Getting Baltimore Half-Right

Monday, May 04, 2015

Pundits from the left and the right have been considering what role government might have played in transforming Baltimore from a once-dynamic city into the mess that is today. Rich Lowry and Jack Kelly have been at the forefront of the conservative side, making sure we all know that Baltimore and Maryland have been run by Democrats for decades.

That point is worth remembering since leftists, predictably, have been calling for more government handouts to deal with the conditions so many regard as leading to the rioting. But there are problems with the conservative analyses: Conservatives support both (1) many of these very failed policies, such as public education; and (2) some bad policies of their own, such as drug prohibition, that exacerbate certain pathologies and certain bad leftist policies. This is because many conservatives, like leftists, do not view the proper role of government as protection of individual rights. This results in an inability to argue well for a positive alternative to how Baltimore is governed, as well as a distinct vulnerability to leftist arguments, such as that we see in a New Republic piece by Rebecca Leber titled, "Liberal Policies Aren't What's Wrong With Baltimore". (Being a pro-capitalist, I'd re-title that, "Leftist Policies Aren't All That's Wrong With Baltimore".)

Recalling my general criticism of the conservative finger-pointers -- that they do not consistently stand up for government limited to the protection of individual rights, it is interesting to consider part of the leftist counter-argument. Here's a paragraph from the New Republic editorial:

As the Washington Post notes, research from the Virginia Commonwealth University's Center on Society and Health shows that the segregated black neighborhoods of the 1930s "still have lower rates of homeownership and college attainment and higher rates of poverty and segregation today—as well as worse health outcomes." Another fact from the Post: "From 1951 to 1971, 80 to 90 percent of the 25,000 families displaced in Baltimore to build new highways, schools and housing projects were black." Only a decade ago, banks marketed subprime mortgages to poor black homebuyers, leading to a wave of foreclosures. [links in original]
How can conservatives -- absent a principled stand for properly limited government -- counter this, even if many leftists have also supported "slum clearance", a government-run "infrastructure", eminent domain-type takings of property, and government encouragement of poor lending practices? All of these policies were wrong and doubtless also hindered the ability of those who had been marginalized by government-enforced racial discrimination to recover. Not that it is the job of the government to aid the poor, but neither is it to entrap the poor, such as by: legally requiring racial discrimination (e.g, Jim Crow laws and racial quotas), taking money forcibly from individuals for any purpose (e.g. taxation), forcing people to sell or give away property, and dictating how others do business (e.g., the government's housing bubble). I recall a column title by another conservative as being something to the effect of "Leftists Need to Look in the Mirror." Actually, Americans generally need to do this. Too many of us will see central "planners" -- and in a country once rightly founded on suspicion of unbounded political power.

-- CAV


Anonymous said...

I don't support the war on drugs. Putting aside the morality of criminalizing drug use, you are basically telling blacks youths that if they want to get money, a nice car, and a girl you should involve yourself in the gang culture.

On the other hand, I don't think public schools are that bad. I teach reading in an inner city school and, while it isn't is modern as a suburban school, it has a nice library, competent teachers, etc. It's no worse than the schools that my semi-literate grandparents learned in.

At least the conservatives acknowledge that there is a problem with black disfunction. For example, Freddie Gray was arrested 18 times. The "hero mom" who smacked her child for engaging in the riots has 6 children by 4 fathers. I don't have a problem avoiding being arrested and having multiple baby mamas.

Gus Van Horn said...


Some public schools may even be good, but my point is that education is not a proper function of the government. That said, one of the big problems government control of education makes possible is federally-promoted bad standards.

Regarding the fact that conservatives often at least admit dysfunction in black culture, that admission is often undercut by interpretation/suggested remedies. Many conservatives see religion as the remedy. (And so, for example, support so-called "faith-based" programs, which are also misuses of government).