Williams: Blacks Need To Go Beyond Politics

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Former Reason stalwart, syndicated columnist, and economist-to-the-stars Walter Williams has a sharp piece in today's Washington Times (a paper so grand that it recently excerpted Tim Cavanaugh's excellent bit on liberal hawks and regularly runs Jacob Sullum's scintillating syndicated col). His point: that African Americans need to realize that politics won't address the problems many in their community face. Snippets:

Whether you're black, white or polka dot, to take advantage of opportunities, you must be prepared. A large part of preparation is a decent K-12 education.

For children to do well in school, there are some minimum requirements. Someone must make them do their homework, see that they get a good night's rest, prepare a breakfast and make sure they get to school on time and obey school authorities. This is not rocket science, but here's my question: Can those requirements be met by a president, member of Congress or a mayor?…

Solutions to the most serious problems facing black Americans will not be found in the political arena. Otherwise, the problems would have been long solved with the civil rights legislation, litigation and the more than $8 trillion spent on poverty programs since 1965. Or the problems would have been solved by the two terms of Bill Clinton, whom some blacks called the first black president.

Whole thing here. I basically agree with Williams, who also notes that discrimination still exists but argues that it isn't the main reason many blacks struggle. I think he's right to emphasize the importance of education–but he glosses over the political obstacles that help keep public education sub-par, especially in urban and lower-income areas. Williams himself is a strong advocate of school choice, which is favored by an overwhelming majority of blacks–and is ultimately only going to come about via political struggle.

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  1. Maybe politics should be seen as tool to wield in search of a solution, rather than the solution itself.

  2. It doesn’t look like Dr. Williams is arguing that blacks should ignore politics completely, but rather that blacks shouldn’t be fooled into thinking that their problems will be solved if only they’d elect the right people.

  3. Someone must make them do their homework, see that they get a good night’s rest, prepare a breakfast and make sure they get to school on time and obey school authorities.

    I’m always a little confused by stuff like this. I made my own breakfast. No one “made sure” that I did my homework or got to school on time or obeyed authorities. Unless you count that I knew I was a bad boy if I didn’t. So I did…well, MOST of the time….

  4. Has it dawned on Dr. Williams that some of the reasons there are so many people in his community who aren’t carrying out the responsibilities he identifies might have political roots? Or at least, economic roots that could be addressed by political solutions? If his point had been that the problems can’t be solved entirely through politics, his column would have been much stronger, but his case is overstated. Perhaps the doing of the Moonie Times editorial staff?

    “Unstable families aren’t politically correctable by presidents, legislators and mayors.” True, though the causes of unstable families could well require political solutions. Black people didn’t suddenly get hit with a lazy, evil bomb in 1960! Anyone who’s ever argued with the wife about bills can tell you, economic stress can play hell with familial well-being. And the capital flight away from urban centers that began in the 1940s, a phenomenon that was partially a political event, put a lot of stress on urban families. Combine this with discriminatory housing policies (again, politics) that prevented black people from following that capital, as their white neighbors could, and it’s no wonder we ended up with a couple generations of severely stressed families.

    BTW, many of the indicators he points to – urban crime rates, teenage births, and poverty – did in fact get considerably better under President Clinton, as government policy allowed urban communities to take part in the decade’s economic growth, as they had so dramatically failed to do in the previous period of extended growth. In the 1980s, if a South Bronx entrepreneur somehow managed to see significant income growth, he was more likely than not to invest it in getting the hell out of the South Bronx. In the 1990s, he was much more likely to invest it in upgrading his existing operatinon.

  5. “It doesn’t look like Dr. Williams is arguing that blacks should ignore politics completely, but rather that blacks shouldn’t be fooled into thinking that their problems will be solved if only they’d elect the right people.”

    This doesn’t just apply to blacks.

  6. joe, non-sequitir what?

    anyways, what definitely won’t help bring about school-choice is electing leftists in the pockets of the teachers unions. you’ll notice that while vast majorities of blacks support school-choice, very few members of congressional black caucus do, nor do other pols with high black constituencies…

    if you want something different from the gov, got to elect someone different…

  7. Jim, of course it applies to everyone. But Dr. Williams’ article was focused on that community, so my response was as well.

  8. hey,

    School choice as currently depicted is a fraud, one that would assist only a tiny fraction of the kids in bad schools, while draining resources away from those schools. A lot of urban parents support it – sure they do, a drowning man will grab even the blade of a sword. That doesn’t mean holding out swords to drowning men is the best way to address the situation.

  9. BTW, poll after poll of black parents shows that they support improvements to the public schools even more than they support private school vouchers. You’re offering hungry people a raw fish, and pretending they want raw fish when they accept.

    Black parents support private school vouchers the same way hostages support the payment of their ransom.

  10. Someone must make them do their homework, see that they get a good night’s rest, prepare a breakfast and make sure they get to school on time and obey school authorities.

    Fyoder does not understand that statement.

