Since the mid-1960s the federal government has tried to eliminate the black underclass. These are the folk who rarely work, and survive thanks to welfare. They are prone to criminality, illegitimacy, mayhem, drug addiction, and illiteracy, among countless other intractable pathologies. We are not speaking of African Americans generally, but perhaps the bottom 20 percent of all native-born blacks, though some would put this figure higher.
The cost to society of this underclass far exceeds the billions spent on futile remediation, though that is bad enough. Its presence makes countless cities (and now even suburbs) virtually unlivable for millions of whites and blacks. And matters seemingly grow worse as cities such as Philadelphia and New Orleans edge toward becoming the next East Saint Louis or Detroit.
So, given that every conventional, expensive intervention over the last half century has failed—perhaps even exacerbated matters—what’s Plan B? Let us begin by recognizing that a successful Plan B must have three characteristics. First, black leaders must accept it, so anything that smacks of “racism” or reduces material benefits is DOA. Second, the plan must be cheaper than present futile efforts but without requiring riot-generating cold turkey. Finally, it must be politically feasible (even for skinflint Republicans), consistent with mainstream political values, and be possible to implement relatively quickly.
Believe it or not, Plan B exists. In brief, Congress needs to pass an updated version of P.L. 103-66, which President Clinton signed into law on August 10th, 1993. This act, popularly known as the Empowerment Act of 1993, set up a ten-year trial for urban and rural “Empowerment Zones” that would (supposedly) reduce poverty by attracting businesses to underclass areas via tax breaks, tax-exempt bond financing, accelerated property depreciation, loan guarantees, and social services. Needless to say, everything failed. Atlanta, for example, squandered millions concocting fantasy plans for hi-tech industrial parks. Few employers took the bait, and the chief beneficiaries were bureaucrats and community organizers who were supposed to be transforming the underclass into decent employees.
Our Plan B uses this rhetoric only as window dressing. It is impossible to eliminate the underclass but its impact can be mitigated by concentrating it. So, instead of dozens of cities troubled by a disorderly underclass, let us relocate it to just a handful of cities. Let flash mobs attack each other. Concentration reduces administrative overhead while cutting crime and mayhem in those places the underclass leaves behind. The trick is to persuade millions of people to move. How could that be done?
Under the “2012 Urban Relocation and Development Act,” Washington would buy up vacant houses in just a few already underclass-dominated cities and give them away to anyone willing to put sweat equity into them—in effect, free housing. Washington would pay the local real estate tax and moving expenses, and offer a weekly cash bonus to help these newly minted “urban pioneers” adjust to their new environment. There would be low-interest loans for housing rehabilitation, and local workers would get a strong preference for the construction jobs. Churches and other community organizations would, for a fee, administer the work, but the checks themselves would be government issued to minimize stealing. Unskilled locals would be trained at government expense and receive a “training wage.”
Cities such as Detroit and East Saint Louis, which we would expect to be included in the Urban Relocation and Development Act, would be revitalized by newly arrived, cash-flush residents. Vast tracts of now desolate urban American would be rebuilt, or would at least have lots of activity that resembled a construction boom. Abandoned schools would be fixed up and hold classes again, closed stores would re-open, and the city payroll would explode.
Financially this program would be a wash, since no new funding would be required. Money now spent in, say, San Francisco, would be spent in Detroit instead.
It is important to note that there is nothing about this program that is “racial,” though I’d predict that nearly all transplants would be black. Who else would want to move to Camden, NJ? Moreover, and again not explicitly, nearly all the government-created jobs would go to African Americans; city residence could be a job requirement. The act would also be an electoral windfall for would-be black office holders since population increase means more political fiefdoms and administrative appointments. Democrats would be happy to have more Democratic elected officials, and Republicans would quietly relish the idea of shifting blacks out of their districts to ensure Republican (white) majorities. The days of municipal cut-backs would be over. After all, Newark cannot be turned around on a starvation, short-handed municipal budget. An especially nice feature of the act is that it fits well with the proclivity of African Americans to re-locate to wherever government benefits are greatest.
Will the act reduce the size of the black underclass? No—schools will still overflow with gangs and drug dealing, and crime will remain as high as ever. This is not about manufacturing a black middle class. But sacrificing a few cities that are already disaster zones would reduce the underclass presence in other areas, and this alone justifies the cost. Cities losing their black underclass would benefit handsomely in reduced education and policing costs, and improved quality of life.
To be sure, further concentrating the black lower class may exacerbate certain pathologies. However, the problems that result from this migration would be problems for underclass blacks and their leaders, not for decent whites and blacks who want to escape the mayhem.