November 17, 1994
From Welfare Reform To Character Development
Professor James Q. Wilson
MR. HERTOG: Good evening and welcome to the 8th Walter B. Wriston Annual Lecture. I am Roger Hertog, Chairman of the Manhattan Institute. First, I would like to recognize this evening two previous Wriston lecturers, Rupert Murdoch and Thomas Wolfe, both of which are here. (Applause).
Institutions, much like individuals must have heros. And if a hero is defined as one for whom values and principles are reaffirmed and transformed, then Walter Wriston is ours. We honor him through these series of lectures because of his entrepreneurial expertise which converted the principles of individual freedom into a market ideology.
In his most recent book, "The Twilight of Sovereignty", Walter Wriston quotes Robert J. Oppenheimer, "The world alters as we walk in it so that the years of man's life measure not some small growth of what he learned in childhood, but a great upheaval." The world then as seen by Wriston is one in which we alter as we walk. We mustn't just tinker, putting a new face on old keepers of time. We must keep moving or die, he says. We must struggle to adapt principle and ideology to the flux of social and technological change.
In essence, Walt Wriston is a businessman in philosopher robes. During his seventeen years as CEO of Citicorp, Walt Wriston helped revolutionalize the banking industry. Before Walter banking not only appeared staunchly, appeared stagnant, it actually was. It was the world not that long ago of fixed rate mortgages, of regulated interest rates, of passbook savings accounts. There were no CDs, no commercial paper, no automatic teller machines, global foreign exchange seemed like science fiction. And investing in emerging nations was called loans to less developed countries.
Wriston understood, most importantly, that information transmitted by the new technology, computers, was a form of capital that would create a global banking system. He says that information was rapidly replacing energy as society's main transforming resource.
Like the Manhattan Institute scholar, Peter Huber, he set Orwellian vision on its head. Accessing technology to empower, not enslave the individual.
What Walt Wriston achieved in business enterprise, we at the Manhattan Institute see to achieve through education and public policy. We believe that fierce competition, courageous risk taking are the fundamental underpinning of freedom and choice, and we measure ourselves by not how well we have rearranged the icons of the past, but by small courageous one step at a time upheavals. So, we thank you, Walter. (Applause).
Now, it is my privilege to introduce the President of the New York City Board of Education, Carol Gresser. Carol brings to her position one overriding characteristic, which is novel in its very notion. Her characteristic is she identifies with the end consumers of her product. She loves children, she believes in them and believes her job is totally dedicated not to the producers, not to the administrators but solely to the consumers of their service—children.
Ladies and gentlemen, Carol Gresser.
MS. GRESSER: Good evening and before I begin I would ask you pretend that I am in black. I came straight from doing wonderful things. I began my day reading to third graders and I am ending my day with a room full of good people. It is a very good feeling and I thank you for inviting me.
I have the honor this evening of introducing—oh, before I begin, I must tell you that someone asked me just about a half an hour ago what do I do as President of the Board of Education. And it is very simple, I thought about it and I answered, I suffer; and I do.
I have the great honor this evening of introducing Susan Winston, the recipient of the General Electric Wriston Award for Educational Innovation. Before I ask her to join me here, I would like to tell you about Susan, a woman of uncommon courage, dedication and professionalism, and the school where she is the director, the School for Writing & Publishing or SWAP, as it is called. It is a remarkable place, one which offers great hope for public education in New York City.
We hear a lot these days about the need for vision in education, there are all these wonderful buzz words, and often when I hear that I am a little bit frustrated. What does vision mean? But if you meet Susan Winston, and have a chance to visit her school, that word vision comes to life in a very, very meaningful way. For here on 114th Street in West Harlem is this marvelous school that is succeeding with 200 children, and that is key, 200 children is manageable, 200 children drawn from one of America's most depressed areas, and it is, indeed, a vision to behold.
Why? Because Susan who is a twenty-two year veteran of the New York City Public School System and her staff work from dawn to dusk because of love in the service of children, because she has an uncompromising belief that inner city youngsters, like all youngsters must be held to high standards, because Susan understands that a good school is always a work in progress, you are never finished. It is like being mother, you are never finished.
This good school is nourished at the root by giving teachers and administrators the freedom to experiment, and that's so important. Just come along with me for a minute to visit this school where Susan shines.
In the mornings the school looks like any other good working school, with students engaged in vigorous basic academic programs. It is in the afternoons that the spirit of SWAP comes to life. And then the school transforms itself into a mini society, one designed to give every child a sense of order, purpose, responsibility--what gifts to children. These are values which will help them become productive members of our society.
