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Working with a definition that implies moral corruption as opposed to other types of corruption such as political corruption, the word can be defined as dishonesty; the ignoring of what is right or wrong to focus upon what benefits one's desires. With this definition, then, often both poverty as well as lack of morals can induce people to become morally corrupt, although the lack of ethics and morals seems to propel people more quickly into corruption.
World literature is replete with examples of the poor who, in their desperation, have turned to crime for the survival of themselves and their families. The works of Charles Dickens, a social reformer in the Victorian Age, are replete with tales of the starving and destitute who must steal in order to survive. In modern times, crime is still very high in poor neighborhoods in the United States. According to statistics posted by the Jackson Free Press in Mississippi, the poorest state in the United States,
Fifty-three percent of people in prison earned less than $10,000 per year before incarceration.
Lower-class youth commit four times more violent crimes than middle-class youth.
From these statistics, one could conclude that poverty is a major cause for crime. While it, indeed, is cause, it is impossible from these statistics to separate how much of the motivation for crime is from poverty and how much from lack of moral instruction. It would seem, therefore, that an examination of the types of crimes committed would have to be listed as well because violent crimes may not be motivated by hunger and want as much as theft from grocery and retail stores, etc. would be. In addition, with the welfare programs and charitable organizations that the U.S. has in place, there is no real necessity for anyone who is poor to feel motivated to steal.
Greed and moral turpitude are contributing factors to tremendous amounts of crime. Such nefarious figures as Al Capone, Lucky Luciano, Carlo Gambini, John Gotti and the Mafia; others such as Richard Scrushy, Bernie Madoff, and others guilty of fraud were motivated, not by poverty, but by lack of morals. The newspapers are full of stories of embezzlement, bank fraud, accountants who have cheated their clients, etc. Political corruption, of course, is caused by immoral motives of desire for power and greed. Therefore, the argument that lack of morality is greater motivation for crime seems stronger than the argument for poverty as a cause.
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