After Baltimore, II: A Wonk’s Notes

Rockwell_1958_The-RunawayNow those responsible for the death of Freddie Gray have been charged, but all is still far from right with the world. The process could easily drag out for a good while and culminate unsatisfactorily. The local liberal-Democratic political establishment has changed the story for the time being, but what should be expected of them?

I can recite chapter and verse the story of the hollowing out of U.S. manufacturing, and the flight of good jobs and middle class incomes from the ghetto. Addressing this is a long-term project about which more below.

The more urgent priority is law enforcement applied to police forces. This means civilian-police review boards with subpoena power, backed by special prosecutors. I would not put it down to tanks or training. Police know when they’re doing it wrong. That’s why they don’t want people filming them. We could also support the idea of police being drawn from the neighborhoods in which they work.

The other curb on police abuse is a free press and a free citizenry. There should be no restrictions on the press going where they like to cover citizens who are free to assemble and monitor police.

Because a crisis stemming from police brutality is a terrible thing to waste, I would also take the opportunity to talk about decriminalization of drugs and plans to transition a good part of the prison population back to their communities.

When it comes to economics, the landscape shifts more to the state and national levels. Cities bereft of taxable resources aren’t in much of a position to heal themselves. The practice of offering tax breaks to business firms to locate anywhere in particular has been shown to be a huge waste of money. This also goes for sports stadium boondoggles, recognized by both left and right. A partial exception is that local land value taxation is a neglected municipal revenue source.

The dilemma when it comes to investment in broken areas is that some state governments might do it but others will not. Maryland is a good candidate for activism in this area, since its wealthy suburbs could afford more taxes. Other states dominated by retrograde politics will abstain. The Federal government is also stalemated in this respect by the Republican Congress. So in general the chatter about programs is blocked by the political consensus against such policies. If I knew how to fix the politics, you would have heard about it. The best I can do is support independent organizing, as noted in the previous post.

My attitude about the manufacturing story is a little jaundiced. There was no manufacturing renaissance in the late 90s, when wages and employment advanced by historic rates. That leads me to suspect it’s more about the Federal Reserve’s monetary policy and the Federal government’s budget.

Of course more manufacturing would be welcome. When I started working at the Economic Policy Institute in 1990, one of my portfolios was industrial policy. We gave it up because, frankly, nobody gave a shit about it. Some time ago, Herbert Stein wrote that people talk about industrial policy during recessions, then forget about it after the downturn has passed. If you think it’s important, it’s still a long-term project. Much simpler as a technical matter is to get the Federal government financing all manner of infrastructure repair and expansion. Get serious about high-speed rail, the national power grid, renewable energy sources, universal pre-K.

One stray thought about housing. I would not start with housing, something tried before in Baltimore. I would start with employment (see infrastructure, above). When people have incomes they will create demand for decent housing, and they can do some fixing up themselves. People aren’t children.



After Baltimore, II: A Wonk’s Notes — 3 Comments

  1. Actually we have a very strong industrial policy role from government.

    Unfortunately, most know of it as tax policy.

  2. I can explain what is needed to fix the politics. We need a movement analogous to the civil rights movement and probably the best central issue at this time would be the importance to our Nation of providing better opportunities for disadvantaged children. Given the right leadership, millions could become excited about a movement along these lines. We’d undoubtedly need different tactics than those used during the civil rights movement, but these could be developed.

  3. Steve,

    I’ve long thought that the only way that we will be able to address the poverty problem in the U.S. is through some new form of social activism. Your idea that the central issue should be disadvantaged children is interesting. Even wingnuts would have a hard time painting them as deserving of their plight as they do with adults mired in poverty. Do you have any thoughts on how a campaign similar to the civil rights movement with children as the focus could be developed?

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