Anthony Downs on race and urbanism, that was then this is now

It always surprises me that the name of Anthony Downs is not mentioned more often in conjunction with the Nobel Prize in economics.  His An Economic Theory of Democracy is one of the best and most important books on public choice economics, and it is the major source for the median voter theorem. Yet now a new paperback copy of the book is not to be had for less than $100.  Downs also had major contributions to transportation economics (traffic expands to fill capacity) and housing and urban economics and the theory of bureaucracy.

Yesterday I learned that Downs was a major White House consultant on race and urban affairs in 1967, working with James Tobin and Kermit Gordon and other luminaries on the National Commission on Urban Problems.  What they produced fed into what was described as “The Most Courageous Government Report in the Last Decade,” namely the Kerner Commission report.  Here are some details:

1. Downs did much of the work of the commission and much of the actual writing, including of the Kerner Report, including the section on housing policy and the ghetto.

2. He was very concerned with “white flight” and thought a more radical approach to urban poverty was needed.  He thought Great Society programs had not been tried on a large enough scale.

3. In the view of Downs, major progress already had been made, but he worried that aspirations were rising faster than living standards.

4. He spelt out a “status quo approach,” a “ghetto-improvement strategy,” and a “dispersal strategy” based on integration.  He considered the latter the most ambitious and perhaps the most unikely.  He focused on outlining these alternatives, and their benefits and costs, rather than recommending any one of them.

5. Among the specific proposals considered were a Neighborhood Youth Corps, increasing the minimum wage, job training, public service programs, and a federally enforced fair employment-practices bill.  The draft also encouraged policymakers to think about educational vouchers, decentralizing urban school systems, and educational innovation.  There were arguments as to whether teachers’ unions should be held at fault and weakened.

It is striking how little these debates have progressed since more than fifty years ago.

p.s. Many on the right were critical of the report.

This is all from Steven M. Gillon, Separate and Unequal: The Kerner Commission and the Unraveling of American Liberalism.

Comments

What the Great Society needed was more law enforcement. Millions of people were white-flighted out of the cities by the cops retreating to the donut shop in the face of liberals in power deciding that they were the real bad guys. Our culture has memoryholed the huge increase in crime that wrecked our cities from about 1964 onward, which is why the Establishment was quick to do the same self-destructive things again after Ferguson, which led to a 20% increase in murder victims in the 50 biggest cities from 2014 to 2016.

Law and order really is a good thing, as New Yorkers have rediscovered over the last quarter of a century.

The cops must have been doing something - the USA has the second highest per capita incarceration rate in the world (behind the Seychelles) according to wikipedia.

But the incarceration lagged the crime wave. It was part of a response to the 60s, which still took until the 90s to stop the increase. (Not just policing of course -- living 20 miles out & driving everywhere also cuts down your chance of being mugged.)

Incarceration usually does follow not precede the crime itself: we are not in the world of "Minority Report"

the USA has the second highest per capita incarceration rate in the world (behind the Seychelles) according to wikipedia.

Who gives a rip. You police the population you have, not the population Luxembourg has.

The population hasn’t always been this prone to criminality. Somewhat prone, but things like the rise in illegitimacy haven’t helped.

And yet they say we need more of the ' Great Society ' programs.

Before the Communist Party of America decided the ACLU was a good idea as an effective Front group, American policing was a little more robust. Much of the rest of the world still is.

Civil Rights come with a Death Toll. We might think that is worthwhile, but there is no denying it.

You've confounded the ACLU with the National Lawyers' Guild.

"American policing was a little more robust. Much of the rest of the world still is."

I don't know. My country's police don't carry guns on them, some carry them in their cars.

American police use military grade weaponry.

American police aren't soft or lax.

They're so scared of getting hurt (while in the service of the public) that they go around murdering everyone and their dogs for good measure with military weaponry while wearing body armor and throwing around flash grenades and riding in tanks. If they can't do that and actually have to do some police work in the community, they don't want to.

If you are British I should point out that the last time I was at Piccadilly station, there were policemen wearing military-style bullet proof vests and carrying MP-5 submachine guns wandering around.

I felt so safe.

