September 6, 2005

Nicholas D. Kristof wields Occam's Butterknife in the NYT

In "The Larger Shame," the New York Times op-ed columnist tries to shackle his on-the-spot observation of how cooperatively the Japanese victims of the 1995 Kobe earthquake responded to the emerging Conventional Wisdom that the U.S. should spend more money on poverty programs (what Peter Brimelow calls the new Tet Offensive). Kristof writes:

One of the most dispiriting elements of the catastrophe in New Orleans was the looting. I covered the 1995 earthquake that leveled much of Kobe, Japan, killing 5,500, and for days I searched there for any sign of criminal behavior. Finally I found a resident who had seen three men steal food. I asked him whether he was embarrassed that Japanese would engage in such thuggery.

"No, you misunderstand," he said firmly. "These looters weren't Japanese. They were foreigners."

The reasons for this are complex and partly cultural, but one reason is that Japan has tried hard to stitch all Japanese together into the nation's social fabric. In contrast, the U.S. - particularly under the Bush administration - has systematically cut people out of the social fabric by redistributing wealth from the most vulnerable Americans to the most affluent.

It's not just that funds may have gone to Iraq rather than to the levees in New Orleans; it's also that money went to tax cuts for the wealthiest rather than vaccinations for children.

Oh, come on, Nick, you know as well as I do that Japan has traditionally been a low-tax, low welfare spending state with a notoriously stingy social insurance scheme that encourages the Japanese to save enormous fractions of their income for a rainy day. Heck, you lived there.

Now, there are high-spending welfare states whose citizens have behaved well during disasters, such as Iceland. Yet, the real common denominators between Japan and Iceland are things you would denounce as "xenophobia," such as low immigration rates and ethnic and cultural homogeneity, and other concepts that you couldn't even begin to formulate in your mind without your CRIMETHINK alarm sounding, such as the general (but hardly universal) tendencies for high latitude peoples to cooperate better amongst themselves than do low latitude peoples.

... So the best monument to the catastrophe in New Orleans would be a serious national effort to address the poverty that afflicts the entire country. And in our shock and guilt, that may be politically feasible. Rich Lowry of The National Review, in defending Mr. Bush, offered an excellent suggestion: "a grand right-left bargain that includes greater attention to out-of-wedlock births from the Left in exchange for the Right's support for more urban spending." That would be the best legacy possible for Katrina.

If you stop and think, however, you'll remember that the most effective legislation in recent decades toward easing urban dysfunction was a bill that limited spending on the poor, the 1996 welfare reform cutback.

Didn't anybody learn the lesson over the last 40 years that it was the "urban spending" increases of the 1960s that subsidized the vast growth in "out-of-wedlock births" by making it easier for unmarried women to have children without a husband to provide for them?

I very much favor doing what it takes to fix our problems, but, the only way we will make any progress is if we start by being honest with ourselves about what the real troubles are and what might actually work.

A college professor writes:

As horrible as the NO disaster has been, it is dramatic evidence for what you have been writing for a long time: that we don't help people by lying about racial facts. On the contrary, lying in order to be kind KILLS people. Your honesty and courage has gotten you marginalized, but today was the day the faculty here has to report to campus for the new academic year, and after hearing for the hundredth time how NO wouldn't have happened if the victims were white (i.e., America hates black people and longs to see them destroyed) the margins are looking pretty good..

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

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