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.