Earlier this week, I was at a teaching colloquium at Marquette. There was an outside expert in law school pedagogy who cited research that law students get better grades if they argue with the cases as they read them.
In the same way, I think our arguments on public policy get better (although they might change) if we argue with them and if we take others' critiques of them seriously.
Having brought you that M.O.S. (definition is in the sixth paragraph), Paul Soglin has responded to my most recent post on conservative responses to urban violence and poverty. (He says no talking about the Wisconsin Supreme Court but I shall go boldly whereever the truth leads.)
The Mayor wants to make the argument from middle class flight. While he seems to posit an initial onslaught of violence and poverty (where did that come from?), the argument often goes like this: In the segregated inner city of the past, black lawyers and doctors lived in the same neighborhoods as poor people. Discrimination prevented their escape.
But that has ended and, with greater opportunity, the black middle class has fled. Paul would say that this removed the moral standard bearers from the community and has resulted in what we see today.
I don't disagree with that, but, ironically, this suggests that the problem is an unfortunate result of the civil rights movement. Greater opportunity for some has had bad consequences for those who have been left behind.
Paul might cite some failure to spend money on something here, but I am going to indict the larger society in a different way. We created a welfare system that paid young women to have children and not work and that left young men off the hook. If you think that was compassionate, ask yourself if you'd treat your own children that way.
We created a cultural zeitgeist that came to see sex as the moral equivalent of a tennis match ("thanks for the game") and single-parent homes as just another equally valid family choice. We fostered (and many political leaders have thrived on) the view that opposition to and defiance of the majority culture conveys authenticity. We do not solution to our problem; we must take it from the Man. (That, incidentally, is the problem with much of hip-hop; not who does and doesn't buy it. It - for the profit of the mostly white guys who own and run the record companies - tells both young whites and blacks what is and is not black culture.)
In the end, we both may be saying that the problem is cultural although disagreeing on where it came from and what to do about it. But that agreement is significant because it has implications for what might work.
All sorts of economic opportunity is being left on the table. While we conservatives like to rail against MPS and I think it deserves plenty of criticism, the fact remains that education is on offer there. Teachers show up and they are qualified and willing to teach. If you are poor and are born and live your whole life on 23rd & North, there is a way out of poverty that is virtually guaranteed to succeed. Go to school. Don't have a kid until you are married. Don't get married too soon. Stay off drugs.
We have economic opportunity. Maybe its not "enough" but its there. Poverty has become more of a cultural than an economic problem.
The problem I have with the people on the left who see this is that they tend to believe that these cultural deficiencies can be solved inorganically; that the state can act as the parents that children never had - provide breakfast, inculcate values, provide job training to people who couldn't get through nine grades of schooling.
I don't suggest that we just abandon that, but the existing evidence is that it does not work very well and that some of what we've done (welfare as we knew it) made things worse.