Crime, alienation, and the welfare state in Western Europe

About a year ago, I read Walter Laqueur’s The Last Days of Europe: Epitaph for a Continent. Among his references were two articles that I finally read today.

“Continent of Broken Windows” by Gerard Alexander discussed the rising rate of crime in Europe over the last half of the 20th century and into the 21st, catching or passing US rates in some categories. Writing in the fall of 2005 after the riots in Paris, Alexander noted:

Data from some European cities make the change even more dramatic. Robbery and burglary rates in British cities like Nottingham and Manchester exceed New York City’s. In 2004, charming Copenhagen reported five times New York’s theft rate, two and a half times its auto thefts, and over four times its burglaries. Moreover, some European cities suffer certain crimes that Americans don’t know at all. As the New York Times understatedly observed, the French government was slow to respond to the recent riots “in part because the initial nights of unrest did not seem particularly unusual in a country where an average of more than 80 cars a day were set on fire this year even before” the riots began.

Alexander believes that the extensive European welfares states deserve some of the blame as they strangle the economy, although some countries that have reduced their welfare states also have high crime. In contrast to the blame placed on immigrants from Eastern Europe and Africa, Alexander writes, “the ‘new’ crime started so long ago and is so widespread that it’s clear Europe has also generated a homegrown class of people who see other members of their own societies as marks.” He hopes that, in contrast to “decades of excuse-making, the bigotry of low expectations, and the brushing aside of those who wanted to enforce minimal standards of social comportment, especially on immigrants and their children,” Europeans will see the importance of reviving “civic values.”

Theodore Dalrymple’s 2002 article “The Barbarians at the Gates of Paris” focuses on Eastern European and African immigrants and their descendants living in France. He tells of police unwilling to make arrests, judges unwilling to mete out sensible punishments, a French state and culture torn between promoting multiculturalism and secular French identity, and young Frenchmen of African origin that both hate France and expect the benefits of the welfare state. It’s a fascinating read, and I found it interesting that he does not blame Islamism or French chauvinism (as many have) so much as the patronizing and ultimately debilitating hand of the huge French welfare state that unintentionally foments hatred of France.

I know that these articles aren’t the final word on contemporary European society but they’re helping me to piece things together a bit more. I just started reading Philip Jenkins’ God’s Continent about contemporary Europe’s religious landscape and I hope that I will have more to share.

Abortion in New York City

A Breakpoint commentary from January linked to a couple of New York Times articles about abortion in its home city. The abortion rate in New York is 41%, and it’s 60% for unborn black babies according to this William McGurn column in the Wall Street Journal. In the TimesAriel Kaminer describes the ease of getting abortions in New York: few if any restrictions and many options for procedures. Kaminer also contrasts the casual availability of abortions before the 13th week of pregnancy (88% of abortions in New York) with the heartache that accompanies late-term abortions. Both Breakpoint and Kaminer link to this Times article that describes the response of some Christian and Jewish clergy to the report. This second article also cites the 60% statistic for black babies and links to this report from the city (it is a report about 2009 released in December 2010).

A while back, Douglas at Embracing the Risk linked to this 2005 article by Ryan Lizza that gives a history of abortion laws in New York. Lizza argues that New York has been the abortion capital of America in three periods: much of the 1800s, the early 1970s, and the 21st century.

I’m always struck by the arguments of those who portray abortion as a positive thing, especially since most defenders of abortion rights in the public square describe it as something of a necessary evil (I noted this earlier this year here):

Despite the state’s overwhelming support for legalization, New Yorkers, like Americans generally, start to get queasy when confronted with the best weapons in the pro-life movement’s arsenal: graphic descriptions of rarely used late-term-abortion methods, and the fact that thousands of New York women return each year to clinics for a third or fourth abortion. When we nod our heads at Bill Clinton’s famous formulation that abortion should be “safe, legal, and rare” or Hillary Clinton’s more recent proclamation that abortion is “a sad, even tragic choice,” we admit some discomfort with the procedure.

Among New York’s pro-choice leaders, reaction to this message is divided. Political groups like NARAL say they understand the need for conceding to public opinion. But to providers, the Clintonian reframing of the issue capitulates to pro-lifers. “Hillary can say anything she wants about whether an abortion is a tragedy,” says Dr. Paul. “What I know when I perform an abortion for a patient is that the overwhelming feeling is one of relief. Because the abortion has solved a huge problem in her life, whether it’s because she couldn’t afford another child, couldn’t afford to be a good mother to another child, or doesn’t have the money to raise a child.” She becomes increasingly passionate as she speaks. “Every time I do an abortion I save a woman’s life. If you want to call that a tragedy”—she pauses and exhales a sharp sigh—“I don’t consider it a tragedy, I’m sorry.” Dr. Anne Davis of Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center thinks that even as New York retains its status as a restrictionless oasis, the larger war over normalizing abortion is being lost. “We would like to keep abortion part of regular medical care,” she says. “Our view is, abortion is nothing special. Abortion is right up there with having a baby or getting the care for whatever other medical needs you have.”

