"When people lack teachers, their tendencies are not corrected; when they do not have ritual and moral principles, then their lawlessness is not controlled." — XunZi, ancient Chinese philosopher
Walking along a street in Madrid in the 1970s after a late-night supper, I asked a local resident if there was much crime in the city. When he replied, "hardly any," I asked why? "No repeaters," he said.
Dictator Francisco Franco was still running Spain and dictatorships can get away with things a constitutional republic cannot, but Franco was on to something the U.S. seems to have forgotten. Swift and certain punishment is a major deterrent to people who might be thinking about breaking laws.
Of all the explanations for the rise in crime in America, none may be more accurate than the lack of swift and certain punishment.
The Daily Mail has summarized some of the bigger stores that have closed due to looting and the failure of district attorneys to punish them and other criminals. Walmart CEO Doug McMillon warned last December that thefts were at record levels. With thieves undeterred, McMillon ordered the closing of 17 stores in nine states.
Target CFO Michael Fiddelke has said he expects the company will have lost $600 million to theft by the end of the year. Four of its stores in three cities have closed with more likely to come.
Macy's, one of America's oldest department stores, is also suffering from retail thefts. It closed four stores in the first quarter of this year. Executives have been forced to develop a plan that will close 125 locations because of shoplifting that has seriously reduced company profits.
Many small businesses attacked after George Floyd was killed by Minneapolis police officers three years ago have not reopened. Most rioters avoided arrest and punishment.
On Sept. 9, 1971, at the Attorney General's Conference on Crime Reduction, John Mitchell, Richard Nixon's soon to be disgraced attorney general, said this: "I do not hesitate to use the term war, for that is exactly what it is. There is nothing controversial about this war. There is the side of law, justice, honesty, and public safety. And there is the side of lawlessness, dishonesty, human exploitation, and violence. ... Through the decade of the 1960s the crime rate in the United States soared. It not only increased, but the increase kept increasing. In the 10 years from 1960 to 1970, serious crime as measured by the FBI Uniform Crime Index rose 176 percent. In some of our largest cities, including the capital of our nation the streets in the heart of the business district were considered by many to be unsafe at night."
That statement is as valid in 2023 as it was in 1971. Why?
Part of it, in addition to the lack of swift and certain punishment, is the documented loss of trust in institutions. Then, it was cynicism caused by the Vietnam War and accompanying lies told by military and civilian leaders. The Watergate scandal further eroded trust. Richard Nixon became the only president to resign the office.
A larger part is the failure to teach the kind of values, respect and patriotism that were once taught in schools, reinforced by parents and much of society. To paraphrase an ancient biblical proverb, where there is no restraint, the people run wild.
We are constantly told almost anything goes, that big corporations are evil and don't pay their "fair share" in taxes, and that certain people are "entitled" to things they otherwise might not be able to afford, and that others, equally entitled, are presumed to be above the law and free to commit as many crimes as they wish.
The result is what we see on the TV news and in newspapers. Mayor Eric Adams recently said New York City is being "ruined" by waves of migrants. The rest of the country may soon follow if lawlessness is not dealt with swiftly and there are no immediate consequences for those who break our laws, including laws pertaining to immigration.