For the past several decades liberals have insisted that they had the solutions to the problems of American poverty and racial prejudice. In many ways contemporary liberalism has seemed to be tailor-made to solve these problems.
Liberals' good will and efforts have been directed primarily toward inner city blacks. They have created a veritable industry, filled with politicians, bureaucrats, social workers, and do-gooders to blanket inner cities with program after program.
As it happens, and I do not think it’s a mistake, these policies and programs have aimed at social justice, not at prosperity or economic development. They have assumed that social justice was an essential stepping stone on the way to full employment.
Now, pragmatism requires that we ask ourselves whether or not these programs are working. Have they led to an economic renaissance in the American inner cities or not?
If we are thinking in terms of social justice, the results are not encouraging. Those who worship this idea want want to see an equitable distribution of wealth throughout a growing middle class. They see the tax system as a way to redistribute income from the rich to the poor.
In the epicenter of modern liberal policies, the division between the hyper-rich and the rest had been growing apace. When 40,000 people (out of 8,000,000) pay half the city taxes, then clearly, for those who are aiming at social justice, things are moving in the wrong direction.
The social justice model seems to have produced more and more social injustice. But, how could it happen that the bluest city in one of the bluest state has aggravated the problems that it has pretended to address?
The other day Walter Russell Mead wrote a brilliant blog post addressing these issues. Link here.
How can you tell whether liberal policies have served those they are intended to help? Mead examines the most recent Census data and concludes that these policies have instigated a mass migration of blacks out of inner cities, toward job opportunities and better lives in the South and in the less liberal suburbs.
Surely, that represents an important judgment, offered by the people who were supposed to be the beneficiaries of these policies.
In Mead’s words: “The Census reported that waves of blue state blacks fled the stagnant job opportunities, high taxes and rotten social conditions of the mostly blue northern states to seek better lives for themselves in the south.”
He continues: “One would think that the Blacks who choose to stay in the cold, unwelcoming North would cluster in the cities where more liberal and humane governance models mandate such generous policies as ‘living wage‘ laws and where all the beautiful features of the blue social model can be experienced at full strength.
“But one would be wrong. Blacks across the North are fleeing the urban paradises of liberal legislation and high public union membership for the benighted suburbs.”
Shockingly, these inner city enclaves have not been run by Tea Party activists, unhinged libertarians, evangelical Christians, or even conservative Republicans.
In New York, there are, for all intents and purposes, nearly no Republicans. A New York Republican looks like Michael Bloomberg: a former Democrat become RINO become staunch, principled independent.
One suspects that people who are less pragmatic than Walter Russell Mead will blame it all on racism, but, the truth is, as Mead emphasizes, the policies that direct and guide these communities are bluer than blue.
Being pragmatic, we should see America’s inner cities as laboratories for liberal social and economic policies. It is fair and just to see their current state as evidence that those policies have failed.
And it is certainly reasonable to judge their failure by the number of blacks who are fleeing these liberal enclaves. Shouldn't we respect the independent judgment of people who are voting with their feet.
Mead places the blame where it rightly belongs: “The failure of blue social policy to create an environment which works for Blacks is the most devastating possible indictment of the 20th century liberal enterprise in the United States. Helping Blacks achieve the kind of equality and opportunity long denied them was more than one of many justifications for blue social policy: it was the defining moral task that has challenged and shaped American liberalism for the last fifty years.
“The Census tells us that in the eyes of those who know best, these well intentioned efforts failed. Instead of heaven, we have hell across America’s inner cities. Blue economic policy has cut the creation of new private sector jobs to a trickle in our great cities, while the high costs of public union urban services (and policies that favor government employees over the citizenry at large) impose crippling taxes and contribute to the ruinously high costs that blight opportunity. All the social welfare bureaucracies, diversity counselors and minority set-asides can’t make up for the colossal failure of blue social policy to create sustainable lower middle class prosperity in our cities.”
These blue policies have created an industry of lawyers, bureaucrats, social workers, and counselors. If the black urban class is largely unemployed, these professional do-gooders are happily ensconced in their jobs.
In raising taxes to the level where it can sate this bureaucratic beast, liberal politicians have created a tax and regulatory environment that has made it increasingly difficult to start and sustain new businesses.
If you are Walmart and you want to start new businesses in New York, well then, the unions will do everything in their power to block you.
If you ask yourself who would benefit from the presence of Walmart stores in a place like New York City, the answer is: those who have less disposable income. Walmart would help improve the living standard of the city’s poorest citizens. One senses that this should be a good thing, a step forward for those who have little.
Unfortunately, when choosing between the good of the citizenry and the vital interests of the labor unions, New York City has sided with the unions.
Admittedly, Walmart would cut into the business of your local bodega, but it would also be providing a considerable number of stable jobs in a city where minority unemployment is unacceptably high.
City government has been pandering to a special interest and has ignored the general good.
Mead explains why these do-good liberal policies have produced such a negative outcome: “Worse than all this, small business is crushed by high taxes, intrusive and often irrational regulation, which means that new jobs aren’t created and new businesses don’t start. That reduces demand for workers in the neighborhoods that need jobs most; it also curtails the ability of inner city residents to develop the entrepreneurial skills and experience that could fuel the rebirth of the Black middle class.”
Mead makes several important points here. I would emphasize that when there are no jobs, the unemployed do not gain the job skills that would help them in the future. Add to this the fact that minimum wage laws contribute directly to high youth unemployment, and you understand why blacks are increasingly leaving these blue state.
The only people who get jobs from these policies are the bureaucrats, lawyers, and social welfare workers. Be assured that they will defend their own jobs, no matter what.
If they are forced to face the evidence of the Census, they will answer that it only shows that we need more social welfare programs, more minority set-asides, more taxes and more regulation. They will declare, with a straight face, that it all proves that the market does not work.
After all, liberals are not pragmatists. If their hearts are in the right place, if they feel the right feelings, they will refuse to believe that their policies have failed. They are not going to step up and admit that their candy-colored visions of a bring and just future are illusions: narcotics for idealists.
Of course, the grievance industry will also say that this migration out of the blue cities is the result of stone cold racism.
Yet, the people who concocted these policies and who are running them from within city and state governments dyed-in-the-wool liberals. Most of them do not have a racist bone in their bodies.
Unfortunately, they are so thoroughly blinded by their idealism that they do not have a pragmatic bone in their bodies either. In their minds, their programs never fail; their ideas are never wrong. The people of the world, even in an enlightened cosmopolitan metropolis like New York, are not good enough for their ideas.