Of course, these views are predicated on completely ignoring the baby, who has no rights that could possibly outweigh the “problem” he or she would cause.

Douglas also suggests that the use of contraceptives also may lead to more, not less, abortions, contrary to the conventional wisdom. Check out his whole post for more.

Walter Russell Mead on “The Crisis of the Great Society”

In a perceptive essay, Mead discusses the rise of urban “flash mobs” and the racial tensions that they point to. While he believes (and I agree) that race relations are better now than in the past, he argues that both white and black people have a reduced connection with and trust in the elites. He points to three potential problems that our society is facing:

  1. “The unaffordable nature of the entitlement structure that has emerged from the Great Society and been much added to (and don’t forget the GOP role in the prescription drug benefit) is at the bottom of the bitter budget battles we’ve seen.”
  2. An unpopular immigration policy that will increasingly attract anger: “Our current immigration policy is a prescription for social change of vast proportions.  Since the 1960s, the US has tried an unprecedented and little discussed experiment in social engineering.  In stages over the last fifty years we have combined three bold policies.  First, a race-blind immigration policy with a visa lottery as a kind of affirmative action — so to speak — for people from countries which historically had not sent many immigrants to the US has dramatically changed the mix of people coming to the US as immigrants and over time will shift the ethnic and cultural composition of the population.  Second, the “immigration holiday” under the tight quota system from 1923 (when public concern over unrestricted immigration led to a sharp decrease) through the 1960s was ended, and the number of legal immigrants increased.  Today the US has levels of legal immigration not seen since the World War One era.  Third, for many years immigration laws have been laxly or irregularly enforced leading to the presence of something like 11 million illegal workers and residents in the country.”
  3. A sharp divide in the way that whites and blacks evaluate the impact of racial policies: “The races are very far apart today; many whites believe that by electing a Black president the country has demonstrated its commitment to post racial politics and they expect Blacks to stop complaining about the past and start thriving in the glorious, racism-free paradise of America today.  Many whites look at this Black success, and they think it is time to take down the affirmative action scaffolding that assisted the Black rise.  Why, they ask, should the children of presidents and cabinet officers — to say nothing of celebrity offspring — benefit from racial preference in hiring and admissions?

    “For Blacks, especially those who haven’t made it into the elite, unemployment and the staggering losses in Black wealth during the Great Recession are far more consequential than the success of the Black upper crust.  Much of White America thinks it has done all anyone could reasonably expect by opening the White House doors to a Black politician; much of Black America thinks little has changed.  Many whites think Blacks have effectively used politics to win themselves jobs and preferences; many Blacks think that Black poverty in the age of Obama reveals how pitiful the results of political action really are.”

African Americans and the New Deal model

Walter Russell Mead, continuing his series on what the next iteration of liberalism could look like, takes a look at why African Americans support the New Deal model of government: a government that tries to manage the economy to provide stability and managed development. Mead has been calling this the “blue social model” created by “Liberalism 4.0,” and he writes that African Americans are the single most important group that support the New Deal model and thus encourage the Democrats to continue their support of it. Mead considers racial equality to be one of the greatest achievements of 20th-century progressivism (4.0 liberalism). At the same time, Mead believes that the blue model’s time has passed in these times where the global economy requires and technology enables more flexibility.

Two factors of course jump out: Democrats are more trusted as defenders of the rights of racial minorities and as supporters of the poor through the welfare state (more trusted, at least, by minority and poor voters). Since a disproportionate number of African Americans are poor, both of these factors are most likely important. Mead adds an important factor, though, that I think is important as well: government jobs at the federal, state, and municipal levels have been a key factor in the growth of a black middle class, and puts it in the context of American history:

Today, Blacks hold a larger share of government jobs (pdf) than their percentage of the population would alone account for – and government employment represents a significant percentage of Black middle income families.  Teachers, police, fire-fighters, sanitation workers, health workers: Blacks are often strongly represented in state and municipal workforces, especially of course in urban areas with large Black populations….

