Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Nobody can change it except the electorate themselves

After the Ferguson events I noted in Letting ideology trump effectiveness that
Such magical thinking leads to magical solutions which is what Capps is attacking. Capps points out that the problem is not actionable racism on the part of the [Ferguson] police department but the funding governance of the municipality. I agree, that is a real moral crime and if you don’t solve that problem, you will still have a gross problem that is destructive to the lives and well-being of the citizens of Ferguson. If you have a black police chief and an entirely black police force, but they are still sourcing 30% of the municipal revenue from criminal fines, then Ferguson will be no better off than it was before. Once again, we are letting race obsession stand in the way of improving the lives of citizens.
Along comes Baltimore to bolster the conclusion that these are not issues of racism as some small portion of our activists and pundits wish to make it out to be. The issue is citizen participation and government effectiveness. In Baltimore, the Mayor is black, the Police Chief is black, about half the police force is black, the Chairman of the Board of the Baltimore Public Schools is black as is the Schools CEO. Per the Justice Department's findings in Ferguson, these race circumstances should preclude police violence and rioting. But of course it doesn't because the issue is not, no matter how loudly it is trumpeted, about race. It is about civic engagement on the part of the electorate and effective governance. By always interpreting everything through the lens of race, we misdiagnose the problem and its root causes. Without understanding the real root causes, we fail to rectify the problems.

Jason L. Riley has an excellent opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal, The Lawbreakers of Baltimore—and Ferguson.
Broad diversity is not a problem in Baltimore, where 63% of residents and 40% of police officers are black. The current police commissioner is also black, and he isn’t the first one. The mayor is black, as was her predecessor and as is a majority of the city council. Yet none of this “critically important” diversity seems to have mattered after 25-year-old Freddie Gray died earlier this month in police custody under circumstances that are still being investigated.

Some black Baltimoreans have responded by hitting the streets, robbing drugstores, minimarts and check-cashing establishments and setting fires. If you don’t see the connection, it’s because there isn’t one. Like Brown’s death, Gray’s is being used as a convenient excuse for lawbreaking. If the Ferguson protesters were responding to a majority-black town being oppressively run by a white minority—which is the implicit argument of the Justice Department and the explicit argument of the liberal commentariat—what explains Baltimore?


Chicago’s population is 32% black, along with 26% of its police force, but it remains one of the most violent big cities in the country. There were more than 400 homicides in the Second City last year and some 300 of the victims were black, the Chicago Tribune reports. That’s more than double the number of black deaths at the hands of police in the entire country in a given year, according to FBI data.

Might the bigger problem be racial disparities in antisocial behavior, not the composition of law-enforcement agencies?


The violent-crime rate in Baltimore is more than triple the national average, and the murder rate is more than six times higher. As of April, city murders are 20% ahead of the number killed through the first three months of last year. But neither Mayor Rawlings-Blake nor Mr. Young needs any lectures from the media on Baltimore crime. The mayor lost a 20-year-old cousin to gun violence two years ago. And earlier this month Mr. Young’s 37-year-old nephew died from a gunshot wound to his head. Even the families of black elites in a city run by black elites can’t escape this pathology.
Other commentators see the problem not in terms of race but in terms of partisanship and government policies. See, for example, Riot-Plagued Baltimore Is a Catastrophe Entirely of the Democratic Party’s Own Making by Kevin D. Williamson. Williamson's article is red-meat partisanship but his argument is quite strong (though I think he misses the target to some degree.) Williamson points out that all the cities where there is urban unrest are governed by old-guard, unreformed, single-party political machines, characterized by both prosecuted and unprosecuted corruption, all of which happen to be Democratic.

Williamson is basically saying that Democratic urban policies are responsible for the problems we are seeing and that the Democratic politicians are not being held accountable.
A few weeks ago, there was an election in Ferguson, Mo., the result of which was to treble the number of African Americans on that unhappy suburb’s city council. This was greeted in some corners with optimism — now, at last, the city’s black residents would have a chance to see to securing their own interests. This optimism flies in the face of evidence near — St. Louis — and far — Baltimore, Detroit, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Atlanta, Los Angeles, San Francisco . . .

St. Louis has not had a Republican mayor since the 1940s, and in its most recent elections for the board of aldermen there was no Republican in the majority of the contests; the city is overwhelmingly Democratic, effectively a single-party political monopoly from its schools to its police department. Baltimore has seen two Republicans sit in the mayor’s office since the 1920s — and none since the 1960s. Like St. Louis, it is effectively a single-party political monopoly from its schools to its police department. Philadelphia has not elected a Republican mayor since 1948. The last Republican to be elected mayor of Detroit was congratulated on his victory by President Eisenhower. Atlanta, a city so corrupt that its public schools are organized as a criminal conspiracy against its children, last had a Republican mayor in the 19th century. Its municipal elections are officially nonpartisan, but the last Republican to run in Atlanta’s 13th congressional district did not manage to secure even 30 percent of the vote; Atlanta is effectively a single-party political monopoly from its schools to its police department.

