May 1, 2015


Of the Hundreds of Solutions to Baltimore's Woes, Just One Can Work (DAVID DAYEN, 5/01/15, The Fiscal Times)

We're seeing the pundit's fallacy play out in earnest in the case of Baltimore, where protests in response to Freddie Gray's death in police custody have played out all week. What Baltimore needs is school vouchers and charter schools, says Rudy Giuliani. Or it needs stronger father figures, argues Rand Paul. Or it needs conservative leaders in power, which was Rich Lowry's suggestion. The fact that these line up perfectly with the views of these figures when they only thought of Baltimore as a place to get good crab cakes is purely coincidental.

This isn't limited to one side of the political spectrum either. I could write a compelling column that the lack of economic opportunity and dwindling public investment in the inner city causes residents to lose hope, and that good-paying jobs would solve a lot of Baltimore's ills. I could blame corporate flight, first to "right-to-work" states in the South and then outsourced abroad, which narrows opportunities for low- and middle-skill residents to join the middle class. I could call for a living wage for service-sector jobs to pull Baltimoreans out of poverty. I could argue, as Sara Mead did, that early childhood education in communities of color would give Baltimore's kids a better chance to close the achievement gap.

I could say that the situation cries out for tighter restrictions on financial fraud, since foreclosures hollowed out Baltimore and lenders discriminated against its residents. I could even get esoteric and claim that Baltimore has been failed by the lack of filled vacancies on the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, whose monetary policy has failed to hit their inflation target for three years, leading to sluggish economic growth that trickles down to make at-risk communities more vulnerable.

Not a single one of these theories relates to the actual touchstone for the civil disorder: the severing of the spine of a black man while under arrest. But there, too, there are plenty of "the solution happens to be the one I've always promoted" options, from ending the war on drugs and tough-on-crime lockup policies to removing burdens on cops who must deal with class divides and grinding poverty.

I feel I would be lying if I wrote a column highlighting a silver bullet to alleviate the woes of a downtrodden urban American city. Everyone believes their pet theory can have an impact on people's lives, and they assuredly can at a macro level. But that doesn't make them instantly applicable to the specifics of one place, and one group of people, and how they interact with one police department.

Posted by at May 1, 2015 6:50 PM

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