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The Future of America’s Cities
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MR. WATTENBERG: Hello, I'm Ben Wattenberg. In the last 30years, we have witnessed a serious decline in American cities. Somerecent developments offer some hope for the future, but how did weget so close to collapse. Joining us to look at that question areFred Siegel, professor at the Cooper Union for the Arts and Sciences,senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute, and author of thenew book The Future Once Happened Here: New York, D.C., LA, and theFate of America's Big Cities. And Adam Yarmolinsky, regentsprofessor of Public policy at the University of Maryland, formeradvisor to President Lyndon Johnson, and author of a recent criticalreview of Professor Siegel's new book. The topics before this house,what ruined the cities, what can save the cities, this week on ThinkTank.
MR. WATTENBERG: America's great cities were once called thesoul of the nation. Their promise and prospects blossomed after theindustrial revolution had transformed the country. Early in thiscentury, urban America helped assimilate millions of immigrants,providing opportunity and prosperity for Europe's sons and daughters. The growth of the great American cities proved fertile soil forAmerican liberalism, which found its fullest expression in the NewDeal spirit of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Cities thrived forthe first half of the 20th Century, as the hubs of commerce,manufacturing, arts and entertainment. As their populations grew,they became more powerful politically.
But something went wrong. The last 30 years have witnessed astaggering decline in the health of America's cities. Riots rockedurban areas in the 1960s, and again in the early 1990s, most famouslyin Los Angeles. Violent crime exploded in inner city areas acrossthe country. Many possible culprits have been identified. It wasthe automobile, it was the suburbs and the malls. It was the Southto North migration of poor people. It was white flight. It wasblack flight. It was crime. It was deindustrialization.
But Professor Fred Siegel argues that one thing was principallyresponsible, modern liberalism. He marshals a powerful case, andsees hopeful signs on the horizon for a renewal. It's acontroversial thesis, but Fred Siegel's books is an important one anddeserves serious consideration. Our cities are at stake.
Gentlemen, thank you for joining us. Adam Yarmolinsky, let meask you just to hold on for a minute and let Fred Siegel drive thisbus. It's his book. Fred, what are you talking about?
MR. SIEGEL: My thesis is that while cities were faced withcertain elements out of their control, trucks and telephones,centralized economic activity, that cities took a difficult situationand made them far worse by their own policies. And principally threegreat gambles took place in the 1960s.
The first great gamble was the gamble of replacing work withwelfare. In the midst of the greatest prosperity America had everknown, the time when New York City had 4 percent black maleunemployment, it decided to quadruple the welfare rolls.
The second had to do with acculturation. People who argue thatrace and racism were the only important factors in holding back theadvancement of African-Americans left out the fact that people whocame from impoverished rural, semiliterate backgrounds, oftenilliterate backgrounds had to be acculturated to an urban industrialeconomy.
MR. WATTENBERG: Typically in the South, from the South.
MR. SIEGEL: From the South to the northern cities. Thecollapse of the northern public school systems symbolized in New Yorkby the Oceano Brownsville (sp) conflict in which the idea ofacculturation was thrown away in favor of the idea of black power inthe schools, something that would then spread to much of the rest ofthe country.
And the third great gamble -- so we gambled on giving up theidea of acculturation. The third great gamble had to do with publicorder. The notion that -- there was a notion in the '60s developedby sociologists who talked about victimless crime, and then picked upby police chiefs, and others, and lawyers, that if you ignored lowlevel crime, if you only concentrated on major crime, violent life,violence in the cities could be reduced. In fact, what happened was,we got the worst of both worlds. Low level crime flourished, and outof low level crime came higher and higher levels of violence anddisorder.
And since cities are places that depend on public spaces,depend on people interacting with each other for enjoying city life,the collapse of local order, the collapse of public life on thestreets of the cities drove -- helped drive the cities down.
MR. WATTENBERG: We're talking about the causes, welfare, thelack of acculturation, criminality. But you have a specificpolitical villain in your book. Why don't you say the L word andlet's get it out there. So when Adam goes ballistic, we know whatwe're talking about.
