“The social engineers of the 50’s and 60’s had their chance with the Great Society. The results speak for themselves in Ward Nine. ”
World War II changed everything. More specifically, the return of the GI changed everything. Before the war, individuals wanting a mortgage usually had to make a down payment of not less than fifty percent. Only after World War II and the passage of the GI Bill and the FHA and VA programs did things become like we know them now — a small down payment with additional payments spread out over fifteen or more years. It is estimated that for every dollar invested through the GI Bill, $5 to $12 was generated in tax revenue. Before the war, one in four people were homeowners. After the war, two of every three people owned a home.
Sadly, many Americans could not participate in home ownership programs and most of those were denied participation primarily because of race. In the 1930’s the New Deal’s Home Owners’ Loan Corporation instituted redlining to assess risk. In 1934, with the passage of the Housing Act of 1934, the government institutionalized redlining. Redlining required denoting on maps areas of risk in banking and insurance. Generally, minority and poor neighborhoods were colored in red while more homogenous white neighborhoods were colored in green. In the 1940s and 1950s, as white America moved into the suburbs, the inner cities were left for black Americans. William Levitt, arguably the creator of American suburbia with Levittown, declared that “people won’t buy houses if black people live in a development.” And so suburbia became white America and urban America became black America.
“We are willing to rebuild the Gulf Coast. But we are not willing to support another Great Society”
Not until the Fair Housing Act of 1968 did the federal government prohibit redlining based on race. But, between World War II and 1968, white Americans had a leg up on investing in private property, generating equity in housing, and using that equity to invest in their future. Black Americans, unfortunately, were more often then not left in cities paying rent. Without the ability to create equity and reinvest it in their families, black families fell further behind. Those who were not the victims of Jim Crow still were frequently denied access to private home ownership simply because of cost. Over a few generations, poverty increased and literacy and education decreased.
Now we come full circle to Ward Nine in New Orleans. The ward was the lowest part of the city and the poorest. Black families, many unemployed, dependent on government housing and income, lived in Ward Nine and waited and waited for the government to carry them out of their situation. The chickens of past practices have finally come home to roost in the aftermath of Katrina.
Like World War II before it, Katrina’s aftermath has the ability to change everything as we know it. The social engineers of the 50’s and 60’s had their chance with the Great Society. The results speak for themselves in Ward Nine. Now the Republicans are in charge and the Republicans have a small chance to begin anew. Through tax incentives, free enterprise zones, empowerment zones, and public-private partnership, the government can, should it choose, reject old, failed ideas, and try new ideas based on the free market.
Our nation has for far too long privileged the equality of her citizens over their liberty, and the result has been neither equality nor liberty, but only impoverishment and bitterness. Just as President Bush aspires to spread liberty abroad, so too should he advance it at home – for equality without liberty is slavery to the state (see e.g., the Soviet Union, China, Cuba, North Korea). Liberty is, in and of itself, the great equalizer and the wellspring of opportunity.
Government money will be spent. Much money will be wasted. Some will be stolen. But in writing checks and using the power of the government, we encourage the Republican Party to fight for liberty. The President has dreamed of an ownership society. The time is right to create such a society and to use one of the poorest areas of the nation to begin that free market deal.
The President and Congress must foster efficacious reforms by bringing the ownership society to life. The government must recognize that private industry and the free market will be better providers of the people than the government. The President must avoid writing blank checks to federal, state, and local agencies and instead assist private industry through tax credits, tax breaks, deregulation, and incentives to support the public good through private efforts.
We are willing to rebuild the Gulf Coast. But we are not willing to support another Great Society, another New Deal, and another poorly run government program wasting taxpayer money and corrupting the individual spirit of the American citizenry.