Your editor is transfixed with the riots in Baltimore, which are evolving into a much more complex conversation about race, poverty and rage than the discussion in Ferguson. Part of the issue is that unlike the Missouri community, Baltimore has a "majority minority police force," and significant African American political representation as Stephen Deets discusses in the Washington Post. President Obama had this to say at a press conference in Japan, as MotherJones reports:
[W]ithout making any excuses for criminal activities that take place in these communities, we also know if you have impoverished communities that have been stripped away of opportunity, where children are born into abject poverty, they've got parents, often because of substance abuse problems or incarceration or lack of education, and themselves can't do right by their kids, if it's more likely that those kids end up in jail or dead than that they go to college, and communities where there are no fathers who can provide guidance to young men, communities where there’s no investment, and manufacturing's been stripped away, and drugs have flooded the community and the drug industry ends up being the primary employer for a lot of folks, in those environments, if we think that we're just going to send the police to do the dirty work of containing the problems that arise there without, as a nation, and as a society saying what can we do to change those communities to help lift up those communities and give those kids opportunity, then we're not going to solve this problem...
Over at the Economic Policy Institute, Richard Rothstien reports on the historic role segregation plays:
As I described in the Making of Ferguson, the federal government maintained a policy of segregation in public housing nationwide for decades...Baltimore, not at all uniquely, has experienced a century of public policy designed, consciously so, to segregate and impoverish its black population. A legacy of these policies is the rioting we have seen in Baltimore.
Similarly the Washington Post's Emily Badger looks at the redlining in Baltimore. Check out this map:
Researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University's Center on Society and Health have found that Baltimore neighborhoods that were redlined in the 1930s still have lower rates of homeownership and college attainment and higher rates of poverty and segregation today — as well as worse health outcomes.
Over at the Guardian, Hannah Giorgis makes a number of connections between racism and poverty:
Though the black unemployment rate is consistently double that of whites, many black Americans are among the expanding ranks of the nation’s working poor, often working two or three low-wage jobs but still unable to consistently afford rapidly rising cost of living expenses (most notably, rent). Black workers must also contend with a job industry informed by the same racist beliefs that seep into other facets of American life. Across sectors, black workers experience myriad forms of race-based discrimination in the work place –from being fired over complaints that there are “too many” of them, to not being considered for positions because their names are “too ghetto”, to being bombarded with a series of harmful microaggressions on the job that both reduce morale and inhibit professional progress...
Meanwhile in the Daily Beast, the Manhattan Institute's John McWhorter argues that these issues are more complex than they seem and we shouldn't make "excuses for riots and looting" because they help no one. Over at the National Review Online, Michael Tanner blames "big government's" poverty programs, which he argues have not improved the city:
[T]he riots are counterproductive, destroying the very businesses and other resources needed to rebuild troubled communities. Businesses are not going to flock to inner-city Baltimore after this week’s mayhem. Taxes are not going to go down. Yet, it is hard to look at the results of decades of big-government failure and not understand the frustration and hopelessness of those victimized by such policies. Once order is restored in Baltimore, there will be time to take stock. We can expect to hear the usual chorus about neglected neighborhoods and the need for government jobs programs or additional social spending. Instead, we should take to heart President Obama’s admonition that “When what you’re doing doesn’t work for 50 years, it’s time to try something new.”
The Imprisonment of Hope
Now this week's cartoon:
Part of the issue in Baltimore and elsewhere in the nation is the link between policing, crime and how it affects who is poor. In New York City, the debate over policing continues. NYC police Commissioner William Bratton defended the utility of the "broken windows" policy in this report. Meanwhile a New York Times editorial blasts the city's summoning system as broken and overly punitive:
The Police Department issued 359,000 summonses last year. Just a little more than one-fourth of them led to convictions, suggesting that many were issued without legitimate cause. Even so, people who fail to appear in court have warrants issued for their arrests, which puts them at risk of being arrested, fingerprinted and taken to jail, where they could spend days waiting to go before a judge. In essence, the warrant turns a nuisance offense that might have been dismissed into a serious problem. The summons court system currently has about 1.2 million open warrants of this nature.
As we have noted in the past even the fining system is punitive to people, a problem Finland solves by using a progressive ticketing system, reports the NYT: the more money you make the more you must fork over. In the Philadelphia Tribune, Benjamin Chavis Jr. argues it is time for the United States to end mass incarceration:
Mass incarceration in the United States is counterproductive and disproportionately causes a long-term injury to Black Americans and others who remain trapped in poverty and disillusionment. How is it that the richest nation on Earth and the most technologically advanced society now has the largest prison population in the world? Michelle Alexander’s brilliant best-selling book, “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness”, provides a classic analysis of the twin problems of race and injustice. Alexander revealed how the so-called criminal justice system reinforces racial discrimination and bigotry aimed particularly against Black Americans and other people of color. Whether it is an “old” or “new” Jim Crow, the impact of decades of massive unjust imprisonment on the Black American community continues to be devastating.
