I’ve been waiting to address the ado in Ferguson, MO until I can figure out what the hell happened and is continuing to happen. I’m going to keep waiting.
But as for what happened to America’s great cities, and the black people who live therein, I have something to say:
The Reverend Jesse Jackson is, to the surprise of all thinking people, right about something: “A spark has exploded,” he said, referring to the protests and violence in Ferguson, Mo. “When you look at what sparked riots in the Sixties, it has always been some combination of poverty, which was the fuel, and then some oppressive police tactic. It was the same in Newark, in Chicago, in Detroit, in Los Angeles. It’s symptomatic of a national crisis of urban abandonment and repression, seen in Chicago.”
A question for the Reverend Jackson: Who has been running the show in Newark, in Chicago, in Detroit, and in Los Angeles for a great long while now? The answer is: People who see the world in much the same way as does the Reverend Jackson, who take the same view of government, who support the same policies, and who suffer from the same biases.
This is not intended to be a cheap partisan shot. The Democratic party institutionally certainly has its defects, the chronicle of which could fill several unreadable volumes, but the more important and more fundamental question here is one of philosophy and policy. Newark, Detroit, Chicago, Los Angeles — and Philadelphia, Cleveland, and a dozen or more other cities — have a great deal in common: They are the places in which the progressive vision of government has reached its fullest expressions. They are the hopeless reality that results from wishful thinking.
Bingo. And to repeat: “This is not intended to be a cheap partisan shot.” I used to be a Democrat, a progressive, if you will. But I grew out of it. I realized, as Kevin D. Williamson puts it, that my “wishful thinking” had no bearing on the “hopeless reality”. I came to accept the wisdom and certainty in Margaret Thatcher’s observation that “the facts of life are conservative”.
But the facts of our cities were anything but:
For years, our major cities were undermined by a confluence of four unhappy factors: 1. higher taxes; 2. defective schools; 3. crime; 4. declining economic opportunity. Together, these weighed much more heavily upon the middle class than upon the very wealthy and the very poor. In the case of Philadelphia, the five counties in the metropolitan area have had a mostly stable population, but the city itself lost more than a quarter of its population between 1950 and 2000 as some 550,000 people fled to the suburbs or beyond. How many people matters, but which people matters, too: They were the ones with the means and the strongest incentive to relocate. Over the same period of time, Chicago lost a fifth of its population, Baltimore nearly a third. Philadelphia is one of the few U.S. cities to impose a municipal income tax (one of the taxes Mayor Rizzo raised), creating very strong incentives to move across the line into Delaware County or Bucks County. This is sometimes known as “white flight,” but that is a misnomer: In Detroit, the white middle class got out as quickly as it could — and the black middle class was hot on its heels. Upwardly mobile people and those who expect to be — i.e., those with an investment in the future — care a great deal about schools, economic opportunity, and safety. And they know where the city limits are.
The more progressive the city, the worse a place it is to be poor and/or black. The most pronounced economic inequality in the United States is not in some Republican redoubt in Texas but in San Francisco, an extraordinarily expensive city in which half of all black households make do with less than $25,000 a year. Blacks in San Francisco are arrested on drug felonies at ten times their share of the general population. At 6 percent of the population, they represent 40 percent of those arrested for homicides. Whether you believe that that is the result of a racially biased criminal-justice system or the result of higher crime incidence related to socioeconomic conditions within black communities (or some combination of those factors) what is undeniable is that results for black Americans are far worse in our most progressive, Democrat-dominated cities than they are elsewhere. The progressives have had the run of things for a generation in these cities, and the results are precisely what you see.
So, if you want fewer Fergusons, you know what you have to do:
Our cities need economic growth and opportunity, functional education systems, and physical security. And where have our few urban success stories come from? We saw a dramatic turnabout in crime and public disorder in New York under Republican Rudy Giuliani, and we’ve seen periods of relatively good governance in two-party cities such as San Diego. At the moment, our most prosperous cities are those such as Houston, cities that are themselves Democrat-dominated but embedded in heavily Republican metropolitan areas or states, and which govern in a way that is much friendlier to enterprise and middle-class interests than is the style that has long predominated in places such as Philadelphia or Detroit.
Houston or Detroit? Your call.
PS: In 1950, Detroit was the fifth largest US city, at about 1,850,000; Houston was 14th, at less than a third the size, 596,000. Today, their places are reversed: Houston is 4th at almost 2.2 million, while Detroit is 18th at barely 700,000. Just sayin’.