The demand for crime

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Ahmed Hashaam Hadi

IT is generally believed that criminals supply crime to society, but there is also a demand for crime by the society to criminals. This demand creates criminal opportunities which the suppliers of crime – criminals– exploit. You may feel that crimes such as murder or robbery are not demanded, but supplied to society that is to say they are done and provided to our society.
However, from an economist viewpoint there has to be an interaction of demand and supply forces for something to come into existence. If there is demand for something, then by supplying it, a profit can be earned. If there is no demand and supply exists, no profit can be earned. If a police officer after taking bribe does not register a crime of murder of a prostitute by a rich drug addict, you may say that crime was enforced upon society by corrupt police officer and rich drug addict. That is to say, it was supplied to society. However, in the following lines you will see that in fact it was the demand that played an important role. It is not supply of criminal activities but a demand of them that keeps the crime market in Pakistan thriving.
What is meant by the demand of crime? We can classify two forms of demand of crime; first, direct demand of illegal goods or services for example, drugs or prostitution. Bribery is also direct demand. Second, an indirect demand exists. Indirect demand is a complex idea.
Why people create a direct demand of crime? There are at least three reasons.
First, some drugs relieve stress or alleviate depression but also create an addiction. They offer a false promise of relief. Seduced by the ability of drugs to alter psychological state, some people, especially young people, become dependent on the drugs. The initial contact with the drug is euphoric. The buzz of dose relieves the stress and frees the mind. No matter for how short a while but there is a taste of freedom. Again and again the new users visit this seducer and become its life-long prisoners – they become addicted to drugs. A culture characterized by discouragement of the free thinking and family pressures exaggerated by poor economic conditions, create a perfect place for depression, stress or other psychological disturbances. In this purgatory of the psychological chaos where there is little, if any, chance of escape the demand of drugs in form of addiction is born.
Second, some drugs such as wine or services such as prostitution offer recreational activity. In some countries these are regulated which means the protection is ensured to all parties involved. However, in Pakistan, these are not regulated. As a result, it becomes illegal to use them. But why people demand these recreational goods and services? Apparently, it has always been difficult to limit these two – alcohol and prostitution – in any country, in any era and Pakistan is no exception. Perhaps, it is in human nature.
Third, due to lack of transparency bribery becomes possible. Driven by greed or pushed by hunger, a person inevitably engages in bribery. He demands services otherwise not offered legally by means of bribe. The reason is lack of a system of incentives and punishments to ensure bribery free environment. The motivation to discourage bribery dies in the face of the authorities responsible for making a bribery free system who themselves have a vested interest in keeping the current system going. Police, for example, has become notorious due to this reason. Patwari is another example of bribe-taking office in Pakistan.
The interaction of these three gives rise to complex patterns of demand of crime. Consider again the same example; a police officer was bribed to ignore the case of murder of a prostitute because she was bought by a psychologically depraved but rich person under influence of drugs. The bribe was offered to police, thus a crime was bought. That means a crime was demanded. Drugs were consumed. Thus they were bought, which means another crime was demanded. The prostitute was bought, which was another demand. Murder of a woman was committed. Thus a crime was supplied to society. But this supply was not possible if other crimes were not bought. Thus, it was interaction of demand and supply forces that established a price – bribe – and quantity – murder of one individual – of crime.
Now let us discuss a rather intricate indirect demand of crime. One simplest form of indirect demand is tolerance. When people tolerate crime, it has same effect as if they want crime to continue or in other words they keep demanding crime. The silence towards a criminal activity creates an indirect demand of crime. In other words, an inverse of demand of protection from crime is demand of crime.
Another reason for indirect demand of crime is police. There is always an incentive for police to let the criminals engage in stealing or robbing besides other illegal activities. While illegal activities, other than stealing or robbing, provide opportunities to earn bribe money, stealing or robbing provide an altogether different scenario. Stealing or robbing means a share of loot can be divided between robbers and police. This possibility of sharing the loot is not left unexploited. Thus the information about criminals, the potential targets of criminals, and power to arrest or release criminals create a framework in which police can operate in a way to motivate crime indirectly and benefit from it. This creates an indirect demand of crime because police does not engage in the criminal activity itself but manipulates information and authority to let the crime occur for its own vested interest.
Yet another source of indirect demand for crime comes from Pakistan’s ‘irrational and blinded’ religious sentiment which Islam strictly prohibits. A murder of a woman is a murder – a crime – whether motivated by honour killing or by any other reason. At lowest extreme, this sentiment has caused honor killing and highest level it has caused a decade of terrorism. This mania demands an individual to engage in criminal activities. Lack of education and a scientific mind setup constitutes the core of this source of indirect demand of crime.
Finally, even if all of above forms of demand can be controlled by some magical powers two more reasons of demand of crime will remain active. First, some people are risk loving by nature. Not even education can take away the mania for risk. Demand of an illegal good poses a threat which is a challenge for them and these Narcissists simply must take this risk. Besides risk taking there are several personality dispositions e.g. Borderline or Narcissism etc which cause a person to engage in criminal activity because they simply cannot tolerate idea of boundary. To control demand of crime, the personality disorders must be understood and taken into account by law enforcing agencies.
Second, if our government keeps making laws which go against human nature or ban goods which are otherwise harmless, there will be a demand of crime. An example of this was the ban on YouTube which was a useful website. This ban taught more about using proxies to open illegal websites than any marketing effort by proxy selling companies. Equipped with knowledge of proxies, now any individual can open websites that contain illicit material least worrying of which is depraved pornographic content. Had government not created demand for engaging in illegal – criminal – activity by needlessly blocking YouTube? I think yes. If government had blocked only the undesired material on YouTube and left the rest of harmless and popular material on YouTube unblocked, no one would ever have learned use of proxies.
The lesson from the brief discussion about the demand of crime is that it is suggestive of one fundamental reality. It is not only supply of crime, but a demand, which interacts with the forces that supply crime, and determine whether the crime will take place or not. The price and quantity of crime is determined by the interaction of these forces. Thus we can view crime not only from a psychological and legal view point but also as a market where different forms of crimes are bought and sold. A thriving crime market exists in our country. Because it is demand which must exit for supplier to earn profit by supplying demanded commodity, each commodity – type of crime – in this crime market must now be analysed from view point of direct and indirect demand of crime. And our policies to control crime should shift focus from controlling the supply of crime to the demand of crime.