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Monday, June 09, 2003

We're the Feds and We Know Best

Back to my post from Frans about politics and immigration in Holland. Maynard has written-in with some (typically) interesting arguments. Aside from the fact that I don't buy expressions like 'human garbage' at all, I think there's something in the argument worth reflecting on. In particular since I am a little older than Maynard, and didn't grow up on Forrest Gump etc. But what I have noticed is how many of the educational programmes in the UK have not benefited the poorest and most disadvantaged children rather in the way the housing programmes in the US seem not to have done. I think part of the problem here is the model deployed.

The article on political change in Holland made me want to write something like this.Over the last few days I've been reading two books, one, The Builders, by Martin Mayer, published in 1978, a discussion of a variety of matters related to housing in America, and the other How we got Here, by David Frum, published in 2000 and a history of the 70's.

What is striking about these books (in particular Mayer's book, written without the benefit of hindsight) is the extent to which the attitudes of "liberal democrats" had indeed proved a failure in the eyes of most people. I get the impression that most bloggers are not old enough (certainly I'm not old enough) to have lived through the 60s and 70s as politically aware animals, and their knowledge of the times is based essentially on pop-culture --- songs, _Forrest Gump_, TV documentaries. But what is clear in Mayer's book is that there was a persistent pattern of government intervention in housing, based on an arrogance that the feds knew best, and that the results were disastrous, especially for the poorest and weakest of society.

So what's my point? That it does not make sense to simply bemoan the Republican ascendency in America without understanding why it occurred---that the things it vilified were at the time genuine problems. It WAS the case that the federal government tried to mismanage vast sectors of the economy, and did so unsuccessfully. It WAS the case that some environmental regulations made absolutely no sense from a cost-benefit standoff. It WAS the case that an obsession with civil rights led to human garbage being able to demand to live in any public housing (and plenty of non-public housing), followed soon thereafter by widespread crime, vandalism and a substantial degradation in the quality of life of the rest of the inhabitants (always poor, generally black, and, if they had a choice, quite willing to kick out the punks). It WAS the case that ludicrous union make-work rules led to things costing more (and sometimes being of lower quality) to the general detriment of all of society (including the poor). So voters, angry at what they saw, were happy to vote for someone who promised to change all this. Especially as the alternative candidates, for the most part, not only would not acknowledge the sins of the past, but actively promised more of the same. (None of this is to excuse the current Republicans. If some regulation is too much, an over-reaction to no regulation may not be an improvement. And few Americans voted for [and perhaps even understand yet that what they have is] a plutocracy propped up by media fiercely loyal to preserving the power and wealth of corporations and the few that control them.)

But the modern Republicans are not my point. My point is that, no matter what polite society may want to believe and may say on the genteel pages of the NY Times, the bulk of the population can (eventually) spot a disconnect between appearance and reality and there will be a reaction. I don't know why integration has been so tough in Europe. Maybe the locals are hostile to outsiders; maybe it's because the outsiders refuse to learn the local languages and ways; maybe it's because Islam really is incompatible with the secular society that Europeans want. I do know that Fortuyn was simply the first, not the last. That while the European elite continue to insist that integration is going just swimmingly and that Muslims are just like us only with funny hats, a wave of anger and resentment will continue to grow; and when it gets voted into power as it will, the over-reaction, and the hijacking of the program by those with less-publicly-mentionable ideas, will be, like has happened in the US, not pretty. These things build up slowly --- it took 32 years to get from the end of Johnson to GWB --- but they build up fairly unstoppably.

On the other hand the stuff on bureaucratic solutions to housing problems puts me in mind of a point Margy made in a chat last week. Bottom line, understanding how all this works, or doesn't work, seems to have some vital importance for all our futures.

margy_joy: sorry - still sleeping :)
margy_joy: Reading this Holland blogg..... I cannot understand!
margy_joy: So the problem we face here is not “backwardedness of the Islam” but backwardness of the macho-culture (that often goes with the Islam). This also contributes to the high “performance” of the Moroccan (and Antillean) young in crime.

margy_joy: Do you have a minute to tell you about the collapse of one experiment on integration here?
margy_joy: Ok - I'll try to make the long story short:
margy_joy: With urbanisation Romany people here had faced problem with changing their crafts and to enter new jobs
margy_joy: Pay attention - it is on networks! They startet to create ghetoes in big cities
margy_joy: illegal building, lack of infrastructure, isolation from society etc
margy_joy: So - the communists decided to solve the problem through deplacement
margy_joy: here was an ideya to have 1 roma family in one appartment building
margy_joy: yes - some families become more integrated in terms of language, life style, new strategies of prosperity etc
margy_joy: After the fall of comunism they were the first people to be unemployed
margy_joy: and guess what?
margy_joy: They started to sell their apartments and in mass they moved back to ghetoes
margy_joy: Why? because here the social networks kinship-based are the only social support nets
margy_joy: you will not die from hungryness if relatives are there. But all will suffer malnutrition.........

margy_joy: So - you will see - there is such a relation - the illegal emigrants are settling together and are meeting more often then the others
margy_joy: Yes - I did it here in 3 town ghetoes
margy_joy: that's why I am interested in networks.

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