The Shame of the Cities and the Shade of LBJ
Published on: July 4, 2011
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  • Luke Lea

    Mead: “The Second Great Johnson Quagmire now destroying the nation is the Medicare/Medicaid complex. These entitlement programs are the biggest single financial problem we face. They dwarf all the Bush-Obama wars; they make TARP look like small change. They not only cost money we don’t have — and are scheduled to cost inexorably more until they literally ruin the nation — they have distorted our entire health system into the world’s most bloated and expensive monstrosity. Thanks to these programs, we have a health system that marries the greed of the private sector to the ineptitude of government.”

    I’ve read that half our medical spending is on patients in their last months of life, fruitless efforts to delay the inevitable. Surely religious faith can help us there, and higher copays.

    Letting Go
    What should medicine do when it can’t save your life?

  • Wayne Lusvardi

    There is an affordable housing policy in California and elsewhere called “inclusionary housing” which is typically coupled with redevelopment that perpetuates the dysfunction of lower income families, especially Black families, that is described above.

    Inclusionary housing mandates that one condo or apartment be set aside for a low income owner or tenant out of every five units in a new development. The house prices and/or rents in the other four units are raised to subsidize the “inclusionary” unit. In other words, low income families are mixed into higher end multifamily housing.

    The problem with this housing model is that it alienates typically one-parent families from the extended family and religious institutions that can help socialize and care for children. California families where single parents are unemployed or on welfare are experiencing cutbacks due to the state budget deficit.

    There are no mediating social institutions to provide a backup social safety net. Bureaucracies and their nonprofit clones cannot fill the social void. Downtown upper class churches cannot fill the gap either no matter how much they advocate for the poor or minorities because lower income families do not feel “at home” in such institutions.

    Inclusionary housing is a Marxist social policy that is based on only providing material goods and symbolic equality with middle class housing.

    During the Bubble I sadly watched while the “Re-Po” man would come and repossess the new cars of teenage boys living in such upscale luxury housing in a single parent family. Such families were attracted by all the consumption and status symbols of living in such upscale environments but became sucked up into a spiral of debt. The Protestant Work Ethic of how to afford a first car and the insurance was no where to be found.

    Such families depended on the welfare state to provide. After all if the state could provide luxury housing with gyms, pools, and spas in mixed upscale retail & residential developments why couldn’t it provide affordable brand new sportcars too?

    Ironically, liberal religious institutions at the local level often legitimate such “anti-social” policies. But the problem with such religious legitimations is that they oddly believe that man “lives by bread alone” in a secular heaven of inclusionary housing whose function is mainly to provide egalitarian symbolism to satisfy liberal elites. Man does not live by bread, or inclusionary housing, solely. But don’t look for any sociologists from Occidental College to study this aspect any too soon.

  • Fourmyle of Ceres

    One of the many ropes in this Gordion knot that must be attacked is the role and place of the father. Research is showing more clearly each day just how important fathers are for socializing children and stabilizing society. But thanks to the Great Society programs and changes Family Court laws these ghettos must be understood as matriarchal ghettos, and that these mother-centered families (without meaningful and respected roles for adult men) are at the core of the problem.

    As a result, confronting the ghetto will also require confronting the feminists in the suburbs, academe and policy institutes who have made male-bashing a culturally acceptable form of bigotry and proper target for government subsidized “research.” You cannot convincingly make the case that fathers are necessary in the ghetto without recognizing that they are necessary everywhere, and that our current practices in divorce, custody, and child-rearing are harmful to everyone touched by “the System” (men, women and children alike).

  • Luke Lea

    Legalizing drugs, including heroin, would take the glamor and the money out of the drug trade and might be a step in the right direction. After all heroin used to be legal — it was a brand name ! — and the consequences were minimal.

  • William Hamblen

    Luke Lea wrote, “I’ve read that half our medical spending is on patients in their last months of life …” In the course of most lives we will sicken before we die. This always will be true

  • Mrs. Davis

    One of, if not the, core axioms of the Blue Model is the perfectibility of man. A corollary is that if a man is not perfected, some agency of the perfected can perfect him. Further, as long as he remains unperfected there is a collective responsibility to sustain him in his imperfect state. Any alternative is stigmatized as Social Darwinism.

    The result has been that more and more socially unacceptable behavior is tolerated and subsidized. Until we finally resort to the expensive and ineffective palliative of incarceration. But no one is willing to accept the alternative, just as no one will accept any alternative to Medicare.

    Until the axioms of the Blue Model are replaced, we will continue on the same path. Until the rest of the world stops subsidizing us. Then we will be confronted with the ugly reality of an empty wallet and the imperfectibility of man.

    Perhaps we are on the precipice of a change in axioms that accept the imperfectibility of man. Ones that accept the inherent unfairness of life and greater emphasis on individuals bearing the consequences of their decisions and actions. But I don’t see it happening. Even when we’re broke and without lenders. We’d sooner risk Hobbes in the long run than take unpleasant action now.

  • Tim Hulsey, MD

    Luke Lea says:
    “What should medicine do when it can’t save your life?”
    Unfortunately, some of us doctors think of medicine as a tooth-and-nail fight against death, and sometimes it should be. Some physicians don’t see death as a sacred part of human existence as they would birth– they don’t want to “let go.” Families can be the same way. As a society, we need to accept death as another part of life. We are never guaranteed longevity. Life has always been a terminal process. At age 60 something, if I die today, I’ll go with a smile on my face! I can’t imagine trying to increase longevity to 150 years. I’m no Malthusian, but what will we do with all those people? We can’t keep all those younger than 65 employed now! Why would I want to sit around for 85 years at someone else’s expense? The increase in life expectancy over the last 100 years has already caused Social Security and Medicare to be unsustainable. Let’s man-up and learn to accept our fate and sanctify the end of life as we do the beginning.

  • stu

    The specific Great Society program that caused the most damage was Aid to Dependent Children. To enforce the requirements, social workers made sure no adult male was residing with the mother of the children for whom the payments were intended. The percentage of black children borne out of wedlock rose dramatically and thus the problems described by Fourmyle.

  • Helping to direct traffic to Walter Russell Mead’s writing.

  • Modern neuroscience is teaching us a great deal about who should succeed and who is likely to fail in the highly complex milieu of modern high tech and hyper-detailed big city life.

    We need to match the living environment to individual inclinations and aptitudes, rather than trying to create a “one size fits all” cookie cutter society.

    There are very real differences which policy makers ignore at the peril of society as a whole.

  • Michael Bender

    The first warning signs were there over forty years ago, and many people of goodwill have attempted to change the Great Society business plan over the years but haven’t gotten very far. The reason: a lot of folks have made a good living promoting the present system. Our present president, as you will recall, was a Community Organizer, and what is that job all about except to keep the suckers voting your way.
    The answer: Tough Love. The funding must end. Perhaps not at once but you must take the profit out of the present system to change it.

  • Don’t just do something, stand there.

    The best thing to do it is nothing. Anything that the state does, thanks to the predations of the left, will only serve to perpetuate and exacerbate the problem.

    Government policies such as welfare and racial discrimination subsidize the very problems those behind these policies pretend to be fighting.

    When you pay someone not to work, they won’t. When you reward someone for being irresponsible, they will be. When you fund the creation of a dystopian microcosm in which psychopathy is seen as a virtue, then that is what you’ll get.

    The best way to end poverty is to make poverty itself difficult to maintain as a stable living condition. Stop paying people to be poor, and start refusing to pay them to do anything other than work. Hard work, and the culture it creates and sustains will do the rest.

  • Yahzooman

    Thanks for a well-written introduction to the problem. I look forward to your proposals. I’m reminded of Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s landmark book, “The Negro Family: The Case For National Action.”

    His conclusion: “The steady expansion of welfare programs can be taken as a measure of the steady disintegration of the Negro family structure over the past generation in the United States”.

    With 20/20 hindsight, the well-meaning social programs of the 60s and 70s caused the breakdown of the Black family and today’s problems.

    Yes, a husband is necessary. Uncle Sam is a poor replacement for dad.

    Would it be simplistic to ask that if we just further dismantle the inner-city Great Society safety net programs (subsidized housing, affirmative action, WIC, etc.) would the sick heal themselves?

    Often the simple answer is the best answer. But then I’m a simpleton.

  • Laura

    Inclusionary housing and the entire Section 8 program completely distort the rental market. When I lived in an upscale apartment complex in Newport Beach, CA, I had one never-married neighbor who had a two-bedroom/two-bath subsidized apartment for herself and her son, and she paid less than $100 per month out of her welfare check for rent, while another neighbor who was divorced and receiving very modest child-support worked full-time at a hospital as a respiratory therapist but could only afford a one-bedroom/one-bath apartment for herself and her daughter.

    When the welfare cases routinely have bigger and better housing (not to mention much more free time) than those with full-time skilled employment, you have a huge problem. It is completely demoralizing for the skilled worker, and sends a very confusing message to the newly divorced woman who should be trying to build a future for herself.

