After two full nights of presidential debates on CNN, Democrats still have no answers to the problems plaguing America’s most dangerous cities. They were happy to call President Trump a racist for correctly pointing out that Baltimore is in horrific shape, but they are woefully mute on what to do about it.
The Democratic Party’s silence on solutions for the nation’s most suffering cities is ironic given that the latest Democratic debate took place in Detroit, Michigan—according to one study, the second most dangerous city in America. It would have been an appropriate and excellent opportunity for Democrats to speak out on how they’ll restore safety, stability, and prosperity to places like Detroit.
Instead, both debates went by with no new proposals. For the few Americans who watched the debate, all they heard was more name-calling directed at President Trump.
The Democratic Party is fresh out of worthwhile ideas. Its candidates insist that if they only had more money all their failed policies would magically start to work. Yet decades of the Democratic stranglehold on the nation’s most needy cities have turned bad situations into catastrophes. There are, however, steps that can be taken to bring the worse-off of America’s cities back from despair.
1. Promote Marriage, Family, and Responsible Fatherhood
First and foremost, a culture of responsible fatherhood and committed marriage must become the norm if any change is going to take place in America’s most dangerous cities. Beginning with President Lyndon B. Johnson’s “Great Society,” welfare has essentially incentivized single-motherhood and encouraged out-of-wedlock births. This has devastated the black community in particular. As economist Thomas Sowell points out, “[in] 1960, 22 percent of black children were raised with only one parent, usually the mother. Thirty years later, two-thirds of black children were being raised without a father present.”
Cities like St. Louis and Memphis didn’t become hotbeds of crime and poverty overnight. It will take decades, if not generations, to fully repair the damage Democratic policies have caused their social fabric.
Recovery will begin once we act on our knowledge of the role marriage plays in staving off poverty. According to findings from the liberal Brookings Institute, if you wait until 21 to get married and have children, graduate high school, and get a job, you have only a 2 percent chance of being poor in America. Brookings found that for young people who follow that advice, 75 percent join the middle class and earn more than $55,000 a year.
In the most dangerous cities, we need men to start acting like men. Rather than join gangs for community and belonging, men should find in fatherhood the greatest calling of their lives. Fathers staying in the home and proudly helping raise their children to be virtuous young men and women will help end the despair afflicting America’s hurting cities far more than any top-down government policy ever could. The Brookings study also notes, “children in female-headed families are four or more times as likely as children from married-couple families to live in poverty.”
The needed cultural transformation will only come about from increased personal responsibility supported by houses of worship, local communities, friends, family, and private charities. It was government planners—however well-intentioned—who caused much of the mess in the first place. More attempts at government planning will set any recovery back twofold.
2. Greatly Expand Charter Schools and School Vouchers
One of the single greatest things that can be done for future generations of citizens living in America’s most dangerous cities is to take back the educational system from corrupt, public school teacher unions and inept bureaucrats.
Public education has been a complete failure in Baltimore and similarly dangerous cities. It’s clear at this point that more spending will not solve the problem. Only a fundamental paradigm shift will rescue the thousands of children tragically doomed to failure and trapped in a ruinous system.
Charter schools offer a way out. Increasing grants to charter schools and allowing competition and innovation to work in the education sector will allow a flourishing of untold possibilities.
It’s high time for more cities in peril to institute some form of Milton Friedman’s proposed school voucher system. Fifteen states currently have some form of voucher program. It’s a promising start, but nowhere near enough to put a dent in the system, and many existing voucher programs are limited and attempt to regulate private schools into being too much like the public system they would otherwise present an alternative to.
How would it work? Families could take some of what the government is already spending on their child’s education and put it towards private school tuition. For instance, Maryland spends an average of $15,848 per student annually. Under a voucher system, parents would have the option of taking that allocated money—all or a portion—and spending on a school of their choice or keeping their child in the public system for a larger rebate.
This would alleviate the tax burden on families who put their children’s education first. It would give parents greater control over their children’s future and put greater responsibility on all schools to raise their standards. Without vouchers, parents who scrimp and save to send their kids to a better school end up paying twice: first in taxes, second in private school tuition.
Right now, one of the barriers to improving public education is that it functions as a government monopoly. America’s most dangerous cities are precisely where voucher initiatives are needed the most. Unfortunately, they often find resistance from powerful public-school teacher unions.
Without a voucher system, it’s hard for the private schools that do manage to exist in hurting cities to keep their doors open when parents can easily take the “free” public route. Vouchers would force stagnant, inadequate public schools to adapt and innovate or be replaced with better charter or private alternatives.
