and in the prior decades? No one who is old enough to remember those times could believe that.

Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute and author of The Housing Boom and Bust.

Creators Syndicate