The Social Contract, Crime and Lack of Opportunity

Social Contract cover. Jean-Jacques Rousseau 1762.
Social Contract by Jean-Jacques Rousseau

The basic United States social contract is work hard, obey the law, and you can succeed. That the social contract is not fully achieved can be seen in two facts. We have a crime rate that is too high and we have too much poverty.

The people who break the law do so for two general reasons—because they can and because they can’t get what they want in any other way. Because they can is a form of “Might Makes Right” on an individual scale. If the criminal is bigger, stronger, more brutal, or smarter than his target (and everyone has an edge over some people), he will take advantage of the situation.

Thermometer of Socialization

When I was growing up, I saw that the amount of education was an inverse indicator of a person’s reliance on Might Makes Right. If the guy stopped school before the 8th grade, that person would see taking directly from another the solution to their wants. If the person left school during high school, the person, if criminally inclined, would still take what they wanted, but it would be indirect, a nighttime break-in rather than a street robbery. As one goes further in education, if one craves more than one can earn legitimately, we enter the world of white-collar crime.

As the prior argument makes clear, there are two components that lead a person to using Might Makes Right. First is the lack of acceptance of the social convention—follow the law. The other is a self-image as unable to succeed within the society’s environment.


A person’s self-image with respect to their success is formed by familial experience and by interaction with society. With so many familial possibilities and with some clearly dysfunctional, we can unfortunately be sure that a level of damaged self-image and criminality will continue, no matter the improvements we make to the wider society.

Social Contract Delivery

What societal improvements am I talking about and how do they relate to the crime rate? We need to live up to the promise initiated in the Declaration of Independence:

“… all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness”

and developed further in the American Dream as stated by James Truslow Adams in 1931 (bolding by me),

“… life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement regardless of social class or circumstances of birth.”

Opportunity and Crime

How does opportunity relate to crime? For that population that is not allowed an opportunity to achieve, some portion will not be socialized to reject Might Makes Right, yet will retain their desires for what others have. They will be the criminals of tomorrow.

The social contract, more formally, according to Merriam-Webster is

“an actual or hypothetical agreement among the members of an organized society or between a community and its ruler that defines and limits the rights and duties of each.”

The ruler in the US is the ruling class—the government, leaders of social organizations, lobbyists, and opinion makers. They are responsible for creating a society that provides opportunities for each. That is their duty according to the social contract, which in turn promises a population in compliance with law.

Range of Outcomes

I am not a person who believes equal opportunity means equal outcomes. People have different levels of skills, meaning that equal opportunity will deliver a range of outcomes.

That being said, society has not provided a normal range of outcomes in the recent past. Since the 1970s the ratio of CEO-to-full-time-worker pay has exploded in favor of CEOs. The rulers have taken 95% of all income gains since 2008 for themselves. That is far beyond the normal range of outcomes resulting from different level of skills.

Failure to Provide Opportunity

If our leaders fail to address the lack of opportunity for the poor, they must accept blame for a crime rate that they find intolerable.

Related Posts
Flash Mob and the Social Contract
Handful of School Curriculum Changes

a_gov Government Society

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

You May Have Missed