Thursday, March 31, 2016

The Banfield Proposals--Is This Our Reality?

In 1970, a Harvard professor named Edward Banfield published a book about how to deal with civil insurrection, rebellion and other activities in the urban Black ghetto...  The professor was an occasional advisor to President Nixon and are not only racist in context, but also in practice.  Critic Greil Marcus wrote a long article for Rolling Stone magazine (back in the days before it endorsed establishment politicians like Hillary Clinton) about Banfield's proposals, the Weatherman (who were quite new at the time and had yet to go underground, and the Isla Vista riots in Santa is a link to the article...

And here are the proposals with Marcus's commentary...

The February 23rd, 1970 issue of New York magazine included excerpts from a new book on urban politics, called The UnHeavenly City, by Edward Banfield, a former Nixon adviser. Advance copies of the book are causing a lot of excitement, as they say, in Washington. It looks good out there. Banfield may have a way to solve city problems without resorting to the mammoth welfare state on which the Democrats have always relied. Very exciting. Banfield puts forth a series of twelve interrelated proposals which, if adapted, would bring most of the black urban population into a state of almost total subjection, and which at the same time would gut the Bill of Rights. It would necessitate an enormous enlargement of police forces around the country. Finally, it would fully bury whatever vague “American” goals the country has left in which it can take pride: freedom for all, just and equal laws, privacy, education for all, and even that old chestnut, equal.
Don’t get me wrong; we get to keep these; they don’t. The abandonment of those values for all reduces them, however, to the status of possessions. However wretched our reality, Banfield’s proposals might well make us a nation without values and without ideas—and without limits.
Banfield hedges his argument. He states that while his proposals are politically feasible (government ought to try them) virtually all of them are politically unacceptable (the government couldn’t get away with them). It seems to me that most of them are acceptable, to the Nixon administration, and to the country. For what Banfield has done is to construct a set of “poor laws” which define the poor as a class (urban black, it seems), and then confine and control that class to the point where it is destroyed, culturally, and imprisoned, concretely.
Banfield does not like normal “solutions” to urban problems. That is fine; but he goes on to demonstrate what he means by this by noting that the McCone Commission, formed to investigate the causes of the Watts Riot, were incorrect in stating that a midday meal was necessary to a meaningful educational experience. Since in many cases that is all school children get, and since a child who has passed out or who is dizzy from hunger has a hard time learning, one gets a firm sense of the direction in which Banfield is moving. But let me list his proposals, with comment:
1. Avoid rhetoric tending to raise expectations to unreasonable and unrealizable levels, to exaggerate the seriousness of problems and the possibility of finding solutions, and to overemphasize “wrong motivation” (e.g., “white racism”) as a cause of social problems.
That is: Whatever the reality, the poor are the “problem.” White racism (Banfield continually puts quotes around it as if he doubts its existence) is not a politically useful term; it may contribute to the idea that the poor are not the cause of all their own problems, or worse, make the poor themselves think someone else or something else may hold much of the responsibility.
2. Repeal the minimum wage laws; cease to overpay for low-skilled public employment; cease to harass private employers who offer low wages and poor (but not unsafe) working conditions to workers whose alternative is unemployment.
That is: Create, by law, and encourage, by law, a degraded and immobile section of the population under conditions which they are legally helpless to change.
3. Revise school curricula so as to cover in nine grades what is covered in twelve. Reduce the school-leaving age to 14 (ninth grade), and encourage (or perhaps require) boys and girls unable or unwilling to go to college to take a full-time job or else enter military service or a civilian youth corps. Assure serious, on-the-job training for those who chose work rather than college.
That is: Perform an educational impossibility, which is to say, drastically reduce educational goals in the ghetto (the age of 14 in the ghetto does not correspond to the ninth grade). Force huge numbers of young people into jobs they do not want or service they do not want to have, a form of involuntary servitude, meted out by class and race, as a goal. Use the word “choose” when talking about force.
4. Define poverty in terms of “hardship” rather than in terms of “relative deprivation.” Distinguish between those of the poor who are competent to manage their affairs and those of them who are not, the latter category including the insane, the severely retarded, the senile, the inveterate “problem families” among the lower class, and unprotected children. Cash incentives by negative income tax to the competent, as incentive to work. Goods and services rather than cash to the incompetent; depending on the degree of incompetence, encourage (or require) them to live in an institution or semi-institution (for example, a closely supervised public housing project).
