response to my
review of Rize, which I titled "Dancing in the Suburbs
of Hell," a reader sent this observation:
what is the answer for the kids in South Central? Get some entrepreneurs
in there and create jobs? As you say our democracy cannot support
such anger…and what do those kids have to look forward to??
You should pursue the subject as it is an issue that all of your
readers (the haves) should be interested in.
is a correct response to an essay like "Dancing in the Suburbs
of Hell." It is not sufficient to sit on the curb of life and
complain about the parade going by. But it also does no good to
propose a cure that is based on a false diagnosis of the problem.
It may do harm.
krump dancers in South Central Los Angeles dance with abandon. The
bureaucrats who are funding the welfare state do a much more restrained
dance. Their moves are far more subtle.
kids are self-destructive, but at least they don’t have their hands
in our wallets. That cannot be said of the bureaucrats. When it
comes time to hand out prizes for song & dance, the bureaucrats
are the big winners.
taxpayers are the losers. But the kids in the ghetto are the biggest
losers of all.
PERVERSE SYSTEM OF AUTHORITY
starting point in any consideration of any reform is this question:
Who is responsible for solving the problem?
or any agency that asserts responsibility is asserting power. Is
the assertion legitimate?
modern welfare state asserts enormous responsibility in an ever-growing
number of areas of life. Its agents call attention to the failures
of individuals and voluntary associations. Then the politicians
coerce taxpayers to hand over more of their wealth to the state.
The state’s employees then use this money and the threat of coercion
(laws) to extend their power over the areas of life identified as
holds the state’s agents accountable? Mainly, other agents of the
state. The general public can do almost nothing to impose standards
on the state’s agents. The general public can vote, but the system
does not budge. The bureaucrats cannot be fired, and the incumbent
politicians are difficult to replace. Their replacements share most
of the values of the recently defeated.
kids in South Central Los Angeles understand this better than most
voters do. They have spent their lives under the administration
of bureaucrats: social workers, public school teachers and administrators,
and the police. They are not protected by their families to the
degree that non-ghetto children are.
understand the hierarchy of power, follow the money. In the local
housing projects where many of the members of the church I attend
live, over 90% of the households are headed by single mothers. The
pastor understands the problem. He does what he can to overcome
it, but the economic dependency of these families on the state has
established a hierarchy of power that begins at the top of a political
kids in the projects are looking for authority to commit to as well
as power for themselves. They understand that the state’s salaried
bureaucrats really do not have much interest in them. But their
fathers are missing. So, they seek out legitimate authority to submit
to, in the quest for meaning, stability, and personal advantage.
provide this. For some teenagers, the dance groups provide this.
While the dance groups do not possess power, they provide a zone
of immunity from the power of the gangs, who leave them alone. They
offer a sense of community, of participation in something important
or at least enjoyable.
STATE CANNOT FIX IT
remember the old line: "If you’re not part of the solution,
you’re part of the problem." The state, in the name of being
the solution of last resort, has become a major problem. It has
eroded the authority of people who can maintain responsibility only
by paying for it: by sacrifice, productivity, and vision.
state provides "free" money to single mothers. Lo and
behold, fathers flee the coop. The illegitimacy rate in 1920 was
higher for black families than for whites, but not by much. The
rates were low: single digits. Today, close to 25% of white children
are born outside of wedlock. The figure is two-thirds for black
families, and in some urban areas, over 80%. Nothing on this scale
existed prior to the New Deal of the 1930s.
state invaded areas of family responsibility, claiming that males
had abandoned their responsibility. The state has handed out hundreds
of billions of dollars in the ghettos since 1965. Result: the destruction
of ghetto families. Socially, the black urban ghetto is worse today
than it was in 1965. Crime is higher, illegitimacy is higher, high
school drop-out rates are higher, and despair is higher. Yet the
state’s policies do not change. The money keeps flowing from taxpayers
to dependents, creating resentment in both groups. The taxpayers
cry "too much," while the recipients cry "not enough."
dancers in Rize do not look to the government for either
meaning or hope. They look to themselves. The krump dancers are
furious with the world around them. Instead of retreating from this
world through drugs, they adopt dance forms that let them break
culturally with the society around them.
OUTSIDE MONEY FIX IT?
depends on what strings are attached to the money, and what the
providers and the recipients expect from each other.
third world nations, micro loans to women are making a tremendous
difference. These women are part of small borrowing groups. They
use the money to start small businesses. They usually pay back the
loans. If they don’t, the lenders provide no loans for other members
of the borrowing groups. There is a sense of responsibility by the
individual borrower to repay.
with money donate to these lending organizations because they want
to help. But they don’t want their money going down a rat hole.
