Page images
PDF
EPUB

the actualities of the labor problem and the materials of criminal science. In both cases the impelling force to antisocial action is closely allied with the whole economic and industrial composite peculiar to this day and age.

Another psychological mechanism which works with singular vigor in many instances for the production of crime under our present industrial regime is the so-called inferiority complex, in conjunction with the putative necessity for the maintenance of a “decent” standard of living. The outlines of the situation are comparatively simple when couched in terms of social psychology. In the first place it must be recognized that the strongest of the instinctive forces operative in original human nature (with the possible exception of hunger and sex) is the desire on the part of the individual to receive approval from the other members of the social group. This is sometimes called the instinct of vanity, at others the instinct of self-assertion or self-expression. Whatever name by which we may finally choose to identify it, the important fact in this connection is the realization that every individual must feel that he has a certain standing in the group in which he lives, i. e., he must gain prestige according to the standards of the group. Now it so happens that like other social forces these standards of prestige have varied according to time, place and conditions. At the present cultural conjuncture the dominating force of all our social existence is the economic system which was introduced by the industrial revolution. As might be expected, therefore, the standards of prestige in the western civilized (industrialized) world are in the nature of economic standards. Or, in other words, as Veblen would have it, they are “pecuniary” standards under which the amount of prestige which any given individual may garner will depend upon his ability to exhibit the fact that he has money. This can be done in only one way and that is by conspicuous expenditure. Furthermore, as will be shown in more detail for the United States in another connection, the present distribution of wealth and income in the western nations depending on a basis of the ownership

of property (primarily in claims to certain intangible capital assets such as rights, patents, and contracts) is of such a nature that that part of the population which is able to spend with the greatest facility and the greatest public manifestation forms in numbers only a very small fraction of the whole people. This is the leisure class. And it is this class which, by virtue of its greater power to “manipulate" the materials of economic welfare to its own advantage, sets the standards of prestige for the whole population. Now under another situation, as for example, that of the Middle Ages, where a strict class stratification existed with the barrier between the classes depending upon such irrevocable premises as birth-right, the activities of the upper class would have been of very little concern to the rest of the people. But now we face an entirely different set of facts. Concomitant with the industrial revolution came the fine flowering of the elusive concept, democracy, and the whole system of class relationships has changed. Inter-class standards have now become intra-class standards. In this latter day any man is just as good as any other man. Which, when translated, means that every individual now feels that he has an inalienable right to live and act just like every other individual within the group, i. e., he has a right to maintain a standard of living equal to any maintained within the group. And just here the psychological mechanism referred to above, enters in to complicate the situation. This takes the form of that peculiar twist in human nature lately emphasized by the abnormal psychologists (vide Adler and Kempf) and known as the feeling of inferiority of the “inferiority complex" with its resulting effects of over-compensation. In short, this simply means that if for any reason (as, for example, organic defect, or lack of mental "astuteness," idealistic principles, etc.,) an individual within a certain group is unable to get the approval, that is, unable to measure up to the standards of prestige, of the group, he is liable to develop as a result of his abased situation in relation to his fellow man an inferiority complex. As a result of this complex he will put forth redoubled effort to compensate for and conceal his inability to get the approval that he desires. This in turn eventuates in an over-shooting of the markor technically, over-compensation. The vicious circle is now complete. The implications of such a condition of affairs are obvious. Here you have a state of human nature which makes it necessary for every man to gain the approval of his fellow beings, at the same time a state of society exists in which the standards to which a man must measure in order to receive this approval are essentially pecuniary standards of conspicuous expenditure maintained and set by a leisure class. While this class is able to spend with the required facility (like gentlemen) the majority of the population is unable to spend and therefore is in an inferior position. Yet this majority feels (in degrees varying with the potency of the indoctrination of the democratic dogma) that it has an equal right with the leisure class to maintain its prestige (spend) and feels it with peculiar intensity because of the very position of inferiority which it occupies. Here, again, for the great majority of people the concrete results of this general state of affairs are of a comparatively innocuous nature. That is to say the hoi polloi simply has a vague feeling that the main business in life is to "keep up with the Jones." In the case of the laboring population this takes the form of demanding higher wages from time to time. But for others of more unstable temperament or a predisposition flatly to refuse to accept the justice of the present situation either from "mental bluntness" or some similar radical disaffection, the outcome is likely to be of an entirely different character. Is it very hard to connect up the above reasoning with the criminal "direct action" methods of the I. W. W.? Is it even stretching the point to associate with the influence of leisure class standards on the “naive mind” the fact that in 1920 one automobile out of every 30 in New York, one out of every 22 in Chicago, and one out of every 31 in Detroit was stolen? Finally, is a study of the etiology of the individual crimes necessary to estimate the effective force for crime of the putative necessity on the part of the individual to maintain his “customary" standard of living at work behind the total of $5,623,816 embezzlement losses paid by thirty of the leading insurance companies in the United States during 1920? One realizes that these facts in no sense furnish absolute proof of the contentions in this paper. In the nature of the case it is almost impossible to establish absolute relations of cause and effect, however, they are suggestive of more than casual relationship and may furnish a clue to more accurate analysis.

