The Therapy Sessions
Thursday, September 29, 2005
The things everyone knows, but that no one can say
Versions of every program being proposed in the aftermath of Katrina have been tried before and evaluated. We already know that the programs are mismatched with the characteristics of the underclass. Job training? Unemployment in the underclass is not caused by lack of jobs or of job skills, but by the inability to get up every morning and go to work. A homesteading act? The lack of home ownership is not caused by the inability to save money from meager earnings, but because the concept of thrift is alien. You name it, we've tried it. It doesn't work with the underclass.
Perhaps the programs now being proposed by the administration will help ordinary poor people whose socialization is just fine and need nothing more than a chance. It is comforting to think so, but past experience with similar programs does not give reason for optimism -- it is hard to exaggerate how ineffectually they have been administered. In any case, poor people who are not part of the underclass seldom need help to get out of poverty. Despite the exceptions that get the newspaper ink, the statistical reality is that people who get into the American job market and stay there seldom remain poor unless they do something self-destructive. And behaving self-destructively is the hallmark of the underclass.
Hurricane Katrina temporarily blew away the screens that we have erected to keep the underclass out of sight and out of mind. We are now to be treated to a flurry of government efforts from politicians who are shocked, shocked, by what they saw. What comes next is depressingly predictable. Five years from now, the official evaluations will report that there were no statistically significant differences between the subsequent lives of people who got the government help and the lives of people in a control group. Newspapers will not carry that story, because no one will be interested any longer. No one will be interested because we will have long since replaced the screens, and long since forgotten.
It's blaming the victim! And that makes it WRONG....
Even if it is right.