    The welfare neighbor was unwilling to move out of California because the benefits and climate were so nice, while divorced women in the complex who were being bankrupted by sky-high rents were unable to move out of state despite insuperable financial problems because of custody issues with their ex-spouses. There were no “cheaper” neighborhoods, either. The poorer neighborhoods charged the same amount of rent, the difference was that they would allow you to have an unlimited number of “roommates.”

    With house prices declining, and the government going broke, there is no time like the present to start phasing out government subsidies for housing.

  • Jacksonian Libertarian

    Here is my prescription
    1. End the war on drugs, this would end most of the gangs financing, as the end of prohibition did. It will also end much of the turf wars that cause so much of the violence and murder. Tax the drugs to provide rehab programs, but let the prices fall as much as possible so that the addicted poor don’t need to commit crimes to pay for their next fix. Death from bad drugs will be vastly reduced, and social forces will reduce usage as they have with alcohol and smoking.
    2. Give the public housing to the residents as well as any vacant units in the buildings that have residents to the residents as a whole. Auction off any vacant buildings and land and get the incompetent monopoly government out of the residential landlord business.
    3. End welfare, it is the primary reason for the destruction of the poor family, replacing fathers with Uncle Sam.
    4. End the teacher’s labor gang monopolies, and institute a powerful and lucrative merit based bonus program, based on real tested student progress. This would result in the best teachers seeking out the most poorly served students, which when taught would show the greatest improvement, and so the largest bonuses. Making hundreds of thousands in bonuses should be possible, and teaching credentials should be unnecessary.
    5. A balanced budget amendment to stop the Government monopoly from sucking up the entire available job creating investment capital.

  • Redman

    Think about the politics involved. LBJ knew blacks would vote heavily democratic, but they faced obstacles to the ballot box. So, the Voting Rights Act was needed to give them access on a par with white Americans. LBJ also knew he had to keep blacks dependent on the government, hence the Great Society social programs. He knew the best way to create government dependency was to destroy the famiy, and this he set out to do, and he accomplished.

  • wumhenry

    An honest assessment of the problem of the underclass should begin with recognition of the likelihood that individual variance in intelligence and other traits that enhance the utility of labor is largely due to genetic differences that cannot be eliminated through education or social-welfare programs.

  • Charles

    There are actually two momentous trends occurring globally which match what is happening (or has happened in the US) – 1) Movement from country to town and 2) Redeployment of people from agriculture and manufacturing into the services/knowledge sector. These trends have a couple of common elements which change the dynamic of success from that which existed in the past.

    Relocating from thinly populated countryside to the much denser environment of the city requires a dramatic increase in communication skills and behavior management capabilities. The new arrival has many more people to deal with who operate from many and much more varied cultural assumptions. The communication skills and behavior management competencies necessary for dealing with an environment where you might interact with 100 people in a day are dramatically higher than those where you might interact with 100 people in a year.

    Similarly, the migration from labor intensive agriculture and manufacturing environments where there is some level of standardization and predictability (which is not to say that bad things don’t happen but bad weather for a farmer is a predictable event) to the services/knowledge economy, characterized by rapid change, constant churn, high levels of ambiguity and uncertainty, also call for certain skills to be practiced at much higher levels. Skills and attributes such as communication, behavior management, empathy, networking and creativity are much more highly required and rewarded in the services/knowledge economy than in agriculture and manufacturing.

    As a single example of some of the implications: An employer might have relatively little concern about hiring a young person with a spotty arrest record to work in a field, pick apples, or function on an assembly line. They are going to have very significant concerns about doing so in a comparable role (where it exists) in a services environment where that individual will have to function and communicate with many colleagues.

    With both these two trends of urbanization and knowledge economy concentration, there is an increasing premium on empathy, communication, self-control/behavior management, etc. (in addition to the traditional idea of education). It is not so much that most of the traditional values (patience, temperance, diligence, humility, perseverance, tolerance, etc.) that have been selected for in the past five hundred years in those countries earliest in the urbanization cycle are no longer relevant, but rather that the cost on non-adherence has risen dramatically. The 20 year-old with a demonstrated work ethic (summer and part time jobs), confident and clear communication capabilities (reading and conversation), self-control, empathy (volunteer activities), etc. has ever more opportunities open to them with increasing probabilities of success. For those that have not acquired these traits or who have blotted their copy-book in some fashion, the chances for recovery and success are dramatically lessened. A twenty year-old unable to communicate in the language of the land (both linguistically as well from a cultural literacy perspective), or with a youthful criminal record for a relatively minor offense, no track record of accomplishment or application, no activity of giving back to the community, etc. has incredibly bleak prospects in the urban, knowledge-based, economy compared to agriculture and manufacturing.

    It doesn’t help that many of our national policies have been disproportionately focused on interpreting everything through the lens of race (here in the US) or class (in Europe). Instead of seeking to identify what values and attributes are more likely to make a person successful in a services/knowledge economy, we have instead been eagerly seeking to identify those barriers which prevent them from being successful. It is not the same thing and the probability of success is much less with the latter approach than the former. We broadly know what those attributes of success are (see above, work ethic, diligence, patience, careful risk-taking, generosity, kindness, trust, temperance, etc.) but are strangely reluctant to grasp the nettle and proclaim them. By focusing on race and class and the removal of barriers we have had only very selective successes (either here in the US or in Europe) and have been distracted from the main arena. Race and class matter but not nearly as much as values and character attributes.

  • Whitehall

    For most liberals, their inability to predict the consequences of their advocated policies is their greatest weakness.

    At least Professor Mead is willing to look history in the eye and offer a reasonably clear diagnosis of what went wrong. Having government pay unwed mothers as support for their children (AFDC) most certainly would results in more children without fathers and single parents. Given a choice between a regular income with a man who expected you to cook, clean, and wash clothes and a regular income without such wifely duties, the too many would take the easy way. Plus, if a man could father a child and not have to marry the mother, too many men would do without the nagging and the diaperrs.

    I do note that he is short of prescriptions this time around. Whatever they may be, let’s all test them against common sense predictions of what will happen.

  • MemphisDweller

    This may have started in the cities with poor, uneducated African Americans that were more susceptible the disincentives of the Great Society programs, but it is no longer a black or city problem. Illegitimacy and the loss of the father, and the resultant family, social, cultural, economic decay is spreading outward to the suburbs and white culture like a rapidly metastacizing cancer. One suburban community after another is falling outwardly like dominoes, such that middle class flight now involves driving 50-60 miles into the countryside. I don’t consider myself a social conservative, but obvious is obvious. The decay of nuclear family, especially after the 3rd or 4th generation is POSITIVELY DEVASTATING, resulting in the spread of Third World poverty. Memphis is not yet Detroit, but not from lack of effort.

  • richard

    The Harsh Reality of Drug Addiction richardmclaughlin007 — January 18, 2009 — after 11 months of sobriety from drug addiction, in 7 short days this man hits the depths of despair and insanity.

    Chaos on the streets, lives destroyed “Harm Reduction” Is it really working?? you judge for your self A slideshow of the Downtown Eastside in all it’s glory and at it’s best. See first hand the lives destroyed by misguided harm reduction

    These video’s were shot in Vancouver’s downtown eastside by the narrator they are quite extreme, It shows how common place and and readily available drugs are and how people can succumb to a extreme physical reaction from lack of sleep, nutrition and dehydration. The video’s were made for many different reasons, one being educational the other as mentioned earlier it’s common place here in Vancouver, in any other city or town in North America this man[ Harsh Reality of Drug Addiction] would have received immediate medical attention but here in Vancouver both the police and ambulance just drive by. If you do not believe me come on down and see our little human circus slash “HARM REDUCTION EXPERIMENT”

    This man was spotted two hours later sleeping on a concrete curb as his pillow.

    Both the narrator and producer of this video have had spent many years struggling with addiction and have spent hard time in Vancouver’s “NOTORIOUS” downtown eastside.

    Today they have escaped and are clean and sober and now dedicate there lives to those who still suffer from “THE HARSH REALITY OF ADDICTION”

    If you have any questions about these videos or would like any back ground info on the making or producing of them please feel free to respond to below

    Contact Producer Richard Mclaughlin @ 604-312-8046 Director/ Videographer Sean @604-720-9335 [email protected]

  • Anthony

    “…the methods of psychological testing are expertly defended by specialist. Children in the same family, subject to identical cultural influences…often show wide variations in IQ…. There is more than training in a Heifetz or Einstein.”

  • Anthony

    “Our country was bitterly divided in ways that still weaken us today. We have a health system that marries the greed of the private sector to the ineptitude of government. Put it all together and you have a holocaust of youth and hope on a scale hard to match. This is a complicated subject and clear answers are not easy to find.”

