01 Nov 2006

Who’s Worse Off, California or Iraq?

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Back in April, Victor Davis Hansen published an editorial titled Eye of the Beholder which really puts the MSM’s reporting on the level of disaster in Iraq into perspective. With the Fall election approaching, I think more potential voters need to read it.

War-torn Iraq has about 26 million residents, a peaceful California perhaps now 35 million. The former is a violent and impoverished landscape, the latter said to be paradise on Earth. But how you envision either place to some degree depends on the eye of the beholder and is predicated on what the daily media appear to make of each.

As a fifth-generation Californian, I deeply love this state, but still imagine what the reaction would be if the world awoke each morning to be told that once again there were six more murders, 27 rapes, 38 arsons, 180 robberies, and 360 instances of assault in California — yesterday, today, tomorrow, and every day. I wonder if the headlines would scream about “Nearly 200 poor Californians butchered again this month!”

How about a monthly media dose of “600 women raped in February alone!” Or try, “Over 600 violent robberies and assaults in March, with no end in sight!” Those do not even make up all of the state’s yearly 200,000 violent acts that law enforcement knows about.

Iraq’s judicial system seems a mess. On the eve of the war, Saddam let out 100,000 inmates from his vast prison archipelago. He himself still sits in the dock months after his trial began. But imagine an Iraq with a penal system like California’s with 170,000 criminals — an inmate population larger than those of Germany, France, the Netherlands, and Singapore combined.

Just to house such a shadow population costs our state nearly $7 billion a year — or about the same price of keeping 40,000 Army personnel per year in Iraq. What would be the image of our Golden State if we were reminded each morning, “Another $20 million spent today on housing our criminals”?

Some of California’s most recent prison scandals would be easy to sensationalize: “Guards watch as inmates are raped!” Or “Correction officer accused of having sex with underaged detainee!” And apropos of Saddam’s sluggish trial, remember that our home state multiple murderer, Tookie Williams, was finally executed in December 2005 — 26 years after he was originally sentenced.

Much is made of the inability to patrol Iraq’s borders with Iran, Jordan, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Turkey. But California has only a single border with a foreign nation, not six. Yet over 3 million foreigners who snuck in illegally now live in our state. Worse, there are about 15,000 convicted alien felons incarcerated in our penal system, costing about $500 million a year. Imagine the potential tabloid headlines: “Illegal aliens in state comprise population larger than San Francisco!” or “Drugs, criminals, and smugglers given free pass into California!”

Every year, over 4,000 Californians die in car crashes — nearly twice the number of Americans lost so far in three years of combat operations in Iraq. In some sense, then, our badly maintained roads, and often poorly trained and sometimes intoxicated drivers, are even more lethal than Improvised Explosive Devices. Perhaps tomorrow’s headline might scream out at us: “300 Californians to perish this month on state highways! Hundreds more will be maimed and crippled!”

In 2001, California had 32 days of power outages, despite paying nearly the highest rates for electricity in the United States. Before complaining about the smoke in Baghdad rising from private generators, think back to the run on generators in California when they were contemplated as a future part of every household’s line of defense.

We’re told that Iraq’s finances are a mess. Yet until recently, so were California’s. Two years ago, Governor Schwarzenegger inherited a $38 billion annual budget shortfall. That could have made for strong morning newscast teasers: “Another $100 million borrowed today — $3 billion more in red ink to pile up by month’s end!”

So is California comparable to Iraq? Hardly. Yet it could easily be sketched by a reporter intent on doing so as a bank rupt, crime-ridden den with murderous highways, tens of thousands of inmates, with wide-open borders.

I myself recently returned home to California, without incident, from a visit to Iraq’s notorious Sunni Triangle. While I was gone, a drug-addicted criminal with a long list of convictions broke into our kitchen at 4 a.m., was surprised by my wife and daughter, and fled with our credit cards, cash, keys, and cell phones.

Sometimes I wonder who really was safer that week.

2 Feedbacks on "Who’s Worse Off, California or Iraq?"

Dominique R. Poirier

Since when a higher rate of criminality and a high number of inmates, in California, or in United Sates in general, is supposed to be surprising? Are we supposed to be that uneducated, or stupid?
To all those who complain about that I answer: “This is your dear burden, my dear!, Be happy with it! Because if your criminality rate were as low as you expect it, or nearly nil; then it would mean that you live in a poor country.”

We know, since quite long, that high rate of criminality and overcrowded prisons are corollary of national wealth. It has been first discovered by Alexis de Tocqueville, who wrote with Gustave de Beaumont, in 1833, an entire book about this phenomenon whose title is On the Penitentiary System in the United Sates and its Application to France.
As much as I memory be still reliable, it seems to me he said something interesting about this topic in another, less known, little piece of work whose title is On Pauperism.

Alexis de Tocqueville, as a good observer, noticed that prisons and inmates were few in Portugal, while they were much more numerous in United States. From then on, and while looking at other countries, he soon established there was a link between level of wealth and well being in a given country and its number of inmates; so its rate of criminality.

High general wealth and well being in a country is the main cause of higher rate of criminality, just because unequal distribution of the general wealth is most likely to occur in rich countries than in poor countries.
Your car is more likely to be stolen if it is a Cadillac Escalade, than if it is a Peugeot 504. But you and I prefer the Cadillac Escalade, and so, inescapably, we have to expect to be personally disturbed by criminality if we own that sort of car.

Then, social problems connected to wealth and inescapable inequality have been carefully and largely analyzed and explained by Sigmund Freud in Civilization and its Discontent, and by B. F. Skinner in Beyond Freedom and Dignity. Whether Freud, subsequently, advocates Marxism is a matter of personal opinion, I think.
Anyway, the problem of higher rate of criminality in rich countries has not been yet solved.

Meanwhile, I would prefer running the risk that someone steal my car someday.

Ryan Lowe

This is a well-written piece, but it’s not completely convincing for the following reasons:

Hanson cites that 180 people are murdered in California every month, which is more than the number of soldiers that die in Iraq every month, right? But then let’s remember that Iraqis live in Iraq, and are dying from violence at a rate of about 1500 people a month (~end of 2007). Since Iraq has about two-thirds of California’s population, that means civilians are dying at a rate at least 1000% higher than that of California.

Also, if Hanson is comparing US soldier deaths to California statistics, shouldn’t he be comparing US soldier casualties to the number of *police officers* killed on duty in California in a month? (1 officer per 30 million US citizens per month vs. 50 US soldiers in Iraq) This is a casualty rating in Iraq that is 5000% higher than that in California.

Are these even remotely comparable circumstances, really?



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