    My wife taught in Atlanta City Schools for several years. Her students did not do their homework, stayed up all hours of the night, did not eat well, often did not even show up for school, and certainly did not mind their teachers. These were 1st and 2nd graders. They were doomed from the start.

    Even living in “The Mecca”, where the people in political power shared their skin color, did not help them.

  11. {WARNING WARNING WARNING: Blogpimping ahead}

    If you want to see a nice example of how politics can’t solve urban problems, but can actually make things worse take a nice, hard look at the DC public school system (highly funded, well paid teacher, strong teachers union, quite possibly the worst performing school district in the country)

    The gory details at The DC Education Blog

    {end transmission}

  12. Joe.

    Culture matters.

    How is that Asian American immigrants can move into an urban neighborhood (knowing little or no English) and succeed where generations of African American have failed? Dropping into a new nation with limited resources is pretty damn high on the stress scale. Somehow, many immigrants cope and succeed. It’s about hard work, delayed gratification, investment in education and skills, support from the family and community and all of the same things that have formed the basis for social and economic success for eons.

    Sadly, when someone in America tries to talk about culture all anyone hears is race. The grim reality, Joe, is that government has a very limited ability to change culture. When it tries, the results are usually lousy… see the Native American reservations.

    Listen to Bill Cosby’s recent comments on race. The man is dead on. Listen to Chris Rock’s comedy. These are two African-American men who understand the inner city problem… it’s all about a screwed-up culture. And this, not money, is the key. Cultural icons like Rock and Cosby have to speak honestly about cultural flaws, challenge assumptions and help people get over the victim/”blame it on the Man” mentality. Oh, and it wouldn’t hurt to have a few well-intentioned collectivists wake up and smell the coffee.

  13. Have there been any studies about how much money public schools actually lose to vouchers?

    I’m thinking of one that would not only consider the marginal cost of one student (in which case the savings of the system might be much than the smaller than the cost of the voucher, hence Joe’s fraud) but one that considers the substantial savings to the system to be had by cutting overhead (salary, facilities, etc.) when a whole classroom’s or school’s worth of students leave the system by using vouchers.

    As an example, let’s say system X is spending 8,000 dollars a student on 10,000 students in 10 equivalent facilites. (The numbers are simple for a simpleton like me.) Issue a 1,000 vouchers for 6,000 dollars each, shut down one facility, and now you can spend 8,200 dollars a student on 9,000 students in 9 facilities. Essentially, the system has 4,000,000 “new” dollars to spend. Make the vouchers smaller (make the peons pay for the privilege of “abadoning the schools”) and you can free up even more money.

    If there is a flaw in the reasoning, please be a guide for the perplexed.

  14. Ah, Walter Williams, the only living patron saint of libertarians. I like him because he can cut to the chase and make his point without a lot of BS cluttering things up.

    I also like him because he once told the LP convention that their fixation with drug legalization was nothing more than “masturbating in public”. The context of course was that there are more pressing issues on the table, many of which were nicely articulated by people commenting on this blog the day after the election.

    I don’t see what is unclear about the concept of a parent making sure the kids are fed, actually get to school, respect the school authorities, and do their homework. You can toss all the excuses (or reasons) for failure out there for us to peruse, but strip it all away and the reality is that, yes, somebody has to do just that or you’ve got a serious problem.

  15. Of course culture matters, Jose. But culture is influenced by material conditions. There is a bit of a chicken/egg situation going on here. My beef with the article is that it doesn’t recognize this, and assumes that all the movement is from culture -> economic conditions.

    In fact, declining economic conditions (on the local level) during the middle of the 20th century that had nothing to do with urban culture played a big role in creating the situation we have today – cultural and economic.

    Most Asian immigrants who came here between 1950 and 1990, say, didn’t move into depressed urban centers – they moved to West Coast suburbs and rented the cheapest apartments, making them the poorer people in middle class towns. Or, they moved to those rare urban areas that maintained strong economies, like SF’s Chinatown. Point is, they moved to places with greater economic opportunity. In addition, most of them were not impoverished within their countries of origin, but were their countrie’s middle class – which is why they were able to get here to begin with. So, does this middle class origin -> better outcomes in the states tendency result from economic or cultural forces? The answer is, you can’t separate the two.

    I live in a city in which most of the Asian immigrants were refugees, many of whom actually were impoverished workers/peasants in their home countries. Many of these families continue to be very poor. Are they poor because they were poor, or are they poor because they’ve assimilated the culture of a poor urban center? It’s a tangled problem, and both the material and cultural analyses get part of the story right. Arguing that one, and not the other, explains the situation is a waste of breath.

  16. Fabius, it costs just as much to heat a school with 25 kids in each classroom as 20. It costs just as much to pay a teacher who’s looking at 25 faces as 20. It costs just as much to run a bus that picks up 75 kids as one that picks up 60.

    A neighborhood is often defined as the area of a city that generates the number of kids necessary to fill an elementary school. Most school systems have been based on this model, with an elementary school in each neighborhood. Unless you’re talking about giving all the vouchers to all the kids in one neighborhood, you aren’t shutting down any schools. You slightly reduce the marginal costs, but you’re still eating the fixed costs, while taking a big chunk of money out of the system.