MR. SIEGEL: Well, in order to talk about the destructivequalities of modern liberals, you have to look at the earlierliberalism, liberalism represented by someone like Fiorello LaGuardia was reciprocal.
MR. WATTENBERG: Who was the mayor of --
MR. SIEGEL: The Mayor of New York in the 1930s, and the symbolof American urban liberalism. Liberalism for La Guardia meant thecity would help you if you were in need, but you were obligated tolive by the rules. You were obligated to do your best to earn aliving, and live a productive life. If things didn't work out andyou needed help, it would be provided.
What happened under Mayor John Lindsay, who was Mayor of NewYork in the 1960s, during that four-fold increase of welfare, thecollapse of the schools, and the collapse of public order, Lindsay isa synonym for liberal disaster. What happened under Lindsay is,those two halves were detached. Modern liberalism became a questionof, the state had the obligation to provide for you. You wereentitled, but you were obliged to return anything. You were entitledto state benefits, but you weren't obligated to work hard or live bythe rules. And there is the classic case or the famous case of thewelfare mother who says to Lindsay, I have six children by sixdifferent fathers, it's your job to support them, it's my job tobring them into the world. That was a recipe for disaster, becausewhat that produced was both --
MR. WATTENBERG: And that was an actual quote reported by RogerStarr of the New York Times.
MR. SIEGEL: That's right, who attended a press conferencewhere this woman -- where this woman said this to Lindsay. And thereare other examples of this that you can multiply.
MR. WATTENBERG: Let me ask you a question. Your book, so farthe examples you've talked about are from New York City, but you dealalso specifically with Los Angeles and Washington, D.C.
MR. SIEGEL: Yes.
MR. WATTENBERG: Same deal?
MR. SIEGEL: To different degrees. Washington -- everythingthat went wrong in New York went much more wrong in Washington. Washington is the case of the total meltdown, where nothing works. And the interesting thing about Washington is, it's a city that'soverflowing with money. For every dollar Washington pays into thefederal treasury, it gets $5 back. The city can't spend the money ithas. Nonetheless, public services have broken down under MarionBarry, a kind of gangster mayor, have broken down almost completely. So, when liberals argue that the only problem with urban liberalism,if only there was more money, you know, it was short-changed. Ifmore money had been given to the cities from the federal government,things could have worked, you can look at Washington and say --
MR. WATTENBERG: What about Los Angeles, quickly, and then wewill bring in Professor Yarmolinsky.
MR. SIEGEL: Los Angeles is a special case because Los Angelesliberalists failed for very different reasons. They failed to dealwith the problem of the police. For a very complicated set ofreasons, the police in LA are independent, became independent ofpoliticians and accountability. They went into business forthemselves. And Los Angeles had two great riots that helped set thetone for the '60s. The Watts riot really sets the '60s off in theirworst phase of breakdown and federal government responding by payingpeople off not to riot.
And what's interesting about Los Angeles is that the 1992 LosAngeles riots signaled the end in some sense of widespread supportfor modern liberalism, because at the end of the '92 riot there wasno money forthcoming. After the '65 riot, the federal governmentrushed out to say, how can we prevent more riots, let's invest inriot insurance. After '92, there was silence, nothing happened.
The other very good thing that happened out of the 1992 riots,the Los Angeles style of policing, the kind of paramilitary, kiss theconcrete style of policing was totally discredited. Earlier, theliberal style of policing, the New York passive ACLU style, wherebywe don't bother you, the criminals, much, and the ACLU doesn't botherthe police much, only the citizenry suffers. That had already beendiscredited.
MR. WATTENBERG: Okay. All right.
Adam Yarmolinsky, you have been around this game for a longtime, going back to the war on poverty with Presidents Kennedy andPresident Johnson. You wrote a review of Fred Siegel's book in theWashington Monthly, which, while it was partially complimentary, wasessentially negative. What is your problem with that thesis? He issaying that the root of the decline of the cities came out of thementality of modern liberalism.
