Mises Daily

Seven Changes Needed in Baltimore and Ferguson Right Now


I am regularly asked what can be done to solve the problem of “urban blight” in places like Detroit. The question is usually asked with exhausted desperation and a shrug, as if there are no possible answers. The cause of this “blight” is the root of the problem, and when ignited by police brutality, sets off riots in cities like Ferguson and Baltimore. There are a whole range of answers that we know will work to at least improve the situation.

The root problem of urban blight is government. With this in mind I want to focus on seven areas that if you eliminate government from the scene will solve the problem, or at least reduce the scope of the problem. Some of these solutions can be easily adopted by cities; others will require state and federal governments to remove or modify various forms of intervention. Some aspects of urban blight, such as the deep-seated ideology of victimhood, are likely only to be solved — as with the problem of aging tenured professors — one funeral at a time.

1. Grant “Urban Blight Status” to Free Communities from Regulatory Dead Weight

What we need are more “real” jobs because gainfully employed people commit fewer crimes. The government creates all sorts of problems in labor markets other than the minimum wage law. City governments, or city elders, should be able to request what I’ll call “Urban Blight Status” for all of the city or parts of their city. Such status will allow for the removal of the minimum wage law and all licensing requirements. It will further remove property taxes and sales taxes. This will immediately create a competitive advantage for labor contracts in the “Urban Blight Zone.” Naturally, all of these measures are decidedly non-radical and would be considered “first steps” that should later be applied to the entire population nationwide.

2. Lower Taxes

Any person living below the poverty line, or some other relevant measure, should be allowed to opt out of Social Security. This will immediately create a competitive advantage for urban workers as employers would not have to pay “their share” of the Social Security taxes.

Such measures are badly needed given the high rate of unemployment prevalent among the young in urban areas, with some areas experiencing unemployment rates of 30 to 40 percent for young black men since 2011.

3. Let Young Workers Learn Real Skills

Also, students trapped in public schools will be able to opt of out the last three years of high school if they can maintain a job working at least thirty-two hours per week. Students will also be able to opt out of afternoon classes in grades seven through nine if they can pass a basic competency test and maintain a part time job.

4. Legalize Self-Defense

In addressing the problem of urban crime, the first thing that needs to be done is to remove gun control and gun restrictions in the cities where they exist. Gun ownership deters crime and violence. Recent state laws that allow citizens to carry guns have contributed to falling crime rates in recent years.

Moreover, victims of real crimes often find themselves on their own, thanks to drug war incentives, since police in recent decades have increasingly been prioritizing drug war enforcement over real property crime like burglaries and violent crime.

5. End the War on Marijuana

One of the most important reforms to reduce crimes is to legalize marijuana. This will reduce government budgets for police, courts, district attorney offices, jails, and prisons. As a result, fewer black and Hispanic males will be killed or locked up in prisons. The city of Philadelphia, for example, made marijuana possession the lowest priority for the police department and saves a good deal of money as a result. The violent crime rate in Colorado has fallen since marijuana legalization.

6. Sell Off City Property

City governments should engage in true privatization. Property and buildings now controlled and maintained by city governments should be turned over to the private sector. Urban areas need properties for things such as private schools, safe parking lots, and new businesses. Maintaining the city government’s property is simply a burden on the taxpayer.

7. Phase Out Welfare

Welfare remains a major cause of family and social disintegration. Welfare benefits should be reduced and phased out, and the welfare that does remain should immediately come with strings attached such as work requirements and drug testing.

Expect Opposition

Not everyone will be happy with these reforms. It is easy to imagine a great deal of political opposition from the likes of suburban businesses, licensed professional labor groups, unions, white collar workers, public school teachers, the private prison industry, police unions, public employee unions, and pharmaceutical industries, to name a few sectors.

There are things we can do immediately to begin solving the problem of urban blight and thus eliminate some of the factors that lead to riots such as occurred in Ferguson and Baltimore. It may all seem like a pipe dream, but remember Detroit, Michigan was forced into bankruptcy and had to slash its budgets. Detroit today is already seeing urban revival in an environment of relative laissez faire. The next economic crisis could send other major cities mired in debt into a Detroit-like death spiral. It is the nature of government to think it is the solution to every problem. As Detroit found out, it is the removal of government restrictions and edicts that gave the city and its impoverished citizenry the opportunity to rise up and build a second life.

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