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Shocker: Costly Social Engineering Program Fails to Work

Walter Russell Mead

Amazingly, liberal good intentions translated into legislation and policy don’t always produce the intended results. In yet another example of one of the most widespread phenomena in American politics, a multi-billion dollar program aimed at reducing residential segregation may actually be consolidating it. The New York Times reports:

A review of federal data … found that in the United States’ biggest metropolitan areas, low-income housing projects that use federal tax credits—the nation’s biggest source of funding for affordable housing—are disproportionately built in majority nonwhite communities.

What this means, fair-housing advocates say, is that the government is essentially helping to maintain entrenched racial divides, even though federal law requires government agencies to promote integration.

This will likely not dent the self-esteem of our brilliant social engineers, who will remain sure that they are wiser and more virtuous than all the unenlightened who second-guess their efforts. Obviously, larger and more expensive programs with more restrictions and regulations are needed, they will conclude.

Minority communities and low-income Americans have many problems today. Some are the result of historical injustices whose consequences continue to ripple throughout our own time. Some are the result of medical problems and disabilities. Some result from family tragedies. Some are the result of personal choices.

But a surprisingly large number are either caused by or substantially exacerbated by the consequences of well-intentioned government action: urban renewal projects that have destroyed livable communities, public housing projects that have created dysfunctional crime factories, living wage laws that drive low-skill jobs to the suburbs, sanctuary city policies that attract unskilled illegal immigrants to compete for jobs at the low end of the labor market, rent-control policies that reduce new housing construction, zoning and environmental regulations that make it impossible to build businesses that could hire low skill people where they live, the war on retailers like Walmart that provide cheap goods to people who need them most, pro-public sector union policies that drive up the cost of vital city and community services while entrenching “jobs for life” bureaucrats regardless of poor performance. Increasingly, the cost of retiree pensions is diminishing the amount of money available for badly needed public services in American cities and states.

None of this dents the serene confidence of true blue believers in the power of the old-fashioned bureaucratic state. Until it does, we will continue to waste billions of dollars on poorly conceived programs that exacerbate the problems they are intended to address, or whose side effects make poverty harder to escape.

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