More Cops leads to> less crime, leads to> less incarceration.
https://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2006/07/more_police_les.html

What Prof. Cowen is telling us is that the academic more responsible than any other for perpetrating a social disaster is properly a candidate for a Nobel Prize.

James Q Wilson and a colleague were in 1966 doing research in Boston which incorporated interviews at City Hall and house to house interviews. He discovered that the intersection between City Hall priorities and the public's priorities approached nil. The City Hall officialdom talked about 'poverty', the public about crime. What Daniel Patrick Moynihan speculated was true: the Great Society reflected the aspirations not of the impecunious or of the broad mass of Americans, but of social policy mavens.

It is an old idea, you do not need much if have tranquility.

Proverbs 17:1 Better a dry crust with peace and quiet than a house full of feasting, with strife.

http://un-thought.blogspot.com/2017/06/what-are-best-things-we-could-do-for.html

The poorest county in the USA has low crime and its children do well in school. https://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/21/nyregion/kiryas-joel-a-village-with-the-numbers-not-the-image-of-the-poorest-place.html?mtrref=www.bing.com&gwh=9559F92980DD81C21E217590EC548045&gwt=pay

Kiryas Joel is a village, not a county. Orange County, NY is a moderately affluent county. Kiryas Joel is notable for being filled to the brim with Hasidic Jews who have large families.

Kiryas Joel is a village, not a county. Orange County, NY is a moderately affluent county. Kiryas Joel is notable for being filled to the brim with Hasidic Jews who have large families.

Sure but it is evidence that money is not the main problem in bad neighborhoods/parts of the country.

My impression is that the Obama admins policy to prohibit enforcement of traditional school behavior norms, especially those that don’t match a racial quota for discipline events, has/will result in a similar degradation of the school environment.

I’d be interested in your take on that.

He'll ignore the issue, criticize Obama's critics, or offer an ambiguous post which points to some other economist's clever thought experiment.

Explain that one to me. There are 13,506 school districts. By what path does a President micromanage them all?

He doesn't . The Office for Civil Rights sends threatening letters to local school districts who defer to the instructions in the letters for various reasons. Deference won't be uniform, but it will be sufficient in salient districts to induce trouble.

Mumbo jumbo.

And one that ignores the nature of school boards. They all have dominant coalitions in place. They politics pretty much matching their communities. All 13,000 of them.

OK, lie to yourself. No skin off my nose.

https://www.city-journal.org/html/undisciplined-13485.html

My dad worked discipline in inner city schools. These were the dinner table stories of my youth.

Kids are kids. The individuals matter. And the differences between rambunctiousness, misbehavior, and criminality have been there since forever.

Every working administrator understood this before and after this memo.

My mother worked in the inner city teaching ESL, so these were our conversations as well. A friend of hers was put in the hospital by a middle school child. In their performance reviews, they were encouraged to not report issues. If the issues are not reports, there are no metrics. If there are no metrics, there are no issues. Unfortunately, the disruptive children make it much more difficult for the other children to learn and develop.
Oh, children with a strong teacher where they know that will not get away with disruptive behavior are far less likely to be disruptive. Children are smart enough to know when they can get away with causing trouble.
The teachers know that are a lot of bad ideas floating around, which they do not have control over. Kind of like when I was working for Bank of America, and BofA bought Countrywide.

Obama's long gone and MAGA is here, so this problem is solved now?

My quick and dirty estimate in early January 2018 was that homicides in the 50 biggest cities declined 2% in 2017. So it's not exactly Mission Accomplished but it could be worse as well.

That's good news! Chicago had a new even-more-than-usual spate of murders recently so that might mess up the stats for 2018:

http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/breaking/ct-met-chicago-weekend-violence-20180507-story.html

Carrot and stick, just like other Federal policies.

Millions of dollars in grants to districts (like Broward County, home of the Parkland shooter) that adopt the policy, and Dear Collegue letters with implicit threats of lawsuits, etc. for those who fail to comply.

Word gets around, school district compliance lawyers get involved. You know how this works.

I know exactly how this works. or every play there is a counter play. School boards and high-level school administrators have been through political wars all their careers. No one is going to set their hair on fire.

Obviously you do NOT know how it works

Actually I do, and I know the better stories, the real ones, are about calcification and inability to change.

Not some b.s. "Obama is running our schools."