    WRM, very insightful and thought provoking historical urban social analysis. Social opportunism (albeit self-seeking, shortsighted, and unsophisticated) via black middle class economic philosophy, reinforced (willingly or unwillingly) by the Great Society, deprived many inner city areas of propertied examples of capitalism; thereby, generating foundation for cultural/economic/social malaise intergenerationally. Historically denied the priviledge of achieving anything of scale to its own profit, the black middle class/upperclass did not develop class ladders economically by which other urban migrants utilized to assuage both urban ills and obstacles. Consequently, black underclass residents, for all intent and purpose, were without viable examples of leadership (economically and socially) in a capitalist country. One of our country’s more salient misstep as well as a signal component component of the Great Society has been the utilization of middle class black Americans as a comprador class (the selling not of products and goods in a capitalist market, but the selling of skills and abilities to an employer – the products of education). Thus removing, consciously or unconsciously, since Great Society idealism the economic/social underpinnings to neighborhood/city survival.

    Economics imply power relationships WRM and the lack of it speak to the need for an intelligent relation of our urban problems to the total American economic/ownership scene (producers, consumers, owners, etc.). I share the national importance of our urban areas; yet in the United States without serious cultural re-examination regarding inner city conditions and how conditions have become normalized as criterion for think tanks, foundations, universities, etc. to explore, we stand still. “The cultural institutions of a country belong to its inhabitants; the only inhabitants who will return those institutions to the people are those with the greatest conviction that this has to be done for the good of the nation.” Our cities in many respects are cultural institutions and we must excercise both conviction and intent while seeking answers.

  • Tom Kinney

    Over the past years, particularly in the past months, Mead has been teasing out, exorcising even, a grand narrative the nature of which he may not even been entirely aware.

    Starting recently with his take on Reckless Endangerment, but going back to the blue state pieces and further, the most significant element of this narrative is the near imminent demise of liberalism as we’ve come to know it. Short of a quick and soon migration to Cuomoesque compromise, it will be gone.

    And it is here, on this subject, where Mead has successfully surfed the biggest recent wave of the global zeitgeist.

    This is something conservatives have been pondering on for a while, but have watched accelerate precipitously among leftists in more recent times. Liberalism has become self-referrential to the disappearing point. Its terminal denialism and gung-ho self-destructiveness have quickened exponentially and now seem to be rocketing beyond our reach and toward stars not yet known to science.

    And it’s not just happening in America, but globally.

    Proof is abundantly available: rioting Greeks who seem only to be protesting their right to continued denialism of their completely untenable position. How could they not know?

    Unions that continually threaten and hint of a return to their past as brutal and uncompromising protagonists even as their numbers drop while their reputation is are questioned ever more thoroughly. How can they not see the harm they’re doing themselves?

    An ever thickening web of business regulations paired with a constant stream of anti-business demogoguery from the WH, and all during an ever-widening recession.

    Cheap trick tactics regarding Republican ideas such as trying to work with medicare cuts, such as the crass demonization of Paul Ryan. Don’t they know they’re making a very dangerous enemy?

    Liberal congressional calls for higher taxes in the face of a Tea Party resistance that is digging in and planning to stay dug in. This is the most bizarre of all; The Cult of Voluntary Higher Taxes. In the history of the world, this has to be a first. And hopefully the last such entirely counterintuitive and ultimately unpopular tact ever.

    The proposed California Dream Act in which illegals jump to the head of the college cue in getting preference and reduced tuitions that are even lower than those of residents.

    In all these instances and many more, the left is hardening its stance on policies that cannot and will not stand and will eventually throw the Democrat party into a terminal tailspin. And yet they seem not to be aware of it in the least.

    It’s an honor to watch this narrative unfold.

  • James Frank

    You left out the tax burden of cities. City residents have to pay, either directly or through prices charged by merchants and landlords, high taxes to cover pension and medical care benefits promised to mostly white retirees hired by city and state governments in support of Great Society programs. High taxes and the cost of crime discourage investment in cities and reduce employment opportunities for urban youth. Don’t blame the public employees any more than one can blame current recipients of Medicare and Social Security for building their lives around solemn promises made to them by politicians of both parties during the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. Those promises have to be kept by young non-white workers who are paying taxes today, or not paying them because employers cannot afford to hire them.

    What is to be done? Start now (should have been a decade ago) to pare those promises along the lines suggested by Representative Ryan. While they should go along with closing tax loopholes, Congress should not cave on the debt limit or risk greater problems down the road. Now is the time to deal with it.

    Young urban voters need to see that it is in their interest to take on the public employee unions.

  • L

    The greatest failure of modern America is actually Ted Kennedy’s 1965 immigration bill. We’ve imported millions of hostile, unassimilable foreigners from 3rd World hellholes. People who have no connection to Western values. People with no interest in learning the language in which the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were written. Don’t you remember the “immigration” riots from a couple years ago, when illegal aliens marched in the streets, waving the flag of a hostile foreign power, and demanding an unconditional and immediate grant of citizenship?
    Why should they bother to learn English? In about 20 minutes, they’ll be the majority in this country. America is over.

  • Bonfire of the Absurdities

    It is refreshing to find a thoughtful analasis of the problem free of the usual ideological rigidities. Maybe if politicians could address problems in this manner instead of their usual “draw your curve then find the data to match it” approach, the country could get somewhere positive.

  • Alma Dunn

    Operation Bootstrap for education in the USA, not based on standardized tests (a necessary expedient to stop de-schooling), but based on models and curricla from charter, religious, and private schools that have proven to work with all kinds of students. We need Operation Bootstrap for education not only in the cities but across the country, as our workforce as a whole is not prepared for fulfilling the total job requirements of the USA in a 21st century economy. This means breaking the stranglehold of the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers on public education. This also means paying teachers a lot better (not posptoned benefits but real salaries) to attract the best and the brightest and those with the energy and commitment to the labor it takes to enable less fortunate children to learn (the Kipper School model). It also means stopping the racket called “teacher’s education,” where prospective teachers learn at the unsightly revolutionary knees of Bill Ayers (yes, his books are required reading!) The teacher has to know and love what he or she teaches–that is what inspires good teaching and children eager to learn. Schools need to be smaller with far greater personal attention paid to the individual child, particularly in poorer neighborhoods. A school is some shelter, teachers, students, books, paper, and pencils. What counts is what is being learned, what is being imparted in the classroom, and the love and commitment shown toward the students. At the same time, slowly but surely dismantle the blue social programs, so that, as education–rather than welfare (for women) and living off welfare women and crime (for men)–becomes the route for survival. I am sure other things need to be done to help poor people in this country, but deep-cleaning educational reform is the sine qua non.

  • Fred

    I would like to join others in praising this as thoughtful and unideological, but I can’t see much difference between Mead’s conclusion: “Black America showed up for the party just as the bar was closing down,” and the standard liberal excuses you find in books like “When Work Disappears.”

  • David Fischer

    The root error is social engineering in its countless manifestations.

    But without social engineering, what would government have to do? “Problems” need to be “solved”, yes?

    Not in my lifetime will the criminal racket called government be transcended.

  • J.P.

    I realize that there’s no “root cause” of our urban dysfunction, but analyzing the significant contributing factors is still illuminating, especially as the left has propagandized the “narrative” for over a century. Thank you, Mr. Mead. If you could reach back and correct one single 20th century misstep, what would it be?

    If Joe Kennedy hadn’t bought Chicago for his boy in the 1960 election, things would be very different today. For all his faults, Nixon wasn’t a fool, and certainly wasn’t the weakling child JFK was. Imagine no Bay of Pigs invasion, no missile crisis, and most significantly no Vietnam debacle. No Johnson administration and no Watergate.

    Nixon was no Reagan, of course, and he worked hard to expand the blue state. But there’s no escaping that we went wildly and continuously astray over the course of the Johnson administration, and no correction has been possible since.

    Mr. Mead, you fail to cite the most dangerous legacy of the “blue society”. Corruption of the electoral process may not lead directly to civic decline, but it saps the ability of the American political economy to correct itself. I suggest that no solution is possible as long as (factually) close elections default to the left through corruption.

  • Jim.

    Step one: Stop disincentivizing the traditional family — no social spending or other government program shall discriminate against a woman because she is married.

    Step two: Stop glorifying the multicult and instead stress Assimilation. Return to the sort of “How to be Neat and Clean” educational videos that characterized the Great American Assimilation of the 1950s and before. Insistence on teaching and learning English is part of this.

    Once politics is ready to move forward with those two ideas, we are ready to start solving these problems. Until then, we’re just wasting money.

  • Toni in Texas

    Here’s a novel solution. Let’s have one set of rules that applies to everybody — black, white, green, male, female, Baptist, atheist, etc. Let’s throw out rules that make some more equal than others. Let’s have genuinely equal protection for the first time.

    “I’m equal” and “I need special treatment” are mutually exclusive claims. Let’s give everyone the same treatment, no more, no less, no discrimination for or against. Level the playing field, and let the best woman/man/undetermined win.

  • Bruce B

    An in depth analysis, Dr. Mead. The comments have been perceptive too.

