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April 30th 2015 print

Peter Smith

The Welfare State’s Burning Question

Baltimore is in flames after yet another black man died in police custody. The facts remain foggy, but the specific details are, in many ways, beside the point. What matters is the future of a society where welfare dissolves families, thuggish ignorance is celebrated and rioting is the first reaction

baltimore burnsThe riot by young black men and schoolkids after Freddie Gray died in Baltimore is becoming par for the course in the United States. White men killed by the police (and there are more in absolute numbers) does not cause a stir. It has been assumed that the police were responsible for Gray’s spine and neck injuries which caused his death. However, the evidence is starting to become murky.

Gray has a long rap sheet and was running from police for a mile before he was caught and dragged into a police van. Could he have injured himself during the chase? A fellow prisoner in the van has been reported by The Washington Post as saying that he heard (couldn’t see) Gray attempting self harm by banging himself against the side of the van. Whatever the facts of the case turn out to be, they are incidental. The riots and the rioters have become the story.

Out has come the usual soul-searching about the malaise of black inter-city ghetto communities. President Obama made his usual mindless contribution. Apart from again getting ahead of the investigation and implying some blame on the part of the police, he said this: “What can we do to change those communities, to help lift up those communities and give those kids opportunity?”  Indeed! What can we do? Not, you will notice, what they should do to change their own feckless, fatherless, welfare-dependent lifestyles.

I saw a brief TV debate between a conservative commentator (Tucker Carlson) and a lefty (Alan Colmes) after President Obama had made his fatuous comments. The conservative referred to the well-meaning efforts and money that had been thrown at the problem for fifty years. Anyone, he said, who said that they knew the answer was a demagogue. The lefty knew the answer. Massive amounts of money should be spent in inner-city communities to create jobs and infrastructure.

Meanwhile, the mother (see the video below) of one of the hooded rioters received general acclaim by dragging her 16-year-old son away from a melee, giving him numbers of smacks across his head. Good for her. But she is the mother of six children, of numbers of fathers, none of whom are about. It has been suggested that she should be named ‘mom of the year’. She looks like a good woman but she is part of the problem.

Most black children are now born out of wedlock. Wedlock, and its corollary of men accepting financial responsibility for their own children and bringing them up with good values, has become unfashionable in black inner-city communities. Therefore the state has to build infrastructure?

Is Carlson Tucker exactly right? He said that no-one knew the answer. Maybe it’s worse than that. Maybe there is no answer.

Lyndon Johnson and his Great Society — read the welfare state – probably bears a lot of responsibility for destroying the traditional family, and the values it passes from generation to generation, by making it possible for single motherhood to be a tenable lifestyle choice. But even if that is right, what can be done? The welfare state cannot be rolled back. Too many people have become dependent on it. We are stuck with it everywhere in the West.

For the left, of course, even more government is the answer. President Obama would like to double the nationwide minimum wage. And if, as a result, more young black people are kept out of work? Well, then, the state will have to build even more infrastructure?

The mayor of Baltimore – incidentally, for those who think progressivism is the answer, a black woman Democratic in a longstanding Democratic city in a long-standing Democratic state — has been accused of instructing the police to stand down in the face of the mob burning and looting. But whatever she did or didn’t do, these days police are intimidated into giving way to mobs for fear of being caught acting aggressively on those ubiquitous cameras.

What exactly are police allowed to do when hundreds of people are throwing half-bricks and bottles at them while their thuggish mates are burning and looting? When fire-fighters are under attack and their hoses are being spiked?  I, for one, have no idea.

There is an unwritten social contract between the police and the populace. It isn’t, if it ever was, that ‘we will only shoot you if you throw bricks at us’. It is that we won’t shoot you and you won’t throw bricks at us. If there is any regular or persistent abrogation of that contract then peace gives way to lawlessness.

What is clear is that legitimate businesses desert areas of lawlessness. Therefore the state will have to build still more infrastructure to make up for the loss of employment. Business-less inner-city ghettos will overflow with infrastructure together with fatherless young black men and children. Let’s hope the infrastructure is fireproof.

Peter Smith, a frequent Quadrant Online contributor, is the author of Bad Economics