The U.S. Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that 2012 losses because of personal identity theft totaled $24.7 billion. The money losses from identity theft pale in comparison with the costs of paperwork, time and inconvenience imposed on the larger society in an effort to protect ourselves. According to LifeLock, while the laws against identity theft have gotten tougher, identity theft criminal prosecution is relatively rare. Unless we develop a low tolerance and a willingness to impose harsh sentences, identity thieves will continue to impose billions of dollars of costs on society.
Today’s Americans tolerate what would have been unthinkable years ago. According to the National Center for Education Statistics and the BJS, 209,800 primary- and secondary-school teachers reported being physically attacked by a student during the 2011-12 academic year. Hundreds of thousands more are threatened with injury. On average, 1,175 teachers are physically attacked each day of the school year. These facts demonstrate an unwillingness to defend ourselves against these young barbarians, who often will grow into big barbarians.
During the 1940s and early ’50s, when I was in school, assaulting or threatening teachers was unthinkable. Corporal punishment in school and/or at home would have been the result of an assault or threat against a teacher. Starting in the ’50s, following Dr. Benjamin Spock’s advice, what worked for centuries was exchanged with what sounded good. In 1970, Thomas Gordon, best-selling author of “Parent Effectiveness Training,” told parents to stop punishing their children and to start treating them “much as we treat friends or a spouse.” Corporal punishment has been criminalized. Other forms of punishment have been replaced with “timeout” and other such nonsense.
When young barbarians grow up to become big barbarians, often there’s still an unwillingness to defend ourselves. In many poor neighborhoods, the police know who the criminals are, but their hands are tied by the courts. These criminals are permitted to prey on the overwhelmingly law-abiding members of the community, who, because of ineffective police protection, are huddled behind bars in their homes. Sometimes these criminals go downtown to single out white people, whom they sometimes refer to as “polar bears,” to play the “knockout” game. What’s worse is that sometimes, as in the case of Rochester, New York, the police characterize these brazen attacks as harassment rather than assaults. Though most of these attacks are against white people, the news media and police are reluctant to call them racist hate crimes.
It’s in the international arena where we face the greatest threat from our unwillingness to protect ourselves. Most of the international community sees Iran as a sponsor and exporter of terrorism. There’s no question that if Iran develops nuclear weapons, it doesn’t bode well for the world. But what does the world do, led by the U.S.? It allows Iran to go full speed ahead in the name of what the Iranian press calls “the Iranian nation’s nuclear rights.” The U.S. alone has the power to tell Iran to permit unimpeded inspection of the country’s nuclear facilities, with the threat of bombing if it doesn’t comply.
The West, led by our country, is doing exactly what it did in the run-up to World War II. It knowingly allowed Adolf Hitler to rearm — in violation of treaties — which led to a war that cost 60 million lives. In 1936, France alone could have stopped Hitler.
We have a similar lack of willingness to effectively deal with terrorists. Our intelligence community knows the national origin of those who attack Americans. At least one part of our strategy should be to inform nations that we will exact a heavy price from them if they become a staging ground for terrorists.
Unfortunately, for the future of our nation and the world, we are too focused on government handouts rather than the most basic function of government: defending us from barbarians.
Walter E. Williams is a professor of economics at George Mason University.