A Mayor’s Most Important Job

Opinion

Detroit Inner City
In some cities, population declines since 1950 are well over 50 percent. In addition to Detroit and St. Louis, those would include Cleveland and Pittsburgh.

USA – -(Ammoland.com)- When World War II ended, Washington, D.C.'s population was about 900,000; today it's about 700,000.

In 1950, Baltimore's population was almost 950,000; today it's around 614,000. Detroit's 1950 population was close to 1.85 million; today it's down to 673,000. Camden, New Jersey's 1950 population was nearly 125,000; today it has fallen to 77,000. St. Louis' 1950 population was more than 856,000; today it's less than 309,000. A similar story of population decline can be found in most of our formerly large and prosperous cities.

In some cities, population declines since 1950 are well over 50 percent. In addition to Detroit and St. Louis, those would include Cleveland and Pittsburgh.

During the 1960s and '70s, academic liberals, civil rights advocates and others blamed the exodus on racism — “white flight” to the suburbs. However, since the '70s, blacks have been fleeing some cities at higher rates than whites. It turns out that blacks, like whites, want better and safer schools for their kids and don't like to be mugged or have their property vandalized. Just like white people, if they have the means, black people can't wait for moving companies to move them out.

At the heart of big-city exoduses is a process that I call accumulative decay. When schools are rotten and unsafe, neighborhoods become run-down and unsafe, and city services decline, the first people to leave are those who care the most about good schools and neighborhood amenities and have the resources to move. As a result, cities lose their best and ablest people first. Those who leave the city for greener pastures tend to be replaced by people who don't care so much about schools and neighborhood amenities or people who do care but don't have the means to move anywhere else. Because the “best” people — those who put more into the city's coffer than they take out in services — leave, politicians must raise taxes and/or permit city services to deteriorate. This sets up the conditions for the next round of people who can do better to leave. Businesses — which depend on these people, either as employees or as customers — also begin to leave.

The typical political response to a declining tax base is to raise taxes even more and hence create incentives for more businesses and residents to leave. Of course, there's also mayoral begging for federal and state bailouts. Once started, there is little to stop the city's downward spiral.

Intelligent mayors could prevent, halt and perhaps reverse their city decline by paying more attention to efficiency than equity.

That might be politically difficult. Regardless of any other goal, mayors must recognize that their first order of business is to retain what economists call net positive fiscal residue. That's a fancy term for keeping those people in the city who put more into the city's coffers, in the form of taxes, than they take out in services. To do that might require discrimination in the provision of city services — e.g., providing better street lighting, greater safety, nicer libraries, better schools and other amenities in more affluent neighborhoods.

As one example, many middle-class families leave cities because of poor school quality. Mayors and others who care about the viability of a city should support school vouchers. That way, parents who stay — and put a high premium on the education of their children — wouldn't be faced with paying twice in order for their kids to get a good education, through property taxes and private school tuition. Some might protest that city service discrimination is unfair. I might agree, but it's even more unfair for cities, once the magnets of opportunities for low-income people, to become economic wastelands.

Big cities can be revitalized, but it's going to take mayors with guts to do what's necessary to reverse accumulative decay. They must ensure safe streets and safe schools. They must crack down on not only violent crimes but also petty crimes and misdemeanors, such as public urination, graffiti, vandalism, loitering and panhandling.


Walter E. Williams
Walter E. Williams

About Walter E.Williams

Walter E. Williams is a professor of economics at George Mason University. Williams is also the author of several books. Among these are The State Against Blacks, later made into a television documentary, America: A Minority Viewpoint, All It Takes Is Guts, South Africa's War Against Capitalism, More Liberty Means Less Government, Liberty Versus The Tyranny of Socialism, and recently his autobiography, Up From The Projects.

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Carol B Combs
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Carol B Combs

You along with over 500,000. I would move but the cost of property outside the city has skyrocketed. Once I can get my house on the market (if I can get anywhere close to a fair price) I’m out of here too. What a shame. Back in the late 60’s we used to come to the old gas light square area but I don’t leave my house afterdark now.

Bob Shell
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Bob Shell

Keep putting democrats in to run the cities. They will run the cities OK but down

joe
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joe

Mr. Williams is right, of course. As to his prescriptions for renewal being followed, all I can say is don’t hold your breath.

Missouri Born
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Missouri Born

The thing you left out of the story is that most of these cities were run by democrats and some still are.

JS
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JS

Most large cities that fail usually elect someone running as a social justice warrior who wants to help the homeless, feed the hungry residents, and generally create a happy place. The reality is there is never enough money to do these things and keep the wage earners happy as well. To fund their social justice agenda they cut on roads, schools and infrastructure as well as hiring the disadvantaged into city jobs. The city falls apart, the wage earners leave, crime takes off and the poor social justice mayor/governor doesnt know what to do and it just gets worse. Its… Read more »

Scott E High
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Scott E High

Way back in the late 1970’s I lived in Lafayette Square in St. Louis, a very old neighborhood surrounding a park that had grand old houses being restored by adventurous rehabbers like me. My home was in the same area as Ralston Purina and the Budweiser plant. The surrounding area was blighted and home to several low income housing projects. Crime was at a low during daytime hours but nighttime was a different case. My car was vandalized, houses within eyesight were set on fire, people robbed and assaulted in the park, my girlfriend held up at the local grocery… Read more »