At the core of this society is the work of a corporation, the SWAP Team Press, which publishes books, greeting cards, comics, and a magazine. Every child in this school has a job. Some work for the Press in its art production and business departments, others work in the post office, which delivers mail daily to everyone in the school, or the Court of Justice, which mediates disputes among the students. Every two weeks the students receive their pay checks in SWAP currency. And, yes, all students have bank accounts and they learn to manage their money.
One key to SWAP's success is the high standards it sets for the students. Here, and listen to this, homework must be turned in on time period. Parents are called immediately when a youngster is absent. Tardiness is not excused. But clearly another important facet is, and this is critical, the love that Susan has for her students, the love that her staff has for their students, out of the wonderful mixture of discipline, devotion and good educational practice has come an extraordinary school.
When students enter SWAP, only 29% of them are able to read and write on a sixth trade level, 29%. But when they leave three years later, that figure rises to an astonishing 80% of the young people reading on grade level, 80%. (Applause).
Tonight I would like to salute Susan Winston for creating a vibrant educational community, a community that binds together students and parents, teachers and support staff and lifts them to the highest calling one can have in life, the education of the mind and the sole, the raising of thoughtful productive intelligent citizens. I would like to ask sustain to please come up and join me. (Applause).
She has just offered me a visit, I am going and I am going to love every minute of it. Susan, I have something that I have to present to you. I don't know what is in that envelope, but whatever it is --
MS. WINSTON: It is mine, right. Thank you, very much. (Applause).
Ladies and gentlemen, thank you. Thank you so much, Roger and Carol. This is such a wonderful honor for me for so many reasons. In particular, because it comes to me from some gentleman for whom I have a tremendous amount of respect. Bill Hammet has clearly the most uncanny ability for any human being who has never written a lesson plan to truly understand what it takes to run a good school, and for that he has been a tremendous support to us. (Applause).
The senior fellow, Si Fliegel, Carlos Madina, Coleman Gann, Reginald Landell, have been called upon to don their shining armors and come to my rescue on more than one occasion and for that I am eternally grateful to them. And the newest of their ranks, John Elwell, who is a very dear friend and whose partnership and friendship have been without question the greatest gift this project has brought me. To you, I never say thank you, wherever you are tonight, thank you, John. (Applause).
The School for Writing & Publishing truly is, I think, best described as a work of art. It has evolved as a living, breathing entity. It was designed in a model and a planning process which truly believed that teachers can do this and can make a difference if they are given the opportunity to do so. And that we are able to learn about and research and employ the principles that all of you out here know so well. Those principles of success. And we have learned that if you work twice as hard, four times as hard, accomplish twice as much in half the time, you will be successful. And if you are fortunate enough to have gathered around you a team of people who are not here tonight, because they are busy getting ready for tomorrow, who also do accomplish twice as much in half the time, then you pretty soon have an environment of children who too work four times as hard and accomplish twice as much in half the time. And that is a pretty remarkable thing to see.
The School for Writing and Publishing mornings for us are, as Carol said, very academic. We are first and foremost dedicated to academic pursuits. Our children must learn. Afternoons are a whole different matter. Afternoons we become SWAP City, and SWAP City is an authentic real place for 200 children in South Central Harlem.
They do in their afternoons what grownups do. They go to work, they pay their bills, they get traffic tickets, they go to the beauty parlor, they go shopping, they go to court, they pay their lawyers or they are lawyers, all of those things every single day. And they learn to be good and productive citizens by being good and productive citizens and they are remarkable children and this award really goes to them. So, than you, so much for having me. And, it would be very nice if you would think about this Christmas season which is so important for schools and kids, maybe remember a good school in your neighborhood or one that you know of at the Christmas season. I know they would appreciate it.
Thank you, very much. (Applause).
MR. HERTOG: Ladies and gentlemen, the serious business of the evening continues. Now comes my real problem. What do you say when you are introducing the guy who is introducing the guy who is giving the featured speech? And when on top of that the person you are introducing is so well known, so influential that anything you would say about him will be sort of superfluous. The answer is sort of obvious. Ladies and gentlemen, George F Will. (Applause).
MR. WILL: Thank you, very much. Those of us whose profession causes us to ramble around the republic talking with the thoughtful men and women who work in and around American politics, in recent years have begun to notice a tendency and that is that more and more people identify themselves as something other than liberal or conservative and something other than republican and democrat.
It seems that the fastest growing persuasion that I detect in American politics is the Wilsonian persuasion. Now, there are those that think that refers to the only political scientist we ever elected president. The first president, I might say, who was to criticize the founding fathers for designing a government of checks and balances that interfered with energetic government, not an indictment that rings quite as loudly today.