Presidential hopefuls Hillary Clinton and Rand Paul have both added some form of criminal justice reform to their platforms. And the Washington Post has this story about the private prison lobby and notes its concern of what any easing of the status quo might do to their bottom line:
This outlook runs counter to what should be a rehabilitative mission of the nation’s criminal justice system. Instead, private prison contracts often require the government to keep the correctional facilities and immigration detention centers full, forcing communities to continuously funnel people into the prison system, even if actual crime rates are falling. Nearly two-thirds of private prison contracts mandate that state and local governments maintain a certain occupancy rate – usually 90 percent – or require taxpayers to pay for empty beds.
You may also be interested in this Smithsonian Magazine piece about Bryan Stevenson, the winner of the Smithsonian American Ingenuity Award in social justice, for his crusade to help death row inmates and incarcerated minors.
This American Dream's for You
In the New York Times, professors Michael W. Kraus and A. David Nussbaum discuss how Americans cling to the brittle narrative of the American Dream:
Recently, studies by two independent research teams (each led by an author of this article) found that Americans across the economic spectrum did indeed severely misjudge the amount of upward mobility in society. The data also confirmed the psychological utility of this mistake: Overestimating upward mobility was self-serving for rich and poor people alike. For those who saw themselves as rich and successful, it helped justify their wealth. For the poor, it provided hope for a brighter economic future....Some Americans were better than others when it came to judging economic mobility. Across both sets of studies, political liberals were less likely to overestimate upward mobility relative to conservatives — a finding consistent with other research suggesting that conservatives see our society as more merit-based than do liberals.
The rhetoric over whether companies like Uber will make the sky fall seems to be morphing into a more hopeful look at what a worker-empowered sharing economy might look like--namely worker collectives, reports Mike Konczal and Bryce Covert over at the Nation:
Given that the workers already own all the capital in the form of their cars, why aren’t they collecting all the profits? Worker cooperatives are difficult to start when there’s massive capital needed up front, or when it’s necessary to coordinate a lot of different types of workers. But, as we’ve already shown, that’s not the case with Uber. In fact, if any set of companies deserves to have its rentiers euthanized, it’s those of the “sharing economy,” in which management relies heavily on the individual ownership of capital, providing only coordination and branding.
In Yes Magazine, Mary Hansen looks at an attempt by cabbies in Denver to start a unionized worker cooperative:
[W]ith the support of the CWA, Gebremariam and 644 other drivers made a $500 commitment each to bond and insure their new cooperative. Instead of fighting for recognition as employees of a company owned by faraway shareholders, they are attempting to build and own their own company.
Meanwhile, in the Medium Lauren Smiley looks at the way in which the sharing economy is changing the way we live and increasingly fail to interact and why such an economy is "tailor-made for the new polarized extremes" of inequality. "After all, either you’re behind the door, receiving your dinner in the tower. Or you’re like the food delivery guy..." Also in Yes!, we have this story about farmer's markets in Michigan that allow people using food stamps to purchase double the amount of fresh produce they can purchase for up to $20. But sadly meanwhile in Wisconsin a bill has been introduced to require food stamps to be used a majority for "nutritional foods" and would ban the purchase of shell fish, which some lawmakers consider a luxury item. Over at the Center for American Progress, Sarah Edelman, Michela Zonta, and Julia Gordon look at whether a lease-to-own model can still work for home ownership.
And finally your editor has this philanthropy story from Jake Hayeman who writes on why he thinks foundations are not fit for purpose:
I’ve spent 10 years working in the charity sector and my conclusion is that the organisations that finance it are so bad at their jobs, that they make the rest of us bad at ours. I’ve been working for too long with people trying to achieve great things for the world and watching them degrade themselves at the feet of foundations whose structures turn brilliant thinkers into fundraisers and who reduce a highly complex world into amateur box-ticking. I’m done... We need a new model for funding charities that is better than Victorian style philanthropy excused by reductionist, unbenchmarked and often corrupted ‘impact assessments’. I know it’s possible because there are some brilliant grant-makers out there – people who have transformed society with funding because they were brave, educated, understood the communities they wished to serve and were prepared to take responsibility and risks. Because they cared enough not to let great potential fail.
Meanwhile the Manhattan Institute's Howard Husock discusses why he thinks donor advised funds are "a boon to philanthropy":
[C]ritics overlook the fact that undisbursed DAF funds grow over time and that increased capital can be used only for one thing: charitable giving. Just for that reason, they are an ideal source of countercyclical philanthropy: When incomes decline, DAF disbursements can buffer organizations that rely on charitable giving. Indeed, if DAF donations had not continued at pre — financial crisis levels in 2008, overall U.S. charitable giving would have declined even more during the height of the Great Recession.