Then you should have no problem explaining how you know how every one of 13,000 school districts works, instead of making up straw men.

Basically you have to be a complete outsider to think any memo from the top "changes everything."

I agree to some extent but not only more law enforcement but better, more fair and sure law enforcement. We owe it to our black (and white) citizens. They are being robbed assaulted too much.

And I think it would help to legalize all drugs and prostitution.

Proverbs 17:1 Better a dry crust with peace and quiet than a house full of feasting, with strife.

http://un-thought.blogspot.com/2017/06/what-are-best-things-we-could-do-for.html

How did Einstein define insanity?

If we won't redefine the problem and so consider different solutions we shouldn't expect anything to change.

His An Economic Theory of Democracy is one of the best and most important books on public choice economics

This sounds a great book. The problem is that I find it hard to reconcile with the report that he wrote.

2. He was very concerned with “white flight” and thought a more radical approach to urban poverty was needed. He thought Great Society programs had not been tried on a large enough scale.

White Flight was inevitable given the tolerance of Black communities for crime. Especially crime against people from outside their own communities. Nothing has changed. But how can anyone who has written on Public Choice theory support even more spending on the Great Society? How do you reconcile the idea that the politicians and bureaucrats are self-interested economic actors with the idea that trillions have not produced the desired outcome and so trillions more is needed?

3. In the view of Downs, major progress already had been made, but he worried that aspirations were rising faster than living standards.

So ... as public choice theory suggests some politicians promise a lot to get elected thus raising expectations. Which basic public choice theory will tell us they will deal with by blaming the racism of their opponents - so much cheaper than doing anything.

4. He spelt out a “status quo approach,” a “ghetto-improvement strategy,” and a “dispersal strategy” based on integration. He considered the latter the most ambitious and perhaps the most unikely.

And yet dispersal seems to be the policy of the moment. Even though it should mean assimilation of Black communities. Indeed education policy seems to have hit the nadir of despair where the bureaucrats say the only thing that could work is keeping Black children away from other Black children so they will assimilate White norms.

5. Among the specific proposals considered were a Neighborhood Youth Corps, increasing the minimum wage, job training, public service programs, and a federally enforced fair employment-practices bill.

Or in other words lots of money from Republicans to buy Democrat votes. Anyone with a passing interest in public choice theory should be able to see that as long as Blacks vote en block for the Democrats, the Democrats have no incentive to give them a damn thing. If your vote bank is solid, why bother buying it? The suburbs get all that money. And the bureaucrats.

Maybe ethnic cleansing of the cities was needed to produce a new median voter.

Societies, and neighborhoods, can have tenacious steady states.

But one constant is that people born into happy ones think it is easy, because they didn't have to do nothing.

Can they? Short of government action, do they? The problem in America is that everyone wants to live next to White people and no one wants to live next to Black people. So there is a movement of Blacks who can afford it away from poor Black areas and towards more expensive White areas. Which triggers White flight once enough Blacks do it. Pretty soon the expensive White area is a poor Black area and the Black Middle Class lost their property investment.

Red-lining did stabilize this. Harlem used to be White, then it became Black - and then the Feds froze it that way. Now they have unfrozen it and soon it will be White (and Asian) again.

Absent of government action I would think the nature of neighborhoods in America is to churn. Constant movement.

I am saying nothing is sadder than someone born in a safe country, or safe zip code, complaining that unsafe people should just do better.

You'd have better standing if you were born in a bad place, and did succeed in making it good.

Lots of the things are sadder than that.

Current Venezuela. The Great Leap Forward. Cambodian killing fields. Katyn Forest. It’s a long list.

Those are great examples of how steady states can flip from good to worse. They are reasons civil society should be protected. Not burned, split, factured.

Because once flipped they are not easily mended. If an identical you were born in Venezuela, what chance would you have of making it great? Slim to none.

You know, some racist a-hole said yesterday that maybe Mexico's problems were in the soil, not their genes.

That's what I'm taking about. An inability to distinguish gifts from birthright.

Worst comment of the year. Totally ignores the point you responded to, which pointed out the inanity of your previous comment, went off on a rant where you blame the "other side" for a problem caused by your own political allies, accuse another commenter of being racist, an example of the very thing you argued against the sentence before that, and finished with a nonsensical word salad crypto-Straussian nightmare of a sentence that is uninterpretable.