I refer rather to the other kind of Wilsonian, the kind that is a disciple of James Q. Wilson.
I not long ago found myself in Indianapolis talking to their very fine mayor, Steven Goldsmith who said, as naturally as could be, in a course of a conversation, "With regard to crime, I am a Wilsonian. I believe that is that the benefits of work must exceed the cost of work by more than the benefits of crime exceed the costs of crime," he said quoting the master perfectly from memory.
Now, it is not always the case that professors are welcome in and around politics. I well remember on primary election night in 1976 when Pat Moynihan, late of Harvard, had won the right to run against the incumbent Senator James Buckley. And over at Buckley headquarters Jim Buckley said, "I look forward to running against Professor Moynihan, and I compliment Professor Moynihan on having won the nomination and I am sure he will conduct a campaign on the level you would expect of a professor."
They cut back immediately over to Moynihan headquarters and a journalist said, "Pat, over at Buckley headquarters he is referring to you as Professor Moynihan." Moynihan drew himself up to his considerable height and said, "Ah, the mud slinging has begun." (Laughter).
But tonight we are to hear from the good professor, definite article, the good professor. Caines, of course, once famously said, "Practical men who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influences are usually the slaves of some defunct economist. Mad men in authority," he said, "..who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back."
Well, I know for a fact that all over America good men and women in authority are distilling their wisdom from James Q. Wilson. James Q. Wilson has been prematurely right, a dangerous to be in politics. I know this because I come from a city that as we speak is suffering a nervous breakdown, which I consider to be very much in the national interest. There are people sitting around watching the barbarians pour over the City walls thinking as Gibbon did two hundred and thirty years ago as he sat on the steps of a ruined capital, listening to the barefoot friars sing vespers, "How could it have come to this."
It came to this because the political system was slow to recognize what James Q. Wilson recognized early on, which is that something we rather awkwardly call values kind of makes our politics.
Now, it is always such, the reason Washington is having a nervous breakdown is its serenity has always depended on a correlation that the prestige of the political class would vary directly with the gross national product, and it turns out not to be true any longer. The latter is up and the former is down and now one can figure out why James Q. Wilson has figured out why, which is that American politics always is about something other than pocketbook issues; from the Mayflower Compact, the first document of our national experience, worrying about the character of the people who would conduct the errand into the wilderness, from the argument between Hamilton and Jefferson, later sublimated in the argument about the national bank. When we have argued about emancipation and immigration and prohibition and desegregation, we have always been arguing about our national character.
And it is on the dark and bloody ground where the problem of character meets the practice of policy making that James Q. Wilson stands quite simply preeminent. He is our foremost academic scribbler. He is the perfect man to deliver the Wriston Lecture. And I give you James Q. Wilson. (Applause).
MR. WILSON: Thank you, George, ladies and gentlemen. You have now already experienced the high point of the evening. What is about to transpire is my making you wish earnestly that George had spoken longer.
My topic is "From Welfare Reform to Character Development" and I begin with the preeminent fact of our national mood; namely, that we are entering the last years of the 20th Century with every reason to rejoice and little inclination to do so, despite widespread prosperity and a generally healthy economy and despite the absence of any immediate foreign threat and even many serious rivals despite extraordinary progress in civil rights, personal health and school enrollment, despite all this and more, we feel that there is something profoundly wrong with our society. Not with our own lives, mind you, the majority of Americans are satisfied with their own conditions, but the are dissatisfied with the condition and prospects of their communal life.
That communal life is thought, as you know, to be deficient in many respects, including crime, drug abuse, teenage pregnancy, welfare dependency and the countless instabilities of daily life. What these problems have in common in the eyes of most Americans is that they result from the weakening of the family.
The strength of their conviction is strong enough to induce leaders of almost every party and every ideology to endorse with varying degrees of sincerity this diagnosis.
The opposition to family values has gone underground or is busily seeking to redefine those values so that their pursuit will not be too inconvenient. When former Vice President Dan Quayle and current President Bill Clinton gave similar speeches only a few days apart, something important had happened for the moment.
Having arrived at something approaching a consensus, we must now face the fact that we don't know what to do about the problem. Again, the American people are well ahead of their leaders in this regard. They doubt very much that government can do much of anything at all. They are not optimistic that any other institution can do much better and they are skeptical that there will be a spontaneous regeneration of decency, commitment and personal responsibility.
Our leaders, of course, must pretend that they know what to do. But the people are not fools. Washington passes a crime bill composed in equal parts of useful small steps, on informed good intentions and symbolic arm waving and the public skepticism grows.
The president promises to end welfare as we know it, but submits a bill that will, at best, change slightly that a policy that we know all to well and the public ignores it.