The Black middle class isn’t based so largely on government jobs because Blacks aren’t entrepreneurial or because they have some natural affinity for bureaucratic paper-pushing. Historically, municipal government in particular has been a major avenue for the economic advance of different American ethnic groups.  The Irish, the Italians, the Germans, the Poles and many others used their voting strength in urban centers to elect politicians sympathetic to the interests of their group, and over time that turned into municipal jobs for many voters, and contracts for others.  The urban ethnic political machines and their traditions of patronage, wholesale electoral fraud and influence peddling often led to bad governance, but historically that system did help millions of new immigrants bootstrap themselves into the American middle class.  Politicians like Charlie Rangel and Maxine Waters aren’t evidence of some peculiar disease of Black urban politics; they are as American as Tammany Hall.

The rise of Black voting power in American cities led very naturally to improved access for Black workers to city jobs – just in the same way that Tammany Hall helped the Irish and other political organizations have helped other groups get that first toehold on the rung of success.  Blacks, whose Great Migration to the northern cities came as World War One and immigration restrictions closed the door to European immigrants early in the twentieth century, were (until the recent Hispanic influx) the last major group to colonize the great American cities; it is the misfortune of Black America to be just establishing its middle class on the basis of government work as the economic foundations of government are shifting.

As Mead notes, this parallels the fact that just as manufacturing jobs finally opened up fully to blacks in the 1970s, the American economy was beginning to deindustrialize. The jobs that drew African Americans to cities, that had helped make many white workers middle class, disappeared from the cities and have been disappearing from the nation.

The poverty that African Americans have disproportionately experienced since the end of Jim Crow has prompted many people to point out that this, that, or the other thing is “the problem with black culture” and to propose solutions. And it’s true that African American culture (along with every other human culture) needs to change, specifically under the lordship of Christ. But let’s not make our judgments about culture without reference to history and the bigger socioeconomic picture in which cultures exist.

I should also note that one thing that Mead doesn’t get into is the damage and dependency promoted by welfare state policies that came from the New Deal model.

The Great Migration

I listened to this interview on NPR’s Fresh Air while washing the dishes today.  Terry Gross talked to journalist Isabel Wilkerson about her book The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration.  The Great Migration, in which over 6 million African Americans moved from mostly rural settings in the South to cities outside the South, played a major role in charting the course of urban America in the 20th century.  Wilkerson places the dates of the Migration as 1915-1975, although I have seen some dating it as early as 1890.  In Chicago, the earliest part of the migration forged the black community on the city’s famous and infamous South Side, and the later part transformed the West Side into a largely African American area.

Wilkerson made two points that stuck out.  One, she said that the segregation laws in the South included not only the more well-known rules like separate bathrooms and water fountains, but also more obscure local regulations like the ban on white and black people playing checkers together in Birmingham.  The most heartbreaking was that multiple laws existed that required separate Bibles in courts so that blacks and whites could be sworn in on different Bibles.  That’s quite a potent symbol of the evil of segregation.

Additionally, Wilkerson said that her interviews with over 1000 people did not reveal a general consciousness that the migrants were part of a large movement.  It’s not surprising, but it’s a good reminder that people aren’t always conscious of the bigger events that they’re part of.  The communications revolution will certainly be one of the defining historical trends of our period, but I often have to remind myself of how much has changed in just a short period of time.  It makes me wonder what other great historical developments of our age will be seen by historians of the future.

A good week in Kankakee

I live and work in Kankakee, Illinois, about 60 miles south of Chicago.  It’s a small city of about 25,000 with a mini-metropolitan area (two other towns, Bradley and Bourbonnais, that seem analogous to suburbs).  When my fiancée Bethany and I get married in May, we intend to live intentionally a poor neighborhood, engage in both evangelism and service to our neighbors, and participate with (not dominate) our neighbors in changing the neighborhood for the better.  I realize that this may sound abstract, but for a more systematic explanation of what we are talking about, you can see the Christian Community Development Association website.

When Bethany and I were on the Justice Journey this past summer, which took white and black Christians from the Chicago area to significant spots in the history of the civil rights movement, we felt encouraged to pursue this course of action.  We actually got to talk to the “founding father” of the Christian Community Development Association, John Perkins.  Perkins is an old-time gospel preacher who also has done a lot of thinking and working on community development.  When we told him our idea, he immediately warmed to it, telling us we needed to get a three-bedroom house with a large living room so that we can host our neighbors and other guests for Bible studies and other things.  He also said we should put down a concrete slab for a basketball hoop for children in the neighborhood, and that when choosing a place to live we might want to look for a place near the unspoken boundary that can separate the black and white communities.  We were thrilled that he was taking us seriously!

Well, this week, by God’s grace, we started to take some concrete steps to help the vision turn into reality.  We looked at some houses and found one on which we may well make an offer.  It’s definitely near a socioeconomic boundary in Kankakee.  We’ll see what happens in the coming weeks.

