Friday, June 01, 2007

Where the Mayor and I may disagree

Paul Soglin recently quoted at length from my series of posts on conservatives and urban poverty. He seems to have culled out some things on which he and I agree on some basic level and there seem to be quite a few. He also emphasizes William Julius Wilson and his book, The Truly Disadvantaged. Wilson is an important scholar. He recognizes that it really isn't so much about race any more but, if I am correct, still believes that the solution can largely be imposed from above by somehow providing jobs and fixing cultural deficits through job training and the like. If I am wrong, Mayor Soglin will correct me.

And that's where he and I may start to disagree. Paul argues "[e]liminating poverty will go along way to change that culture, which will in turn, motivates others to move beyond poverty."

The problem, I think, is that we don't really know how to eliminate poverty "from above." We could do it, I suppose, if we designed transfer programs that were large enough (that's just math) but 1) that won't happen politically and 2) the impact of creating a class of free riders are such that we probably shouldn't. Although there were a lot of people who argued for that in the '60s, no one - at least not within mainstream liberalism - really does anymore. We can - and should - ameliorate the harsher aspects of poverty, but we are not going to will it away.

Recently, local commentators as diverse as David Dodenhoff of the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute and Marc Levine of UWM's Center for Economic Development have remarked upon the persistent failure of job training. The government does a very poor job of making up for what your parents didn't give you. When it goes head to head with the culture, it loses.

The "spatial mismatch" between jobs and poor workers that concerns Wilson is not going to be addressed from the top down. You can create all the incentives that you want but businesses are not going to locate in high crime areas from which they cannot meet their need for labor.

I believe that it is the culture of poverty and the associated problem of crime that are now the "root causes" that must be addressed. In my view, this does require a greater emphasis on subsidiarity and organic intermediary institutions such as churches. It requires more cops, snitchin', leaving the race card in the deck and intolerance by the community of the predators within it. It requires the aggressive promotion of marriage and the disapproval of the choice of single parenthood. It may require isolating those who do not wish to learn from those who do. Public assistance may have to become even more rigorously conditioned on doing the right thing.


James Rowen said...

Let's not forget that the "spatial mismatch" is also being exacerbated by highway spending, which helps open up land in exurbia to commercial, retail and residential development.

And those are public funds, too - - a mix of local, state and federal dollars - - so several public policies intersect and add to the separation of jobs from the most-available pool.

Anonymous said...

Milwaukee had many very good paying jobs but still had the problems that it has today.

Anyone that has worked in the inner city knows that the prioties of the people are different than what people assume they are. It's a big problem when people get money that it first goes to booze, drugs, party and if there is anything left housing and food. It's been a while for me to have seen first hand, but at one time you could buy food stamps from people in front of grocery stores for 10 cents on a dollar.

Changing priorities is the only way you can help them.

James Rowen said...

Anonymous - - you are generalizing and dealing in ugly stereotypes. I spent hours, days, weeks in the central city on assignment for the Milwaukee Journal/Journal Sentinel and later on different assignments for Mayor Norquist and I was uniformly met and steered and connected with hard-working, honest people.

And much of that time was spent with strangers on the street.

Sure, there are poor people in the central city who use drugs, drink and waste their money, and those same types live in the suburbs, on college campuses, too.

Anonymous said...

James 1:22 - I thought that this was about the people causing the problems in the central city, not the responsible people that would like to see it changed.

Now I'm confused as to what everyone is talking there a problem or not?

jp said...

Do we have a large “spatial mismatch” in the East with its highly developed mass transit?

jp said...

Good leaders make good institutions.
Where are the leaders?

Anonymous said...

ah, JP's new bumper stickers arrived in the mail.

Anonymous said...

Everyone is over-thinking this. Poverty is the result of doing nothing. You cannot stop people from doing nothing. No social program ever created can make people put forth the effort necessary to succeed.

Those with the motivation to do can already succeed in our society. It is a simple equation.

Now, if someone comes up with motivation pill...

Dad29 said...


The manufacturing sector underwent a number of revolutions in the last 20-25 years.

First off, the desire for efficiency made the multi-story (AMC/Richards Street, Hotpoint/West Milwaukee) and mega-sized (AOSmith) plants obsolete. Wasted space, wasted time--we can go on.

When single-story, smaller/more efficient plants were built, they were NOT built in the cities for a couple of reasons: 1) union labor, and 2) the property tax differential.

The next revolution occurred with the utilization of more sophisticated machinery (i.e. welding robots) in place of labor.

So unless the labor is extremely cheap, or is irreplaceable by machines, it's better to mechanize and/or automate.

Property taxes and inefficiency moved industry out of the central cities; automation is removing labor.

Yes, there are exceptions and pockets--but unless the cities provide massive proptax relief AND cheap labor, industry will continue to migrate outward AND decrease labor payrolls.

jp said...

ANON 5:03 PM

New bumper sticker.

Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not one bit simpler.
Albert Einstein (1879 - 1955), (attributed)

Nah! It's too long.