The economic situation is proving challenging to “root cause” theorists—those who argue that social pathologies like crime arise from economic inequality and racism, not cultural dysfunction. The regular predictions that crime will go up as self-disciplined burghers lose their jobs continue to be dashed. To be sure, in some cities, youth violence has been bobbing up and down. Chicago, for example, saw a 38 percent spike in homicide victims aged 17 and younger in 2008—to a total of 50 victims—but this year, those youth homicides were down 19 percent by the end of September. Inner-city gangbangers never had jobs to begin with. Their violence represents the cumulative effects of a culture where marriage has disappeared as an expectation for young men.
And now the other favorite target of root-causism—homelessness—is also defying advocates’ expectations. The homeless population in Los Angeles has dropped 38 percent since 2007. Despite recent unconvincing attempts by the New York Times to portray a rise in homelessness among socially affiliated people, homelessness is overwhelmingly a product of addiction, mental illness, and opportunity. When misguided urban leaders tolerate the colonization of streets by vagrants, more and more people will take advantage of the opportunity to live outside the rules of normal society. The Los Angeles Police Department has been aggressively enforcing quality-of-life laws in downtown’s Skid Row, as well as offering housing and assistance to every vagrant its officers cite who does not have a history of violence. People seldom accept the offer of assistance, but they have gotten off the streets. And with the once anarchic and violent Skid Row encampments greatly diminished, thanks to police action, the former residents of those tents and lean-tos are not being replaced by new fugitives, pimps, and addicts.