    We can discuss unintended consequences all we want. Some of us still suspect that it is intentional. You might be able to make a case that this isn’t what the hideous LBJ wanted. However, there is no doubt what the policies caused. Attempts at reform are met with such howls that it leads you to believe that those who are invested and benefitting from this inner city carnage do not want it fixed. An example would be Dem politicians who win with 80% of the vote. They even complain bitterly if you suggest that people take a drug test to get a welfare check. You have to take one for most private and public sector employers, but not to receive your handouts that are paid for by people who have to take drug tests?

    It’s hard to see how we escape this without civil unrest.

  • We may not be able to “solve” the problem of the lumpen-proletariat regardless of color; but it should be possible to give everyone a choice (chance, opportunity) to escape environments shaped by dysfunctional human beings: not as children perhaps, but certainly as adults. Churches, reform schools, the U.S. Army, legislation that favors marriage and penalizes single parenthood, and the vision of the possibility of a good life outside the ghetto would all help. [see chapter iv especially, pp.

  • mom of sons

    Perhaps if we stop subsidizing BIG FOOD and regulating agriculture there will be a return to the country. To smaller organic farms. Perhaps if the responsibility to educate was placed on the parents and locals there would be more peer pressure to properly educate children. Perhaps if we sent a bill for the last three years of life medicare costs instead of an estate tax more families would let go. Just some outside the box thoughts.

  • coriolan

    “This is, I believe, a serious threat down the road; there are already a few early warning signs and while we should not be stampeded into panic about them, the situation is one to watch with concern.”

    Or as Machiavelli puts it, “The disorders of the State are like the diseases of a man – in their early stages, they are very difficult to detect, but very easy to cure; in their later stages, they are very easy to detect, and very difficult to cure.”

  • K Chesebro

    Professor Mead,

    Perhaps you’ve considered this somewhere among your voluminous writings, but as to the “bar closing down” just when the blacks showed up, you might address government’s role in affirmatively acting to shut it down. Of particular interest might be the Davis-Bacon Act passed in 1931, and minimum-wage laws passed later, which greatly restricted the ability of hard-working blacks to out-compete unionized whites (given that blacks were largely barred from the unions).

    Economist Walter Williams, who first addressed such matters in the ’70s, has a new book out touching on it. Some background here:

    His new book is here:

    Law professor David Bernstein has also addressed in detail the role of government in closing down economic opportunities for blacks:

  • Helen Clarke

    what a bunch of hogwash. imagine sir, if nothing had been done. how would society look then? thank you for your kind propaganda. have a lovely day.

  • Choir OfSatan

    There is nothing that can be done about this. As long as the American electorate embraces socialism to the degree that it does, and the minimum wage remains on the books, the denizens of the ghetto will remain unemployed and unemployable. Socialism breeds dependency always, and is designed to. It has done so here.

  • Clawhammer Jake

    Two thoughts, out of maybe a thousand that need to be advanced to address this problem:

    1. With a problem of this magnitude, the only way to bring adequate resources to the table is to reach a big picture compromise between liberal and conservative approaches. As things stand now, the conservative answer is to do nothing and allow the under class to sink or swim on their own.

    2. Begin to treat drug use as a medical rather than a legal problem. Society’s contact with drug dependents should be at a clinic, not a police station.

  • John Povejsil

    There are two large issues or phases here here: 1) the Great Society programs that “failed” and destroyed organic community at great actual and imputable cost; and 2) the “broken windows” law enforcement model that has “worked” and destroyed vestiges of organic community, while dramatically reducing urban crime, yet easily “costing” even more in terms of placing ever more people in the American Gulag system – most of whom eventually get out.

    Whether by intent or accident, the real estate economy (and similar, and/or real estate dependent industries) provided outlets for a large number of people marginalized because of drug use or criminal records, on the one hand, and those who were intelligent, good communicators and motivated, but whose formal education was not particularly impressive, on the other. (Note: I don’t think this was lost on any politician paying attention. “Homeownership” may have been the stated public policy goal, but it was really the jobs that went along with that goal that both parties liked).

    While I don’t like using inflammatory rhetoric, there is an Apartheid-like system in America that may look race-based (as it does disproportionately affect particularly African Americans) but is a strong economic force, regardless of race as well, that I rarely see addressed: criminal records, drug testing (or required self-reporting of drug use), credit reporting and other “negative resume” methods have created a bright line in the US economy that largely coincides with the small business/big business (and government) line. Big biz and government rarely hire those on the bad side of the line.

    I used to be conservative (and still largely hold conservative views as expressed by others above). But, I also see that Conservatism TM (trademark) really never came to terms with at least two major forces of the 60s era: civil rights and environmentalism. The period between the passage of the Civil Rights Acts and Reagan’s election was not a particularly good economic era for large-scale integration. And to be fair, intergration had many ways to go sideways, but the draw-down of the industrial economy was a very unfortunate complicating coincidence.

    As for environmentalism, the term itself seems to get conservatives on a war-time footing. Nonetheless, I fail to see how it is not legitimate to try to tax the cost of public externalities to the private enterprise that manufacturers them. (Or, as a local example here of the worst local pollution legacy, the Federal Government, which unfortunately is the taxpayers’ liability).

  • Craig

    A well done article, but one area missing is why the Johnson era policy changes became ingrained even after it became clear that many of the policy changes were failures. Poverty era programs for examples helped resegregate schools by class instead of race, yet black groups fight against charters and vouchers. (Obama until recently was a good progressive model here) Or that inner city constituencies are ambivalent to high urban taxes and costs even though it drives business from their community.

    Today we now have an african american community split into two based on Johnson’s Great Society, but both are urban. One is liberal, progressive, comfortable among white (And many jewish) elites, and interested in the environment and education. The other is centered on government and labor unions, poverty programs, and government handouts.

    What is missing is a business community focused on self reliance, keeping financial power in the community, and marketing the community as a business resource.

  • mmercier

    The article, and the comments on this site are the best I have read on this subject in a decade.

    There are some fabulously informed people here.

    Godspeed to all of you.

  • Sam Spencer

    In New Orleans, I lived in a majority black neighborhood and shopped at the local grocery chain that had a reputation for hiring everyone and anyone. After the Viet Nam war, a flood of Vietnamese came to New Orleans. At first, people were very wary of the refugees and they suffered discrimination as severe as what is attributed to blacks. But the grocery chain hired them, and I would hear the black clerks at the store complain about the Vietnamese and how they were taking jobs away from them.

    But that lasted only for a year or so. The Vietnamese worked, lived ten to an apartment, pooled their money and began to start their own businesses. They moved up from the entry level jobs. The clerks at the grocery chain looked around and asked, “Where did they all go?”

    LBJ failed in his attempt to solve poverty because he left the “conservative” component out of his solution. People were treated as victims (of prejudice), who would succeed if only they were “given a chance.” Unfortunately, as anyone who has started a business knows, if you treat yourself as a victim, you cannot succeed in the competitive market place.

    The solution to the problem I believe has to be cultural. How that is worked into the current welfare system is beyond my pay grade. We saw how much resistance there was to welfare reform under Clinton. And yet by most standards it was successful. At some point one has to start cutting back on benefits to make sure the individual begins to move on his or her own steam, and the political pressure against such change is enormous. In fact, there is an entire industry devoted to increasing dependence, not decreasing it.

    I can understand why you would want some suggestions. It is an incredibly hard problem more often leading to one being called a racist than to a meaningful debate. Thomas Sowell’s “Ethnic America” I believe has the beginning of the solution.

  • I suspect something slightly different was going on.

    Lemme tell ya a story; true story, as it happens. Way in the dim mists of antiquity, circa 1990, I commanded the Gary, Indiana Army recruiting company. Gary – roughly 85% black, 15% white – was a dung heap, a dump…except for one neighborhood. Oddly enough, that one neighborhood was pure black and had been pure black as far back as anyone could remember. It was a fairly upscale place. People cared for their property. Probably more importantly, people cared for each other, and for each other’s good opinion.

    Of course, the reflexively racist answer is that Gary – once something of a exemplar of the working class white American dream – was ruined by the influx of blacks into previously white neighborhoods. Nonsense; as shown by that one that was and always had been black. Note: its people were descended from those who had made it when the making was damned hard.

    What I suspect happened elsewhere was two-fold, a government-sponsored, revolutionary double whammy. The first part was that the Great Society, civil rights legislation, etc., uplifted only the better fraction of blacks, those who would have likely made it on their own anyway, and did so rather quickly. Indeed, I think it did so so quickly that, once they made it and left for greener pastures, there were essentially no leaders left behind in the black community (barring those who had made it on their own, pre-Great Society) that were both capable _and_ good, upright, worthy, and virtuous. In short, for our own benefit we robbed the black community of its natural leaders, leaving them in the hands of the dregs. It was a dirty trick.