    Here’s hoping you’re a little less perplexed.

  17. The grim reality, Joe, is that government has a very limited ability to change culture. When it tries, the results are usually lousy… see the Native American reservations.

    Unless, of course, we’re trying to change the culture of an entire region of the world by bombing them. Then most of the people on this forum will assure you that it’s all within the government’s power! 🙂

    joe-

    While I frequently agree with you, don’t even try to make excuses for people who don’t take care of their kids. It’s beneath you.

    Besides, I’m not quite ready to write off all of black culture as dysfunctional. While there are clearly a lot of people who need to do a better job taking care of their kids, there are still a lot of black parents who keep their kids far more disciplined than a lot of white suburban kids I’ve met. While politically correct white suburban parents might worry about their kids’ self-esteem and circle the wagons if the teacher accuses the precious little baby of cheating or fighting, there are still a lot of strict black parents who will have none of that and make their kids call the teacher “sir” or “ma’am”.

    And if you want to limit the discussion to the very bottom of the socio-economic ladder, in my experience volunteering at a homeless shelter black parents tend to be pretty good disciplinarians (with a few egregious exceptions who have made our task, um, interesting). White and Hispanic parents tend to run the gamut from great to awful.

  18. Fabius, congradulations on making perfect sense. I’ve also thought that an approximate 80% discount, based on a state’s per pupil cost, for a private school voucher would introduce market forces into the current monopoly.

    Joe, if 10% of the states current student population opt out of using public education, why not cut approximately 10% of school overhead, close under used schools, etc.

  19. “While I frequently agree with you, don’t even try to make excuses for people who don’t take care of their kids. It’s beneath you.”
    I am doing no such thing, thoreau. Such strawmen are beneath YOU. Examinging the causes of behavior is NOT making excuses for it. Should we continue to be perplexed why people from shitty homes commit more crimes than people from good homes? Does figuring this dynamic out require us to let all criminal whose fathers were pricks out of prison? Of course not.

    “Besides, I’m not quite ready to write off all of black culture as dysfunctional.” Nor am I. Very poor Appalacian towns, Indian reservations, and Asian ghettos often have the same culture-related problems of welfare dependency, high crime, and family breakdown – which makes my point that these problems are the result of the economic conditions.

    “The grim reality, Joe, is that government has a very limited ability to change culture.” It DOES have the ability to change economic circumstances. To the extent that economic conditions influence culture, improving those circumstances can reduce the deleterious effects of poverty on culture.

    bendover, “Joe, if 10% of the states current student population opt out of using public education, why not cut approximately 10% of school overhead, close under used schools, etc.” For the fixed cost/marginal cost reasons I explained above.

  20. Sorry Joe, but that simplistic explanation doesn’t wash with me. In any urban setting, schools are routinely closed and their student populations consolidated. Almost every cost can be classified as variable if the will exists. The current providers of public education, however, have no incentive to do so.

  21. Joe,

    Heat? Please, that’s why I suggested not just the marginal cost of one student. (Although you could save some money by turning off the A/C. Except in the desert, it’s never too hot for school during the school year.)

    Are schoolbuses really necessary in a city? Presumably many can walk to school or take a regular bus (you can give them a student pass if you like).

    So instead of shutting down a whole school, how about one classroom of 25 kids per school (the classroom can be used for other purpose such as storage or mothballed for when the school age population goes up). Less a schoolteacher (with taxes, medical, salary, etc.) and supplies (paper, books, etc.) you’re up maybe 80,000 dollars. Be cheap and give offer them a 2,000 dollar voucher and you’re still ahead 30,000 dollars.

    But again, does anyone know of an actual study of the economics of school vouchers and the implications for the student, the system and the taxpayer?

    Maybe the argument, at the administrative and system level, is really about patronage, jobs and construction and purchasing kickbacks. Not teaching kids how to read, write and figure. (Individual state school teachers must be motivated by something other than filthy lucre as there are presumably easier ways to sham by sucking at the government teat.) Thinking that would be cynical.

    No picking on Walter Williams. He’s from Philly.

  22. “In the 1999-2000 school year, Ohio spent $1,832 per voucher student compared to $4,910 for each student in the Cleveland school district.”

    GAO 01-914

    Fabius always seems perplexed.

  23. Fabius, the Cato Institute has a ton of studies and papers on the subject of school vouchers.

  24. “The grim reality, Joe, is that government has a very limited ability to change culture.”

    It DOES have the ability to change economic circumstances.

    Usually for the worse. What has been the ROI on the $8 trillion spent on welfare/poverty initiatives? I mean, if $8 trillion in gov’t programs can’t eradicate poverty what are the odds that $16 trillion will eradicate it?

    But that’s the great thing about gov’t. If a program “works” then it needs more funding (to let it to “work” for more). If it doesn’t “work” it needs more funding (because it was obviously underfunded).