Let me confess at the outset this evening, that I do not know what to do either, and I assert that no one else really knows either. But I think we can find out. At least to the degree that feeble human reason is capable of understanding some of the most profound features of the human condition.
What we may find out, of course, is that we have created a society that can no longer sustain a strong family life, no matter what we do. I am not convinced of that for the very people who express the deepest pessimism are themselves leading in most cases decent lives amongst strong human detachments and incompetent and caring families.
What we worry about, of course, is in a word the under class. There has always been a under class, there always will be one, but as of late its ranks have grown and its members have acquired greater power to destroy their own children and inflict harms beyond their own ranks.
The means for doing so, guns, drugs and automobiles were supplied to them by our inventive and prosperous economy. We must, therefore, either control more rigorously those means or alter more powerfully the lives of those who possess them. Tonight I wish to speak principally about the latter, altering the lives of those who possess these new and more lethal means, because the public is rightfully dubious about how great a gain in public safety can be achieved by the legal methods at our disposal and is properly indignant about the harm to innocent children that will result from the neglecting the processes by which the under class reproduces itself.
The great debate is whether, how and at what cost we can change lives. If not the lives of this generation then of the next.
There are, I think, three ways of framing the problem. First, the structural perspective. That goes as follows. Owing to natural social forces, the good manufacturing jobs that once existed in inner city areas have moved to the periphery, leaving behind decent men and women, struggling to get by without work that once conferred both respect and money. Their place is now taken by street wise young men who find no meaningful work, have abandoned the search for the work and scorn indeed the ethic of work.
Second is the rationalistic perspective. That goes as follows: Welfare benefits, including not only Aid to Families of Dependent Children, but also Medicaid, subsidized housing and food stamps, have become sufficiently generous as to make the formation of stable two parent families either irrational or unnecessary. These benefits have induced young women wanting babies and a home of their own to acquire both at public expense and have convinced young men, who need very little convincing on this score, that sexual conquest need not entail any personal responsibilities.
Third is the cultural perspective. This goes as follows: Child rearing and family life as traditionally understood can no longer compete with or bring under prudent control a culture of radical self indulgence and oppositional defiance, fostered by drugs, television, video games, street gangs and predatory sexuality.
When middle class and working class families were able to move out of inner city neighborhoods, they took with them not only their financial capital but their social capital as well; those attitudes, activities and commitments that once restrained self indulgence and socialized young people.
Now, a visitor from another planet hearing this discourse might say, well, obviously all three perspectives have much to commend themselves and, therefore, all three perspectives ought to be the subject of some intervention.
But the public debate we hear tends to emphasize one or another theory and thus one or another set of solutions. It does this, I think, because people or at least people who are members of the political class, define problems so as to make them amenable to those solutions that they favor for ideological or moral reasons.
It is a characteristic of political discourse, I think, everywhere that we embrace solutions first and then look for problems that they might solve, in much the same spirit as a person holding a hammer looks for anything resembling a nail. Here roughly is what each analysis pursued separately and alone implies:
First, structural solutions. We must create jobs and job training programs in inner city areas, by means either of tax advantaged enterprise zones or government subsidized employment programs. As an alternative, we may facilitate the relocation of the inner city poor to places on the periphery where jobs can be found and, if necessary, supplement the incomes of those who have low paying jobs by means of the earned income tax credit.
Second, solutions for the rationalist perspective. Cut out or abolish Aid to Families with Dependent Children altogether or at a minimum require work in exchange for welfare or possibly both. Make the formation of two parent households more attractive than a single parenthood and restore work to prominence as the only way at least for the physically able to acquire money.
Third, the cultural solutions. Alter the inner-city ethos or the ethos of people wherever they live by means of private redemptive movements, supported by a system of shelters or group homes in which at risk children and their young mothers can be given familial care and adult supervision in safe and drug free settings.
Now, I have my own preferences in this menu of alternatives, but it is less important that you know what these preferences are then that you realize that I do not know which explanation is correct and thus I do not know which strategy will work, because so many people embrace a single strategy as a way of denying legitimacy to alternative ones and to their underlying philosophies.
Let me briefly sketch for you the uncertainties and inadequacies of each of these perspectives when taken alone. They go back again, first of all, to the structural solution. They evidence that links family dissolution with the distribution of jobs is, in fact, uncertain or weak. Some people noticing that jobs have moved to the periphery of the City hoard buses and follow the jobs. Other people noticing the very same thing, stay home and sell drugs.
