Day By Day

Friday, June 20, 2008

Social Engineers Strike Again

There is a must-read article in this month's Atlantic by Hanna Rosin titled "American Murder Mystery". It deals with the unintended consequences of social engineers' attempts to deal with concentrations of urban poverty and criminality. The idea underlying their efforts was that concentrated poverty created environments that bred criminality. Their assumption was that enabling poor people to escape those environments would reduce criminality.

Well, it hasn't worked out that way.

Section eight vouchers have allowed poor people to move out of ghettos and into suburban environments and as they have dispersed into the general population, so has the associated criminal activity. Gangs and the associated drug culture, once concentrated in big-city slums, are now found in suburbs, small towns, and medium-sized cities.

I live near one of those small cities -- Reading, PA [rated by the FBI as the fourth most-dangerous city in America] -- and have watched its deterioration from a pleasant, safe environment into a cauldron of criminality in which the most horrific crimes are common. Rosin's article struck me with particular force because the terrors she relates are pretty much what we have become accustomed to seeing reported in our local paper.

What can be done about it? Better policing is obviously part of the answer, but other than that the best that the "experts" can come up with is a recommendation that state supplied social support institutions be extended into the newly-afflicted areas. Of course, these are the same mechanisms that over the course of the past few decades failed to improve the lives of people in the ghettos and, according to some scholars, actually exacerbated the problems associated with ghetto life.