MR. YARMOLINSKY: Well, it seems to me that this notion of amentality of modern liberalism -- tell it to a ghetto or a slumdweller, and I don't think that they would say that they had beentreated the way the ACLU would like them to be treated, nor do Ithink that they would have found welfare a satisfactory way of life. There's an artifact here that I don't think exists. And what I'mparticularly troubled me about Fred's books is that there's a kind ofa nostalgia for a world that never was. I've lived in Washingtonsince, on and off, since 1950, and I don't remember Washington of1950 as being a better place to live, particularly for poor people orblack people than it is today. Indeed, it was worse. When I wentinto the Pentagon in 1961, the only place I could take a black friendto lunch was the Secretary of Defense Mess, which was I fortunateenough to belong to. That's a small example.
But putting this all on the shoulders of us poor liberals, andI'm proud to continue to call myself a liberal, because I thinkliberals are people who care about other people who are in trouble. And I see nothing wrong with that.
MR. WATTENBERG: The crime rate in Washington when you camehere was probably one-fifth of what it is today, the violent crimerate?
MR. YARMOLINSKY: I don't know what the crime rate was, but Icertainly don't think that there was any -- there was anything in theway the government operated or the police force, or either localgovernment or national government, which resulted in the enormousincrease in the crime rate.
MR. SIEGEL: Adam is wrong on each and every point.
MR. WATTENBERG: That's why you're -- that's why these are thetwo guys on the show. Right. Go ahead.
MR. SIEGEL: Look, liberals' finest moment was when they brokethe barriers of segregation. The problems of New York, however, werenever a --
MR. WATTENBERG: So he's right about what he says about racismand segregation in Washington, it was legal, it was immoral.
MR. SIEGEL: Let's take a look at the schools. The schools inWashington in the 1950s were integrated, successful, a whole range ofacademics. Well known contemporary academics came out of theWashington public schools. Today --
MR. WATTENBERG: Wait. The schools in Washington were notintegrated --
MR. SIEGEL: They were integrated in 1954. They wereintegrated, one of the first school systems to be integratedanywhere, a successful model of integration. And they were a modelof acculturation. You were taking people from the isolated areas ofthe rural South and bringing them into the larger world. That systemwas destroyed in the 1960s by liberals like Mr. Yarmolinsky. Now, aswe take --
MR. YARMOLINSKY: What did I do?
MR. SIEGEL: On the contrary, we can get into that in a second. But let me go forward.
MR. WATTENBERG: He asked a pretty good question. Adam said,what did I do? He's a nice guy, I've known him for a lot of years. What did he do?
MR. SIEGEL: Well, I'll tell you -- as a member of the Johnsonadministration, he essentially bought into the idea that the problemof the people coming up from these rural backgrounds was solelyracism, that they were fully competent to navigate urban life, andthat the Office of Economic Opportunity -- the job of the Office ofEconomic Opportunity was to act as a ginger group in the cities tobreak down the bad old political machines that were supposedlyholding back black progress. What they did was create patronageorganizations of the sort that exist here in D.C., the kind ofpatronage organizations Marion Barry lived off -- lives off of, Mr.Yarmolinsky helped create 35 years ago. Unintentionally perhaps.
MR. YARMOLINSKY: I'm glad to hear you don't think it wasintentioned. No, I have to deny the soft impeachment. The Office ofEconomic Opportunity did not assume that the only problem was racism. In fact, I've written on this subject and, on a number of occasions,observed that the problem of poverty with which the Office ofEconomic ore encouraging programs going down the middle of the roadwere frustrated because you had this criticism from the extreme left,but that wasn't what the government was trying to do. And I don'tthink you can pin that tail on the liberal donkey.
MR. SIEGEL: The tragedy of the welfare explosion was, atexactly the time when there was a demand for labor, when there was achance for African-Americans to get on the up escalator, they'repulled out of the economy shunted off into welfare, and what you getis a double disaster. Further family breakdown, and a fiscalmeltdown for the cities that have to support these broken families.
MR. WATTENBERG: Adam brought it up, part two, we've had theargument about what happened, Adam has accused you of being aprofessional nostalgist, looking only backwards. But I know that youwant to look forward, and that you want to look forward, Lord knows Iwant to look forward. Let's start with you, what should we be doingnow for and to our cities?
