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Monday, March 4, 2013

Systemic Problems Regarding Racism

For John, BLUFGovernment needs to be checked for fairness from time to time.  Nothing to see here; just move along.

Columnist Megan McArdle, writing in The Daily Beast tells us about "How Good Principles Can Make Bad Rules".  The subtitle is "How short-sighted FHA rules enforced housing segregation and inequality."  This is a history lesson, going back to the 1930s.  Here is the concluding paragraph:

The point is that racism is not just something that bad people do from bad motives.  It's a systemic issue—and if you ignore the systemic effects of your actions, you may end up perpetuating some terrible injustice.
This isn't just about red lining neighborhoods.  It can be about transportation.  Are we providing the transportation that allows low income people mobility?  Put another way, are we holding low income people in Boston, when they wish to move out into the countryside, by not providing the ability to conduct a reasonable commute from outside I-495 to a job in Boston?

Government is a powerful instrument and it needs to be asking itself if it is creating an unfair playing field by one method or other.

Or, to quote Bill Taupier this morning quoting Thomas Aquinas, "Does it fit the common good?"

Regards  —  Cliff


Neal said...

What would you change to "provide for the common good?" You mention a reasonable commute, but if these folks are low income, how would you mitigate that income disparity regarding the purchase of a place to live outside 495? I think that one needs to approach social engineering with some thought and an abundance of caution. We are currently well down the road to becoming a Nanny state as well as a full blown entitlement society which of course leads us to a blatant Marxist socialism (which in many ways we became long ago).

FWIW, I agree with the writer.

C R Krieger said...

What I worry about is an approach that says "we've got ours, thanks" and leaves those who are working their way up with an uneven playing field.  I think this is contrary to my conservative principles.

I know I keep going back to this example, but someone wrote a letter to The Boston Globe saying that we shouldn't fix the mixing bowel that is I-93 and I-95, because it would only encourage more people to drive.  What that does is further discourage lower income people who live and work in Boston from trying to move out into suburban areas.  Trapping them in their current living areas.

Regards  —  Cliff

Neal said...

What I worry about is the social engineering rubric that holds that the playing field must always be even, if only arbitrarily so. Life is not an even playing field and while I don't believe we ought to hold people down from becoming whatever they wish to become, I am at once cautious about removing all difficulty. We seem enamored in this time with the idea that if we make everyone's life pleasant and safe and secure, they will flourish. Actually, they won't. They will simply become addicted to the life of comfort, security, and safety ENSURED by others.

We have far too many examples of folks who have overcome incredible obstacles to become not only successful but outstanding. It can be done and should be done...but I believe it begins with the elimination of the notion of being a victim.

The founders realized this in their wisdom (and probably much by accident). That is why they clearly and unambiguously proclaimed the right of every American to PURSUE whatever was their dream. Somehow, in our zeal to be "evenhanded" we have eliminated the word "pursue" and short circuited the whole rubric that underpins the strength of American and of Americans.

I wanted a car when I became 16. My father told me that was fine and I had better find a job to pay for one. I did. The car broke. I told my father that I couldn't "get" to my job in order to make money to pay for the car repairs. He suggested that I walk. Adapt. Overcome. My cousin got a brand new 1955 Oldsmobile 2-door Holiday sedan.....and never had to do anything to maintain it. He is a very successful Administrative Judge today. He always swallowed a golden spoon. Life is not "fair" nor is its treatment "equal." The only equality we can expect from life is death. Beyond that, the choices are frankly all ours. If you don't like what you are or where you are at in CAN change it....if you WANT the change badly enough. Many however are willing to settle and blame everyone around them for having to do so.

If you treat a person as he is, he will remain as he is. If you treat a man as he could be and should be.....he will become what he should be and could be.

Craig H said...

Opposition to public transportation extensions have always amazed me for their bald expressions of class division and "we've got ours, so the rest of you have to stay out". (We don't even have to say it's racial, but that surely remains part of it in some of the most backwards quarters). And then we have the ironic opposite, where the the town of Weston strong-arms the T to maintain THREE stations there while cutbacks eliminate stations on other parts of the line, because certain of those wealthy folks enjoy the convenience of their own semi-private semi-express rail link to their jobs within walking distance of South Station, while people in places like West Acton have to endure the danger and congestion of grade crossings through their community without being able to board the train there at all. And, somewhat parallel, the Turnpike Authority razed vast swaths of the poorer sections of Newton and Brighton to improve automobile access from Weston, while the limited-access highway portion of Route 3 was terminated right before it would have plunged into places like Lexington and Arlington.

