FRONT PAGE CONTRIBUTOR
Reforming The Republic V: Fixing The American City
Cities Must Become Livable and Functional before Any Sane Person Will Want to Live or Function within Their Limits.
I have an affection for a great city. I feel safe in the neighbourhood of man, and enjoy the sweet security of the streets. ~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow lived in a distant, better age. He certainly didn’t live in South Side Chicago. He wrote over a century before a famous piece of graffiti on a bridge read “Bulletmore, Murderland”. Some would write this off and just assume a juvenile delinquent was bored or that Baltimore, MD was just a bad statistical outlier. When Laura Lippman edited a short story compendium entitled Baltimore Noir, she wrote the following introduction.
To live in Baltimore–Bulletmore, Murderland, according to one famous piece of graffiti–is to be aware of killing; we have not enjoyed the sharp declines in homicide rates achieved by cities such as Boston and New York. We remain steadfastly in the top five, per capita, year in and year out. Statistically, two people died while I was working on this foreword .
I would argue Baltimore is not a statistical outlier, but rather a predictable precursor – a canary in the coalmine if you will that indicates what American cities will increasingly degenerate towards going forward if our nation does not significantly reform how we handle them. Cities in Post-Modern Amerika suffer from an interlocking directory of failure modes which retard their economic and social development. This scares many productive and worthwhile people out of setting foot on one of their streets unless necessity brooks no other course of action. A typical American City will usually be worse than the surrounding countryside in crime, illegitimacy, educational outcomes, and economic opportunity. This is precisely opposite of how it was originally intended to work.
So just what does America do about murder as lifestyle in Baltimorgue, bankruptcy in Detroit, or the perception at least of deliberate Apartheid in new Haven, CT? Here’s what I think should be a reasonable to-do list.
1) Rethink The War on Drugs. Three Strikes Laws have negative externalities that inflict more evil on society than the laws ameliorate. Putting people into a penitentiary for low-level criminal offenses trains them how to commit the bigger ones with greater skill and motivation. They also socially engineer people into a position where they rely on gangs as their only source of income and employment. Steven levitt describes the economics of dope-slinging below.
The real-world impact of Three Strikes Laws reminds me of the cannibalism initiation ritual from the Larry Niven novel Lucifer’s Hammer. The antagonist army in this novel would force people, against their will, to eat a stew made of dead people. This was done to force people into their power. The rest of what was left of civilization would have nothing to do with the cannibals. They had to rely on the gang leader for their subsistence.
Put people into The State Pen for committing three major crimes, and you brand them as outcastes when they have to fess’ up to that on their resume. Very few people not motivated by Christian charity to an extreme will hire anyone who has done hard time in Folsum or Ossining. These people are essentially turned into persona non grata for the rest of their lives. They predictably resent and hate people for that. You get the counter-culture portrayed in this NSFW Waka Flocka video.
2) Criminalize The Fathering of Illegitimate Children and Limit The Subsidizing of The Mothers. Make any man who fathers an illegitimate child either marry the woman, assume full custody and financial responsibility or pay society for the costs they impose on the rest of us. If our cities are being destroyed by the illegitimacy epidemic, we cannot convince people to father and bear their offspring in a responsible manner and we do not want to run their potential offspring through an abortuary as a standard operating procedure, than we have to make people own their own offspring. Putting the men in jail will only train them how to more lethally shoot people when they are forced to join drug gangs. However, about 20 hours of hard, physical labor a month would certainly make our urban parks and interstate highways a whole lot less trashy.
This would also make the ladies think a lot harder about who they sleep with. If they’ve slept with five or six different men, they won’t be able to finger the baby-daddy very easily. If they have only one partner, daddy’s identity is obvious. It also puts the onus on their parents to teach both men and women to handle their own business in a more self-interested manner. If the welfare benefits are reduced, the parent of a man or a woman that creates a child out of wedlock has a moral dilemma. They will avoid the situation by explaining to Junior that he will keep that thing in his pants. Raising the cost of bastardy on the parents of Miniver Cheevy will reduce the rate at which it occurs and reduce the cost it places on society.
3) Accept De Facto Segregation As A Natural Human Inclination. If a group of people would feel heartsick and offended to have me live in their neighborhood, I don’t intend to live there. Al Sharpton will never have to concern himself with me as a “White Interloper.” However, if he’s offended by my existence; than he has no right to access my wallet as a part of his neighborhood’s tax base.
Let people live where they want to live. Let live with the people they want to live near. Stop forced desegregation. Forcing people to live in neighborhoods and go to schools that are not their choice is no more morally decent than Apartheid. Forced, legal desegregation may have had a genuine and noble intent. However, like Three Strikes Laws, it has had a deleterious impact that has far outweighed any decent intent.
4) Let A Totally Uneconomical City Die A Natural Death. If Detroit and Baltimore have become socially and economically unworkable, we need to go through the proper stages of grief and then let them die. This a sad and terrible thing to happen, but it will happen no matter how much I tax other Americans to keep them on life support. Tele-commuting, 3D Printing, Internet Collaboration and a host of other technological innovations are reducing the importance of the urban growth poles. I have friends who live near both Baltimore and Detroit so I don’t say this with callous disregard. However, we can’t just make things work when the real world says it won’t happen. Sometimes the benign neglect of living to let live will unfortunately cause us to live and let die.
In conclusion, our cities are failing us and imposing a cost on the rest of society that will have an ongoing deleterious impact on our ability to continue functioning as a 1st World nation. We need to find policies that will prevent violent crime, family breakdown, racial hatred and inevitable, systemic economic failure. These bad things that I describe above are the rampant horsemen of Post-modern Amerika’s Urban Apocolypse. They are yet another cause and indicator of a coming Big Government Chernobyl. We change these unpleasant realities or we continue drinking their poison until we die. That is all.