    The other part of it isn’t a black v. white thing at all. It’s simply that when a neighborhood’s (or country’s?) population changes too quickly, so quickly that human bonds break down and people stop caring for the good opinion of their neighbors, failure to maintain their property, or to act responsibly in any other way, also occurs naturally. Just as naturally, those left behind, bereft of decent leadership, turn to demagogues…when they don’t just turn to crime.

    The interesting question is was this a blue model flaw or a feature?

  • RoentgenWarrior

    In response to comment #1 from luke lea re: Medicare spending at the end of life:

    As a physician, the answer must begin with malpractice reform. There is no incentive for a physician not to prescribe more medicine, order more tests, or provide more treatments to delay the inevitable other than to protect themselves from medicolegal liability.

    Implicit under a new system of tort reform, to curb the massive and inefficient waste of public treasure, is rationed care. Health care resources are limited, but the demand for them is theoretically and practically infinite. The question which looms the largest is the most humane way to ration.

    My view is that the answer as to how to ration best must lie in closest proximity to the individual, which gives room account for the millions of different individual circumstances each of us face near the end of our lives. I see the individual physician as the most efficient way to manage our limited Medicare resources at the end of life, if only the physician were freed of the medicolegal consequences of not treating aggressively in the face of certain, imminent death. Otherwise, severe rationing will come from Big Government, and we all need no special prescience to see where that leads.

    Another wonderful essay Prof. Mead, and wonderful comments by my fellow posters. Thank you all.

  • Paul

    Whatever the origins of the problems of the urban centers the fact remains that as others have touched on the larger issue today is that there exists an entire infrastructure and political entity that has it in their interest to keep things just they way they are because it’s making them rich and powerful. The Democrat Party which maintains exclusive control over the cities will tell anyone who will listen how they want to find solutions but anyone who’s witnessed it all first hand can attest to the fact that political machinery is there to keep the money flowing to themselves, their families and their well connected cronies.

  • EJM

    The flaws of the “Great Society” were evident almost immediately to anyone living in urban areas in the 1960’s. Thoughtful democrats like Daniel Patrick Moynihan astutely pointed out the limitations of public policy and was mostly excoriated–or ignored. Ronald Reagan famously said that the government declared a War on Poverty and poverty won.

    Yet here we are nearly a half century after LBJ and still unable to face up to the failure of progressive policies in our cities, still calling each other racial slurs even after having elected the first President of mixed African descent, still mired in the same no-win arguments. Barack Obama in many ways is a reactionary, trying to bring America back to the glory days (as he sees it) of the Great Society. He and his most ardent supporters appear to have learned exactly nothing from the last 50 years.

    The biggest change from the 1960’s is that the problems of the cities have spread and metastasized. State after state has followed what Prof. Mead calls the blue model, pioneered by New York City, and state after state finds itself in the same situation as New York in the 70’s: bankrupt, bleeding jobs and population, with poor schools, bulging prisons, and decaying infrastructure. The once great states of Michigan, Illinois, California have joined New York as arguably failed states, and a half dozen more are close behind.

    As businesses and the middle class flee these states they become more solidly blue. This is the great red-blue divide today in our politics. Until and unless the “progressive” elites which dominate the blue states start to question the assumptions of LBJ’s Great Society they still (bitterly?) cling to, America cannot make any true progress beyond the failures Prof. Mead highlights. This would involve a wholesale reevaluation and revision of some of their most cherished beliefs. Unfortunately I don’t see this happening until the political red-blue war comes to a head, and the reality of political failure, if not policy failure, finally causes a new generation to question the older ossified belief structure.

  • LexJeff

    Tim Hulsey, MD says: “Let’s man-up and learn to accept our fate and sanctify the end of life as we do the beginning.” May I suggest that it is not for you to say when another individual has had “enough life”.

    Under your, and your sympathizers view, you would be happy to know that my father passed away unexpectedly this year at the age of 63. No medicare expenses or social security payments to “drain” societal coffers (even though he contributed with every paycheck he ever earned). However, I, and my children, would have loved to have had another 20 years with him.

    So, I suggest you “man up” and embrace your own sanctimonious end of life, maybe even expedite it, so that others may benefit and not have to foot the bill for your existence. But you won’t, because chances are, that while you talk a big game about “embracing” your own end, when that time comes, you will welcome the opportunity to live another day/month/year if it is medically possible and ask that expensive procedure be done.

  • Larry

    Good Morning,
    Indeed, Mr. Mead you are correct. The plight of the African-American family (lack of in-home fathers) and the associated urban decay, Detroit for example are the greatest problem confronting America. It’s just catastrophic. And, it does pose a security threat for the future with reactionary forces not just crimminal elements populating American prisons today. It is most unfortunate that a well-intentioned program, The Great Society had an unintended and ghastly consequence. The victims of course are predominately African-American but it affects us all. They are my bretheren. We are part of the human and American family.

    Beginning with Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s assessment on the state of the African-American family and illegitimacy in 1965 through the articles I’ve read regarding this tragedy today, it is imperative something be done immediately. A start could be fathers staying with their children.

    Writers as diverse politically as Colbert King, Bill Cosby, Delroy Murdock, Leonard Pitts, William Raspberry, Juan Williams among many others have at least mentioned this terrible situation over the past several years in journalistic print. It is high time that it be front and center on the nation’s political agenda.

  • AS ALWAYS, Mr. Mead’s writings are well thought out, descriptive, and (in my opinion) beyond reproach. I wrote an article dealing with some of this titled “Zakaria Forgot the Stick,” ( link )
    in which I point out that the liberal thinking machine thinks of society entirely from a perspective that people will work vigorously to move their lives forward (because they themselves do) and have no concept of the fact that many people are motivated solely by the wolf at the door. Thank you Mr. Mead.

    Mercer Tyson

  • JLK

    Dr Mead

    Your article speaks to a running argument/discussion my wife and I have had over the lat few years.

    The question is what Presidential policy since the War has had the the most dramatically negative impact on the US economy. My vote was for Kennedy legalizing government unions hers was for the “great Society programs of the LBJ era.

    I must say that your article gives the wife a leg up. With the exception of a few more nails in the Jim Crow coffin absolutely nothing positive and a lot of severe negatives have been the result of LBJ’s “vision.

    I would have to conclude that a career spent dead-center in the swamps of Washington corruption gave LBJ a twisted view of the world. That the results of these sweeping policy changes leaving a path of corruption and ineffectiveness in it’s wake was to be expected.

  • Luke Lea

    As a former cancer patient (stage III, head and neck) I would propose that we cease expensive treatements of stage IV cancers and substitute palliative care instead.

    As a general principle we should recognize that expensive treatments for terminally ill patients are morally wrong to the extent that they ask for sacrifices from the younger generation which are incommensurate with the gains to the older in terms of happiness-years.

    As for a metric, consider that it takes approximately $150,000 of capital accumulation to invest one full-time job at current wages (this is just a back-of-envelop average — feel free to quibble). This accumulation of capital represents the sacrifice of past generations for the sake of future ones, often motivated by Christian ideas and beliefs.

    It is for this reason sacrilegious in my book to waste such wealth for trivial gains: e.g., $100,000 chemo treatments that extend a poor quality-of -ife an average of 2-to-4 months, which is typical nowadays. That same amount of money invested in the economy could generate enough income to sustain a younger life indefinitely into the future generations world without end (using the rule of thumb that $3 of investment are required to generate $1 of income. )

    This is not just about our children’s inheritance, mind; it is part -and-parcel of that larger contract between the generations Burke wrote about on which our civilization is based.

  • B. Brackett

    Excellent,insightful article!

  • LBJ isn’t responsible for the condition of the Congo and sub-Saharan Africa in general.

    The “inner cities” are simply a reflection of the type of people who live there, which is to say, blacks.

    “Big guvnmint” didn’t create this problem. It only failed to solve it.

  • Seems to me it is time for a reverse-migration policy that incorporates such American ideals as self-reliance and self-government. The federal government owns/controls approximately 650 million acres of land or about 30% of the land surface in the United States. Out here in the west where I live, the feds control between 60% and 85% of states such as Nevada, Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, Montana, Alaska. Back in the 1960s and 1970s the justification for locking up so much of our natural resources in these states was that we wanted to preserve them for future genertions to enjoy, but how many young people growing up in our urban jungles even know these resources exist let alone get to see them and enjoy them? We lease BLM lands to ranchers for cattle grazing, but we won’t let some poor kid in Detroit build a cabin on them and plant a garden. If the environmentalists had their way, there would be neither cattle nor humans allowed to disturb or displace a rock or a plant on these lands. Given the conditions Mr. Mead describes, this is totally absurd and unconconscionable. Bring back the Homestead Act ($5 an acre?) that encouraged western migration in the 19th century. The future is now.

    Will our urban youth know what to do with such an opportunity? Probably not. But that means there will be plenty of opportunities (jobs) for the bureaucrats to instruct them. It can’t be a worst failure than LBJ’s model cities were. The biggest obstacle will be the environmentalists who value obscure weeds and microscopic snails over human life, but it is time we shame them into rethinking their values.