  25. Nonsense. The government could pull a truck full of $100 bills into a poor neighborhood and shovel them into the street. Come back a year or two later and most of the same people will be living in the same squalor. Giving people money doesn’t teach them a damn thing except to wait with arms outstretched for the next handout. This isn’t chicken and egg, Joe; it is horse and cart. Culture drives the wagon. Material conditions follow. Put a dysfunctional culture on the richest land on the planet and you’ll get a ghetto.

    The general cause of poverty is easy. Poor people make poor decisions. They do not self invest in skills or education. They spend money unwisely and make poor economic decisions. They do not delay gratification and waste money on credit purchases.

    Here’s a simple question, Joe. For how many years have you worked directly with welfare recipients? How many welfare families have you visited at home? With all due respect, your comments reflect the sensibility of a person with an academic grasp of poverty but no practical experience. Giving poor people money to solve the problem of poverty is like putting out a house fire with petrol.

  26. Nathan, Jose, you are correct that giving money to poor people does not address the root causes of poverty, and thus will not eliminate it. OTOH, the Community Reinvestment Act (which requires banks to provide financial services in poor areas), lead paint programs, job training, and other policies that work to undo the damage of 20th century capital flight can change the underlying conditions that make poor areas unattractive for private market investment. And that, the re-incorporation of abandoned areas into the mainstream economy, is what determines whether a poor neighborhood will be revitalized or not. So ultimately, we are in agreement – it doesn’t work to give poor people money. It doesn’t even work to bribe companies to do business where it doesn’t make sense for them to do business. Capital-starved areas need to actually become attractive places for private investment for their residents to rise out of poverty. Ultimately, our disagreement is about the best way to bring that about.

    It’s interesting that you both assumed the political solutions I talked about were cash payments to poor people. Liberal In Your Head Disease?

    Jose, you are just a flat out bigot regarding poor people. Newsflash – the guy asking you for change on your way to work isn’t typical of low-income Americans. Nor is “welfare recipients” a synomymn for “low income people.” I work with the latter almost every day, and the vast majority appear to earn their own money.

  27. It’s interesting that you both assumed the political solutions I talked about were cash payments to poor people. Liberal In Your Head Disease?

    Can’t speak for Jose, but I wasn’t thinking about cash payments. I never assumed that the $8 trillion were all about cash payments either. Lots of that money was spent on various programs, and the “poverty” situation — at least according to many advocates on the left — is apparently as bad as ever.

    The problem isn’t the money per-se, but the fact that the gov’t has little or no incentive to spend it wisely. The pressures are much less at providing results than a private company (where massive, under performing if not cut will lead to insolvency). I’m going to beat this drum again, but a prime example is DCPS. A school system that receives lots of funding (when compared to school districts around the country), where teachers’ salaries are among the highest in the nation yet it performs like shit. Everyone knows why: overstuffed yet useless middle management, an incompetent/corrupt contracting office (show me another place where a contract gets awarded to the highest and least experienced bidder), and an attitude towards student achievement that instead of teaches sets the bar so low that the statistics will mask the fact that no one is learning (yet, the kids still manage to come out at the bottom in most national statistics). Your tax dollars in action. And what is the standard solution to all of these problems? “We need more funding.”

    Newsflash – the guy asking you for change on your way to work isn’t typical of low-income Americans. Nor is “welfare recipients” a synonym for “low income people.” I work with the latter almost every day, and the vast majority appear to earn their own money.

    Newsflash – I don’t think Jose was equating “bad decision making” with panhandling. Just because you’re a income earner doesn’t mean you make good decisions, be it low income earner or high. If you are a low income earner and you don’t save (even if its just meager amounts each month) you’ve got decision making problems.

    – Low income yet have cable TV? Decision making problems.
    – Having kids that you can’t afford? Decision making problems.
    – On food stamps, yet own $200 Air Jordans? Decision making problems.
    – Don’t know that your kid has failed 9th grade 3 times? Decision making problems.

    And on and on and on.

    I’ve got neighbors around me who are low income, who do the above. Guess what, they’re going to be low income 10 – 20 years from now too. I also have neighbors around me who are low income and save, live within their means, care about their kids education (and back it up with actions like meeting with teachers on a regular basis, making sure homework is done, etc), save and invest (in their property). These folks, along with their kids, will not be low-income for long.

  28. Well Nathan, I agree that it would have been preferable if the private market had reversed course all by itself and started putting money into addressing the structural problems that made poor areas unattractive for private investment. But that wasn’t going to happen, because poor areas were unattractive for such private investment. See the problem?

    Any bank, for example, that started offering the financial services whose absence was preventing growth in those areas faced a huge free rider problem – that bank would have borne all the costs (most importantly, opportunity costs) of making those investments, but would have had to share the returns on that investment by all the other banks who would have made profits by opening up branches in the newly-attractive area.

    Any business that put the money into cleaning up contaminated industrial sites in the city, prior to building its new facility there, would be putting itself at a severe disadvantage with its competitors, who spent less money by building on a site out in the burbs that didn’t need to be cleaned up first.

