With the verdict received in the trial of Derek Chauvin one could hope that a certain sense of justice had been dealt for the death of George Floyd. Mr. Chauvin was certainly guilty of a crime, though it is beyond my purview to decide exactly what that crime was. In any event, the jury made its judgment. But where do we go from here? Apparently, many of our political leaders could not resist voicing their opinions from the safe perch of social media, mostly echoing the overarching assumption of systemic racism, not only in law enforcement, but throughout American society. The most florid Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted that “this verdict is not a substitute for policy change.” I think perhaps we might be able to converge on that sentiment, provided it is based on reasoned logic rather than virtue signaling.
Because our media hypes emotional reactions over reasoned analysis, we end up focused on the symptoms rather than the causes of our social troubles. The problem of policing starts at the beginning, not the end, of the story. And at the beginning there are two primary causes, identified by social scientists such as Daniel Moynihan, Thomas Sowell and Charles Murray and affirmed by empirical data: First is the disintegration of urban black families under the direction of welfare state policies instituted back in the 1960s in response to E. Michael Harrington’s (no relation) The Other America. Economist Thomas Sowell has documented the evidence that black families were more intact with two married parents before the Great Society and marks the mid-1960s as the inflection point. The incentives provided by programs such as Aid to Families with Dependent Children, which grew enormously during the decade after 1965, occasioned a virtual explosion of births to unmarried mothers. From 10% of all births of all races in 1970 to 41% in 2010. But for black mothers the increase was from 38% in 1970 to 72% in 2010, meaning that almost 3/4s of all births in the black community today are to unmarried mothers.
Beside the effects of welfare dependence, other factors likely include the decline of marriageability of black fathers due to lack of job opportunities, to changing sexual mores and behaviors. But no matter the cause, these trends demand a policy response to the break-up of family institutions that ensure social stability and upward mobility. As a Brookings report as far back as 1996 admits below, that policy response has been lacking, and perhaps can be attributed to the second cause of urban decay.
“If we have learned any policy lesson well over the past 25 years, it is that for children living in single-parent homes, the odds of living in poverty are great. The policy implications of the increase in out-of-wedlock births are staggering.”Brookings Policy Briefs
This second cause can be traced to the redirected spending priorities of urban political machines under the cover of the liberal welfare state. The urban political machines that characterize politics in cities such as Baltimore, New York, Chicago, Detroit, Minneapolis, San Francisco, Los Angeles and other large metro areas are run primarily for the benefit of organized public unions such as teachers, police, fire, waste disposal, and municipal workers. As they say, let’s follow the money.
In 1962, President Kennedy issued an executive order recognizing the right of federal and public sector employees to unionize and bargain collectively over labor contracts. This opened a Pandora’s Box that I suspect JFK would have strongly regretted had he lived to see the result. When public union officials bargain with politicians the only ones with skin-in-the-game are not even at the negotiating table. That would be the taxpaying citizens. Politicians who need votes and campaign funds for re-election readily grant contract conditions that never need to be rationalized financially and push serious liabilities—such as pensions and healthcare—off to the future (when they conveniently will no longer be in office). In return, they receive campaign funds and votes delivered by unions. The result has been serious deficits for municipalities that require a re-orientation of spending priorities – away from the dependent poor and necessary municipal services towards servicing public sector union wages and benefits. For those who have retired after 25 years of service, it has been a bonanza.
The budget squeeze has had the most deleterious effect on public schools that the urban poor depend upon to educate their children and free up parents to support a family. The performance failure of urban public schools is legendary and has now been exposed to all with the recent pandemic lockdown. In Los Angeles, where the United Teachers of Los Angeles holds sway over the public schools, only 35% of a $7+ billion budget goes to teacher salaries, with the bulk going to administrative salaries, pensions, and benefits. This has created a two-tier seniority system that characterizes most public unions today where legacy members receive most of the value while new hires do all the work and receive far less. The strain on resources means the students and their families end up with the short end of the stick.
Now let us connect the dots. The breakdown of urban families and the narrow self-serving policies of urban political machines have left young urban minorities with slim possibilities of becoming productive citizens and leave them mired in poverty and despair. Without a decent education and stability in the home, black youths face dismal opportunities in a society where intellectual skills have become a necessary passport to success. Is it any wonder they turn to a lucrative culture of crime and illicit drug markets with all the propensities for violence?
Faced with this violent crime problem, city officials then task law enforcement agencies and the criminal justice system to clean it up, or at least keep it under control. Is it any wonder that confrontations between police and young black men and women dominate our crime incidents? And that a regrettable number of mistakes occur under harrowing conditions that prove fatal to both police and alleged perpetrators? That young black men populate our prisons and become more criminalized? Police and innocent bystanders have to put their lives on the front line in this battle for order, but bureaucrats and politicians who have failed us all along are comfortably ensconced with high paying jobs and sinecures. And the destructive policies continue.
To ignore this reality for an unprovable narrative of “systemic racism” is the true tragedy of the Chauvin-Floyd affair. In essence, they are both victims of an urban society that has failed us. As I mentioned at the beginning of this essay, perhaps AOC is correct about the need for policy change. She is most certainly correct, but not in the way she intends. With the empirical evidence of the past half century, one can make the case that the only truly racist institutions in America today are the public education system run by teachers’ unions and the welfare state run by public sector unions and their political cronies. The policy changes needed are school choice and constraints on public sector union bargaining. It’s high time those of us with skin-in-the-game took notice and demanded the right kind of policy changes.