WASHINGTON – Here is a simple, if radical, new idea for those who want to deal with large pockets of urban poverty. (What We Know About Bad Neighborhoods, by Holman W. Jenkins, Jr. in the WLS, May 9-10, 2015). Do not try to re-engineer truly bad neighborhoods. Not because this is in principle a bad idea. But simply because it is too difficult. The failure of scores of well funded public programs attests to this.
Impossible to fix truly bad neighborhoods
Indeed we have to come to the realization that it is almost impossible to deal with poverty, bad housing, bad schools, dilapidated buildings, lack of decent food stores and other shopping, and then crime and despair –all at the same time. In these sometimes large neighborhoods there are just too many interconnected negative factors, all of them sadly feeding on each other.
Most unfortunately, taken all together these factors create a deeply pathological value system. Indeed, even if you are a person with some abilities and good will, when you are surrounded my blight, rampant crime, and hopelessness it is nearly impossible to stay positive and believe that there is a practical way to improve your own life in a neighborhood dominated by poverty, violence, gangs and crime.
Move people out, give them a chance
So, what is the alternative? The alternative, as Jenkins points out in his WSJ piece, is in offering a chance to those who are reasonably motivated by helping them move somewhere else.
Yes, the environment in which you live does make a huge difference. A reasonably motivated person is bound to do much better in a new place where there is safety, decent housing, good schools, and jobs. However, the very same person will drown in a bad neighborhood with non existent public services, and almost zero economic opportunities outside of crime.
A partial solution
So, is this a complete “solution” to the challenges created by poor neighborhoods? No, it is not. It is only a partial solution; but very significant nonetheless. This is about giving people with motivation and will a viable alternative that may literally save their lives.
Of course, there is still the problem of those who have neither the will nor the abilities who are left behind. What about them? I do not have a good answer for this.
Save some people
However, It still makes sense to offer a better life to those who can and will take advantage of good opportunities, instead of condemning them to drown in the swamp that scores of (well meaning but useless) tax payers-funded welfare programs never managed to drain.
Sadly, 50 years after the “War on Poverty” was declared, we have to admit defeat. The well-meaning frontal assault using all the best tools of public policy did not work. It is time to think of something else.