    What would have been even better is if Santa had put in all the money necessary to address these structural problems, without collecting taxes to do so. That wasn’t going to happen either.

    So the choice is either that public sector takes on the responsibility, or the problems are never addressed.

    I also think you ignore the carrots and sticks that do exist for the public sector to perform. Those who successfully address problems get status and promotions (whether in the bureacracy or elected office), those who do not get voted out. If you(the conservatives/libertarians of the world) have a problem with government officials who are treated exactly the same, whether they achieve or not, perhaps you shouldn’t treat them exactly the same whether they achieve or not. This is a democracy, and the government can be held accountable, if the people are interested in doing so. You people make a virtue of drawing no distinction between government that works and government that does not.

  29. As for the behavior of poor people – why do you assume that defeatism is always such an irrational outlook? In the South Bronx circa 1980, a kid who decided that staying in school didn’t significantly increase his chances of rising into the middle class, and that he and his family would be better off if he went on welfare, clerked at a store, or sold heroin, was probably right, as sad as it is to say.

    I have faith in people – if there actually are opportunities associated with making good decisions, most people will make them most of the time. When most of the people in a given neighborhood decided that they’re just plain stuck, no matter what they do, it’s probably not a mass hallucination.

  30. I grew up in abject poverty, Joe. Some family members and lifelong friends escaped economic desolation. Some have not. The difference has been decision making. Please note that I am not saying those who rose above poverty are better human beings than those who remain impoverished. We simply made different decisions.

    All of the programs you mention, Joe, are just money wrapped in a different package. I fail to see any evidence, however, that any government programs change individual decision making and individual decision making is the primary determining factor between wealth and poverty… not race, not gender, not environment, not circumstances.

    If I say most of the people in prison are there because they are criminals, am I bigot? Of course, some prisoners are innocent. In general terms, however, prisons are full of people who have made personal decisions that have resulted in incarceration. The same principle applies to the poor, and, no, I am not just talking about panhandlers.

    Having dodged my question, Joe, I will tell that years ago I worked directly with welfare recipients and low-income working families. It is possible to work and remain poor… just as it is possible to work one’s way out of poverty. Rising up from poverty is gut wrenching hard work full of sacrifices. It can mean living in squalid conditions, eating marginal food and going without luxuries like a television, radio, new clothes or restaurant meals.

    From my perspective, government programs have done more to maintain people in a cycle of poverty than to free them… thus my skepticism.

  31. Well Nathan, I agree that it would have been preferable if the private market had reversed course all by itself and started putting money into addressing the structural problems that made poor areas unattractive for private investment. But that wasn’t going to happen,

    Really?

    because poor areas were unattractive for such private investment.

    Bullshit. I have invested in poor area because I know (well, hope at least) one day it won’t be and I’ll make money. That’s *exactly* how these things work. So have my neighbor (black, retired), my other neighbor (black, middle class working stiff) as have quite a few people in and around our neighborhood (of various colours, classes, income levels).

    See the problem?

    Yes, but its not how you have described it. In fact, DC would be a much more attractive area for investors (be they property or business) if it *wasn’t* for all of the gov’t bullshit. What do I mean?

    a) Tax rates are awful in DC. Why would I build something in DC when I could keep more of my money by building it a few miles away in MD or VA? This is the gov’t’s problem.

    b) What have those high taxes earned us? Absolutely shitty services. Gov’t problem.

    c) Under educated population. I’ve covered this before. Its not like DCPS isn’t being well funded / teachers aren’t being well paid. Why build something somewhere there’s not a trained workforce. Gov’t problem.

    d) Bureaucratic nightmare. The red tape in this town is horrendous. You would have to be a masochist to open a business here unless you absolutely had to. Gov’t problem.

    So, what will cause the biggest turnaround in CDC’s fortunes?

    Jobs training? They’ve done a shit job during their K-12 education, so DC’s natives are already behind the 8-ball. And what makes you think the system do any better at vocational training?

    Any business that put the money into cleaning up contaminated industrial sites in the city, prior to building its new facility there, would be putting itself at a severe disadvantage with its competitors, who spent less money by building on a site out in the burbs that didn’t need to be cleaned up first.

    So the only land for business to build on in inner cities are contaminated? Hello? About the only places that is even remotely close to something resembling reality are the likes of Charleston, WV, Lake Charles, TX, El Segundo, CA (you know… chemical towns) and even then they’re a small part of the footprint of city (and on the outskirts). The reasons business aren’t going to inner cites have nothing to do with “Contaminated” land (god, that’s just dumb) but have everything to do with what I posted above.

    So the choice is either that public sector takes on the responsibility, or the problems are never addressed.

    No, another choice is to make an area attractive to investors. That has nothing to do with the public sector. Mayor Williams didn’t come over to my apartment and pitch living in the District. I did it all on my own, simply because I found what I found to be an attractive investment. No Gov’t Involved (beyond taxing me into stupidity).

