Section 8 housing and the spread of murder in the U.S.

An excerpt from “American Murder Mystery,” by Hanna Rosin in the Atlantic:

About six months ago, they decided to put a hunch to the test. Janikowski merged his computer map of crime patterns with Betts’s map of Section 8 rentals. Where Janikowski saw a bunny rabbit, Betts saw a sideways horseshoe (“He has a better imagination,” she said). Otherwise, the match was near-perfect. On the merged map, dense violent-crime areas are shaded dark blue, and Section 8 addresses are represented by little red dots. All of the dark-blue areas are covered in little red dots, like bursts of gunfire. The rest of the city has almost no dots.

Betts remembers her discomfort as she looked at the map. The couple had been musing about the connection for months, but they were amazed—and deflated—to see how perfectly the two data sets fit together. She knew right away that this would be a “hard thing to say or write.” Nobody in the antipoverty community and nobody in city leadership was going to welcome the news that the noble experiment that they’d been engaged in for the past decade had been bringing the city down, in ways they’d never expected. But the connection was too obvious to ignore, and Betts and Janikowski figured that the same thing must be happening all around the country.

Don’t kid yourself and think that this revelation will deter liberals from supporting the next equivalent of Section 8 housing when it it proposed. Central to the liberal mentality is the conviction that we MUST TRY. If it doesn’t work out, ok. But we MUST TRY. The person who says up front, “This is a bad idea, we shouldn’t do it,” is a conservative and reactionary and not a good person. The liberal and good person is he who TRIES, and then, after it doesn’t work out, hangs his head with sad regret. But at least he TRIED, and thus showed his belief in goodness.

Bruce B. writes:

“but they were amazed—and deflated—to see how perfectly the two data sets fit together.” Gosh, I wonder if they were “shocked?”

James W. writes:

A very worthy article. Yet at the end even the people who are on the right side of civilization are “puzzled” about what to do. It is as if the original hole punched in the hull of this ship of culture is ignored amidst the noise of all the water pumps and deisels working around the clock.

All that is necessary, and the single thing that is necessary to remove that hole, is to remove that first single-mother welfare check—and let Tocqueville’s “reciprocal influence of men upon each other” return. As it was in 1950, when two-parent black families were normal. But with far greater resourses available.

The state has now assumed the role of provider to enable its weakest citizens to have families without the experience of any learning curve. But then again, liberaliam itself has no learning curve, and is now powerful enough to permit none. We cannot even think of the obvious.

James M. writes from England:

You’ve beautifully summarized the motives of liberals: to demonstrate what good people the liberals are, not to do good for the liberals’ supposed objects of concern:

The person who says up front, “This is a bad idea, we shouldn’t do it,” is a conservative and reactionary and not a good person. The liberal and good person is he who TRIES, and then, after it doesn’t work out, hangs his head with sad regret. But at least he TRIED, and thus showed his belief in goodness.

It applies a fortiori to Zimbabwe, where “oppressed” blacks were rescued from racist whites and have ended up starved, tortured and genuinely oppressed by their “own” race.

LA replies:

Thank you. In fact, I got the idea from Mickey Kaus, in a phone conversation in 1989 which I describe in the fourth paragraph of this entry.

Rachael S. writes:

In conservative talk radio breaks there are public service announcements partly brought to us by the Ad Council (at least on the California radio station I am listening to). One of the ads is especially icky. A girl says to her mother “Thanks for taking me to work with you today, Mom. There are so many different kinds of people here!” And the mother says “Yes honey, because being different is good. It means different ways of seeing, thinking, etc.” and the girl responds: “So how come where we live, everybody looks like us?”

Here is the website for that ad:

If you rol lover the pictures you get a brainwashing caption to tell you how good diversity will be for you!

Laura W. writes:

Your point that liberals must try even if they make things worse is well-said. Years ago, when I was a goody-two-shoes liberal, I participated in the well-known Fresh Air summer program sponsored by the New York Times. The program brings urban children, mostly black and Hispanic, to the suburbs for a couple of weeks in pleasant surroundings. The idea of getting poor children out of the city in the dog days of summer is itself a good one, but the child who came to our home was only six years old and he cried inconsolably for his mother. (I had been told in passing by coordinators that the children’s reactions might include asthma attacks and bed-wetting.) As I tried unsuccessfully to comfort him, it occurred to me how phony and self-serving the whole thing was. I would never send my own child to a complete stranger’s house for two weeks and expect him to adjust. The point wasn’t whether the program created a wholesome experience for the beneficiary, but whether it made the benefactor feel as if she were trying.

Paul G. writes:

I read the whole article, and it’s thoroughly depressing. Not because of the problem itself (the spikes of violent crime that followed the transfer of the poor and criminal elements from the ghetto to outlying areas), but because of decision-makers’ reaction to it. The head of MHA’s response was particularly infuriating: “You’ve already marginalized people and told them they have to move out … Now you’re saying they moved somewhere else and created all these problems? That’s a really, really unfair assessment. You’re putting a big burden on people who have been too burdened already, and to me that’s, quote-unquote, criminal.” He never disputes the data; he says that the researchers are bad people. Presented with evidence that his most cherished beliefs, and part of his life’s work, may be wrong, his only response is ad hominem. I can sympathize, because I once thought as he did, but it still depresses me.

I went to graduate school in public policy, but halfway through I figured out that I no longer believed the core tenet that motivated me to work on policy in the first place: that the government is an appropriate or effective means to help people and make society better. (I ended up finishing my degree because I didn’t want to sink tens of thousands of dollars into something and leave with nothing to show for it but debt, but I’ve never worked in policy.) Studies like the one in this report are the kinds of things that forced me to change my mind. First there’s the assumption that no matter the problem, the state can fix it with enough money, or tinkering. Then there’s the deeper assumption that the problems that plague society aren’t inherent to the people themselves—aren’t a function of their own personalities or preferences and choices—but are all external to the perpetrators. These twin flawed assumptions joined with a third—that any effort to help people must be handled by, or at least related to, the state in order to be legitimate—to create this absolute mess that we have here.

People like me (the way I used to be, anyway), blinded by their ideology never appreciated how little we actually knew. It just made sense to them that this was true, because that’s what their theories said. The facts of thousands of years of human history—which indicated that people themselves, not their circumstances, were the main problems—were blithely waived away as racist, bigoted, outdated, or irrelevant. And yet, here comes human nature again, rearing its unchanged head. People mired in liberal assumptions have no way to deal with it, but it won’t go away. It’s as old as Cain and Abel. But liberals (and until a couple years ago, I was one myself) remain convinced that it can be changed. The problem with the remedy they use (government action) is that it affects everyone. They become like the proverbial general, moving pieces around on his map, blind to the reality that those pieces represent real people who will die because of his decisions. Except, instead of proven tactics and strategy guiding them, people like that MHA director have ideologies and untested theories. It all becomes a tragic farce.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at June 23, 2008 10:28 AM | Send

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