    Go west young man! Far better than joining a gang and going to jail, don’t you think? Memorize the lyrics to a once popular western song – “Don’t Fence me In.” I’m sure there’s a You Tube video to get you started dreaming about the possibilities.

  • smg45acp

    I grew up in the inner city so I speak from experience not from an ivory tower.
    None of these programs were ever intended to help the poor.
    They have always been intended to increase loyalty to the Democratic party.

    I have witnessed many times women talking about kicking their husbands/boyfriends out because they can make more money from welfare, food stamps and section eight housing that way.
    I have a niece that at 15 years old declared that working was for fools. Her “career” plan was to have a couple of kids out of wedlock and live off of the government, and she did just that. The kids fathers have never been involved in the kids lives and have probably never even seen the kids, if they even know they exist.
    I’m positive that the same scenario has been played out millions of times by all races in America.

    Liberalism always assumes a static model.
    They observe we have 20 million poor people. So lets pour a bunch of money on those 20 million, but now the next 20 million that are not quite as poor decide that if we just get a little poorer we can cash in all the freebies those other poor people are getting.
    End result, you now have 40 million poor people and a big bill for trying to help the poor people.
    But you now have 40 million people that will faithfully vote for Democrats.

  • sam cafone

    Mr. mead is front and center on the decay of American inner cities. the answer is education. Public schools in the inner cities is a disgrace. Fact is Catholic schools in inner cities graduate six times the rate of public schools. School choice should be an imperative. Why are the Civil rights leaders awol on this subject? We have thirteen percent of Amercians, mostly in the inner cities, poorly educated and unequipped for work in modern America. what ever happened to vocational schools which prepared people to be mechanics, plumbers, electricians, etc. Wake up America, before the frustrations of the people trapped in urban decay erupt in civil unrest.

  • Amore

    You have hit the nail on the head! The family, the core unit of that which provides all of the strengths this country used to epitomize, is the key. Marriage has become an optional prerequisite for having children these days and become disposable. Rather than selecting one’s mate carefully with common morals at the root, we select our parners with the superficial; good job, good looks, common career goals, all of which can/will change over time. We avoid the much more difficult topics of core values and why someone believes what they do.

    It disturbs me to see that the same philosophies that have impeded the progress of the inner city African American population has caught fire in all segments of America. Sharing your family life daily with your children is the most important thing you can do for their future. It has become accepted philosophy that telling your children “no” has become an instrument of child abuse, destroying thier self-esteem, limiting thier growth and expressing unfair judgment. Being your child’s “friend” is now the goal and spanking…oh the horrors! We have passed on parenting to the institutional day-care in record numbers, essentially passing the responsibility of raising one’s own flesh and blood onto others who have neither the impetus nor motivation to provide needed long term guidence for any reason other than they are being financially compensated to do so.

    The role of the extended family in child rearing, like grandparents, aunts and uncles, once a staple infrastructure for two parent working families, has been trunkated in lieu of higher paying jobs, elsewhere, sometimes, thousands of miles away. It was once commonplace for older widows or widowers to move in with sons or daughters, they were not seen as burdens or as imposing, they were seen as a help in a natural course of life.

    We are raising a generation of children who have never had to face that they, like the rest of us are flawed. That success is not something one is entitled to just because you have a pulse. They do not know that failure is a fact of life and that we are indeed measured against the accomplishments of our peers (in the game of life, we keep score). This leaves them less prepared to find the fortitude necessary to overcome the hardships of life on their own. The word “fair” and “justice” have become buzz words thrown about whenever something in their lives goes amiss. Rather than introspection, evaluation and changing thier behavior it is much easier to blame others for obstructing them obtaining the entitiled to “fair share”.

    My apologies for being so long winded, but as a mother of 5 children (Yes, same husband)ranging from grade school to college age, this subject is one that strikes to the core of not only the fate of the Inner-cities but of our country as a whole. Marriage is not easy, there are ups and downs, sometimes we do or say stupid things, but almost everything(x-cept physical abuse) can be worked through (and yes, over 25 yrs my husband and I have been through almost everything) it is the core of civilization, the strength of nations, the foundation of peace and prosparity. If you cannot live in peace and resolve differences with someone you supposedly loved enough to share your body with, how do you expect (or expect our elected reprentitives)to live in harmony with strangers who neither know nor care about you?

  • Dave R.

    As always, thorough and inisightful analyis. However, I think you gave short shrift to the deleterious effect of government policies. The tax code, and social welfare programs, are both mathematically antagonistic to traditional family structures, making the benefits greater to the single mother, and the burdens greater on the combined income family. Modern family law is the same, giving apparent immediate incentives to women to both give birth and/or raise children without “tolerating” the presence of the father. The “State” is substituted into the role of father, providing both sustenance and protection. That these programs began under the old Democrat party, gives one pause to consider if this weren’t intentional design, to keep blacks down in the quarters, and utterly dependent on the old white democrat up in the (government) “big house”. Otherwise they might be taking responsibility for themselves and building lives that would be competitive to the white folks…

  • Rick

    The problem cannot be solved until the underlying root philosophy of modern progressivism has been repudiated. The twin pillars of this philosophy are humanism and determinism. The dangers of implementing public policy on the fallacy of human perfectibility (humanism) has already been addressed by others posting here. I would like to address the other. The philosophy of determinism, as it applies to people, holds that environmental conditions dictate results. If, for example, you want to know why people commit crimes, you would seek to discover crime’s “root causes” in the environment in which its perpetrators exist. The philosophy of determinism stands in direct contrast to the philosophy of free will – that is, the belief that human beings possess the significant ability to affect their own life’s outcomes. Modern liberalism is based on the inherent presumption that the individual’s efforts count for less in his life’s outcome possibilities than the environment in which he finds himself. The consequences of a public policy that has been built upon a belief in this presumption has been catastrophic, chief among them is the belief that people living in a degraded condition are not responsible for being there; and, most significantly for public policy purposes, lack the ability to elevate themselves from that condition without sustained and massive efforts being exerted on their environment by others. To the extent this philosophy prevails, human beings are reduced to the level of dumb animals, whose prospects in life are owed more to luck and/or the benevolence of others, than to their own sense of moral clarity and personal initiative. Needless to say, to the extent that those in need of uplifting buy into such a grim view of life, they are disempowered to even attempt uplifting themselves.

  • RIck

    Better education may be the answer, as some have offered; however, like it or not, the current state of public education accurately reflects the values and priorities of those who control the public education monopoly. Changing those values and priorities will require one of two possibilities – either embarking on a long term strategy of changing the values and priorities of those who control the educational establishment or in shifting control of the establishment to people who already possess the appropriate values and priorities. I prefer the latter. It is only by wresting control from the self serving teachers’ unions and the self-styled educational experts from the leftist academy, can we hope to begin to correct 40 years of errant efforts. The long decline began when parents were marginalized from exerting their local will over the process, and it can only be halted by reasserting that will.

  • Old Man River

    Good article aimed right at the hearts of Socialist-Liberals.

    Having grown up within sight of the Gateway Arch, always locking the doors when driving through East Saint Louis, I have thought about the black urban poor for years.

    Mead’s article can be summarized: The incentives are all upside down. Actually, this is not unlike Obama’s economic plan being exactly the opposite of what is needed.

    To fix the problem of perpetual generational dependency, I would recognize that not all people can be helped, so save the ones we can and let the rest get themselves locked up or let them rot away. It is a profound reality that to save some, others must be lost. Liberals don’t get this.

    I would start with the breakdown of marriage. More than half of children today would not be in poverty if their mothers would get married. So, part of any benefit is that every month a married couple has to sign the same form and they will get a benefit (or more of one). Currently, benefits are often reduced if a mother is married.

    Next, I would require work in exchange for benefit, no exceptions. There are 13 million illegal aliens in this country, most of which are working jobs no one else wants to do.

    Third, fix the educational system. Give vouchers to all children in America, good at any public, private, or parochial school. That way, those mothers who want a better opportunity for their kids at least have a chance.

    Forth, for any benefits tied to number of children, REDUCE the total benefit for subsequent children being born. When the word gets out, this will have a huge impact on the number of kids being born into the situation.

    Lastly, as long we are going to have a government mandated healthcare system, set up a savings plan that goes something like this: Any person upon reaching the age of 18 and up to 30 shall be provided $10,000 cash if he or she is sterilized before having any child; $5,000 if after having one child, $1,000 if after having two children. The only people who would accept it are those who value the money more than the burden of being a parent. A big wad of cash is a big inducement for someone trying to get her next fix. The savings is for the government.

    Each of these would take a chunk out of the problem, so that over time, more people would leave dependent status and fewer would be born into it.

  • Paul J

    Well spoken and right on the money. The Black population and its social ills are the canaries in the mine because they were most vulnerable. This is a societal problem that is attacking other classes as we speak. I am white, do pretty well and my younger children attend school classes in which there are only 1 or 2 married couples as parents!