We also started to make some great connections with other Christians, even before we looked inside any of the houses.  At the recommendation of someone from our home church, Christ Church of Oak Brook, we connected with the Kankakee-area Youth for Christ office.  When we told the staff about our plans to relocate to a struggling neighborhood in Kankakee, they were really interested and excited.  It was great to see how God used us to encourage them and them to encourage us.  We met the staff person who runs the YFC outreach to Kankakee youth and also found out more about the “City Life Center” in East Kankakee that I had seen before.  It turns out that YFC is really thinking about urban ministry and bought the City Life Center so that kids from the toughest parts of Kankakee would have a place to go after school.  They also wanted us to meet the assistant staff person for Kankakee outreach, who also leads a church that meets in the City Life Center.  When Bethany and I left, we agreed that the meeting couldn’t have gone any better.

The next day, we were able to meet with both of the outreach staff for Kankakee at the City Life Center.  We were so impressed and encouraged by both of them.  In fact, we think that we might have found our church home when we move!  The YFC assistant director/church pastor seemed to be a really kind, smart, spiritually mature guy, and he was thrilled that we were interested in coming to the church.  He gave us a CD of his teaching, and from what we have heard so far he’s a faithful and skillful teacher with a heart for both the gospel and spiritual formation of believers.  We’re eager to talk to him and find out more about his story and his influences.  Three interesting things we know so far: if we do get the house that we like, he would be a reasonably close neighbor; every week at church he explains a traditional phrase to get the people in touch with traditional ways of talking about doctrine; and while he is African American, he really feels that black churches have overemphasized racial particularity, whereas he emphasizes racial unity in Christ in what seems like a very scripturally grounded way.

As you can tell, we are very excited about the future and feel blessed beyond measure, not because we deserve it but because God is gracious.  We’re thankful to God for His providence and for the relationships that we were able to begin.  We do believe that God planted the desire to relocate in us, and we are so grateful that He doesn’t seem to want us to do it alone.

Urban leadership against the abortion industry

An interesting and heartening article from Heartbeat International claims that a “third wave” of pro-life pregnancy help is emerging.  Following Catholic efforts to educate and provide crisis pregnancy help and the founding of many evangelical crisis pregnancy centers, Heartbeat believes that the stage is set for black and Latino communities that to take the leadership of the pro-life movement:

Presently, America’s pregnancy help centers are set up in predominantly white, suburban, and small-town communities. This reflects the demographics of our current movement. But long ago, Planned Parenthood explicitly identified its profit centers: “young women, low-income women, and women of color” (Planned Parenthood Plan of Action, 1997). Studies show that 62.5% of Planned Parenthood facilities are located in cities where Blacks represent a higher percentage of the population compared to the overall population of the state. (

Black women, who represent 12% of the female population, suffer 36% of all abortions. Latina women represent 13% of the female population but suffer another 20% of all abortions. Together, they suffer 56% of all abortions yet they represent only 25% of our nation’s population.Rev. Clenard Childress, Northeast Region President of the Life Education And Resource Network (L.E.A.R.N.), explains the numbers: “The abortion industry kills as many Black people every four days as the Klan killed in 150 years. Since 1973, legal abortion has killed more Blacks than AIDS, cancer, diabetes, heart disease and violent crime combined.”

Since those who profit in shedding innocent blood concentrate on Black and Latino neighborhoods, these abortionists cannot survive without the silent approval of the Black and Latino pastors and churches in those neighborhoods. Only as the pregnancy help movement penetrates the heart of our urban churches, producing pregnancy help clinics there, can we expect further significant national progress. Therefore, Heartbeat is committed to urban initiatives.

Heartbeat has provided funds and expertise to pregnancy help centers in abortion-plagued cities like Miami, Los Angeles, and Pittsburgh. We are calling our affiliates to “go urban,” increasing their service in metropolitan areas as they plan expansion. We have asked Black and Latino Christians already working in our affiliate centers to boldly step up to national leadership. Our recent training, Heartbeat’s Annual Conference in Virginia, was largely planned with our minority leadership team. They represent the future growth and ultimate victory of our mission.

The importance of local leadership in big Christian enterprises seems to be a common theme in many different areas today: the importance in missions of training local leaders who carry on the work (a recent Piper sermon, for example), the importance of local leadership in Christian community development (promoted by the CCDA), and short-term missions.  There seems to be an awareness that white Christians don’t have all the answers and that we need to trust that God’s grace enables our Christian brothers and sisters to lead their communities too.

Hat tip: Heartbeat International’s Executive Director for Urban Initiatives, John Ensor, at the Desiring God blog