It is possible to create systems of funding that produce economic
growth and an escape from poverty. But the money is donated, not
coerced by state agencies. The recipients answer to their peers
in the group, not to some social worker. The system works because
it has established a clear-cut hierarchy of responsibility and personal
performance. Participants see the hierarchy and the rules as legitimate.
is a man in our church, a lawyer, who has a ministry. He mows lawns.
It may not sound like much, but it is. He bought a couple of sit-down
commercial lawnmowers and a trailer to pull them. Then he goes into
the community and offers Saturday jobs to teenage boys. They can
earn spending money. To stay in the job pool, they must show up
on time. They must work all day. They must also attend church on
Sunday. They can quit at any time. But they want the money. So,
they learn a degree of self-discipline.
is the one masculine authority figure in their lives. Don’t tell
me those boys would prefer to consult with a social worker when
is a ministry. He could make more money devoting lawn-mowing time
to his law practice. But he sees a need. He understands that a handout
is not what the boys need. They need a work ethic. They need a sense
of personal responsibility. He provides money. The strings attached
are the same strings that are attached to your money and my money:
do a good job, and there is more where that came from.
politician looks at this and says, "But this is only one man.
It’s not enough." Then they raise taxes and build themselves
a constituency with the largess. They do things on a grand scale — grand
kids look at this system and conclude: "There is more money
for me in a gang than at City Hall." This is a correct conclusion,
until the police arrive, or a rival gang.
NOW, WE ALL KNOW THIS
should be thinking, "I already knew this." After four
decades of The Great Society, who doesn’t know this? But the state
has been giving its bureaucratic methadone to a generation of ghetto
residents. Millions are addicted. Today, nobody dares say, "We
must stop providing these convenient fixes." A chorus will
confront him: "You are inhumane! You would let people starve!"
they? We have turned the ghettos into places where hustlers survive
and gangs rule. These ghetto gangs are incredibly well run. They
are spreading across America. They are putting enterprises of the
Mafia out of business. They are organizational marvels. They keep
track of hundreds of billions of dollars a year. They have rules,
turf, and market share. They impose sanctions. Their sanctions are
bureaucrats tell us that the poor, benighted residents of the ghetto
cannot earn a living in a free market that respects private property.
What is needed, we are assured, is a state welfare system funded
by stolen taxpayers’ money, which is then doled out by middle-class
bureaucrats who are protected by Civil Service laws. Gang members
look at this trickle-down welfare system and conclude, "There
is a better way out of poverty."
WELFARE SYSTEM BUILT ON A FALSE DIAGNOSIS
reviewed Rize to show what the present social system has
done. It has stripped these children of hope. But it is doing the
same in white America. It’s just that the echo takes 25 years.
P. Moynihan wrote his famous report on the black family. He
said that illegitimacy was at 25%. He said this pointed to a social
disaster. He was correct.
those days, white illegitimacy was around 7%. Today, it is close
same phenomenon has spread through Western Europe among non-Muslims.
Francis Fukuyama’s book, The
Great Disruption (1999), documents this. Chapter 2 is a
catalogue of charts that mark this decline. Families are breaking
down, crime is going up. So is the number of single mothers. He
thinks the process has bottomed out. I am not so confident.
all want tomorrow to be better than today. We want our kids to live
in a better world. We want to guarantee this. But we can’t. Rize
documents the far end of our social world, but what it reveals is
the future. Bit by bit, the degeneration is spreading.
is not the solution. Another program is not the solution. Most voters
know this, yet most voters, like the addicts in the ghetto, cannot
pull the needle out of their arms. It’s the needle of false diagnosis,
the needle that says, "If I just pay more taxes, this horror
will stop at my city’s borders." It won’t.
is not a counsel of despair. This is the counsel of the physician
who says, "Let’s see what the disease is and why it is spreading."
eventually kills the host. At some point, the host of the body politic
will figure out that the welfare state is part of the disease, not
the proper treatment.
decline into oblivion is not inevitable. The murmuring of the victims
is audible. The Great Society is today a dying dream. It is in a
holding action. There are pockets of positive private change in
a sea of government bureaucracy.
government program can now reverse the drift that we see in Rize.
But a shrinking of civil government can make the reconstruction
of society less expensive.
people are forced by external circumstances to take responsibility,
they seek support: in family, churches, community associations,
fraternal groups. They seek it in business and steady employment.
People are not helpless, but they are being subsidized by the state
to feign helplessness.
you subsidize helplessness, you will get more of it. The market
are living in an era in which the chickens are coming home to roost.
Some are economic chickens. Some, as we see in Rize, are
looming bankruptcy of the Federal Government has advantages, not
the least of which will be its inability to put more people on the
with withdrawing from methadone, let alone heroin, there will be
pain. You and I may face our share. But pain is easier to bear when
you know that the long-run effect of this pain is the restoration
of health. It is not that a good system is coming to an end. It
is that an inherently corrupting system is coming to an end.
sooner we understand this, the sooner we will take steps to prepare
for the transition, in order that we may rebuild.