Friday, August 24, 2007

You've got to know when to fold 'em

Michael Mathias uses the occasion of Joe Zilber's generous gift to Marquette Law School to make a point at what he sees as the perfidy of some conservatives' lack of commitment to the city. He cites a column by Patrick McIhleran (who actually lives in the city)that did not, as Michael suggests, argue for flight to the suburbs but undertook to explain why some people might leave the city. Michael writes that Zilber's gift "should shame the “crime first” crowd into reevaluating their own positions on how to renew Milwaukee’s prospects for the future. Obsessing over crime and blaming liberal social policies isn’t helping."

Now, when someone gives thirty million dollars to my employer, my only response is "thank you" and various riffs on the theme. Joe Zilber has certainly done something - and will apparently do a few other things - that should inspire and, if necessary, shame us. (Shame is vastly underrated nowadays.)

But I'd prefer not to politicize it. Concern over crime and liberal social policies certainly does help if you think that crime and those policies are part of the problem. The expression of such concern does not define whether or not you are, as Michael puts it, "all in."

Actually I think that the poker metaphor makes an interesting point; one that I intended to make in the conversation over Pete Kennedy's column in the Waukesha Freeman which, while exaggerated and a bit silly, illustrated (perhaps unintentionally) a point that should not be forgotten in the debate on urban policy.

When it comes to cities, most people are not and never will be "all in." They will play for a while, but there is a point at which they will fold and take their chips to the suburbs. You cannot expect them to place themselves and their families at risk. You cannot ask them to keep paying for programs that do not benefit them and with which they do not agree. They don't have to do it and they won't. If you persist, you will create Detroit. While Milwaukee is still a great city and is still the cultural and, to a lesser degree, economic engine for the metropolitan area, there is no law of man or nature that says this must always be.

I agree that there is much criticism of Milwaukee (and Kennedy's column may fall into the category) that is clueless and undertaken in bad faith. Patrick McIhleran, of all people, does not fall into that category. Mayor Norquist was known for saying (and Jim Rowen will correct me if I don't have it just right) that you can't build a city on pity. Keeping Milwaukee great and making it better is not solely - or even largely - a function of defining needs that can be paid for by others. It is not a function of deciding which dispossessed group needs to get what little spoils remain.

I agree that there are some areas where money is going to have to flow in to the city from outside the city. But, if you want to take money from the people in the ticky tacky houses, you are going to have to abandon the posture of superiority, turn off NPR and listen to their opinions.

I think that we are far from time to fold when it comes to Milwaukee. But it's a fool's game to think that people will put up with anything and pay for everything. Whether they should or not, they won't.

5 comments:

Joe Cisewski said...

You just had to throw in the jab at NPR.

What? You don’t like listening to incredibly long stories being read out loud over the radio while you’re driving to class (preferably in an English accent, of course)?

Dad29 said...

Zilber gave his own money.

Taxers do NOT give their own money--they take it from someone else.

The twist on that was sounded by Walter Williams today as he emphatically declared that 'no one has a right to healthcare.'

Of course, he did not mention that as a society we have an obligation to provide same.

James Rowen said...

Mayor Norquist often said "you can't build a city on pity." He wanted city-dwellers to have pride in their city and to celebrate city living.

He also said the city needed light rail to offer city residents and visitors a transportation choice and to spur development along the corridor.

Mayor Norquist was a pragmatist.

If it was good for the city, he was for it - - light rail, seen mistakenly through too political a lens as liberal, and also for school choice, similarly seen narrowly and incorrectly as conservative.

He was for building the city by offering choices. That's what cities are all about: choices, options, alternatives, variety.

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