For example, Latinos in my community of Los Angeles search actively for jobs that require that they ride the bus for an hour and a half each day in the morning and stand for long periods of time waiting on street corners hoping that the contractor or a gardener will employ them, and then ride the bus an hour and a half home, all the while risking the possibility that the Immigration & Naturalization Service will question them to see if they are undocumented aliens. Other people don't do this.
Now, even if a serious job mismatch does exist, it will not easily be overcome by enterprise zones. If the costs of crime in those neighborhoods are high and cannot be compensated for by very low labor costs or very high customer demand. Moreover employers in scanning potential workers will rely, as they have always relied on the most visible cues of reliability and skill and they will use dress, manner, speech and even place of residence as those cues so long as they have any valid predictive quality.
No legal system, no matter how much we try to enforce it can suppress completely or even largely the roll of these cues because they have substantial economic value.
Now, there is some evidence that people can be relocated to the periphery with benefits to themselves and no significant costs to the host neighborhoods. But if the public programs of this sort are publicly funded, and if they involve very large numbers of people, then the bureaucratic screening mechanism by which we select who is to be relocated and where are they to go, must be rigorous enough to approximate the market screening that now occurs when mortgage lenders and landlords need to be satisfied bout the good character of their applicants. Otherwise, the resistance to these relocations, now intense in many cities, will become insuperable as the receiving neighborhoods experience rising rates of crime, gang activity and rug abuse.
I am skeptical that bureaucratic screening, carried on under political directives, can approximate market screening carried on by the ability to pay.
Finally, however, and most importantly, neither job creation programs nor family relocation programs are likely to have much affect on the large number of young men who have dropped out of the labor force, who ignore paternal responsibilities and who are already part of the oppositional culture.
Secondly, let's consider some of the inadequacies of the rational strategy. After years of denying that the level of welfare payments had any effect on child bearing, many scholars now find that states with higher payments tend to be ones in which more babies are born to welfare recipients, and when one expands the definition of welfare to include not only AFDC but Medicaid, food stamps and subsidized housing, increases in welfare were strongly correlated with increases in illegitimate births from the early 1960's to about 1980.
At that point the value of the welfare package in real dollars flattened out, but the illegitimacy ratio continued to rise. Despite this finding, there remained several important puzzles in the connection between welfare and child bearing. One is the existence of great differences in illegitimacy rates across ethnic groups facing similar circumstances. Since the Civil War at least blacks have had higher illegitimacy rates than whites, even though Federal welfare programs were not invented until 1935.
It has been shown that the probability that a baby will be born to a single black woman is more than twice as high after controlling for age, education and economic status. David Hayes Batiste compared poor blacks and poor Mexican Americans living in California. He found that Mexican American children are much more likely than black children to grow up in a two parent family and that poor Mexican American families were only one-fifth as likely as black ones to be on welfare.
Even among blacks, the illegitimacy rate is rather low in states such as Idaho, Montana, Maine and New Hampshire, despite the fact that these states have rather generous welfare payments. And that illegitimacy rate is quite high in many parts of the deep south, even though these states have rather low welfare payments.
Clearly, there is some important cultural or at least non economic factor at work, one that has deep historical roots and that may vary with the size of the community and the character of the surrounding culture.
Even though these poorly understood cultural differences exist, there can be little doubt that ending welfare cold turkey, as some have proposed, would probably have a big effect on the behavior of welfare recipients. But what effect? Young woman might have fewer babies, but would young men be more likely to assume paternal responsibilities of the babies that remain? Would children be raised better and more carefully protected from the destructive influences of drugs and crime and gangs? We can only conjecture.
And if we enforce a work requirement as a condition of welfare, will this improve child rearing practices? Do we want the young mothers of two year olds to be working? Do we want them to require them to be working? The group that we most want to see brought into the work force, young males would not be affected by the welfare linked work requirement, and so they would be free to go on behaving in ways graphically described by sociologist Elijah Anderson in his account of male street culture. People seeking, as he put it, sex without commitment and babies without responsibility.
Finally, the cultural strategy, though I have a certain affinity for it, has its problems. There are many efforts in many cities by public and private agencies, individuals and churches to persuade young men to be fathers and not just impregnators, to help drug addicts and alcoholics, to teach parenting skills to teenage mothers. Some have been evaluated, a few show signs of positive effects, programs such as the Perry Pre-School Project in Michigan, the Parent Child Development Center in Houston, the Family Development Research Project in Syracuse, the Yale Child Welfare Project in New Haven, seemed to have had a positive and lasting effect on the children who went through them. Better behavior, lessened delinquency, more success in school.
Myron Magnet of the Manhattan Institute and I have both endorsed on separate occasions the idea of requiring young unmarried mothers to live in group homes with their children under adult supervision as a condition of receiving public assistance.
