Is The Problem With Socialism Really That They Just Haven't Executed Correctly Yet?

A couple of weeks ago I invited commenters to try to explain how they could support the avowed socialist Bernie Sanders in the face of the failures -- nay, disasters -- of the Soviet Union, Cuba, North Korea, Venezuela, etc., and a commenter named Justin Ferraro took me up on my invitation.  Basically, his answer was, those guys' hearts were in the right place, but they just didn't execute correctly.

Just as the USSR was a sham of a communist country it is also a failure of socialism, which is doomed, like any other economic system, if it exists within an authoritarian framework.

But this time we'll do it right, and it's sure to work!

Well, we don't have full-blown socialism in this country, but we do have pockets of socialism, that is, areas of the economy where the government owns the assets and passes them out to the people on some government-determined basis of "fairness," or something like that.  One of those areas is public housing.

So how has the public housing thing worked out in the U.S.?  Here's my summary:  They started out in the 50s and 60s building massive "projects" of gigantic high-rises; but those quickly became concentrated islands of poverty, crime and violence.  They weren't executing correctly!  In the 90s they (led by HUD and its then-Secretary Andrew Cuomo) instituted programs of destroying the previous high-rises and replacing them with more widely-distributed low-rises and with Section 8 vouchers.  And how has that worked out?  Terrible!  They're not executing correctly!  So we need to expand public housing initiatives and, or course, we'll execute correctly this time.

Over at The Atlantic, it seems that they run one article after the other on public and affordable housing initiatives.  A reporter named Alana Semuels generates at least an article a month, most recently on September 22.   The overriding theme of the articles is -- you guessed it -- public housing has been a disaster so far in the United States, basically because of poor execution, so what's needed now is more government funding and better execution.  It's really touching how these people can maintain an unshaken belief in the socialist model no matter how often and how disastrously it fails -- or it would be touching, if it didn't entail trapping millions of innocent victims into lifetimes of poverty.

The September 22 article contains a brief summary of the history of public housing in the U.S., not differing much in its essentials from my summary a paragraph above.  Much of Ms. Semuels' history is sourced from a new book by Professor Ed Goetz of the University of Minnesota, "New Deal Ruins: Race, Economic Justice and Public Housing Policy."  Goetz traces the decline of the original massive-high-rise public housing model to as early as the 70s:

Going into the 1970s, public-housing authorities were becoming poorly-run, barely-financed departments, with most of their properties located in urban areas that were marked by declines related to white flight. And then they had to face urban decline, crime, and the gangs that rose up in the 1970s and 1980s with diminishing funding from both HUD and the local municipalities that didn’t want to spend money on deteriorating properties for the poor.  “It is impossible to overstate the dysfunctional state of some public housing complexes in the late 1980s and 1990s,” Goetz writes, in his book

Funny, isn't it, how with over 3000 public housing authorities in the U.S., they all made the exact same execution errors at the same time?  But the new policies of decentralization and vouchers were in place by the early 90s, just in time for the Clinton presidency.

This [new decentralization and voucher] strategy became federal law in 1992, when public-housing authorities began receiving billions through the HOPE VI to tear down some of the nation’s worst housing complexes. The idea was that projects like the infamous Cabrini-Green in Chicago would go away, and along with them, the blight that characterized center cities.

And then in 1997, Andrew Cuomo -- now our governor in New York -- became Secretary of HUD.  If anybody could "execute" this new strategy correctly, he would be the guy.  Right?

“CHA [Chicago Housing Authority] must come down. You can no longer put a Band-Aid on a bullet wound,” Andrew Cuomo, the secretary of HUD, said in 2000.

So, Alana, what's the review of how the new strategy is faring today?  From a June 24, 2015 article in The Atlantic by the same author:

But somewhere along the way, “Section 8” became a colloquialism for housing that is, to many, indistinguishable from the public-housing properties the program was designed to help families escape.  How did this happen? To begin with, Section 8 is poorly designed. 

Really, you have to hate when this happens.  It's just so obvious to all the right-thinking people that the socialist government-handout model can cure injustice and lift the poor out of poverty with some minimal proper execution, and yet once again it has failed.

So, Alana, are you prepared now to admit that public housing is never going to work?  The opposite.  In the most recent article (September 22) Semuels goes to Austin, Texas, to find an example of a public housing success story:

Public housing gets a bad rap, but Maddie Garrett has no complaints. She’s lived on the same few blocks on Austin’s east side for 50 years, moving between one of the nation’s oldest public-housing complexes, Rosewood Courts, and a senior housing development called Salina Apartments. When her family grew, the housing authority helped her move to a bigger apartment; when her kids moved away, she moved back to a smaller one. When her husband became disabled, the housing authority put them in a unit that could accommodate his disabilities.  “It’s comfortable; it’s safe; I haven’t had any problems,” she told me, in the shady courtyard of her apartment building. . . .   “The story of American public housing is one of quiet successes drowned out by loud failures,” writes Ed Goetz, a professor at the University of Minnesota. 

Maintained for 50 years by government hand-outs in a life of continuous poverty -- that's what counts as "success."  I wonder what counts as failure?