And I was amused at the possibly unintentional (?) pun, "mixing bowel". Yes it is! The issue I see with do-we-or-don't-we improve the roadways (railways, bus systems, etc.) is that the location of the convenient travel defines both the accumulation of wealth for people for generations to come, as well as the exclusivity of certain neighborhoods. (Weston has 2-acre zoning). Imagine the Mass Pike actually traversed the Worcester area, instead of avoiding it as was decided when a political grudge pay-back penalized all those people for the personal animosities between their elected representatives and those with all the power in Boston. Imagine the boom in Ayer would better rail service be combined with extending the limited access portion of Route 2 through Concord.

Politics being about winning abides by these unfairnesses in oft-vain hope that some nod to "common good" seeps in at the edges. Against Neal's point, I would observe there are rules (40-B, etc.) that would also force closed communities to be more open to those of all variety of means, though, as anyone can see by the strong-arm tactics surrounding 40-B proposals, that wealthy communities with the right lawyers seem to more easily escape the obligation.

I have no solutions to suggest, other than "more open is more better". Dumping all the "gateway city" services on Lowell, (perpetuating the gravitational pull which concentrates so much poverty here), while failing to offer those people easier means to get to and from better jobs in wealthier places, is a difficult thing. Even then, it's sixteen bucks a day on the train plus the T plus the bus pass or parking fee at Gallagher if you have the two hours to spend to get somewhere else. (The corruption at the T and the mismanagement of the billions that disappear there is staggering).

All I know is that we have to do better.

Craig H said...

And to Neal's suggestion that barriers just make the motivated more motivated: I look at it a bit more practically. Let's say that self-making is the best way to build America, and creates the most wealth for us all. Why wouldn't we want to extend roadways to the driveways of poor kids who work to repair their own broken-down cars to succeed at that first job that starts them down their road to success, if we aren't tearing up the roadways that lead to the driveways of the kids who already have cars? (And kids with no driveways can't actually work on their cars to fix them, which is another issue). The barriers overcome by some are even higher and more daunting for others. I walked and bridged two horribly inefficient suburban bus routes to maintain a job in Natick when I lived in Brighton, enduring a 2 1/2 hour commute each way for the better part of a year while I scraped to buy another car to replace the one I lost to someone else plowing into it without insurance. I'm not saying I have any patience for someone who whines that it can't be done. It surely can. But, selfishly speaking, I wouldn't mind shrinking that bus trip to say an hour (it was only a dozen miles for Pete's sake) to entice more than one stubborn city kid to do it. Those suburban kids with the golden late-model Honda spoons got all those jobs, and didn't work much at all to get them. The point missed by not caring that some people have to work, is that we're implicitly rewarding lazy people who don't feel they need to work hard at all with all the opportunities they get for free. It creates a perverse world where some of the most motivated do get up and over, but TOO MANY highly motivated people, who are much more motivated and carry much more human potential than the privileged ones who don't have to work hard at all to get theirs, get no chance to contribute their better potential because the musical chairs are already occupied by the lazy ones. And kids with the golden spoons never learn what it's like to really have to work.

And I'd say that's the core issue here, not "fairness". I'm not worried about dropping barriers for some. I'm worried about creating reasonable barriers for everyone. It's not about fairness for me--it's about letting Darwin do for us what he will. Let's put everyone on the same level NOT to make it easier for the least privileged, but to make it harder for everyone. And let's start with mandatory service.

Otherwise, we are just rewarding and perpetuating the kind of sloth that's running our country into the ground. (And, yes, I'm talking about all the rich lawyers in Congress).

C R Krieger said...

I'm with Kad here.

Regards  —  Cliff

Neal said...

I have no disagreement with Kad's observations. In fact, he validates my point on the wisdom of the founders to peg the "rights" at the level of pursuit. If anything is done to prevent pursuit of happiness and welfare then it is wrong....and made even more egregious when it involves purposeful blocking by the haves against the have nots.

I fear that the nature of man is such that it is a never-ending battle to ensure equitability. Aristocracy has always prevailed in the end. Our difference in America is that quite often the body created to ensure those fundamental rights becomes the new aristocracy. We are in the midst of that today. We are confronted by a Congress and an Administration who are collectively among the richest in the land. Why on earth would they suddenly become altruistic in the very behaviors that got them to where they are at?

Put as simply and succinctly as possible.....anybody, anywhere has the implicit right by virtue of birth to move unopposed, by their own efforts, from here to there. If we wish to aid them in that effort, so much the better, but we must not IMPEDE them in any way.

Big order....but then.....FREEDOM is a big order.....and we've yet to make it a reality for all who seek it.