I have suggested in other places that we might revive an institution that was common earlier in this century but has lapsed into this disuse of late, the boarding school, sometimes mistakingly called orphanage, for the children of mothers who cannot cope. At one time such schools provided homes and education for over 100,000 young people in large cities.
Though I confess I am attracted to the idea of creating wholly new environments in which to raise the next generation of at risk children, I must also confess that I do not know whether it will work. The programs that we know to be successful, ones like the Perry Pre-School Project or Spall, experimental efforts led by dedicated many and women. Can large versions of the same thing work when run by the average counsellor, the average teacher? We don't know. And even these successes predated the arrival of crack and cocaine on the streets of our big cities. Can even the best program salvage people from that viciously destructive drug? We don't know.
There is evidence that such therapeutic communities as those run by Phoenix House and other organizations can salvage people who remain in them long enough. How do we get people to stay in them long enough? We don't know.
Though I would hope that the efforts to broaden this system of alternative families would rely on private organizations using public funds, I am aware that the bet institutions are not likely to do nearly as well as even a below average family. But unlike some of the more fierce partisans of family preservations, I do believe that the historical record will show that decent institutions can sometimes do better than the worse families.
Now, if these three alternatives or something like them are what are available to them, how do we decide what to do? Before trying to answer that question, let me assert three precepts that ought to shape how we formulate that answer.
The first precept, our overriding goal ought to be to save the children. Other goals reducing the costs of welfare, discouraging illegitimacy, preventing long term welfare dependency, getting even with welfare cheats, they may all be worthy goals, but thought to be secondary to the goal of improving the life prospects of the next generation.
The second precept, nobody knows how to do this on a large scale. The debate has begun about welfare reform, but it is a debate in large measure based on untested assumptions, ideological posturing and perverse principles. We are told by some that worker training and job placement will reduce the welfare rolls, but we now know that worker training and job placement have so far had only a very modest effect on welfare rolls. And few advocates of working training tell us what happens to children whose mothers are induced or compelled to work, other than to insure us that somebody will supply day care.
We are told by others that a mandatory work requirement, whether or not it leads to more mothers working will end the cycle of dependency. Perhaps it will, we don't know that. Moreover, it is the fathers whose behavior we most want to change and nobody has explained how cutting off welfare benefits to mothers will make biological fathers act like real fathers.
We are told that ending welfare will reduce illegitimacy, but we don't know that. It is, at best an informed guess. Some people produced illegitimate children in large numbers long before welfare was even conceived. And others in similar circumstances now produce none even though welfare has become quite generous.
I have pointed out that group homes and boarding schools once provided decent lives for the children of stable working class parents who faced unexpected adversity, and so they did. But I don't know whether such institutions will work for the children of under class parents enmeshed in a cycle of dependency and despondency and despair.
The third precept, the Federal government cannot have a meaningful family policy for the nation and it ought not to try. Not only does it not know and cannot learn from experts what to do. Whatever it thinks it ought to do, it will try to do in the worse possible way; which is to say, uniformly, systematically, politically and ignorantly.
I am old enough to know when Washington gave at least lip service to the principle of state's rights. It no longer does. Even when it allows the state some freedom to chart their own course with respect to some policy arena, such as welfare, it does so only at its own pleasure, reserving the right to set terms, issue waivers and attach conditions.
Welfare politics in Washington is driven by national advocacy groups that often derive their energy from the ideological message on which they rely to attract money and supporters. And Washington will find ways either of denying public money to churches, even though they are more deeply engaged in human redemption than any State Department of Social Welfare or of enshrouding the churches who do receive money with so many constraints as to vitiate the essential mission of a church.
Now, the clear implication of these three precepts in my view, when applied to the problem we face now, is that we ought to turn the task and the money for rebuilding lives, welfare payments, housing subsidies, the whole lot over to the cities and states and the private agencies to be found there, subject only to two conditions. First, they must observe minimum but fundamental precepts of equal protection and second, every major new initiative must be evaluated by independent observers operating in accordance with accepted scientific cannons.
Some states or counties in this regime may end FDC-AFDC as we know it. Others may impose a mandatory work requirement. A few may require welfare recipients to turn their checks over to the group homes in which the recipients must reside or the boarding schools that their children must attend.
Nothing we do by plan will make a large difference in the life chances of at risk children. We are now in the waning years of the 20th Century, experiencing the working out of a massive cultural shift that has been underway for many generations indeed for the better part of 150 years. That cultural shift has as its central feature the emancipation of the individual from the restraints of tradition, community and government.
