No matter what side of the aisle one’s personal political beliefs may land them on, in many cases both Democrats and Republicans want the same thing. (This is not to say that there not are radical differences in what Leftists or Statists want versus what Conservatives or Libertarians want, but that is a separate issue, too complex to delve into with this post.) The majority of voters are not idealogically driven. They don’t do a whole lot of research about philosophy or economics; nor do they know the names, much less ideas, of John Locke or Karl Marx. In the end, most people just want what they deem as “right”.
And who could argue that the way our inner cities look in most certainly bad or “wrong”. Some parts of America are doing fine, most are in a bit of a recession, and still others are in almost a non-stop recession. America’s inner cities are plagued by violence, drug abuse, gang activity, and other criminal behavior. After a certain point, I refuse to call someone a “victim” of their circumstances. Children, on the other hand, are the true victims in these situations. No real parents, a rough neighborhood, and crummy schools. They didn’t ask to be brought into the world; someone else made that decision for them.
It wouldn’t be a conservative blog post without blaming government for many of the problems these areas face. There have always been ghettos or “slums”. These slums were occupied by the Irish and Italians, but eventually these people got out of the slums and moved up in America’s socioeconomic ranks. However, this was before the era of massive government involvement in nearly every aspect of life. Looking back in time, we can see that much is the same about the circumstances except one BIG thing – BIG government. Many policies and laws passed have opposite effects of those intended, so its no surprise that ghettos exist and are growing.
A three pronged approach could very well minimize many of the problems associated with inner cities. The situations involving jobs, education, and gang activity could all be made better by minimizing the role of government, and replacing it with free market solutions.
Supply and demand determine the price of every commodity we have, whether we chose to believe it or not. Price controls, set artificially high or low of what the market would decide, often cause many problems. For instance, price controls artificially lowering the price of rent cause fewer landlords to maintain their property or to even continue renting it out. This is why in cities where rent control exists, homelessness is rampant, yet entire apartment complexes are left abandoned by their owners. Prices set artificially low, in this case by passing a law forbidding the raising of rent, cause shortages of that product. In this case, this means shortages of housing.
Price controls can be equally destructive when products are set at an artificially high price. The most famous control of this kind is the minimum wage law. The minimum wage law has caused employers to hire fewer employees, and to hire fewer low-experience employees. If a factory is only allowed to hire workers worth $7.25, that means that anyone who doesn’t have the education or experience worth $7.25 will be out of a job. They may gladly work for less than $7.25, and thereby learn skills that would demand a higher wage later, but this is not allowed by the minimum wage law. Price controls set artificially high will cause surpluses. In the case of labor, a surplus means fewer people with jobs and a higher unemployment rate.
Our public schools ought to be a place of shame for America. In the most prosperous society to ever exist, failing public schools should not be an option. Once again government has been the problem. For most of America’s history, public schools were managed from a local level. School districts, cities, and states were making the decisions. Only recently has the federal government become involved, creating the “Department of Education”, and since then our public schools have gotten worse. No surprise.
Much of the problem lies with how rules and guidelines are set from an office building in Washington D.C. and not within each classroom. Different students require different teaching methods. Students in Alabama aren’t going to learn the same as students in New York. By having a big blanket of rules, regulations, and obscure standards placed over our schools by the federal government, we see less efficient teaching. This is what Milton Friedman penned in Free to Chose as “Gammon’s Law” or the “Theory of Bureaucratic Displacement”; less of a product at a higher cost. In this case, the product is education.
Another reason our schools are going downhill is the lack of market forces, most importantly competition. Schools that are forced to compete with each other for students will try harder to produce better results. A school who puts out dumb kids will no doubt lose money because students won’t attend that school. But competition is not allowed. Students are told which school to go to based on where they live. Many of these students’ families don’t have enough money to opt out and attend private schools (where competition is a much greater factor.)
Competition could be reinstated by allowing school choice programs where families chose which school their kids attend, forcing schools to compete. The process could be taken to another level if public schools were forced to compete with their private counterparts by creating a school voucher program. Families would get a voucher from the government and be free to send their children to any school, public or private, that they chose. It would still be government funded, but would force schools to compete and produce a better product (education) for their customers (the students and their parents). To even further competition in schools, individual teachers should be paid on merit. Teachers compete with each other, schools compete with each other, and private and public schools compete as well. Competition invariably creates a better product at a lower cost.
THE WAR ON DRUGS
All of this is useless unless we change the attitude of people who live in the inner cities. Far too often kids are turned off by school and instead fall into the paths of their parents – gangs. If the richest person a young black child sees is a drug dealer, he’s going to set his goal on being a drug dealer too, which in many cases means joining a gang. Dropout rates are high because the most profitable way to earn money (drug dealing) doesn’t require a diploma. This is a fundamental human issue called “incentives”. Why go to school when you could make a $1000 a week selling dope?
To put an end to this, drugs ought to be legalized. With drugs legalized, gangs would no longer have a monopoly on the market. Users could buy their drugs from gas stations at cheaper prices, and petty drug dealers would be put out of business. Dealing drugs would no longer be profitable to gangs and without drug “turf”, gangs would have less to fight over. Our inner cities could grow and thrive because people would no longer be afraid to walk around outside, for fear of being accidentally shot in a drive-by. To eliminate gangs (or at least minimize them), we could eliminate their endless flow of money by legalizing the drugs they sell.
Simple enough, right? There are non-government, free market solutions that could work for our inner cities. Eliminate price controls on both rent and labor, install a competition based school choice and school voucher system, and end the destructive “war on drugs”.
Each of these ideas has its opponents, usually not the people who would see the most benefit. Opponents of minimum wage laws (namely the AFL-CIO and other union organizations) know that lower priced labor would end their firm grasp on jobs in industries they control. They instead fight for minimum wage laws, and under the guise of a “living wage”, they keep younger and less experienced workers from competing with them for jobs.
Opponents of education reform don’t want their schools to have to compete, for fear that they might not stand up to the competition. Unions once again fight to keep their stranglehold on public education; demanding ever higher wages yet refusing to be held accountable for their failure to produce good students. Schools create a product, and they need to be held accountable for it; the market does this better than anything else.
Opponents of the war on drugs are content to keep paying more police officers to deal with less important work. Despite what some may think, legalization of drugs will not mean a large increase in the number of drug users. But this idea is pedaled by holier than thou groups, looking to ban something that they see as evil. Drugs may be bad, but prohibiting them creates bigger monsters that hurt far more people.
3 Part solution: Eliminate price controls, increase competition in schools, end the war on drugs. This of course will not end all that is wrong in inner cities. The destruction of the family via never ending welfare programs is another issue to take on. The world is a flawed place and it will never be perfect. Everything is a trade off, and our job is get the best deal we can. I believe these reforms would yield a better deal than the one we have now.