MR. SIEGEL: Well, one of the things we want to do is get thefederal government off the back of the cities. There's this ideathat the federal government is here to help the cities, but federalpolicy, in most cases, Washington, D.C., is the exception in killingwith kindness, holds cities at a disadvantage through highwayfunding, through mortgage guarantees. The cities are actually harmedby the federal government.
MR. WATTENBERG: You mean that the federal governmentencouraged the growth of suburbia.
MR. SIEGEL: Absolutely.
MR. YARMOLINSKY: Urban spread.
MR. SIEGEL: Urban spread. And you could think about it for asimple reason, the Senate is heavily stacked to the empty quarter ofthe United States, the rural interests. But, having said that, now,I think what cities have to do is look less to Washington and more tothemselves, and they have to look to develop the talents of their ownpeople. Instead of saying, let me sell my pathology to Washington,they want to say, what kind of industries can I develop with thepeople I have here. They have talents, they have capacities. How doI bring them back into the economy, bring them back into the economicmainstream?
And to do that, the federal government is, by and large, notalways, by and large not very, very useful.
MR. WATTENBERG: Your philosophy, as you described it, again,talking about the past with the liberalism, became dependentindividualism. That it encouraged the cities to become dependent onthe economic side, dependent wards of state and federal.
MR. SIEGEL: That's right.
MR. WATTENBERG: And at the same time, gave a free market formoral values and things like that. So, what you are saying is, toget off the federal teat?
MR. SIEGEL: Exactly. Because, when the federal governmentsubsidizes pathology, in a sense, through matching funds, it leadscities to not look at their citizens as assets in the sense of termsof what they can produce. Cities were great when people wereproductive, when they were centers of labor.
MR. WATTENBERG: So, you are saying that cities like the restof the country should become more market-oriented in the world ofcommerce?
MR. SIEGEL: Well, I don't know that the rest of the country --the rest of the country is rather market-oriented. The cities arethe exception.
MR. WATTENBERG: That's right.
MR. SIEGEL: And it's not an accident that the cities havefallen behind in a sense, because they haven't adapted to the neweconomy.
MR. WATTENBERG: So that's point one.
MR. YARMOLINSKY: That is not altogether clear to me.
MR. WATTENBERG: Do you buy that? Do you think that's a goodidea?
MR. YARMOLINSKY: No, I really don't think I do because I thinkif you look at federal subsidies, just the dollar volume, I suspect alot more, and I think the overall statistics bear out the propositionthat a lot more goes to rural areas. Most of it goes toagri-business. But, when you consider what goes to various kinds ofcorporate farmers, including tobacco farmers, and what goes tocattlemen, I mean a dollar an acre of rent for acres that should rentfor ten times that, that the cities are getting the short-end of thestick.
MR. SIEGEL: What's interesting about the three cities Istudied, New York, Washington, and Los Angeles, is that one of thosethree cities has a dynamic economy. Los Angeles has an extraordinaryeconomy, able to recreate itself over and over. Los Angeles took atremendous hit in the early '90s when the defense industries weredownsized. It came back. It came back with high tech digitalindustries. It came back with food processing at the lower end.
And what you see going on in Los Angeles now amongMexican-Americans is something that's very encouraging. People, newarrivals, very poor people, making it up the ladder in thetraditional way. I talk about a town called Huntington Park near LosAngeles in Los Angeles County where people group together, cousins,brothers, et cetera, et cetera, buy a house together, and begin toget a foothold in American life. That dynamic economy is the bestway to move people out of poverty.
The problem of New York, even under Rudy Giuliani is that theeconomy is entirely dependent on Wall Street. The rest of theeconomy is dead in the water. We have an immigrant city in New York,without the kind of immigrant economy and immigrant dynamism that LosAngeles benefits from.
MR. WATTENBERG: We're looking at the future, we're looking atthe future of the cities. Do you think that we are seeing less crimein the cities because we have put more people in jail?
MR. YARMOLINSKY: No. No.
MR. WATTENBERG: Do you think we are seeing less crime in thecities because we have put more people in jail?
