Riots that started in London's Hackney neighborhood last week spread quickly across London and to other large British cities, as rioters saw policemen standing back as they looted and burned.
Meanwhile, in major American cities – Chicago, Philadelphia, Milwaukee -- a new phenomenon is surfacing – "flash mobs" of black teenagers, utilizing social media to organize (like the London rioters) – who suddenly appear to terrorize whites or loot stores. The Chicago police had to close the city's most crowded beach, on a holiday weekend, because they could not ensure the safety of bathers.
Max Hastings describes how British welfare policies have created a "layer of young people with no skills, education, values, or aspirations. They have no 'life', as we know it; they simply exist." In particular, they lack the most basic moral sentiment of empathy – for example, for the hardworking immigrant storeowners whose stores they scorched. "We want to show the rich people that we can do whatever we want," two young female rioters told a London reporter.
Theodore Darlrymple, who knows the British underclass well from his work as a prison psychiatrist, describes young people who have never tasted a morsel of food or worn a garment paid for by money earned. Six hundred thousand Britons 26 or under have never worked a day; 17% of youth are not in education, training, or employed. But dependence does not breed gratitude, only a sense of entitlement to more.
Both the anger and the lack of moral restraint of the mobs reflect the declining culture of big city ghettos. Though more intensive cop-on-the-beat policing has brought American inner city crime rates down in recent years, the result has been increasing numbers of young black men spending much of their teens and twenties behind bars. Apart from crime, those inner cities have degenerated considerably since the 1970s by almost every measure: unemployment, graduation rates, achievements on standardized tests, teenage pregnancies, drug use.
There will be no more Great Society programs to ameliorate the decline because the money is not there. The evidence is mounting, in any event, that the whole panoply of social welfare programs contributed to the social breakdown. Support for single mothers helped black men avoid responsibility for their children. Seventy per cent of black children today are born to single mothers. Welfare further broke the connection between effort and advancement that even the most menial entry level job.
And government has contributed to the high rates of black unemployment in other ways as well. In the last decade, New York City, Chicago, and Los Angeles have shed 700,000 jobs between them, leaving an ever higher percentage of inner city populations dependent on government welfare to survive. The progressive impulse for a more orderly, non-polluting, bureaucratic society, requiring licenses and permits for everything, explains Walter Mead Russell, has resulted in fewer and fewer of the metal shops and small businesses that formerly employed poorly educated immigrants and blacks – admittedly in noisy, unpleasant conditions and at low wages, but at least providing first rung jobs towards future advancement.
Black economist Walter Williams points out that at the turn of the twentieth century unemployment for blacks was of shorter duration than for whites. Black unemployment rates were lower until 1930, when a federal minimum wage was first enacted, destroying in the process many of the lower paying jobs blacks had filled. The Davis-Bacon Act, which required the union rate to be paid on all federal construction projects, further disadvantaged blacks, who were denied access to many unions.
The social disintegration of the ghettos is not just the legacy of slavery. The "yobs" in England are as likely to be white as black. The Harlem in which Thomas Sowell, another prominent black economist, was raised and the Philadelphia ghetto in which his close friend Williams grew up were far closer in time to slavery. Yet they were far safer and cleaner than those neighborhoods today. When Williams drove a cab, he used to sleep between shifts in his cab, something that would be suicidal today. Black children were far more likely to be raised in stable, two-parent families. And there were jobs for black teenagers who wanted to work.
The average black child born today starts so far behind that nothing within the power of a non-totalitarian state, unwilling to claim each child as belonging to it at birth, can compensate. As Mead puts it, "All the social workers in the world can't [provide] a nine-year old child who has never seen a healthy family . . . with the kind of psychological balance and strength children get from growing up in a loving and stable home."
Nothing less than moral regeneration – not more social programs – can save the ghettos. But who will repair the impact of being born to a teenage, crack-addicted mother. Decades of government Head Start programs for pre-schoolers have shown little impact. By then, it's already too late.
No one understands better than Torah Jews that the hardest changes to make are those that must come from within. And that is precisely what makes the downward spiral of inner city neighborhoods so terrifying.
"Everybody wants social justice, but no one wants to help Mom with the dishes," writes University of Haifa economics professor Steven Plaut of Israel's current social protests. I suppose he is saying that left-wing politics do not a better person make. Indeed they often serve as a salve for a guilty conscience: Witness President Obama's 2008 fundraising triumphs among rapacious Wall Street executives. The great thing about bumper stickers like, "Save the whales" or "Justice for Palestine" is that they proclaim one's moral grandeur, without demanding anything of the owner of the car.
Many years ago, my Dad, a"h, taught me this lesson. During my senior year in high school, I organized a large fundraising campaign for starving Biafrans (the proceeds of which I promptly gave away to a con woman from the South Side of Chicago.) One Sunday during that campaign, I mentioned to my father that I had been late for a class at our synagogue that morning. He was pouring batter into the waffle iron at the time, and without even looking up, he said, "You are so busy saving the world, but you can't show someone the common courtesy of getting to his class on time."
For the first (and probably last time in my life), I was furious with my father, and I ran out of the house, not to return for many hours. It did not take me long, however, to recognize that my fury came from the fact that my father was absolutely right. I was a very self-righteous teen – in my high school graduation speech, I lambasted my classmates for their lack of social consciousness – but not given to doing the dishes without being asked or particular about not keeping others waiting.
My father's offhand comment had stripped me bare, and no one likes to stand exposed, especially in front of oneself.
The lesson that there is no necessary overlap between a particular political position and being a good person has been reinforced, at least in my mind, by empirical studies showing that residents of conservative Red states give a far greater percentage of their income to charity and are more likely to volunteer their time than residents of Blue states. For the latter, voting for ever higher taxes substitutes for reaching into one's pocket and directly giving to someone in need. The redistributive welfare state tends to break down social bonds and feelings of mutual responsibility by delegating to the government what neighbors once did for those less fortunate.
Meanwhile, Israel's "social justice" protestors combine the worst of "old Israel" with the worst of the "new Israel." They seek a return to the statist economy of the early days of the state, when the Histadrut labor federation was the largest employer, but without any of the willingness to engage in bone-crunching labor and live in extreme simplicity – with shoes worn for years, clothes patched with the burlap from bags of sugar, etc. – of those days.
Has anyone ever done more damage to a cause he claimed to support than Anders Behring Breivik, the Norwegian mass murderer? He discredited every right-wing European party that has made Muslim immigration an electoral issue. And he handed all those who claim that the real threat to the continent is from Islamophobia, not from Muslims, with Exhibit "A" for their case.
It occurs to me that there is a bit of Breivik in all of us. Not Breivik the mass murderer, chas ve'shalom, but the Breivik who chose a course of action almost tailor-made to bring about the exact opposite result of what he sought.
Breivik, I assume, is nuts, and I doubt we will ever understand the demons that caused him to act as he did. But how many times do we profess to seek a particular result and then proceed to act in way more likely to have the opposite result.
We decide that a particular loved one must make certain changes for his or her own good – or, more selfishly, for our own. But we give little thought to how to facilitate those changes. Sometimes our need to be right or our anger at the supposed beneficiary of our attention causes us to lose sight of the goal entirely. We let our impatience or our ego distract us from the goal, and end up only encouraging a hostile response. Other times our insistence on perfection and refusal to praise incremental changes along the desired path deprives us of our most powerful tool of positive reinforcement.
Perhaps Breivik can at least serve as a powerful reminder of the necessity of matching means to ends.