by Gary North
In response to my review of Rize, which I titled "Dancing in the Suburbs of Hell," a reader sent this observation:
So 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.
This 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.
The 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.
The 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.
We taxpayers are the losers. But the kids in the ghetto are the biggest losers of all.
A PERVERSE SYSTEM OF AUTHORITY
The starting point in any consideration of any reform is this question: Who is responsible for solving the problem?
Anyone or any agency that asserts responsibility is asserting power. Is the assertion legitimate?
The 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 having failed.
Who 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.
The 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.
To 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 pyramid.
The 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.
Gangs 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.
THE STATE CANNOT FIX IT
We 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.
The 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.
The 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."
The 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.
WILL OUTSIDE MONEY FIX IT?
That depends on what strings are attached to the money, and what the providers and the recipients expect from each other.
In 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.
People 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.
There 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.
He is the one masculine authority figure in their lives. Don't tell me those boys would prefer to consult with a social worker when problems arise.
This 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.
The 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 larceny.
The 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.
BY NOW, WE ALL KNOW THIS
You 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!"
Would 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 taken seriously.
The 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."
A WELFARE SYSTEM BUILT ON A FALSE DIAGNOSIS
I 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.
In 1965, Daniel 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.
In those days, white illegitimacy was around 7%. Today, it is close to 25%.
The 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.
We 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.
Government 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.
This 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."
Cancer 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.
This 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.
No 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.
When 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.
If you subsidize helplessness, you will get more of it. The market responds!
We 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 cultural.
The looming bankruptcy of the Federal Government has advantages, not the least of which will be its inability to put more people on the dole.
As 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.
The sooner we understand this, the sooner we will take steps to prepare for the transition, in order that we may rebuild.
July 1, 2005
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