Thursday, September 08, 2005

Social Engineering and the New New Orleans

David Brooks, token conservative on the opinion page of the New York Times, has a column today that's all the buzz. His argument: the concentration of poor people in New Orleans must be broken to give the next generation of New Orleansians a chance to break out of poverty.

Read the column for details. But consider SWNID's dour pessimism about the outcomes.

First, SWNID doubts that this will become the policy. Bush's "compassionate conservatism" has largely caved in to calls for funding the status quo in social services. If the debate turns to a significant relocation of New Orleans' poor, the clamor for the "rights" of people to "return to their homes and communities" will be overwhelming, and Bush will trot out his compassionate credentials again by throwing money at the issue.

Second, SWNID believes that efforts to relocate New Orleans' concentrations of poor people to unconconcentrated areas will be thwarted by the natural patterns of relocation. Our own fair city has witnessed such a phenomenon as the blighted West End has been recreated in the last several years. The old public housing developments, warehouses for social problems, have been demolished, and nice, middle-class townhouses have been built. But the former occupants of the projects have moved more or less en masse to other neighborhoods, notably East Westwood and East Price Hill, and have brought their social problems with them. This is a function of people naturally grouping themselves near family or friends. But it's also a function of their being relocated to older, inexpensive housing stock, normally concentrated in a few neighborhoods in any city, bought up by investors who take advantage of Section 8 vouchers as a means of profiting on marginal properties.

What this bodes, then, is not that the Big Easy's urban poor will find themselves in middle class schools and neighborhoods, but that they'll find themselves concentrated, albeit in smaller communities but concentrated nonetheless, in neighborhoods of older homes, falling into disrepair, with absentee landlords, inadequate schools, and neighbors who hurt people and break things.

But I'll still say that Brooks's proposal is the right direction. With the blessed Glenn Loury, I'll say that the plight of America's underclass deserves the full attention of its citizenry. The point is not that we can eradicate poverty altogether. But wise, concentrated effort does has its effect on individuals. We work, per Loury, One by One from the Inside Out.

Jesus people will understand this. The presence of hard soil does not negate the necessity to sow seed or the expectation of a great harvest.

3 comments:

JAS said...

Is there a moral difference between the government throwing cash at poor people who did nothing for it and a goverment throwing key jobs at unqualified cronies? Or rather, what's the difference between cronyism and social engineering?

Anonymous said...

O.K. - the guy left one thing out. If they throw them into my neighborhood and the have (1st class condition - the protasis is true)they will also find a heavily armed citizenry (i.e. middle class people wo have chosen to afford guns)who also choose not to let vandalism and robbery slide but to turn it over to the police. I have already dealt with the parents of some of the S8 children's parents on three occasions. After the third occasion the parents were sure that I would call the police AND press charges AND show up at court to make them stick. The children now are model neighbors.

Danny Joe
Jimmy's Friend

Jon A. Alfred E. Michael J. Wile E. SWNID said...

The moral difference between cronyism and social engineering is that the former is not hypocritical. But N.B. that SWNID favors thoughtful social engineering, as long as everyone in the body politic appreciates that it is very expensive and only marginally effective. But as the margins represent individuals, and individuals are worth redeeming, thoughtfully applied it is worth the expense.