American cities are by and large Democratic-party monopolies, monopolies generally dominated by the so-called progressive wing of the party. The results have been catastrophic, and not only in poor black cities such as Baltimore and Detroit. Money can paper over some of the defects of progressivism in rich, white cities such as Portland and San Francisco, but those are pretty awful places to be non-white and non-rich, too: Blacks make up barely 9 percent of the population in San Francisco, but they represent 40 percent of those arrested for murder, and they are arrested for drug offenses at ten times their share of the population. Criminals make their own choices, sure, but you want to take a look at the racial disparity in educational outcomes and tell me that those low-income nine-year-olds in Wisconsin just need to buck up and bootstrap it?
Williamson takes some time out to document the magnitude and persistence of the corruption in the Baltimore Police Department and then returns to his main theme.
Yes, Baltimore seems to have some police problems. But let us be clear about whose fecklessness and dishonesty we are talking about here: No Republican, and certainly no conservative, has left so much as a thumbprint on the public institutions of Baltimore in a generation. Baltimore’s police department is, like Detroit’s economy and Atlanta’s schools, the product of the progressive wing of the Democratic party enabled in no small part by black identity politics. This is entirely a left-wing project, and a Democratic-party project.

When will the Left be held to account for the brutality in Baltimore — brutality for which it bears a measure of responsibility on both sides? There aren’t any Republicans out there cheering on the looters, and there aren’t any Republicans exercising real political power over the police or other municipal institutions in Baltimore. Community-organizer — a wretched term — Adam Jackson declared that in Baltimore “the Democrats and the Republicans have both failed.” Really? Which Republicans? Ulysses S. Grant? Unless I’m reading the charts wrong, the Baltimore city council is 100 percent Democratic.

The other Democratic monopolies aren’t looking too hot, either. We’re sending Atlanta educators to prison for running a criminal conspiracy to hide the fact that they failed, and failed woefully, to educate the children of that city. Isolated incident? Nope: Atlanta has another cheating scandal across town at the police academy. Who is being poorly served by the fact that Atlanta’s school system has been converted into crime syndicate? Mostly poor, mostly black families. Who is likely to suffer from any incompetents advanced through the Atlanta police department by its corrupt academy? Mostly poor, mostly black people. Who suffers most from the incompetence of Baltimore’s Democratic mayor? Mostly poor, mostly black families — should they feel better that she’s black? Who suffers most from the incompetence and corruption of Baltimore’s police department? Mostly poor, mostly black families.


The evidence suggests very strongly that the left-wing, Democratic claques that run a great many American cities — particularly the poor and black cities — are not capable of running a school system or a police department. They are incompetent, they are corrupt, and they are breathtakingly arrogant. Cleveland, Philadelphia, Detroit, Baltimore — this is what Democrats do.
I believe that Williamson's argument has substantial merit. We know that many/most Democratic Party public policies are detrimental to the well-being of citizens and the economy. But I think looking at this strictly from a partisan perspective is likely just as deceiving as looking at it solely from the perspective of race.

Where Williamson focuses on the failure of bad government policies as espoused by Democrats, I think there is somewhat different dynamic going on. Yes, the Democrats run on popular but destructive policies. But they win on those policies. Our system of republican representative democracy is rich in checks and balances which should ensure that there is no established center of power that is able to exploit the citizenry. Williamson flirts with the core issue without quite addressing it directly.

Why do citizens keep electing corrupt, dysfunctional, ineffective mayors, councilmen, representatives, etc.? Perhaps the issue is not that the Democrats have controlled all the major cities for fifty and more years and have exacted a terrible vengeance by imposing well-intended but misguided and destructive policies. Perhaps the issue is really about one-party government.

We know internationally and domestically that for a democracy to function, there have to be real choices between alternative positions and those alternatives have to be viable. You have to have real competition for votes. In most these cities, the Democrats have been in power for several generations with near absolute control. My argument is that we would likely see similar dysfunction today in any city that was Republican for fifty or more years. The problem is not necessarily particular bad policies but the political sclerosis that comes from lack of real political competition. Every stable system picks up parasites, in this instance, the parasite of insider dealing, rent seeking, regulatory capture, explicit corruption and the soft corruption of indirect favors. The only way to shake these parasites is to have real electoral competition.

Aspects of this diagnosis are seen in The Rise and Decline of Nations by Mancur Olson, The Collapse of Complex Societies by Joseph A. Tainter, Doing Bad by Doing Good by Christopher J. Coyle, and Seeing Like a State by James C. Scott.

My opinion is that race has very little to do with Ferguson or Baltimore. While specific government policies are clearly much more direct contributors than race, I think that policies are also not the whole story. Just as you can make all the elected officials African-American (the Ferguson DOJ recommendation) and it won't make any difference (see Baltimore), I think it is also true that you could fix particular government policies but you would still have a problem if you do not have viable alternatives battling the incumbents for the favor of the electorate. Individual policies are good or bad to some degree but the bigger problem is if you only have the same stale smorgasbord of failed policies with no opportunity to try something new.

Williamson keeps asking for us to identify "someone to blame for what’s wrong." He's right to do so. Checks and balances only work if there is transparency and accountability. However, in one party systems, which is what we have in most cities, there is notoriously little transparency and even less accountability.

I think we will continue to have these problems until there is real competitive elections at the local level. But how you make that come about is unclear. People are choosing the candidates that they want. More realistically, I think people are accepting the candidates with which they are presented because the cost of engagement in the political arena is so high. But until we can get the electorate to insist that both parties present viable candidates and have real political contests, we will remain mired in insider dealing, rent seeking, regulatory capture, explicit corruption and the soft corruption of indirect favors.

So who is to blame for Ferguson, for Baltimore, for Detroit, etc. It is easy to say that it is the Democrats and true to an extent. But returning the same party to power on a continuous decadal basis is a choice by the citizens of those cities. They have gotten what they chose. And really, nobody can change it except the electorate themselves.

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