Most of us have benefitted greatly from this freedom and this opportunity. And most of us have paid only a modest price for these benefits. We may have children who wear odd clothes, hear music that conveys a phonetic mindlessness, and confront media that are increasingly vulgar, but we can endure these things. Indeed some of us, out of a misplaced desire to remain forever adolescent even enjoy them.
But those among us who are, for any reason, especially lacking in internal restraints, and thus especially vulnerable to these profound sizemic cultural shifts have paid a very high price. Sex has been divorced from commitment, child rearing from family life, escapism has been extended to drug abuse, entry level work has been redefined as demeaning. This is not a uniquely racial problem or uniquely American problem. It is a feature of much of the industrialized west. As I speak tonight there is or soon will be speakers echoing my words in London, in Stockholm, and Munich and Moscow and Latvia.
The rates of crime and illegitimacy are rising in many, indeed most industrialized nations. Gertrude Himmelfarb has given a powerful summary of some of the evidence in her recent essay entitled appropriately, The Demoralized Society.
Each nation like ours must choose among one of three responses. We can await a moral reawakening, we can increase public safety and we can try to rebuild the family lives of our most at risk children. Clearly, we should strive for all three with varying degrees of optimism.
Moral revitalization may occur, but it will not occur by plan and the government will not do it. Public safety can and must be enhanced, but the cost is high and it will punish those people whose lives are already blighted and whose progeny are already set on the wrong path.
Remaking family life is equally cost and its prospects equally uncertain, but we have done it in the past. In Victorian England and Victorian America, countless organizations tried to save the children and they succeeded. The did so on the basis of firm convictions as to what constitutes a decent family life.
We have today to some substantial degree abandoned that effort sneered at Victorianism and reviled decency. And we have rejected implicitly if not explicitly the moral convictions that underlay that effort, replacing child saving programs with something we now call condescendingly welfare. Replacing our desire to save children with the desire merely to end poverty or dependency. Poverty and dependency are indeed social ills, but there are poor and dependent families who raise decent children.
What we call problems shapes how we approach them. Let us stop calling our problem welfare. At least insofar as young mothers are involved. We ought to be talking about saving the children.
If we reduce poverty or dependency and still allow incompetent parents to raise vulnerable children, we will only succeed in finding a new route to the false utopia promised to us by Carl Marx, a world without want or subservience but also one without virtue or decency or self respect.
Thank you. (Applause).
MR. HERTOG: Professor Wilson will take some questions, perhaps a few, if you have any? Are there any questions? We have a few minutes left.
QUESTION: Professor Wilson, regarding the various introductory remarks, a great deal has been made by Republicans about the fact that the first time on record during a coverage, during a strong GOP approach, we have a decline in median family income, and the fact that this occurred in a period in which wealth, as measured, for example, by the value of fixed income and value of capital investments, has declined substantially, suggests that the level, in terms of both median income and wealth, that is with respect to future incomes, has in fact declined sharply, what makes you think that a change in both income and with respect to future income would affect the trends we are talking about, and how does the purely—component affect your perspective?
MR. WILSON: Well, to repeat the question, how does the prospect of future income and the apparent stagnation or even decline in real wages and some elements of wealth affect what I am talking about, which is how we raise children, we have been in this country and every country in the west, through business cycles before. The great depression, which had 25% unemployment, where many assets fell to zero in value, where the country was locked for ten years in the greatest economic misery of our memory, brought families closer together.
Glenn Elders remarkable book on Children of the Great Depression, showed that family break up lessened, crime fell. Why did that happen then, when today even when we manage to have prosperity, the trend of illegitimacy and family breakup goes, as Senator Moynihan has shown in one of his famous charts, in a straight line. That is the puzzle.
I think the answer is the lest our world has changed and we no longer can convert material well being into human happiness on the same easy terms we once were able to. We have to work harder at the conversion factors. And, therefore, the future, whether it is rising wages or falling wages, high value assets or low value assets is the future that we have to confront by having reached back inside of ourselves for greater moral confidence.
QUESTION: Professor Wilson you advocate that welfare responsibilities should be delegated to the state. What are your thoughts—and that you would have a situation where there would be 50 opportunities for 50 different welfare scenarios. Within that context it stands to reason that perhaps some of those scenarios will be highly punitive, whereas others will be more humane in terms of their treatment of recipients of public assistance.
What would the impact of that be on migration of the poor from one state to another and how would we deal with those states that have generous public assistance programs that would become inundated by poor populations who probably will be worse off as a result of their concentration in a given state?
PROF. WILSON: I think you re quite correct in saying that differential rates of welfare availability by state do influence population flows. There is migration that is sensitive to that. And that is the wonderful thing about federalism. People when they come flooding into California, because welfare benefits are high in California, confront a group of taxpayers that suddenly get upset about high levels of welfare spending.
