Sunday, July 02, 2006

Please sir, can I have some more?

Mitch Pearlstein, the intellectually-weighty center of the Center of the American Experiment, thinks he knows what is wrong with low-income families. Are you ready for this, boys and girls? We’re too easy on them! In a piece called Social programs did harm by making fathers less needed, Pearlstein makes the breathtaking claim that we can lay violence and incivility at the feet of social programs for the disadvantaged. Because the Star Tribune will take this sucker down in a few weeks, Spot will reprint it in its entirety so that it can stand as a monument to Pearlstein’s ignorance for as long as Blogger will put up with Spotty. Spot has more comments below Pearlstein’s piece:
Last Sunday's Star Tribune had another superb editorial in its series of pieces on crime, disorder and vulgarity in Minneapolis. Just inches away, Lori Sturdevant's column discussed an ad placed in the paper by Growth & Justice, a very good "progressive" think tank, which contended that Minnesota is undertaxed, and that if income taxes were raised we'd all be better off.

Among those who read the two pieces, many surely concluded that if taxes were raised, Minneapolis streets indeed would grow safer and more civil. Let me suggest a different link.

There's never any one root cause of any intricate problem. But evidence is compelling that the largest reason for the radical increase in crime over the last 40 years has been radical changes in family life. The numbers are numbing. For example, the nation's out-of-wedlock birth rate in 1960 was about 5 percent. It's now in the vicinity of 33 percent, with the figure reaching 80 percent and more in inner cities. The United States may have the highest divorce rate in the industrial world.

What do data and trends like these have to do with taxes?

Scores of welfare, housing, health care and related programs regularly help people in need. They're often lifelines, and when they are, I applaud them. Yet inescapably, many of these same programs, which have grown gigantically in quantity and reach in 40 years, simultaneously have weakened families by making marriage -- and more to the point, husbands -- less financially essential for bringing children into this world. This, in turn, has led to major increases in crime, as many more boys and girls have been forced to grow up without the guidance, discipline and love best provided by mothers and fathers living together and parenting as a team.

When it comes to social welfare programs of various kinds, Minnesota is unusually generous -- often to the point, in fact, of encouraging troubled people from less generous states to relocate here. Question: Is it possible, at least partially, that uncommonly persistent crime problems in Minneapolis are an unintended consequence of such comparatively well-funded, tax-supported programs?

Another question: Might the same family-eroding dynamics propelling crime also have something to do with achievement and graduation gaps between minority and majority students in Minneapolis that are among the highest in the nation -- even though per-student spending in Minneapolis public schools, at more than $13,000 annually, is already higher than most any other place in the country?

This is not an-across-the-board argument for government never spending more money. I see no escape, for example, from spending more on law enforcement in Minneapolis. I also see no escape from expanding mental health programs for young people seriously damaged by breakdowns all around them. And when it comes to more straightforward issues like transportation, the need for improvements is obvious.

How difficult is it for government to align incentives and disincentives so that intact, two-parent families are encouraged rather than discouraged? Even attempts to enrich early childhood programs -- a goal that just about every Minnesota leader has come to equate as an unqualified good -- undoubtedly will further embolden some people to believe that "quality" educational programs for 3- and 4-year-olds can substitute for the benefits of marriage.

If we've learned anything over the last two generations, it's that "programs" can't substitute nearly well enough for traditional and practiced ways of raising boys and girls, no matter how well-endowed such programs may be.

Mitch Pearlstein is founder and president of the Center of the American Experiment in Minneapolis.

Spotty says if you follow Pearlstein’s logic to its natural extension, the breakup of the family began with the advent of agriculture. The he-men became less necessary to go out and kill a beast for dinner, and it’s been downhill ever since! Good ol’ Mitch wants to bring back some of that Social Darwinist hunter gatherer spirit. Just imagine it, boys and girls! Even more destitute mothers raising even more feral children! Let’s let some of them starve; that’ll bring the dads back! And it will do wonders for a stroll down the Nicollet Mall in just a few years.

Funny thing, though, the decadent western European countries with the most indulgent social service systems – at least that’s what guys like Mitch always claim – don’t have the highest rates of divorce. According to, here are the countries with the highest divorce rates:

Country - Divorces per 1,000 inhabitants per year
1 Maldives 10.97
2 Belarus 4.63
3 United States 4.34
4 Cuba 3.72
5 Estonia 3.65
6 Panama 3.61
7 Puerto Rico 3.61
8 Ukraine 3.56
9 Russia 3.42
10 Antigua and Barbuda 3.40

That’s strange, isn’t it Mitch? At least we beat Cuba.

And the “unusually generous” welfare programs in Minnesota? Well, the principal one for families, dubiously named the Minnesota Family Investment Program or MFIP, has a cash grant maximum for a family of four of $621 per month, a figure which has not changed since 1985. Minn. Stat. sec. 256J.24, Subd. 5. Think back to when Ronald Reagan was king.

For the most part, the law prevents all those welfare queens from getting a bigger cash grant if they have another child while on the MFIP program. Minn. Stat. sec. 256J.24, Subd. 6. Generally, the maximum amount of time a family can receive MFIP is 60 months. Minn. Stat. sec. 256J.42, Subd. 1.

And you know, welfare shoppers, that there is a thirty-day waiting period and Minnesota residence requirement for new MFIP applicants. Minn. Stat. sec. 256J.12, Subds. 1a, 2. Spot hasn’t even talked about the work requirements.

Are there single moms moving their families out of places like Chicago and Gary, Indiana? Of course. Are they coming so they can live a life of luxury on the welfare rolls? Mitch thinks so. But Mitch is just a foolish parrot of the ideological right.

If you want to play the blame game for crumbling families and increasing inner-city school costs, Spotty says that you can point to the assault on the working and middle classes that began with the ascendance of hyenas like Mitch Pearlstein and think tanks like the Center of the American Experiment.


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