Heretofore we have been seriously hampered in the United States and other of the industrial nations in our attempts to investigate the varied problems affecting social welfare by the pitiful lack of social statistics. This condition still exists especially in the matter of criminal and vital statistics. However, we are beginning to at least make estimates (in some cases of real scientific value) with the result that we are getting to the point where we can settle accounts and reach at least a provisional balance with our industrial system run on a basis of "business enterprise" and the individualistic laissez faire philosophy. One of the most positive facts which this accounting reveals is that, whatever may be the theoretical rights of an individual to attain to any station in life that may suit his fancy, in fact there exists a clear and binding economic stratification of classes. This division runs along the familiar lines: a very large portion of the income received and the wealth owned is in the hands of a very small upper class, while a much larger class (by far the majority of the population) receives relatively a very small amount of the income and owns very little of the wealth. A statistical presentation of these facts

6“Statistics on crime, so far as they are kept at all, are kept in a desultory, detached and fragmentary manner which evokes the openly expressed amazement of foreign criminologists, it is not possible to present a comprehensive statement of facts on the subject... Not a single large city in the country issues a clear and comprehensive police report.” (C. F. Carter, The Carnival of Crime in the United States, Current History, February, 1922, Vol. XV, p. 153.)

may be taken from King and Associates' report on the income of the United States. Their conclusion is that “the best approximation that this bureau has been able to make indicates that in 1918 the most prosperous 1 per cent of the income receivers had nearly 14 per cent of the income, the most prosperous 5 per cent had nearly 26 per cent of the total, the most prosperous 10 per cent had nearly 35 per cent of the total. . . it should be noted that if we go down from the top of the scale we must go down to people receiving $1,700 to $1,800 to include 20 per cent of the income receivers. In 1918, 86 per cent of the people gainfully employed in the United States had incomes of less than $2,000 per annum."

Without adducing more figures to prove what is already familiar to all students of social problems, we may draw such conclusions as are obvious from the fact that living under such a system, as I have pointed out above, we have here a statistical proof that by far the majority of the income receivers in the United States are living on the verge of poverty. (The budget for a minimum standard of living for a family of five was variously estimated in 1918 from $1,500 to $2,200.) And, although we cannot produce parallel statistics for crimes committed in an exact cause and effect relationship, would we be far wrong in assigning such conditions as these to the forming of at least a large part of the motives that led to crimes against property to the extent of a $10,189,852 loss from burglary alone in 1920? And, as will be seen later, this represents only the burglarization of property that was insured. Uninsured losses would swell the total to an enormous figure. There can be no reasonable doubt that much, if not the majority, of the thievery, forgery, robbery and other crimes against prop

7King and Associates, Income in the United States, New York, 1921, pp. 140-47.

8 Losses aggregating $1,630,009 were reported to the police of Boston in 1920. For the same year in Washington thefts reported amounted to $1,008,875. Chicago reported $3,974,326 stolen in 1921. (Taken from article by C. F. Carter, op. cit., p. 554.)

« PreviousContinue »