    If you(the conservatives/libertarians of the world) have a problem with government officials who are treated exactly the same, whether they achieve or not, perhaps you shouldn’t treat them exactly the same whether they achieve or not. This is a democracy, and the government can be held accountable, if the people are interested in doing so.

    Excuse me, but I have to wipe the tea I just snorted through my nose off of my desk. Yes, in theory there is accountability in the gov’t, but if the theory was in fact reality we wouldn’t be in this mess in the first place. Look at the school sytem. Look at the tax problems. Look at the new baseball stadium; most people don’t want to have DC pony up money for a new baseball stadium. They have made their voices heard and are fighting hard for it not to happen. Guess what, its probably going to pass. If you think you can give the gov’t an assload of power and then effectively control that power through the ballot box every two years then you are one dumb guy.

  32. Irish-americans, like myself, are another group that has traditionally relied on the government for jobs and spoils. Thomas Sowell in his books distinguished irish-american cultural patterns from more entrepenurial italian-american cultural patterns.

    The tragic consequences of irish-american reliance on government are pretty hard to see though.

  33. “All of the programs you mention, Joe, are just money wrapped in a different package.”

    Oh, please! If you don’t see the difference between cleaning up a polluted site to make it available for investment, and handing out checks, you’re not even trying to take the issue seriously. Buh-bye.

    But I am glad that the opportunity to get out of poverty was available to the people in your area. That is not always the case.

    Nathan, good job ignoring the word “such.” Is it possible that buying a third apartment house, or putting the same money into deleading the two you already own, have different impacts on the well-being of the people in that neighborhood, and their likelihood of doing better for themselves? Doing the former would have a small positive impact on the neighborhood’s chances, but a high return on your investment. Doing the latter would have a significant impact on the neighborhood’s residents’ opportunities, but a low return on your investment. You don’t think one type of investement is more attractive to the private market than the other?

    Nathan, “So the only land for business to build on in inner cities are contaminated? Hello? About the only places that is even remotely close to something resembling reality are the likes of Charleston, WV, Lake Charles, TX, El Segundo, CA”

    Tell you what, google “brownfields,” educate yourself a little on the subject, then come back and apologize.

    You could try to distinguish between a good program and a bad one, but I guess it’s more fun to just drag on your cigarette and say, “It’s all bullshit, man.” How typical.

  34. Nathan, good job ignoring the word “such.” Is it possible that buying a third apartment house, or putting the same money into deleading the two you already own, have different impacts on the well-being of the people in that neighborhood, and their likelihood of doing better for themselves?

    And tossing money out of the window would have a different impact on the well-being of the people in my neighborhood as well. What does that have to do with the price of tea in China? And buy the way, you present it as if the gov’t is going around de-leading stuff as an example of the betterment of the community. Funny you mention that, considering the DC gov’t (well, WASA, but DC chartered) FINALLY got around to replacing the lead water pipes delivering water to my house (so bad we were off the meter. You could sharpen our water and write with it), which is a good thing when you have a 6 month old in the house (I also gladly ponied up a few grand to have the line on my property replaced to). Did they do this out of the kindness of their heart? No, it was because there was a scandal about how bad the lines were, along with threats of lawsuits. And it still took forever for them to replace (we were supposed to be one of the first replaced due to a pregnant wife. The fact it got done when my kid was 6 months old says a lot). But the gov’t hasn’t come around and done anything to replace the lead paint in my house, nor anything else.

    As for what earns a bigger bang for my investment buck? Well, considering I make more rental money off of my finished basement if it doesn’t look like a rat-hole (like it did when I bought the place) I’ve dropped a hell of a lot of money to bring it up to code. So guess what; capital improvements on my place (which make the renter happy) have also given me a higher return on my investment. Everyone wins.

    But to go back to your its a false choice. It is totally bogus on the face of it. The DC gov’t isn’t supplying the type of services you claim they are. So until my little capitalistic ass showed up the only option for the renter (at the time) in the basement was to live in a sub-standard apartment with lead pipes. Let me repeat: I, the money grubbing bastard, made the neighborhood better by my investment, not the gov’t. My next door neighbor, who took a Victorian shell that was being used for who-knows-what turned it into two lovely apartment buildings and made the neighborhood (and my property value) a much better place; not the gov’t.

    Tell you what, google “brownfields,” educate yourself a little on the subject, then come back and apologize.

    I work with chemical and oil companies; I know what remediation looks like. As remediation of non-industrial areas, that’s not limited to inner-city areas, as you implied, but can be found out in the ‘burbs and small towns as well. My point still stands: business are not avoiding the city because of asbestos issues (that would be the property owner’s/developer’s baliwick anyway), they’re avoiding them because of tax / workforce / regulatory issues.

    You could try to distinguish between a good program and a bad one, but I guess it’s more fun to just drag on your cigarette and say, “It’s all bullshit, man.” How typical.

    I won’t disagree that there aren’t good gov’t programs (mind you, you have yet to point out one that is) but the fact that there are so many ineffectual / bad ones. And they cost money. Money from taxpayers. Money that could best be spent elsewhere.