    The most practical solutions are simple to desribe:

    1. Re-introduce a focus on lasting marriage in this country and re-install taboos against divorce and/or co-habitation.

    2. Bring back common-law marriage laws, which should be viewed as a women’s protection program.

    3. Make parents more responsible for their childrens behavior in school, and expel children who cannot behave and contantly disrupt.

    4. For the expelled children, bring back reform schools to help modify bad habits their parents taught them. Once a few examples go to reform school, it will be amazing how many will choose to avoid this fate by behaving/studying better. Apart from teaching good basic living habits, these schools should focus on teaching employable skills, not necessarily college prep.

    Draconian? Unfair? Comically old-fashioned? As opposed to the state of these families and children today? I think not! Thanks

  • stanley sandler

    Another way we could help young people in the inner city is to stop shaming them if they really don’t want to go on to college. We have small businesses crying for auto mechanics, plumbers, air-condition/heating technicians, etc. HS is all that is needed here. When have you last called a plumber and hear him reply “Oh, yeah, I’l be right over.”? We should put much more into our community colleges, voc-ed, etc. Hell, it should be posible for a kid to greduate from 8th grade and start on an apprentice program.

  • This essay is right on the money. The issue is how to change culture. Financial incentives are mentioned by some comments as one answer, and surely they make a difference.But the more profound way is religion; but the government should not be involved with religion, so we have a conundrum. If only the impetus behind political correctness had been channeled into encouraging people to be responsible for their own actions and their own well being.

  • Rick

    This philosophy of determinism, as applied to public policy by the progressive establishment, has been taken to absurd levels. Under it, I, as a law-abiding productive member of society, have greater obligations toward the debased class than they have for themselves. If one assumes as do the progressives that the prime determinant of one’s lot in life is the luck of birth (i.e. Al Gore’s Lottery of Life), it is but a short hop to the conclusion that not only can one not be blamed for living a life of hopeless debasement, but one also cannot be credited with possessing any traits of morally superior insight into how one must conduct themselves in order to secure a rewarding life. This sets up the moral justification (in its adherents eyes at least) for socialism and communism. This is how they justify taking what one person has, in order to give it to another. That being the assumptions that the mere circumstancial possession of something morally entitles you to keep it and that others have a moral claim to that which others happen to possess.

  • Right on target-I’ve lived this. Went to an inner city high School,came from a Catholic grammer school. I couldn’t believe the number of people who were in High school for 6 & sometimes 7 years,they didn’t care.

  • tl;dr past the first section.

    I will say this … You left out that the Three Quagmires also cost the US its space program. The Saturn V production was cancelled even before Neil Armstrong set foot on the Moon.

    NASA is now rudderless, confused, has an ever shrinking share of he national budget.

  • Glen

    Further data indicating the profound failure of the Great Society: today’s release of an investigation by the State of Georgia into rampant, organized and systematic cheating at the predominantly black and inner-city Atlanta Public Schools. See and

  • Luke Lea

    # 9 Amore amore!

  • Thomas K Mathew

    I agree whole heartedly with the portrayal of what social engineering by Big Government has done.The cash payments to wards Medicare and Medicaid and health care and pension benefits is over time not sustainable. The utopian ideas of secular humanism of social engineering to produce a more perfect world has wrought unintended consequences of poverty and dependency. Instead freemarkets and capitalism which is despised by the progressives is the answer.The destruction of the family has been caused by the progressives running the governmeni. The government should shrink.Conservatives shoud work to reverse the pattern of big government.

  • Craig Purcell

    Oh don’t worry Homeland Security will take care things… They need somthing for all those tax payer employees to do.

  • David S. Levine

    Ben Wattenberg, a speech writer for LBJ and host of the program “Thinktank” hosted a half hour program on his former boss and ended it with the question to his two guests, one of whom was James McPhearson and the other an LBJ critic, “What Johnson program would you repeal?”

    And there’s the point about LBJ’s (and Obama’s) legislation–once its institutionalized it can’t be repealed. We are stuck with the consequences of LBJ (which WERE anticipated by conservatives) for the rest of our nation’s life or until the markets say to America as they said to New York City, “The window is closed.”

  • Tom Skelton

    Watch yourself venturing into vague reductionist views on population and morality. Especially here:

    “Over time, two trends appear in such neighborhoods. Some residents (luckier or more talented) establish secure lives in the urban economy. Over time they tend to move away from the old neighborhoods to less crowded parts of the city and to the suburbs. Those who do not for whatever reason make this transition successfully begin to lose the inherited culture and discipline of the country. In the old days a high mortality (and high infant mortality) rate would limit this population. These days, though abortion, violence, drug addiction and crime take a toll, the modern scourges are less effective than the older ones and many more people survive physically in the city while failing to find secure livelihoods there. As one dysfunctional generation gives rise to another, inherited social structures weaken further, and we see what we see.”

  • john werneken

    Good article. It’s not a Black thing it’s a human problem. I saw a post on a related topic the other day, writer keen to distinguish the sacrifice and heroism of the men and women who won world war II and who later helped themselves as well as their nation so greatly in taking advantage of such things as the GI Bill and home ownership loans. Writer said these folks EARNED their benefits.

    I would never have told my mother nor my father, for both served under fire, that they did not EARN their benefits. I know they did. BUT THAT AINT MY POINT. I hope being decent to veterans is its own reward, doing the right thing and so on. BUT WHAT DID THE REST OF US GET FROM Educated, Mobile, Industrious home-buying ex-servicemen and ex-service women of WWII? Modern America’s strengths, is what.

    Investing in people’s education job training career opportunities and communication and mobility is as key to America as the freedom to strive. Investing in research and development is as critical as an effective military defense. Setting the rules so new players and new technologies can strive for consumer appreciation, this lets all people participate in the decisions to allocate capital and employment, and it’s right just because it works, in creating wealth pride freedom opportunity.
    Seems like people want to focus on hunting down villains who ‘did this to us’, letting much necessary and important work stand idle. One hopes we don’t need a repeat of the 1930’s and 1940’s to come together as a people and to support such measures for a better future as we can devise.

  • sestamibi

    Queens is the “most glamourous and cosmopolitan of New York boroughs”???!!!?

    I think you’re a few sandwiches short of a picnic there, Walter. When you find them you can set up in Flushing Meadow Park.

    • Walter Russell Mead

      All over Queens people are baying for your blood.

  • Anthony

    WRM, the more I reflect on your exposition the more I tie urban conditions relative to black Americans to some key societal decisions made over last 47 years (Pat Moynihan intimated some in “The Case for National Action”). One crucial decision made in many urban areas with the support of various establishment figures in those areas has been to ignore native leadership/talent for imported non-native (by way of nativity to city)representation presumed to be both more controllable and safer. That policy has indirectly handicapped our cities generally since its ingenious inception – i.e. social anomie. Outsiders, though compliant generally, lack history, cultural sense, and endemic feel for inhabitants comprising many urban areas since Great Society policies. This results in many instances to both long standing neglect and true leadership default.

    Concomitantly, urban areas, and perhaps an implied second crucial decision resulting from fallow true leadership, become fervent ground for the drive by fashion of the moment. That is, as WRM alluded to, our cities can become recruiting areas for the disenchanted/alienated; this probality also results from policies since 70s premised on both containment and invisibility of urban inhabitants utilizing the appointed and annointed quasi leadership – an attempt to keep urban problems from actually being considered an American problem thereby ostensibly avoiding need to stanch developing political/economic/cultural issues foreordained to burden America.

    America’s cities in many areas can be described as deserts strewn with the nihilism brought by a commercialized anti-culture used to impose values/images antithetical to life/progress.
    Essentially, faulty social orientation has led to the social disintegration, hopelessness, etc. of which “The Shame of the Cities and the Shade of LBJ” identifies. A complex situation ,as WRM says, we have on our hands. Yet, our aims, methods, tactics, etc. must be accrued to benefit Americans in an American situation, not a black-white situation, while recognizing the hard social dynamics of American capitalism.

  • Pete Dellas

    Prof. Mead:
    Politicians have abused the poor for decades in order to turn them into a voting block by promising them all sorts of entitlements which have had the effect of destroying their families, their neighborhoods and their ability to provide for their own livelihood. When someone promises you things, it is easy to be allured by free stuff–particularly if you are in need. Few will stop and think about the ramifications or the cost. But look at their neighborhoods. Look at their families. Look at how many remain in poverty. Look at how many are incarcerated. The empirical evidence is overwhelming. Deniers have an agenda.

    It is easy to feign compassion with other people’s money (tax dollars). But TRULY helping the poor and oppressed is not easy. The effect of these social programs treats the inner city poor like pets–providing them with food, shelter, warmth (energy assistance), a veterinarian (medicaid), etc–but leaving them helplesss, dependant and with little hope. Because they are human and cannot simply subsist, something inside them impels them seek ways out of their Sisyphean existence, often by way of crime or vice.

    I always enjoy your insights and very often share your opinions. Thank you for these blog posts.

