The Tragedy of Government Cheese

The Atlantic has up an illuminating, and rather sad, article on the unintended effects of Section 8 vouchers & the move to disperse the population of the projects. First, just in case anyone has a bad memory, I’ll give a summary of how that went:

=============================

Government: “Wow, look at all this crime going on in the projects! We’ve been getting more aggressive, but it’s doing nothing, what gives?”

Sociologists: “We think it’s the concentration of poverty. Break them up and mix the neighborhoods, & they’ll learn Middle Class Values by osmosis.”

Government: “Eh, whatever, we’ll give it a whirl…”

~~~~~~time passes for the bureaucracy to get going~~~~~~

Random Bureaucrat (after knocking on door of project resident): “hey, you wanna move to the suburbs? We’ll help!”

Project Resident: “…interesting offer. I’ll mull it over”

Random Bureaucrat: “Oh yeah, did I mention we’re tearing these buildings down soon anyway?”

Project Resident: “Well damn, OK then.”

~~~~~vouchers get distributed, wrecking balls are swung, families are moved~~~~~~

Outlying area local resident (reading paper): “Odd, crime seems to be going up sharply. What happened?”

meanwhile…

Government: “WTF?!? Those damn eggheads said this would work! Oh well, at least we can still shoot them…”

===========================

Do read the whole thing, it’s worth it.

One interesting thing they touch on is how drastically misunderstood cultural structure among the poor is — a large part of the reason why despite all the crap that goes on in the ghetto people weren’t uniformly running for the exits (needless to say, the other part was fear of rejection wherever they DID go). Several people in the article had comments about how they had stronger bonds with people at the places they left behind, which doesn’t surprise me at all since it’s been a common theme of virtually every newer work I’ve come across on this, including Sudhir Venkatesh’s book I discussed awhile back. I would’ve thought it’d be common sense by now that taking a group that, for survival purposes, formed an insular subculture with its own rules outside what is declared as “Middle America”, and sprinkling them among a population that is predisposed to shy away from them at the LEAST, is not going to magically do away with the violence and dependency. They were already poor and isolated, making their isolation even more obvious accomplishes zilch unless your goal is to treat people like guinea pigs and get paid for it.

To me, the real issue is a relative lack of control on the part of people who want to improve their situation over just who that culture retains and who gets frozen out. Contrary to popular belief poor neighborhoods aren’t universally populated by scumbags; a few people can mark the difference between a working-class area and “tha hood”. Obvious undesirable types can undermine attempts by the rest of the population to improve their condition, and in the worst cases you get a regional Dictatorship of the Bangertariat like Sudhir described. Dealing with such a delicate concern on an internal basis is inherently a non-State task, so I feel that the possibility is there for the anti-state Left to have something helpful to contribute to the situation. After all, it’s not like the last several decades of handouts and treating them like animals has worked.

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About b-psycho

Left-libertarian blogger & occasional musician.
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