I'm wondering why that Medium article was chosen for the link as The Kerner Report. It seems to be a conspiracy theory, citing several other articles to suggest that the US government carried out a secret war against african-americans and cities, focusing on the "dispersal strategy" part of the report (combining it with the Interstate Highway System).

Tyler is a straussian, so his links are very intentional.

"It is striking how little these debates have progressed since more than fifty years ago." Could that be because honest attempts to discuss the underlying causes of the problems are censored?

So was this guy in favor of giving Jeff forte a million dollars? Some of these great society programs were intentionally evil, not stupid.

"The press has too long basked in a white world looking out of it, if at all, with white men's eyes and white perspective."

Progress is rarely given, it must be taken by force. Force in this instance is higher educational attainment, increased buying power, and coordination with adjacent groups, not barbaric revolution.

And they deride that as 'acting white'.

What is this, a flashback to 1970's sitcoms?

Or throughout the 2000's.

How do you forcibly take higher educational attainment? Tell the teacher than unless you get an A you will beat her to a pulp?

Increased buying power? Well it has worked for Jessie Jackson. Not worked so well for young Black men who spontaneously try that on their own.

Coordination with adjacent groups? You mean keeping the Hispanics on side?

I wonder how much white flight was racism and how much it was opportunity. As blacks have gained wealth, they have also moved to the suburbs. Maybe the suburbs are just a more attractive lifestyle and people will pay for it if they can afford it.

Or, at least, everyone wants to get away from the inner-city schools once they have kids. Young people seem happy to spend a few years living downtown these days, though.

Ideologues from the Ed. Schools and the public interest bar ruined the schools.

Blacks by 1970 amounted to about 13% of the population of urban settlements outside the Southern United States. Northward migration (between 1940 and 1970) and natural increase would have expanded the propensity of blacks to occupy urban territory. Given the low base of the black population in northern cities in 1940, one might expect a trebling of the black population over 30 years to displace about 10% of the original white population (or 6-7% of the concluding white population).

When my mother was an adolescent in Washington, the dense settlement of the whole has a population of about 1.2 million, with around 800,000 in the district; 250,000 in tract development in northern Virginia; and about 150,000 in tract development in Montgomery and Prince George's Counties in Maryland. In the intervening years, the population of the District fell by 1/3 and the population of the tract development increased by 9-fold. In my hometown, tract development outside city limits increased from roughly 50,000 in 1930 to 320,000 in 1980 even as the population of the core city declined by 1/3. Adding 40,000 blacks to the city's population isn't going to account for housing construction which accommodates 6 or 7x that number of people.

Some people have rude caste attitudes, but mostly people move because of anxiety or because of nuisances they have to put up with in one locus that they do not have to put up with in another. Sometimes, they are more than nuisances (see Mr. Sailer's account of his father-in-law's decision to move the family out of the Austin neighborhood in Chicago). For the most part, though, space is a superior good (at least up to a point).

There were a host of reasons for whites to leave central cities: crime, racial polarization, corruption, tax burdens, education, economic opportunities, assimilation (descendants of immigrants leaving ethnic enclaves), traffic, noise, green-space, freeways and increased automobile ownership, aspirations to be a homeowner rather than a renter. The decline of urban manufacturing (the old model of a multi-story urban factory surrounded by worker housing being replaced by new, single-level, green-field factories in the countryside with enormous parking lots for worker's cars). The process was really over-determined -- it's difficult to know which were the most important factors.

Good point, like most major events and changes there's not just one simple reason for it. As in the Great Recession.

No, it was crime. Some of us saw it happen in our own neighborhoods. After the riots, businesses fled the area so fast they left skid marks. Apartment buildings were abandoned by landlords because the new tenants simply stopped paying rent.
All of this is being forgotten in the name a more nuanced understanding of the issues. But it was crime that killed the cities.
Never forget.

Agreed. Nice try Slocum and friends.

"There were a host of reasons for whites to leave central cities: crime, racial polarization, corruption, tax burdens, education, economic opportunities, assimilation (descendants of immigrants leaving ethnic enclaves), traffic, noise, green-space, freeways and increased automobile ownership, aspirations to be a homeowner rather than a renter."

