Thought of the Day : “Lessons from Baltimore”

By Sydney M. Williams   The most visible teaching moment […]

By Sydney M. Williams

Image by © Dreamstime


The most visible teaching moment from Baltimore was the unrehearsed scene of a mother chasing after her son whom she had seen on television throwing rocks at police. It was important because it manifested the hurt and determination of a mother for a son whom she loved and who was at risk of destroying his life. She was not angry at the Baltimore police. She did not look upon herself as a victim. She understood right from wrong: that no matter the provocation, it was wrong for her son to cover his face and throw rocks at the cops.


The immediate source of the riots, as we all know, was the death of Freddie Gray while in police custody. But the violence that followed had little to do with reasons suggested by the media and those like Al Sharpton: Black youth alienation, police violence toward African-American teens, poverty, White racism and economic inequality. Those are real and/or perceived consequences, not antecedents to the root causes that divide a nation by race, wealth and social status.

The genesis of the problem that led to recent racial riots is, in my opinion, obvious, simple and fundamental; yet remains unaddressed. It is as though a politically correct society has deliberately conspired to ensure the continuation of an inner-city underclass. There are four principal causes: dysfunctional families, an education system that has failed inner-city youths, municipal tax and regulatory policies that discourage private investment in inner cities and thus the creation of jobs, and fourth, the politics of division which compartmentalizes constituents into easy-to-reach groups. The unintended consequence of the latter is to keep us segregated.

Out-of-wedlock births have soared in the past few decades, especially among Blacks and particularly among those with a high school degree or less. Fifty years ago, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, then a labor department official, released an alarming report, which noted that 25% of Black children were born to unwed mothers. Today, that number is over 72%, and shows no sign of diminishing. Innumerable studies have shown a link between children raised in single-parent households and poverty. Without assigning blame for the reasons, we can all agree that it is a cultural issue – that parenthood takes commitment and personal responsibility, traits key to individual success. Nuclear families should be encouraged, not maligned.

It is not just in Baltimore that our public education system has been failing; it is in most urban areas. A report commissioned by America’s Promise Alliance, entitled “Closing the Graduation Gap,” showed that the graduation rate in the country’s fifty largest cities was 53%, compared to 71% in the suburbs. In that report, Baltimore had the second largest gap – 41% in cities and 81% in their suburbs. More recent studies have shown that the graduation rate in Baltimore has risen to 56% – still dismal. Apart from a loving family, there is nothing more important than education in helping our youth become productive members of their communities. Too many public schools fail in this regard. They fight competition from non-unionized charter schools and voucher programs. Even President Obama, who should know better, failed to support the voucher program in Washington, D.C. that had given hope and opportunity to thousands of poor and minority students in that city. As unions seek to increase memberships, the ranks of administrators and non-teaching staff have exploded, raising costs, but not helping students. And too many who do graduate, do so illiterate and innumerate. A good education is requisite for a good job. It is not money that is needed in public schools; it is a total cultural transformation.

Maryland, with its proximity to Washington and its federal bureaucracies, is the richest state in the nation, with a median household income of $73,500. In contrast, Baltimore, which is 63% Black, has a median household income 44% lower – $41,400. Black youth unemployment in Baltimore (ages 20-24) is 37% versus 10% for Whites. In 1960, Baltimore was wealthy and was the 6th largest city in the U.S., with a population of 939,000. With a population of 622,000, it now ranks 26th and is poor. Like its sister cities, Detroit and Newark, Baltimore is a one-Party city that never recovered from the well-intentioned but ill-fated effects of the Great Society, or from riots of the 1960s. As they did last month in Baltimore, rioters destroy places that employ their neighbors. More than a third of businesses in Baltimore are Black-owned. The ownership of private property is fundamental to our system. When it is perceived that property will not be protected, owners tend to move out. The concept of “broken windows” policing, which holds that if a neighborhood is maintained crime rates decline, is under pressure under our new anti-police environment. Jobs are dependent on a government that uses its taxing authority to encourage businesses and a police force that affords protection. Without police protection, there are no businesses. Without businesses, there are no jobs. Without jobs, there is no hope.

The fourth cause has been the insidious political practice of dividing the electorate. It is especially common among those on the Left who would rather appeal to emotions and special interests than deal with ideas. It is done so that politicians can more easily address the peculiar needs of specific constituencies; the consequences have exacerbated natural differences – Black from White, rich from poor, women from men, young from old, traditional values from modern mores and liberal from conservative. Government’s slicing and dicing has created “pluribus” out of “unum.”

Political correctness and the misguided, sanctimonious nature of liberal elitists are the nemeses of racial and political harmony. Dependency has replaced personal responsibility. In a desire to be inoffensive, we have given up having school children salute the flag and repeat the Pledge of Allegiance. The Lord’s Prayer, Christmas and Easter celebrations are banned for fear of offending atheists or those of other religions. Through social and popular media, we celebrate those who live lives of purposeless immorality. Morals sink to the lowest common denominator. We express compassion for transgenders, and no matter which way the Court decides, we are generally tolerant and welcoming of gays who want to marry. While we don’t overtly condemn heterosexual marriage, it takes a back seat in the pantheon of our “inclusive” culture.

Raising a child requires loving and caring parents. Obviously, that cannot always be the case, but we should acknowledge its importance and it should become a goal toward which we strive. It also takes an education system where the focus is the student. It takes a city that is willing to lure businesses back, for the jobs they create and the dynamism they bring. But we must keep in mind, people are not the samel. We are individuals with differing capabilities and aspirations. Outcomes will never be equal. But the opportunity to succeed should be given equally to all children. The current system has failed too many, especially in inner cities like Baltimore where despair has replaced hope. Love your child, strengthen traditional families, and let government open the doors to competition in public schools. Those are the lessons from Baltimore.


The Opinions expressed above are mine alone, and do not represent those of the firm Monness, Crespi, Hardt & Co., Inc., or of any of its partners or employees.



The views expressed on austriancenter.com are not necessarily those of the Austrian Economics Center.

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