MR. SIEGEL: Unquestionably. That's one element. That's oneelement of what's -- you know, one of the interesting things aboutMario Cuomo is, he built jails like crazy, helped drop the crimerate, but was too embarrassed to ever take the credit for it, becausehe would be -- you know, it would be calumny by his fellow liberals.
Mr. Yarmolinsky is right in one sense --
MR. WATTENBERG: Adam, in other words, if you put a thug injail, an extra thug in jail who, according to a Brookings Institutionstudy, that thug, were he out on the street, would commit 14 violentcrimes --
MR. YARMOLINSKY: I'm all for putting the people you cannotdeal with otherwise. What concerns me is that most of the people injail are not violent criminals. We've filled --
MR. WATTENBERG: Over 90 percent are either violent criminalsor repeat offenders, one or the other.
MR. YARMOLINSKY: Repeat offenders is a different story.
MR. WATTENBERG: Well, they're people who are saying the lawdoesn't mean anything and I'm going to keep breaking it.
MR. YARMOLINSKY: No.
MR. SIEGEL: The biggest change has been the broken windowsbusiness.
MR. WATTENBERG: Let Adam finish.
MR. YARMOLINSKY: The people who are not violent criminals,there are an awful lot of things that could be done and we'll neverknow whether they'll work until we try them.
MR. WATTENBERG: Those programs have been tried, Adam. They'vebeen tried again and again, and you have a very high rate ofrecidivism.
MR. YARMOLINSKY: The amount of experiment is, in my view, isso limited compared to the just throw them in jail philosophy --
MR. SIEGEL: I don't think we -- I don't think we should justthrow people in jail. What's interesting about why crime has droppedin New York, it really comes from a guy named George Kelly (sp). Kelly understood that the real job of the police is not to catchcriminals. It's to prevent crime from happening in the first placeby maintaining public order. And the great success in New York underBill Bratton (sp) and Rudy Giuliani has been to institute --
MR. WATTENBERG: Bratton was the police commissioner.
MR. SIEGEL: Was the first police commissioner under Giuliani.
MR. YARMOLINSKY: Who was fired by Giuliani.
MR. SIEGEL: But after he successfully instituted thesechanges. The key to this is that you don't allow local disorder. You don't allow small problems to turn into large ones. If you see adrug market developing in a place, stop it. The famous example ishis turnstile jumpers. When Bratton was head of the transit policein New York, he discovered, thanks to Kelly, that one out of sevenpeople who jumped the turnstiles were wanted on outstanding felonywarrants. Terrific. You police the small crime, you reduce themajor crime. Crime, in the first year of this program, dropped 40percent in the New York City subways. The beauty of the brokenwindows thesis is, it doesn't require tough guy policing. Itrequires intelligent policing. It requires police who know where theproblems are and feed that back to a central headquarters that canquickly respond, so that when a drug market develops, it's notallowed to take root.
MR. WATTENBERG: All right. Final, final, final question. Quick answer. It's 1997, I wave my magic wand, it's the Year 2007,10 years from now, where are we going to be on the cities? AdamYarmolinsky?
MR. YARMOLINSKY: I suspect, because the best predictor ofwhere things will be in the future is where they are now, that we'llbe about in the same place. I hope not. I hope that some of themore aggressive and imaginative people will be able to persuade theirpolitical masters to make some significant changes. But I'm notterribly optimistic.
MR. WATTENBERG: Fred Siegel?
MR. SIEGEL: I think it will be a mixed picture. I think thekind innovative mayors we see around the country, guys like Norquistin Milwaukee, Goldsmith in Indianapolis, these guys, there will bemore of them. There will be more mayors willing to experiment,willing to try new ways of doing things, break out of the oldbureaucratic habits. But I think some cities will inevitablycontinue to fade. Buffalo will probably be part of a county insteadof an independent city. Gary will be no more. And other cities willbe thriving, cities like Seattle, Phoenix, San Diego will be thrivingin the future. So, it will be a very mixed picture.
MR. WATTENBERG: Okay. Fred Siegel, thank you very much. AdamYarmolinsky, thank you very much.
Thank you very much. For Think Tank, I'm Ben Wattenberg.
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