Social-science elitists are excited today because Hurricane Katrina has become an unexpected accomplice. It did their work for them to implement the first part of the experiment _ it purged poor blacks out of their neighborhoods. Now they want to design government programs to do the rest.
Here's David Brooks of The New York Times:
"Hurricane Katrina has given us an amazing chance to do something serious about urban poverty. ... The only chance we have to break the cycle of poverty is to integrate people who lack middle-class skills into neighborhoods with people who possess these skills and who insist on certain standards of behavior."
Washington, D.C., where our senators and congressmen go to work, and where I assume Brooks has spent a good deal of time, has a poverty rate 50 percent above the national average. I guess that over recent years Brooks never felt there was an opportunity to do "something serious" about this poverty because no natural disaster purged these folks into the street.
In 1996, I worked on welfare reform. This reform was driven by the unique premise, easily grasped without a Ph.D., that the way to get folks off welfare was to inform them that they could only be on it for a limited time. Today, welfare rolls are half what they were in 1996.
Low-income-housing programs of all forms have failed because they are just that _ programs. Compassion is expressed through temporary assistance in emergencies, not in fostering dehumanized dependency.
The Katrina disaster shouldn't be used as an opportunity to grow government and launch new social experiments.
Government assistance to evacuees should be at arm's length, and should maximize individual choice and latitude. Provide fairly priced rental vouchers, perhaps equal to the national average rental plus 20 percent, redeemable anywhere, with a reasonable but clearly finite duration. Say, one year.
If we truly want to help the poor across the board, put time limits on Section 8 vouchers, with a goal of totally ending the program.
The social-science elitists may find it hard to believe, but poor blacks really can figure out what they need to do when the facts are put in front of them and the responsibility is theirs to act.
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