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Sunday, April 24, 2011

On replacing what worked with what sounded good, Crime and Poverty

"One of the advantages of being disorderly is that one is constantly making exciting discoveries." - A. A. Milne


"There was a time when Western countries believed in punishing vagrancy instead of rewarding “homelessness.” Criminals were held personally responsible for their crimes. Crime rates were far lower before we started listening to psycho-babble and handing over our hard-earned money to "service providers" in exchange for lofty rhetoric and vague promises.

[Ed: The US Violent Crime Rate rose steadily from 1963 to peaked around 1993, when this was published, and declined until 2003]

Even low-income neighborhoods were far safer then. This was dramatized for me this past spring, during a visit to a high school in Harlem. When I mentioned that I used to walk my dog in the park across the street from the school, looks of horror came across the students’ faces sand the principal warned me not to do that today.

In an earlier era, a young married couple in my family used to lie down on the grass in that park on hot summer nights and go to sleep there, rather than stay in the hot tenements. Many other people did that, all over New York. Today you would be considered insane to try it. It is not just different cultures that account for lower crime rates in places like Japan or Singapore. We once had far safer cities, including ghettoes, in the United States. That was when our social policies were based on actual experience of what worked — not on untested theories and lofty rhetoric.

Much of the social history of the Western world over the past three decades has involved replacing what worked with what sounded good. In area after area - crime, education, housing, race relations - the situation has gotten worse after the bright new theories were put into operation. The amazing thing is that this history of failure and disaster has neither discouraged the social engineers nor discredited them. So what if our children's math scores dropped after the "new math" teaching methods were introduced...

All this was just part of the price tag for being "with it". Those who are "with it" are often wrong but never in doubt. Whether the issue is the environment, crime, or the survival of Western civilization, their top priority is asserting their own superiority.

Some things must be done on faith, but the most dangerous kind of faith is that which masquerades as science. As the pretense of science has replaced commonsense experience, we have abandoned many old-fashioned practices that worked in favor of high-sounding innovations that have led to disaster.

If someone ever discovers why lemmings stampede headlong into the sea and drown, it may provide a clue as to why human beings are so anxious to be "with it"...

[We have been] fighting a "war on poverty" ever since the days of Lyndon Johnson - and poverty is winning. It has been estimated that less than one-fourth of all the money spent on programs supposedly for the poor actually reaches any poor people.

Part of the money gets intercepted by bureaucrats, consultants, social workers, academic researchers and others who gather around these programs like flies around honey. More importantly, many programs are sold to the public as being for the poor, while the benefits spread to many middle class people, in order to build up an influential constituency to keep the programs going.

The assumption that spending more of the taxpayers money will make things better has survived all kinds of evidence that it has made things worse. The black family—which survived slavery, discrimination, poverty, wars, and depressions—began to come apart as the federal government moved in with its well-financed programs to help. Worst of all, guilt has so furtively stolen into many hearts and minds that people feel apologetic about being civilized, educated, and productive when others are barbaric, uneducated, and parasitic. When civilization apologizes to barbarism, something has gone very wrong at a very fundamental level"

--- Is Reality Optional? / Thomas Sowell
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