On Sunday, after taking some criticism from Representative Elijah Cummings of Baltimore about conditions on the Southern border, President Trump unleashed a series of tweets excoriating Cummings about conditions in his own district. Some excerpts:
If racist Elijah Cummings would focus more of his energy on helping the good people of his district, and Baltimore itself, perhaps progress could be made in fixing the mess that he has helped to create over many years of incompetent leadership. His radical “oversight” is a joke! . . . Baltimore’s numbers are the worst in the United States on Crime and the Economy. Billions of dollars have been pumped in over the years, but to no avail. The money was stolen or wasted. Ask Elijah Cummings where it went. He should investigate himself with his Oversight Committee!
All I can say is, I can’t believe that it has taken so long to get some serious push-back going about the abject failure of any Democrat-controlled city to alleviate poverty and improve the lives of its citizens. Although in these tweets President Trump focused on Baltimore, it’s not just Baltimore. Other examples include Detroit, Cleveland, St. Louis, Gary, Camden, and even Chicago and Philadelphia. And there are many others. All share the characteristics of massive spending by governments at all levels on “programs” to alleviate poverty — welfare, food stamps, housing, Medicaid, clothing assistance, phones, energy assistance, and on and on. (One list has some 76 categories of federal “anti-poverty” programs.) All those cities also share the characteristic of unbroken rule by Democrats for decades on end. And poverty that only worsens, particularly relative to what is going on in the rest of the country.
Rather than reinventing the wheel today, I just want to point out that the Manhattan Contrarian was way ahead of the world on this issue, with two posts on April 28 and 29, 2015, titled “Do You Think That The Government Can Fix Poverty? Look At Baltimore” and “Can The Government Fix Poverty? — Part II.” These posts were back in the days when I had much less readership than today, and came right after the riots in Baltimore that had followed the death of a guy named Freddy Gray in police custody. Here are some lengthy excerpts.
From April 28, 2015:
[I]t isn't often that the nation's attention gets riveted onto quite such a graphic display of the disaster of our anti-poverty efforts as we have had in the past couple of days from Baltimore.
Baltimore is in that group that I have often referred to as the "basket case cities" -- the not small group of U.S. cities that have thrown wads of cash and hordes of bureaucrats at the poverty problem, only to see poverty worsen while the population of the city declines precipitously and the place basically circles the drain. The poster children for this phenomenon are Detroit and Cleveland, but they are really just the start. Chicago and Philadelphia also qualify, even though they both put on good shows in their downtowns. Another trait that the basket case cities share is voting 80% + for Democrats in their elections. Could it really be that anyone here thinks that the next round of "programs" and handouts is going to work?
Baltimore easily meets all the criteria to qualify as a "basket case." By the official decennial census, the population peaked in 1950 at 949,708, and has been in decline ever since. In 2010 it hit 620,961, down about 35% from the peak. Maryland is one of the wealthiest states, but Baltimore is one of the poorest cities in the country. The official Census Bureau "poverty rate" for Baltimore is 23.8%, about 9% above the rate for the rest of the country and 14% above the rate for Maryland as a whole. Median household income is $41,385, compared to $51,900 for the U.S. as a whole and $73,538 for Maryland (all 2013 data). The murder rate in Baltimore is 37.4 per 100,000; by comparison, New York's is around 4 per 100,000. This is not a small difference. And how do they vote? To take just one example, in the 2012 presidential election, Obama got over 200,000 votes in the City of Baltimore to Romney's 25,000.
As befits its status as a relatively poor city, Baltimore has long "benefited" -- if you want to use that term -- from more than its pro rata share of the government programs and handouts supposedly designed to cure poverty. Comparative statistics aren't easily available for every program, but consider just a few. In the U.S., following the explosion during Obama's presidency, there are now about 46 million recipients of food stamps/SNAP; that's about 14% of the population. In Baltimore the percentage on food stamps was 24% when Obama first came to office, and then it really took off. Today it's more like 35%. Or consider public housing. According to HUD's website here, well less than 1% of U.S. families live in public housing. In Baltimore, it's more like 4.5%.