  35. After Nathan’s essay, I see an error in my post. Government can change behavior, as Nathan observes, through taxes, red tapes and other policies. Rather than change, I should have written “improve.”

    And, Joe, please. We’re talking about the culture of poverty and you’re prattling on about brownfields? Brownfields are contaminated areas where the cleanup is funded by both the government and liable private parties. Since 1995, the EPA has invested about $700 million in the brownfields program. This is less than $100 million per year.

    The federal budget on social spending related to poverty? Welfare aka TANF, $26 billion. Food and nutrition assistance, $42 billion. Community development, $18 billion. Earned income tax credit, $31 billion. Housing assistance, $35 billion. We could go to other line items, but I think I have made my point.

    You are cherry-picking a tiny program (by federal standards) that is actually an EPA program designed to clean polluted land… one that has only an indirect relation to poverty.

    Do I think it’s good to clean contaminated sites, yes, particularly if the responsible party is made to pay. Brownfields, however, are about .1 percent of problem when it comes to chronic urban poverty… unless, of course, you are a myopic urban planner.

  36. I work in a city planning office, Nathan, and I can tell you that the cost of remediating brownfields does indeed make locating there less attractive to potential users. Additional costs = less attractive to the market, who would have guessed?

    If the private market had decided that getting rid of lead paint was a worthwhile investment, there wouldn’t be any lead paint left, now would there? Well, it hasn’t. The costs significantly exceed the expected returns in most cases. Provide some matching funds to interested property owners, the math changes. Your ideological snorts don’t make these statements any less true.

    BTW, since you’ve forgotten, my strategy revolves around attracting money grubbing bastards. But you sure did kick that straw man’s ass there!

    “business are not avoiding the city because of asbestos issues…they’re avoiding them because of tax / workforce / regulatory issues.” They’re avoiding them for both sets of reasons. The problems with DC government are completely irrelevant to the question of whether a polluted site is less attractive to investors than a clean one. Great big dodge, more holes than a Swiss cheese, but you put it out there anyway, just so you won’t have to admit that public investment might have a good outcome.

    As for “money that could be spent elsewhere,” I agree. Money spent on bad programs should be spent elsewhere.

  37. If the private market had decided that getting rid of lead paint was a worthwhile investment, there wouldn’t be any lead paint left, now would there?

    I live in a house with lead paint. So do lots of other people. Lead paint isn’t that dangerous as long as you don’t particulate it into the air (i.e. don’t sand the damn stuff without a respirator) or eat it. If lead paint were as dangerous as asbestos then you would see it removed.

    But again, how is this a strictly inner city problem? Any old building will have lead paint in it, regardless of whether its in a city or the countryside.

    The problems with DC government are completely irrelevant to the question of whether a polluted site is less attractive to investors than a clean one. Great big dodge, more holes than a Swiss cheese, but you put it out there anyway,

    Who’s dodging? Are you claiming that EACH AND EVERY POSSIBLE INVESTMENT LOCATION IN ANY MAJOR INNER CITY IS A HAZARDOUS WASTE DUMP? Because that’s the only way your argument holds water. Riddle me this: Why did XM Satellite locate to DC (five blocks from my house actually, sketchy but rebounding area)?

    a) DC promised to remove all of the lead paint in their offices

    b) DC gave them tax breaks out the ass

    just so you won’t have to admit that public investment might have a good outcome.

    Jesus, you can’t read. Let me repeat: I won’t disagree that there aren’t good gov’t programs (mind you, you have yet to point out one that is) but the fact that there are so many ineffectual / bad ones.

    Let me yell it from the mountaintop once more: DC’S LACK OF INVESTMENT ISN’T DUE TO TOO LITTLE GOV’T INVOLVEMENT, ITS DUE TO TOO MUCH GOV’T INVOLVEMENT.

  38. Let me yell it from the mountaintop once more: DC’S LACK OF INVESTMENT ISN’T DUE TO TOO LITTLE GOV’T INVOLVEMENT, ITS DUE TO TOO MUCH GOV’T INVOLVEMENT.

    Which, by the way, was the original topic under discussion. (not DC per-se, but innercities in general)

  39. Like the old lawyer joke goes, 99% of government programs give the other 1% a bad name.

    The vast majority of the programs ostensibly architected to aid or encourage growth and development do exactly the opposite. As Nathan mentions, most government action removes the incentives for improvement.

    There is a small subset of conditions and characteristics that can be benefitted through the use of a well designed government program (with a clear objective and terminating conditions). In *all* other cases, the best results are achieved when the government gets out of the way.

  40. Joe O: Irish-americans, like myself, are another group that has traditionally relied on the government for jobs and spoils. Thomas Sowell in his books distinguished irish-american cultural patterns from more entrepenurial italian-american cultural patterns.

    The tragic consequences of irish-american reliance on government are pretty hard to see though.

    I read many of those same books. Sowell said that some ethnic groups were more likely to pursue advancement through enterpreneurial, market-based activities — but the Irish were more likely to pursue success through public sector jobs (cops, fire fighters) where getting the job and getting promoted were more entangled with political patronage and pull. Eventually, Irish Americans did advance economically. Today, Irish-American household income is above the national average. But the rate of their advancement in income came more slowly than it did for more “entrepreneurial” ethnic groups.