It would seem like an interesting topic to study quantitatively.

Without a doubt, you can pull up papers by geographers and planning-school faculty on the subject.

Conclusion: top-down command/control planning and programs don't work. It's same with Marxism (Why is this capitalized?): next time they'll get it right.

So, let's double down!

It's capitalized because Marx was an actual person, and we capitalize proper names. Surprised you didn't know this.

The real question is why do some people capitalize 'white' and 'black', not when referring to Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black (who was white) or KC Royals player Frank White (who is black)?

Thanks. (It was a rhetorical question.)

Nobel prizes are often given for one or two good ideas, not necessarily a lifetime of work. Identifying the median voter as a model to better think about political dynamics was interesting and important. That he also promoted policy ideas on the left side of that voter has nothing to do with the original insight.

Of course, white flight has become white return. Some things never change ("the poor you will always have with you"), but some do, such as the location of the poor. Who would have thought that the ghetto would re-locate to the burbs. How would the Kerner Report have differed if the object were to move the poor to the burbs? Cowen: "He spelt out a “status quo approach,” a “ghetto-improvement strategy,” and a “dispersal strategy” based on integration. He considered the latter the most ambitious and perhaps the most unikely." Turns out the "dispersal strategy" actually came to pass naturally (i.e., via markets) not pursuant to any government policy.

Broken Windows, the banning of Red Lining and Section 8. Blacks are moving to the suburbs because of government policy. Not "naturally".

The reference to markets was to urban markets (gentrification). Also, my comment is about the location of the poor, not blacks.

Yes. I understood you. Your posts are not particularly complex. There would be no gentrification if the police had not made some parts of the inner city safer by locking a significant percentage of the young Black male population up. Broken Windows. Nor would it have taken place if the Feds hadn't insisted on ending Red-lining. Allowing young Gays to borrow money to buy really fabulous housing in places like Brooklyn. Nor would it have taken place if the Feds were not moving poor Blacks out to the suburbs through Section 8 housing.

Every single one of these policies has made the center of the city safer for young White and Asian couples. So they are moving in and either Blacks are being re-housed by the state or they are being bought out.

About 1/3 of the black population lives outside zones of concentrated settlement in core cities. About 14% of the black population receives some kind of federal housing subsidy. About 2/3 receive Section 8 housing vouchers or 'project based' Section 8 subsidies, accounting for < 10% of the black population. Section 8 doesn't account for deconcentrated urban settlement among blacks (or black residence in small towns and rural areas).

About 40+% of the black population receives housing subsidies.

I worked at The First National Bank of Chicago when Tony was head of Real Estate Research Corp, a company that his father built and sold to the bank. Once A. Robert Abboud, one of the worst bosses in America according to Fortune, sent me to Tony to tell him something that Abboud did not want to do himself. Tony was very pleasant to the kid messenger and proceeded NOT to follow Abboud's order. He left the bank sometime after (early 1970s I think) and went to Brookings.

Mr. Mullaney - I heard plenty about this and other Chicago shenanigans in my youth and later. (I'm Anthony Downs' son.) My grandfather, James Downs, was a close friend of the first mayor Daley. Both he and my father somehow avoided inhaling the native racism so common in Chicago. They spearheaded the integration of the Commercial Club, the city's leading business club. Crossing paths with Abboud was not my father's only transgression - he also led the effort to re-asses the city ( I believe in the early 70s) during which he uncovered the fact that the mayor's neighborhood was assessed at a small fraction of comparable neighborhoods and also enjoyed three trash pickups each week. The mayor was furious and demanded that my father resign. He refused, but was on the black list ever after.
One can criticize my father as a starry eyed liberal - he was and still is- but he is an honest man. Tyler: thanks for your notes on his work. AEOD was my father's thesis at Stanford. He later wrote "Inside Bureaucracy", based on his experiences in the Navy. During his years at Brookings he pivoted to real estate policy, and never lost his flair for the unpopular idea. I remember him telling me about congestion pricing as a cure for traffic sometime in the 90s. Apparently he'd been on a radio program in New York City explaining his idea, and a caller had bashed his theories saying that she would never be able to figure out how to conform to a time-based congestion pricing scheme. HIs response, as he told me: "If it cost you a hundred bucks to drive downtown, you'd figure it out."