3. Stabilize Communities With a Strong Police Presence
When leftists say poverty causes crime, they have it precisely backward. Crime causes poverty. Unstable, crime-ridden communities drive productive, entrepreneurial members of society away. Law-abiding citizens don’t want to live in communities with high amounts of theft, homicide, rape, or gang activity, so the moment they can afford it, they leave. Left behind are the criminals and ne’er-do-wells that caused the exodus to begin with. In turn, the situation worsens.
During the Freddie Gray riots of 2015, Baltimore mayor allowed vandals to riot saying, “We gave those who wished to destroy a space to do that.” This sort of approach cannot continue in any major city—let alone the most dangerous ones—if meaningful progress is to be made.
Small business owners need to know that police will help protect their stores from civil unrest, gang violence, and vandalism. Only when order is fully restored, and people respect their community and its surroundings, can economic activity grow and create the jobs needed to revitalize America’s broken cities.
A large, disciplined, and respected police force is needed to stabilize broken communities long enough for law-abiding citizens to feel it is safe enough to return. Constant outreach between police and those they serve is integral to any progress. Residents should know the name of the officers on their neighborhood beat on a first-name basis. Abusive police behavior should be addressed immediately. Both policemen and citizens should be happy to see each other. Building trusting relationships between police and the communities they protect takes time, but it is a worthwhile investment.
4. End All Rent Controls
Swedish economist Assar Lindbeck once remarked, “In many cases rent control appears to be the most efficient technique presently known to destroy a city—except for bombing.”
Indeed, along with minimum wage mandates, rent control and its associated “affordable housing” policies are prime examples of good intentions having disastrous consequences. Unlike the minimum wage, which functions as a “price floor,” rent control acts as a “price ceiling.” This distorts the true market price of a given apartment or condominium. Like all price controls, this leads to both shortages of rooms to rent as well as a decrease in quality.
As landlords of rent-controlled housing do not receive the real value for their investment, there is no incentive for them to maintain proper upkeep of their properties. The result is the horrific living conditions that one sees in Baltimore, Detroit, and similar cities.
Under rent-controlled housing provisions, everyone loses. Walter Bock points out, “Even with the best will in the world, the landlord sometimes cannot afford to pay his escalating fuel, labor, and materials bills … the incentive he had under free-market conditions to supply tenant services is severely reduced.”
Art Carden of the Mises Institute agrees:
Rent control also destroys landlords’ incentives to maintain the housing stock. With rent control in place, people are lined up for housing, and therefore, the landlord can discriminate on the basis of who will take the most meager accommodations. Eliminating a landlord’s ability to enjoy the return from investing in higher-quality housing means eliminating the landlord’s incentive to invest in basic upkeep.
Removing price controls will open the housing market in America’s most needy cities to the natural forces of supply and demand. Improved neighborhood safety as a result of more effective police presence will allow, in time, businesses and housing developers to create new subdivisions that city dwellers demand.
Just as no government entity had to force Walmart to sell products at cheap prices or McDonald’s to make affordable fast food, a truly free and open housing market will naturally be filled by those who see an opening. Only a free market ensures that houses will be built to the size and cost that citizens will bear.
5. Stop Electing Democrats
Ranking America’s most dangerous cities is an imperfect science, but Sauter, Frohlich, and Lodge’s study is one of the most holistic in its approach. It considered the latest FBI statistics on total violent crime, homicides, unemployment, and the poverty rate (USA Today released the complete list here).
According to their 2018 results, listed below are the top five most dangerous cities in America. Also noted is how long Democrats have controlled the city’s mayoral office and its respective congressional district.
Kansas City, Missouri (#5)—Democratic mayors for 28 years. MO-5 (D) for 70 years.
Memphis, Tennessee (#4)—Democratic mayors for 28 years. TN-9 (D) for 26 years.
Baltimore, Maryland (#3)—Democratic mayors for 52 years. MD-7 (D) for 66 years.
Detroit, Michigan (#2)—Democratic mayors for 57 years. MI-13 (D) for 70 years.
St. Louis, Missouri (#1)—Democratic mayors for 70 years. MO-1 (D) for 70 years.
As the old adage goes, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” So how will the plight of America’s most dangerous cities improve if citizens keep sending the same politicians of the same failed political party back into power? Experiments with Democratic rule in cities like St. Louis, Detroit, Baltimore, Memphis, and Kansas City have had decades to work. The results are in, and ruin lies in their wake.
Yes, it’s a tall order to ask Democrats to stop electing Democrats. The better solution would be for them to see the light and become Republicans. Stranger things have happened. After all, the most successful Republican president in history was once a Democrat.
The Republican Party needs to do everything it can to reach out to the communities that have been made worse by failed economic policies and government corruption. In return, the long-suffering people of America’s most broken cities should give the GOP and conservative, freedom-focused policies a chance. At this point, they have nothing left to lose.