    Black Americans are advancing and have come a long way, especially considering that — due to discriminatory laws — they were, in effect, not even full American citizens until less than 40 years ago. But by focusing on political solutions as the means of further success, they have chosen the slower path.

    (Disclaimer: Rampant generalizations here — please note I am talking about general patterns pertaining to groups, not specific individuals.)

  41. Actually, environmental contamination is a big problem. Unfortunately it is a government-created problem.

    I’ll give an example.

    My town recently voted for an increse in library taxes. Only a heartless bastard would be against improving library services especially when it only costs the average homeowner two dollars more per year in property taxes. The town sent out a nice flyer explaining the whole thing.

    The library tax for the average home was one dollar at the time (based on present property values; the commercial property rate is 3 times the residential rate). The proposal was to make the tax come to roughly three dollars per home. In return a new library was to be built on an industrial site presently occupied by a running business – the owner of the property agreed to sell at an agreed upon price (no eminent domain, yay!) and the present library site would be sold to whomever they could sell it to. In addition the hours would be expanded about 8 hours a week and the number of volumes would be increased by about 25,000 volumes.

    I became the heartless bastard. For one, they were propsing to increase hours by 15% and volumes by about 20%. For this they wanted a tax increase of TWO HUNDRED percent. Of course they had no intention of giving you the actual percentages in the flyer, only someone willing to do the math would see the rip off. I pretty much expect to be ripped off, so I would even accept a 20% increase in services for a 50% increase in taxes, I’m such a generous sap. But 200% was way out of line. I tried to explain that to my neighbors who had the “support the library” signs on their lawns – I got the blankest stares. I guess I’m one of those “kooks” who actually works out the figures himself and thinks “taxes” should reflect something along the lines of “prices”.

    The referendum passed, then only ONE YEAR later did the town decide to do the “environmental study” on the site they were going to buy. They took samples FORTY feet deep and found “contamination”. They decided the clean up costs were too great for either party to cover, so the deal is off. The property owner is not obligated to clean up the property before any sale, so anyone willing to accept a property with contamination 40 feet below the surface is welcome to buy it. But the town got a nice little tax increase and library services haven’t increased one bit at the old facility. I’m sure after they sit on the new money a few more years they’ll eventually find an acceptable site. But when you stop to think about why they didn’t do the contamination testing before selling the voters on the idea… well the cynic in me thinks they did it on purpose but the optimist in me thinks they’re just normal people who can’t do a big project without a few snafus along the way. Either way, every resident is out some money.

    And this doesn’t even address the growing technological advancements which make huge physical libraries a diminishing “necessity” in the first place.

  42. Jose, Nathan, I offered brownfields as one example of the poverty-inducers, structural problems that doom certain communities to economic decline, that account for the high rates of poverty in urban areas. There are other, of course.

    My point was to point out the bizarre coincidence which so consistently finds “cultural” causes of poverty in the same geographic areas as these severe structural handicaps. Funny how it always works out that way. If only so many minority families hadn’t made the bad decision to live near vacant, contaminated industrial sites! Or in areas that where you couldn’t get business insurance, loans, or a checking account for three decades. Because it’s all about bad decisions, you know.

    We do agree, though, that addressing these structural problems is a much more effective way to reduce poverty than simple redistribution.

    FYI lead paint: the most common method of particulate release is opening and closing of windows, when the window and/or windown frame are both painted with lead, and they grind against each other.

    RDale, I curse you for all eternity for coining the word “architected.” May the devils in your circle of hell be particularly pokey.

  43. May the devils in your circle of hell be particularly pokey.

    I was wondering what those stabbing pains were :o)

    Unfortunately, I can’t take credit for it, I’ve been infected by IT buzzwords :o)

    Back on topic though, my disdain for the majority of government programs doesn’t translate to a disdain for the problems that they’re supposed to address. It’s just that I believe that the best programs for helping people are the ones that are basically like the minimum necessary map: it points out north, and shows you where the water is. In the small number of cases where government intervention is necessary, it should provide a suitable amount of aid and incentive, and then it should just get out of the way.

  44. My point was to point out the bizarre coincidence which so consistently finds “cultural” causes of poverty in the same geographic areas as these severe structural handicaps. Funny how it always works out that way.

    So where do all of the structural handicaps go when gentrification happens? They must disappear into thin air because the last time I checked my house wasn’t a superfund site. Nor my neighbors. Lead pipes, sure. Lead paint too. But as I mentioned, these aren’t innercity problems, these are old house problems, and in the grand scheme of things not all that bad (i.e. they don’t require gobs of cash to remediate)

    So, please, again, explain to me how such things are soul crushing and crippling to someone of low income, but instruments of investment to people of moderate income (and I do mean moderate. My neighbors are working class stiffs).

    (Maybe its low-income-seeking radon)

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