Crime's Effect on the Government

Crime's Effect on the Government
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  • 0:00 Ultimate Goals of Government
  • 0:50 Effects of Petty Crime
  • 2:01 Effects of Corruption
  • 3:35 Illegitimacy
  • 4:26 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kevin Newton

Kevin has edited encyclopedias, taught middle and high school history, and has a master's degree in Islamic law.

One of the most important aspects of government is maintaining law and order. In this lesson, we take a look at what happens when a society cannot maintain limits on crime and how that ultimately threatens the government.

Ultimate Goals of Government

Let's say you are elected mayor of a large city. What is your first priority? Education? Health care? Free pizza for everyone? Looking for guidance, you ask an anthropologist to come by and explain what the world's first societies valued as the most important tasks of local leaders.

Of course, external security, making sure that no one gets any bright ideas about coming in and stealing all your goats, is up there. However, so too is making sure that society is without crime. It turns out that crime has a massive impact on the perceived legitimacy of a government. Since you want your city government to be viewed as particularly legitimate, this is a concern of yours. Let's look at exactly what kind of impact that crime could have on your government.

Effects of Petty Crime

Like practically every society ever, there are instances of petty crime in your city. Little old ladies get their purses snatched, businessmen get their wallets lifted, and kids still get bullied for their lunch money. In fact, finding out where to draw the line between petty crime and oppressive policing is difficult. Should everyone be accompanied by a police officer everywhere they go? In that case, jaywalkers could flood jails everywhere!

Still, these petty crimes build up. Sure, someone having their wallet stolen isn't likely to make the cover of a major newspaper. However, build up enough cases like that, and people very well may decide not to live in a given area. Without people living, working, or shopping in an area, the tax base gets greatly reduced. Then there suddenly isn't enough money for basic services, like street cleaning, schools, and the police and fire departments. This invites even more crime, but now there's no money to pay police officers to fight it. Eventually, this causes a spiral effect in which crime runs out of control because there aren't resources to fight it.

Effects of Corruption

So, you decide that one of your first actions must be to limit petty crime, even though you're still not sure about the best way to do it. Two people come in with solutions. Mr. B is first - he suggests paying his private security company $10 billion to take care of the crime in your city. This would be paid through taxes, of course. Then Mr. X comes in and suggests that you do it for $20 billion - $10 billion for Mr. B, and then $5 billion each for you and Mr. X! In other words, Mr. X is suggesting that you resort to corruption.

Now, on the surface of that, to you and me it may not make sense to do what Mr. X is recommending. However, for a corrupt figure of authority, it could be a way to make a quick $5 billion dollars while getting the product done. After all, there is a real chance that no one would ever find out.

However, this money doesn't appear from nowhere - it comes from everyone's taxes. Let's face it; people hate paying taxes. However, people do recognize that they get a great deal from their taxes. Schools, roads, police, military protection, and even national parks all are paid for with taxes. However, if there's less money to go around due to corruption, then the quality of all those things suffers. At that point, governments are left with one of two options: they can either raise taxes to pay for the things that should have been paid for with the money lost through corruption, or they can just let those services suffer. Either way, there are going to be some pretty upset people.

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