It’s time to transform the inner city

Lisa Kam | Daily Trojan

Lisa Kam | Daily Trojan

In his seminal 1965 report “The Negro Family: The Case for National Action,” politician Daniel Patrick Moynihan opened with the words, “The United States is approaching a new crisis in race relations.” He couldn’t have been more right then, and he’s just as right now.

Moynihan argued that while the defeats of slavery and segregation had granted African Americans liberty and guaranteed a certain “Equality of Opportunity” for the African American community, there had been no concomitant “Equality of Results.” And absent a broad “Equality of Results” between urban black America and suburban white America, Moynihan argued that “there will be no social peace in the United States for generations.”

My fellow Republicans loathe the term “Equality of Results” and worship the idea of  “Equality of Opportunity”, but the fact of the matter is that Moynihan was right — “Equality of Opportunity” alone, without broad “Equality of Results”,  leads to great social inequality; social harmony amid great social inequality is impossible; and if we want the shootings, the riots and protests and the identity politics to cease, we would do well to proactively deal with that social and economic inequality.

So let’s get a couple of things straight.

The main issue facing urban black America is socioeconomic inequality and the ensuing social decay. Racism remains a serious issue, but it cannot be dealt with in what is called a “policy-relevant” timeframe — attitudes die hard and take generations to change. Of course we should work on it, in areas from police reform to representation. But in a purely distributive sense, it is much more practical to address the bread-and-butter concerns of black America, and helping alleviate poverty in inner cities and bring more members of the African American community to middle-class status will do infinitely more than “reeducating” wannabe Klansmen to be more progressively minded.

There are two primary obstacles to resolving the question of socioeconomic inequality — chronic underinvestment in the drivers of growth and stability in these communities, and poor, dysfunctional governance based on a model that barely worked in the last century.

We can talk all we want about entrepreneurship and competition, which are important to growth. But fundamentally, community economic development is a political decision, not just a result of economic forces. Decisions about where public and public-private funds go are decided politically, and though money isn’t everything, it certainly is a large component in economic development and management. Who subsidizes whom is a more important question than proper tax rates.

Even so, funds can be wasted, particularly in the urban communities where many lower-class African Americans live. And this brings us to the second obstacle: dysfunctional governance. When local governments are bureaucratically minded and focused more on methods than results, they tend to grow unresponsive and inefficient. In a world of poor schools, potholed roads and long lines at the DMV and hospital, not to mention distant police forces who patrol rather than serve their communities, does it really matter if it’s easier for someone to get a loan and start a business?

This toxic combination of underinvestment and dysfunctional governance feeds into itself and destroys individuals and families, thereby destroying the community. As Moynihan noted, there is a cycle of social services, economic opportunity and family stability: “Employment in turn reflects educational achievement, which depends in large part on family stability, which reflects employment.“

The War on Poverty failed to serve the black poor. Supply-side economics and trickle-down theory failed to serve the black poor. The welfare reforms of the Clinton Administration failed to serve the black poor. No Child Left Behind under Bush, and the Affordable Care Act under Obama, failed to serve the black poor. Corrupt city governments and clueless state governments have for five decades since the Civil Rights Act failed to serve the black poor. And we are living under the consequences of those failures.

To be frank, the police shootings that Black Lives Matter activists focus so heavily on are nowhere near the most important issue the black community faces, though they’re easily the most galvanizing. And reforming police departments across the country under good-government standards amenable to the activist community is putting a Band-Aid on a gaping laceration.

A transformation of the living standards of the inner-city African American communities is in order, and it will take much institutional reform and public investment. Bringing the multiracial and especially the black poor into the middle class will be no easy task. But it is a continuation of the great work of justice and equality that reformers have pushed for since the founding, and we should not be intimidated by it.

Luke Phillips is a senior majoring in international relations. His column,“Tory Men,” runs every other Wednesday.