Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Damn Aint it Good to be a Gangster


From post-war New York Harbor, Lady Liberty's torch welcomed hoardes of peasant Sicilians and Eastern Bloc refugees to the promise of America's great immigrant slums. The world's greatest meritocracy quickly enriched the most ambitious- as evidenced by the phonetically challenging names dotting mailboxes in the 'burbs (Scalia, Czolgosz, Pascocello). 50 years and 3 generations saw these families from poor immigrants to middle class; the uniquely American system of hard work and merit paying dividends for millions.

Fred Seigel is a believer in this system, and the cities historic primacy in making this system work. His book, "The Future Once Happened Here," documents how the hard-knock slums that raised so many to prosperity were abandoned by the political establishment. The potent mixture of liberal idealism and bankrupt urban leadership imposed high taxes, encouraged welfare, and blackmailed with the threat of riots and crime. The resultant, widespread urban disinvestment destroyed entire cities for a generation. Those left in the charred remains of the urban core adopted a new American system; a debilitating cycle of entitlement.

In the "Most E-mailed" column of the NYT is a column by Harvard professor Orlando Patterson. "A Poverty of the Mind" argues that today's black males don't succeed in school because academic success doesn't have the glitz and allure of gangster/baller life. An alternative path towards success seems to have taken hold, and Patterson argues that black male youth prefer it.

In the slums of Calcutta, students obsessively struggle with calculus by candle light, seeing math as the surest route out of misery and destitution. In America, a support structure based on entitlement has enabled a cost-benefit analysis of the most perverse nature. As we abandon our faith in our sysem as cruel, funny how others readily pick up the torch.

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