  • Luke Lea

    re: David Levine # 25 referencing Ben Wattenberg:

    Speaking of Wattenberg, a specialist in demographic punditry, here is a quote: “The non-Europeanization of America is heartening news of an almost transcendental quality.”

    Among the unintended consequences of the “non-Europeanization of America” (aka mass third world immigration) are:

    a) growth of unskilled workforce with consequence fall in wages for unskilled American citizens.

    b) growth in overt anti-Semitism amongst several million Muslim immigrants

    c) loss of trust (a valuable form of social capital) in multi-ethnic communities across America according to Harvard’s Robert Putnam .

    d) the drift towards a racially-stratified class society in which our governing elites are abandoning the egalitarian principles upon which our republic was founded (unless Lincoln got it wrong).

    e) abandonment of the melting-pot model of assimilation and integration of ethnic minorities into the fabric of American society in favor of multi-culturalism

    f) growing ignorance of the historical origins (in Europe of course, Britain especially) upon which the intellectual foundations of our liberal society is founded

    h) the disuniting of America according to Harvard historian Arthur M. Schlesinger

    These are just a few of the consequences of Wattenberg’s political naivite.

  • ice9

    Smart stuff. Only problem: it’s wrong. Crime is falling and quality of life is improving in cities.

    Elsewhere in the conservative enclosure folks are citing the falling crime rate as proof that gunz are awesome.

    I blame pirates:


    What happens to this voluminous post if that premise is revised? We’ll never know.

  • PTA Mom

    “I have been a Democrat my entire life, but I will not support the Democratic Party at the cost of democracy.”
    Dr. Lynette Long, Bethesda, Maryland

    The “affordable” housing that Democrats paid ACORN hundreds of millions of dollars to promote to poor people included interest only and variable rate loans that are easier to default on and wreck your credit; not the stable fixed rate 30 yr and 15 yr mortgages that most middle class borrowers use.

    The public schools that Democrats push onto poor people graduate only half of the kids in Chicago and in Baltimore only 66% of the kids who want to graduate can pass 10th grade level tests in 12th grade. Even the most basic minimum standard for teachers and principals cannot be enforced due to pressure from the Democrat’s union leadership supporters. Children in public schools go through a kind of russian roulette education, where politized curriculum and holes in teacher effectiveness, greatly diminish the educational potential of many children.

    I’ve heard that 75% of African American males drop out of school in Baltimore City. They compete with illegal immigrants for jobs in Maryland, 1 of the 4 states that allow illegal immigrants to obtain drivers licenses.

    In Chicago, the first Walmart that finally opened in 2006 after several years of intense union opposition, received 15,850 applications for 450 jobs.

    No, Democrats don’t like poor people. They use poor people like a commodity to enrich their unions, enrich their buddies who bring “development” to the city, enrich their organizations who provide “services” to the poor, and enrich the businesses that save money and get around the Democrat’s excessive regulation of the work place by hiring illegal immigrants.

    If poor people knew how much money is supposedly spent on their behalf and NEVER reaches them, I believe they wouldn’t vote for Democrats for a generation.

  • sestamibi

    That’s understandable. I grew up in the Bronx.

  • I’ve been saying for a while that I think the degeneration of the school system is directly correlated to the dissolution of the traditional family model. Is it any wonder that most troubled children come from broken homes?

    On that note, I wonder how the rise of feminism in the 60s and 70s ties in with the decay of families.

  • E.F. Taylor

    Mr. Mead’s analysis is some of the clearest, most sensible logic I’ve come across. Bravo Mr. Mead and thank you. You have asked readers for solutions and I’ve wracked my brain. My best solution is old, simple and at odds with our modern ways: bring God back into neighborhoods, into schools, into everyday life, and see things change. The unvarnished truth is: without God we have no wisdom. We may be clever, we may be bright, but like our magnificent and misguided president, we have no wisdom. Only wisdom can save us from the poverty of spirit we see encroaching society. It’s already conquered the underclass, now it’s threatening the middle.

    Churches and synagogues build communities, encourage long-lasting marriage, family units and foster security and wealth. With God back in the schoolroom, public forums and on display, we are reminded of God’s teachings and commandments which are designed to save us from our own folly and help us build happy, productive lives.

  • Walter Sobchak
  • Trent Telenko


    The collapse of the Black family structure makes any arguements about this moot:

    Black men survive longer in prison than out: study”

    Black men are half as likely to die at any given time if they’re in prison than if they aren’t, suggests a new study of North Carolina inmates. The black prisoners seemed to be especially protected against alcohol- and drug-related deaths, as well as lethal accidents and certain chronic diseases. But that pattern didn’t hold for white men, who on the whole were slightly more likely to die in prison than outside, according to findings published in Annals of Epidemiology.

    All we can do is manage the collapse, not fix it. Especially when you have folks like Alan Greenspan saying this:

    Mr Greenspan said the U.S. is in the process of seeing the baby boomers, which he called ‘the most productive, highly skilled, educated part of our labour force’ retire.

    ‘They are being replaced by groups of young workers who have regrettably scored rather poorly in international educational match-ups over the last two decades,’ he added in the interview with Globalist.

    He went on to say how the average income of U.S. households headed by 25-year-olds and younger had been declining in comparison to the average income of the baby boomer population.

    ‘This is a reasonably good indication that the productivity of the younger part of our workforce is declining relative to the level of productivity achieved by the retiring baby boomers,’ he said adding: ‘This raises some major concerns about the productive skills of our future U.S. labour force.’

    Mr Greenspan then suggested it would be better for America to hire skilled immigrants to counter the worrying trend.
    ‘Most high-income people in our country do not realise that their incomes are being subsidised by their protection from competition from highly skilled people who are prevented from immigrating to the United States,’ he said.

    Greenspan is talking to the collapse of American public education and those young people worst served by it.

    And his prediction will come true. Too meet their “diversity quotas,” you will see American businesses replace native born Americans “of color” with immigrants.

  • “We all hated white people. The fellas and I never talked about specific things they’d done to us, but we instinctively knew that each of us had been through bad scenes with white folks before. So we took it out on white boys.

    After we reached the ninth grade and were sent to the mostly white Woodrow Wilson High School across town, we [messed] up white boys more than we went to class. We walked through secluded areas of the building after classes on Fridays. When we came upon a white boy, somebody would light into him, then everybody else sprang and we’d do him in.

    One day, we double banked a guy standing at his locker in the area where the wood shop classes were held. We walked as if we were going to pass him, then Lep hauled off and punched him in the face.
    Then I popped him in the mouth. He fell back and slammed his head into the lockers. Before I could hit him again, somebody else hit him with a barrage of punches that sent him crashing to the floor. We kicked him in the face and stomped him until blood squirted everywhere. After we finished, we ran out a side door and went home.

    I saw that white boy in school about a week later. Walking down the hall, Lep nudged me and pointed him out. He had his arm in a sling and bandages taped to the bridge of his nose. I snickered and told Lep, “We [messed] him up good.”” … END QUOTE

    Above from:
    MAKES ME WANNA HOLLER by Nathan McCall [born 1955]
    [Prof Afro Am studies – Emory U] Published 1994 page 62

    Above not limited to McCall’s gang, nor to McCall’s city, nor to the 1970s.
    Above racist behavior downplayed [then and now] by MSM and Government.

    McCall and his gang were not “ghetto”. They were from financially secure families.
    Lived in middle class neighborhood. McCall’s parents were good hard working law abiding citizens. His step-father was a good father and retired from the Navy. He also worked hard as a professional groundskeeper. McCall had good role models, but McCall chose to make thugs his role models.

    The US government has OFFICIALLY discriminated against White Males since 1969 / “Affirmative Action”. [spirit of Aff.Act. revealed prior to 1969]

    Beginning around 1964 [I was 14] MSM & Government began to teach that GOOD White citizens accepted the general notion of “Affirmative Action.” General notion being that the formerly oppressed needed extra help from Government in order to catch up. Not all, but most of White society had desire to reconcile and integrate with Blacks. Equal standards for all principle was deemed racist.

    Simultaneously [and continuing] , Government & MSM downplayed, excused &/or ignored the above hateful racist mentality and behavior described by McCall:

    McCall’s book is must read for anyone interested in how USA got into its present precarious race relations condition.

    SOUL ON ICE by [the late] Eldridge Cleaver [he deemed rape of White women to be good/justified/righteous activity] also sheds light on how current American racial relations came to be. Explains why over 30,000 White women are raped by Black rapist every year. The number of Black women raped by White men is statistically ZERO [IOW – too small a number to be statistically signicant].

  • excellent put up, very informative. I wonder why the opposite specialists of this sector don’t notice this. You must continue your writing. I’m confident, you have a huge readers’ base already!

  • prella johnson

    Thought you would like this.

  • KellyBelly

    You lost me when you said our incarceration rate “makes for safer streets.” You completely neglect to mention America’s failed War on Drugs and and how it is responsible for these incarceration rates and the spread of poverty.

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