Poverty calls to mind starvation and inadequate clothing, leaky roofs, no doctors or medications for illness. But David Brooks recently reminded us of something even more important. The primary effect of poverty is “raw fear.”
“People in many parts of the world simply live beyond the apparatus of law and order. The District of Columbia spends about $850 per person per year on police. In Bangladesh, the government spends less than $1.50 per person per year on police. The cops are just not there.
“In the United States, there is one prosecutor for every 12,000 citizens. In Malawi, there is one prosecutor for every 1.5 million citizens. The prosecutors are just not there.”
Most of us take civil order for granted. To be sure, crime and violence exist – but, generally, they are exceptions. When they occur to us, we are usually shocked. And we usually feel safe on the streets, unless we live in a crime-infested, drug-infused decaying urban area such as Detroit was until recently. But that level of security was achieved a relatively short time ago. In poor countries it still does not exist.
Brooks adds: “Even when there is some legal system in place, it’s not designed to impose law and order for the people. It is there to protect the regime from the people.” The wealthy and the established, by and large, are immune from prosecution, and corruption means that being ‘privileged’ means having the right to do what you want with impunity. (See, “The Republic of Fear.“)