A number of links that were contained in that piece no longer work, so I have deleted them. Here are some links for current statistics:
Percent of U.S. households on food stamps (October 2018): 11.8%. Percent of Baltimore households on food stamps (September 2018): 25.9%. Murder rate for Baltimore: 57.8/100,000 for 2017, and 50.5/100,000 for 2018. Murder rate for the U.S. as a whole: 5.3/100,000 (2017). Poverty rate for U.S. as a whole (2017): 12.3%. Poverty rate for Baltimore city (2017): 22.1%. Median household income for U.S. as a whole (2017): $57,652. Median household income for Baltimore city (2017): $46,641.
Something is obviously not working here.
The same day as my April 28 piece, the New York Times published an op-ed by a guy named Michael Eric Dyson, blaming Baltimore’s problems on inadequate government spending and programs, if you can believe that. From my reaction the next day:
Today the New York Times chimes in on the subject [of Baltimore] with an editorial, two op-eds, and five letters to the editor. Most of it is just a liberal guilt-fest, but it's still worth examining the mind-set of the people who caused this horror. Most illustrative is the op-ed by Michael Eric Dyson. Here's an excerpt:
“Without a brick tossed or a building burning, we are hardly confronting the hopelessness of the future for these young people. The unemployment rate in the community where Mr. Gray lived is over 50 percent; the high school student absence rate hovers at 49.3 percent; and life expectancy tops out at 68.8 years, according to analysis by prison reform nonprofits. These statistics are a small glimpse of the radical inequality that blankets poor black Baltimore. It’s no wonder that black Baltimore erupted in social fury.”
OK, the high school student absence rate hovers at 49.3%. How did it get there? Baltimore of course follows the Democrat model of government-monopoly unionized public schools. According to figures compiled by the Baltimore Sun in 2013, Baltimore in 2011 ranked second among the nation's 100 largest school districts in per student spending. (Number one being New York City of course!) So what's the answer? Well, we know the answer of the Baltimore Teachers Union: Still more government money for the schools! Here's a link describing their big rally in March to lobby the legislature for more money.
Life expectancy tops out at 68.8 years? I thought we had free government medical care, otherwise known as Medicaid, for all the poor and near-poor. That's well over $400 billion of annual government spending in this country, almost $8 billion in Maryland. We just doubled down on Medicaid with a massive expansion under Obamacare. Are you now saying that it doesn't work?
And then there's what Mr. Dyson calls the "unemployment rate," which is not what the Labor Department calls the unemployment rate, but rather a rate of idleness among people completely detached from the world of jobs. Well, the government gave the people welfare, and food stamps, and public housing, and free medical care, and now we find that a lot of the young men just don't work any more. Didn't anybody stop for a minute to think that this might happen?
New York Times and Mr. Dyson, it's time to take ownership of this. All of your "solutions" have been adopted at enormous cost, and they have just made the problem worse. Do you really still think that more of same can possibly work?
Here's the fundamental problem: All of your guilt always leads to advocacy that "we" must help "them" with some kind of program or handout. Inherent in that thought is that "they" are not capable of taking care of themselves -- the bigotry of low expectations. Well, I can say with 100% certainty that more programs and more handouts will cost still more money and still will lead to more idleness and more hopelessness.
So is it possible to turn this around? Absolutely. There's exactly one way. Real businesses must be attracted to Baltimore to provide real jobs. This cannot be done by handouts to business and crony capitalism. It must be done be creating a bona fide good investment climate. That means crime under control, lower taxes and lower government spending, and fostering a belief among members of the business community that the government will not turn on you after you commit your investors' money. In New York, with 20 years of Republican and Independent mayors from 1994 to 2013, we made huge strides in re-establishing a good investment climate, and the economy roared back. Baltimore can do it too. But it's the exact opposite of the approach they have taken to date.
Letting businesses come in outside political control to grow and prosper? Neither Cummings nor anyone else in the Baltimore Democratic Party establishment is ever going to allow that to happen. It’s in their interest to keep the poor poor, and they will keep that up as long as they can get away with it. It’s high time there started to be some pushback.