And, so, California takes the lead under government demijohn in developing the gain program in which some welfare recipients are put into job training programs and the like and the result is in those counties, which the program is adequately implemented, the welfare roles go down.
No such constraint exists on the federal government. The federal government deals with only one population flow, immigration and doesn't do that very well. But it does not adjust its internal policies to take into account.
Even so, I must confess, that if you have a system of choice, you will have some states that do better than others. The alternative is to have one government saying something for everybody. The outgoing government, the government of the liberal democratic majority said one thing, high and rising benefits.
The incoming government, Justice Abtuslie is saying, no, no, you all go to work. I don't like this bossiness by either party in Washington, and I hope they stop.
QUESTION: Barbara Duvell Whitehead had said that the problem that you find in welfare is the inclination of women is the play with their dolls and be left alone. The inclination then is to impregnate and leave. And the welfare makes this possible for them each to go their separate ways because there is no economic dependence one on the other.
You have written frequently about the great problem of society needing to have the socialization of the male, and then what socializes men, in fact, are women. I am, therefore, confused by your saying that you are not at all convinced that cutting down on welfare payments would somehow not force men through the auspices of women who now need them, to be more responsible as fathers.
PROF. WILSON: You are hoisting me by my own tired heather, and let me see if I can extricate myself. Speaking as a man who knows at least part of this equation, the question, the question was if the problem arising from welfare is to allow young women to have babies and play with them alone, and young men to impregnate women without having to accept the consequences, and both can go their separate ways, why should it not be the case that any welfare will reestablish the old compact, the old contract. So that access to women means promising and we hope delivering on the promise to accept responsibility.
I think the answer to that question is that in the long run that may well happen. In the long run no society can tolerate under-socialized males. And the only way society has ever designed to do this is by the family, reinforced by cultural and legal and other restraints that keep men attentive to their duty. In the short run, and by the short run I mean, a half a century or a century, I think that putting the genie back in the bottle cannot be simply the reverse of the way the genie got out of the bottle.
Let us assume for the moment that the genie got out of the bottle because the government said to young girls who were so inclined, you can have your own home, your own health care and your own baby and you need not have a man littering up the premises and we will pay for it.
That was an enormously destructive opportunity but you do not bring the man back into that by simply taking away the money. It seems to me what happened is that men, having now been socialized to a different understanding and responsibilities will take many decades, many generations to acknowledge the opposite.
I may be wrong. Clearly those who advocate ending welfare literally on betting on that possibility. But if, as I suspect, it will take many generations for this cultural imperative to reassert itself, culture is like a great universe, it takes a hundred years to build and it takes five years with idiotic dean to destroy it. The family takes centuries to create, it takes only one heedless government a few decades to destroy it. If it takes only a few decades, count the cost, the human cost in lost children. It seems to me that we ought to try to see if we can accelerate the process by putting those young mothers and their children in an environment in which, from which the men are excluded unless they are willing to accept the responsibility.
QUESTION: I wanted to say that I think that some form of punitive measure can work. Example, from the end of reconstruction to the middle 60's you would have thought that Southern red neck males were genetically inclined to attack black males at will, from just beating them up to murdering them, as long as they could just go to jail for a couple of days, it is okay, go home.
As soon as they started to have to spend a long time in the penitentiary, suddenly what has been an ongoing problem, a 90 year tradition, suddenly almost evaporated. So, I don't know what the punitive measure should be. But if you could civilize those kind of guys very quickly. Because we saw they acted from the beginning of the civil rights movement until around 1966 and 1967 and suddenly they just started drinking beer and shooting guns up in the air.
So, I am saying that perhaps we do have to take into consideration the fact that if people have to pay a cost for irresponsible behavior, they will, like most human beings, begin to start acting in their own self interest. Because I just don't believe that that many people are masochistic.
PROF. WILSON: That is such an eloquent and penetrating statement that when I re-give the speech I am going to add the fourth strategy, which I will call the Stanley Krout lock them up strategy. And I think you are right, suppose we told every young man who sires a child and refuses to accept responsibility to it, not only will we garnish your wages, we will lock you up. That will have an effect.
But notice the difference, the asymmetry in the two examples. In the case of racists, what we wanted to do is to get them to stop lynching blacks. And so we said, if you go on doing that, we are going to send you to the penitentiary. So, they said, all right, I guess we won't do that.
Now we don't want them to stop any single act, we want them to take a life long responsibility for other acts that are perfectly legal, such as siring a child. And the problem is whether a punitive strategy that will cause people to desist in an action is equally efficacious to get them to participate in an action.