Social engineering at its worse

October 03, 1994|By Thomas J. DiLorenzo

THE DIRE plight of public housing project residents is perhaps the most visible manifestation of the failure of the

American welfare state. The Poverty Pentagon -- the army of bureaucrats, social workers, politicians and academicians who support the welfare state -- will never admit it has failed. It will only try to cover up its blunders with new programs. A good example is the federal Housing and Urban Development's Moving to Opportunity program, which will give victims of the welfare state who reside in public housing projects certificates or vouchers so they can move into more affluent neighborhoods. Baltimore County is one of the five areas of the country initially targeted by HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros for this program.

Government-funded researchers have touted the "successes" of this program by highlighting particular individuals who have benefited in the short run from it, while ignoring the downside. In Cook County, Ill., a program to relocate inner-city residents to the suburbs has been criticized by local and federal officials. Economic journalist James Bovard, writing in the September issue of the American Spectator, interviewed local officials in the Chicago suburbs who said that an influx of subsidized welfare recipients with Section 8 vouchers or certificates "turned a borderline neighborhood into a slum." "We are building ghettos in the suburbs," said one official.

In St. Louis, Mr. Bovard reports, alderman Paul Beckerle complained that "neighborhoods throughout his ward were being dragged down by a crime wave" generated by Section 8 tenants. "Crime has soared because of the subsidies," the St. Louis Post Dispatch reported.

According to a HUD report, the robbery rate in one Baltimore public housing project is 20 times the national average. Yet, the Clinton administration apparently believes that placing the residents of this project in sections of Baltimore County will make them less likely to steal.

One of the reasons for the Moving to Opportunity program is to force more residential racial integration. But great changes have already taken place in this regard thanks to the free market. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are five times more black residents in America's predominantly white suburbs today than there were 30 years ago. The suburban black population has been growing for decades due to economic advancement, not social engineering. Accepting the discipline and responsibility of work, family and law and order has enabled them to progress economically, although the result is not always racial integration. "When blacks move into suburban neighborhoods," write demographers Elizabeth Huttman and Terry Jones, "they tend to seek out areas with other blacks." This is merely freedom of association -- a right supposedly protected by the Constitution.

The Washington Post recently reported that there has been a massive migration of middle-class blacks from the nation's capital to the surrounding Virginia and Maryland suburbs. Escaping the city's high crime rate is the reason usually cited for the migration, according to the Post. How would these people feel if the federal government paid huge sums of money so that many of the people these hard-working, middle-class families have tried to escape from can move in -- virtually rent free -- right next door?

The Moving to Opportunity program works against the values of hard work, family, individual responsibility and law and order by telling people that they can achieve economic success -- in the form of lavish governmental handouts -- without first adopting these values.

"The underlying rationale for these programs," according to former HUD assistant secretary David Caprara, "is that the only way to solve the values deficit in these neighborhoods is to transfer residents to upscale neighborhoods of another race. . . . That's an extremely racist notion."

Despite the program's name, forced residential integration has little to do with equal opportunity, but rather is an attempt to achieve equality of results by paying welfare recipients to pretend that they have earned a middle-class lifestyle. But if people are paid by the government to act as if they have achieved economic success, why should they bother to achieve the real thing?

If the government were truly interested in enhancing the economic opportunities of housing project residents, it would begin sending the criminals who prey on them to jail; phasing out welfare; cutting taxes and deregulating urban economies to stimulate private-sector growth; offering greater freedom of educational choice; and either privatizing or demolishing public housing projects. The poor -- and Americans generally -- would benefit immensely from expanded economic opportunities; the only losers would be the Poverty Pentagon and the criminals.

Thomas J. DiLorenzo is a professor of economics at Loyola College.

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