Best regards to all of you. Love or hate my father's theories, remember that they are the work of a person. Please be civil in your criticism.

The report "suggested that one main cause of urban violence was white racism and suggested that white America bore much of the responsibility for black rioting and rebellion. It called to create new jobs, construct new housing, and put a stop to de facto segregation in order to wipe out the destructive ghetto environment."

Hmm. In other news

In a certain US subculture the most important thing is to deny past and present reality.

What subculture would that be?

I do have to admit that if I saw a bunch of black people carrying stuff out of my neighbors' house (they are not black) I would be curious. Considering they were all women, I probably would have just chatted them up, but it's not insane to me to call the police.

One thing I find strange about the recent spate of black people having the police called on them is that they make it sounds like it's outrageous that the police were called, when in fact that is exactly what you can expect when you are asked to leave a private place and you refuse. I get questioning the person who asked them to leave, but why would you question the police? That really bothers me because it suggests that the police might not come to help you remove someone trespassing on your property.

That's totally bogus. 'Urban violence' has two causes: a contextually small population of young men who constitute an on-the-shelf-riot-in-reserve and police who stand down and allow destruction and looting to occur. You don't want riots, bring in force and make the law palpable.

Urban violence is caused by large concentrations of young black men with low intelligence and very little impulse-control. Do you really believe that white suburbs are less violent because police are clamping down on restive soccer moms and dads getting too drunk at their barbecue grills?

The report "suggested that one main cause of urban violence was white racism"

Well that explains why in Detroit the crime level dropped so steadily as all the white racists moved out. Now that the city has almost no white population to speak of (down from 1.5 million at its peak to only about 50 thousand now), violent crime is little but a fading memory.

The report "suggested that one main cause of urban violence was white racism

He just said "one main cause" but if he said "the main cause" , would it be good to keep whites out majority black neighborhoods? And advance black only businesses? Thereby making it more difficult for whites to oppress blacks?

A sad example of the internal contradictions of the American system.

I love that the natural response to racism, in MR comments, is to complain about black people.

That includes the "problem" that a black president would be concerned about civil rights.

Obama himself wasn't demonstrably concerned with much of anything. However, he in office allowed the vectors at work in the Democratic Party to find their natural resultant. And the natural resultant is to threaten school districts with consequences if their principals and deans enforce impartial disciplinary standards. Doesn't have much to do with 'civil rights' but does have a great deal to do with the notion that black hoodlums are some sort of knightly class and it's an act of presumption for peasants in the school administrator trade to punish them.

Wow you are bagging a mountain of straw men today. Congratulations, sir. You selected some tough opponents, you should be proud.

"Doesn't have much to do with 'civil rights' but does have a great deal to do with the notion that black hoodlums are some sort of knightly class and it's an act of presumption for peasants in the school administrator trade to punish them."

References?

Didn't think so.

Poor baby.

Sorry, are you saying there is something wrong with poor babies?

Sorry.

Meant to respond to Art Deco. Poor baby was meant to refer to him, Art Deco.

Hope this clears it up.

It seems classist to go around using "poor baby" as a pejorative

There has been progress, but only to a point.
White people have actually become comfortable being the tolerant hosts to ethnic minorities, but are deeply unsettled at the prospect of becoming the tolerated minority themselves.

are deeply unsettled at the prospect of becoming the tolerated minority themselves.

Because, you know, working-class whites just have that coming to them.

White people will not become a "tolerated minority" for the foreseeable future. They will remain a plurality, if not a numerical majority, and the support of a major fraction of them will remain key to accomplishing anything politically: they will continue to hold the bulk of the power.

White people will not become a "tolerated minority" for the foreseeable future.

Nonwhites will be a majority in the Sunbelt in one generation. So in the southern half of the US, the future has already been born. New England, the Midwest, and the Pacific Northwest may retain majority-white status a little longer.

But politically there is no real demographic called "non-whites", just diverse groups of people who can be shoehorned onto that category if you a purely binary scheme, which no one ever has when dealing with race. There are rather several numerically smaller population groups none of whom will become a majority or even a plurality, and some of whom may well be coopted into "white". Moreover white people themselves are very far from being monolithic in their voting behavior

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