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Sunday, January 04, 2015

One problem, two Floridians, three ways

A few days ago, in the wake of recent controversy over police shootings, Karl Denninger posted a piece on violence and fecklessness in the black community, for which he blames misguided welfare interventions:

"We have spent the entire time since Great Society providing incentives for this behavior and we've gotten a hell of a lot more of it. The blame for this is ours -- specifically yours and mine."

He advocates cutting benefits to make a subsidised layabout lifestyle less comfortable, and one can see a certain logic to it - this kind of argument is also aired in the UK not infrequently.

But six hours away from where Karl lives someone has tried a different approach:

Twenty years ago, the Orlando, Fla. neighborhood of Tangelo Park was a crime-infested place where people were afraid to walk down the street. The graduation rate at the local high school was 25 percent. Having amassed a fortune from his success in the hotel business, Rosen decided Tangelo Park needed some hospitality of its own.

“Hospitality really is appreciating a fellow human being,” Rosen told Gabe Gutierrez in a segment that aired on TODAY Wednesday. “I came to the realization that I really had to now say, ‘Thank you.’’’

Rosen, 73, began his philanthropic efforts by paying for day care for parents in Tangelo Park, a community of about 3,000 people. When those children reached high school, he created a scholarship program in which he offered to pay free tuition to Florida state colleges for any students in the neighborhood.

In the two decades since starting the programs, Rosen has donated nearly $10 million, and the results have been remarkable. The high school graduation rate is now nearly 100 percent, and some property values have quadrupled. The crime rate has been cut in half, according to a study by the University of Central Florida.

"We've given them hope,’’ Rosen said. “We've given these kids hope, and given the families hope. And hope is an amazing thing."

Not that day nurseries are always the answer. Today, Peter Hitchens - scarcely a left-winger - repeats his support for the right of women to stay home to raise their children:

"A significant number of homes – four per cent – lose money by having both parents at work. Many – ten per cent – gain nothing from this arrangement. Yet they still do it. Many more gain so little that it is barely worth the bother. The most amazing statistic of the past year (produced by insurance company Aviva) shows that thousands of mothers who go out to work are, in effect, working for nothing. The cost of day orphanages, travel and other work expenses cancels out everything they earn. Many more barely make a profit on the arrangement. One in four families has a parent who brings home less than £100 a month after all the costs of work have been met."

There's too much polarisation in politics. It seems that either the police are murderous racists or infallible heroes who must be supported no matter what they do; either we throw money at the poor or penny-pinch them into work, either we raise the minimum wage or abolish it (we discussed this with Don Boudreaux of George Mason University* a few years ago)... And of course, as Denninger observes, there is the politician making himself seemingly indispensable on either side.

Yet Harris Rosen doesn't fit the false dichotomies. What he did was an act of private charity, practical help instead of either blaming or faux-championing the poor. And it worked.

What a shame if politicians became redundant; if their catastrophic broad-brush solutions, infested by office boxwallahs and lawyers, were replaced by intelligently targeted initiatives; if we had a fair society instead of a Great one.

* A university supported by the somewhat controversial billionaire Koch Brothers.


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Sackerson said...

JD comments:

Harris Rosen:

What he is doing is very much in the Andrew Carnegie tradition 'if you die a millionaire, you die disgraced' or words to that effect. Pity more of the billionaires don't follow that dictum instead of their self indulgence and insatiable greed.
Can't find the link but I read the other day about a survey of 25 black NYPD officers, 10 retired and 15 still in service: all of them, when off duty in civvies, had been stopped and questioned by the police simply because they were black and more than one of them had had a gun pointed at them.

What Denninger and all the others conveniently forget is that this is a 300 year old simmering cauldron and it doesn't take much to make it boil over.

Racism seems to be a default setting among Americans: I recall watching Muhammed Ali on TV while I was working in Dubai (for an American company) and after he won his fight there was a loud comment from the back of the room - "Goddam n****r!"

Sackerson said...

In defence of my American family and friends, I have to say that this can't be taken as a touchstone of American attitudes generally, though there are certainly some out-and-out bigots still around.