That is: Redefine poverty so as to lower expectations of what poor blacks can expect in America. Banfield earlier notes that someone is poor in Hollywood at $1000 a week since so many make $10,000 a week, thereby satirizing the “relative deprivation” standard. “Relative deprivation” matters partly because of the affluence of the general society with which the poor are confronted, and with which they are confronted by their children and their own aspiration, and because of the fact that men measure their needs relatively, regardless of the concrete demands of their stomachs. Men can live in shacks filled with rats; that is not justification for insuring that they do so.
Force those of the black urban population who have been in trouble with the law (an enormous proportion), who are in heavy debt, or who perhaps have too many children, to live in urban concentration camps; restrict their movements; destroy them psychologically. This will require a huge increase in local police and perhaps in the National Guard, with the possibility of general race war in the cities.
5. Give intensive birth control advice to the incompetent poor.
That is: Perhaps refuse to allow people to have more children than they can afford; set approximate sanctions, such as prison (children can be sent to institutions), or fines (?). In any case, limit the size of the black population of the country so that demographically it becomes less of a problem.
6. Pay “problem families” to send infants and children to day nurseries designed to bring them into normal culture.
That is: Destroy all that is good and vital in ghetto culture, and destroy black self-awareness, by removing children from their parents at an early age.
7. Regulate insurance and police practices so as to give potential victims of crime greater incentive to take reasonable precautions to prevent it. Why not, for example, require careless owners to pay the police cost of recovering their stolen cars?
That is: Deny ghetto residents, victims of most crime, the normal police protection enjoyed by the rest of the nation.
8. Intensify police patrol in high-crime areas; permit the police to “stop and frisk” and to make misdemeanor arrests on probable cause; institute a system of “negative bail” whereby a suspect who is held in jail and later found innocent is paid compensation for each day of confinement.
That is: Institutionalize and legalize current ghetto police procedure, while denying those arrested their basis for a Constitutional appeal. “Negative bail” simply means “preventative detention” for misdemeanors as well as felonies; the conviction rate is near 90% already, and detention insures that the suspect will have great difficulty securing a lawyer or witnesses or raising money for defense. “Compensation” is a fraud since in many cases the suspect will lose his job.
9. Reduce drastically the time elapsing between arrest, trial, and the imposition of punishment.
That is: Fine as far as it goes, though for Banfield it may go to such a point that the suspect has no idea of his situation and is unable to secure a lawyer. Note Banfield’s use of “punishment” and not “sentence” to get his meaning.
10. Abridge to an appropriate degree the freedom of those who in the opinion of the court are extremely likely to commit violent crimes. Confine and treat drug addicts.
That is: Limit the mobility of convicted ghetto felons (a proportion close to 50 percent among ghetto young males) drastically, perhaps within their city, area, or “housing project.” Refuse to allow certain radicals to cross state lines, instituting a system of “permanent probation.” Confine convicted felons (from car thieves to murderers) to the ghetto.
11. Make it clear in advance that those who incite to riot will be severely punished.
That is: Intimidate defense attorneys and round up radicals and militants after any disturbance; convict and imprison them.
12. Prohibit “live” television coverage of riots and of incidents likely to provoke them.
That is: Unconstitutionally restrict the freedom of the media, in a way that could lead to the prohibition of any sort of coverage of riots or other disturbances. Remove ghetto residents and student radicals from the view of the nation, thus easing the “problem.” Incidents likely to provoke riots could range from speeches to peaceful demonstrations. Define and regulate “the news.”
Thus Banfield’s set of proposals, to whom and to which I have probably been somewhat unfair. Perhaps so, perhaps not. My response comes not solely from Banfield’s specific proposals but from their obvious implications, and from the view that such proposals are not “politically unacceptable,” to the Nixon administration and to much of his constituency, though much of them appear to be unconstitutional, not a great stumbling block these days.
These proposals, from a highly respected political science professor, from Harvard at that, offer a sense of what America is willing to do to have her peace and quiet, her law and order. Cut the heart out of that which is good in the American political tradition; prohibit the development of social or political alternatives; enforce cultural and social genocide on blacks in the ghetto; greatly increase the size of the police, or perhaps simply merge them with the Army. Institutionalize the situation in the ghetto as it stands, while removing whatever freedoms remain for poor blacks, taking them out of the public view with an eye toward a “disappearance” of social problems.
Near the end of the excerpt Banfield satirizes the idea of justice, degrading it into the admittedly paltry impulse to “do good,” arguing that this idea/impulse is something the nation would be better off without. They’re very excited about it in Washington. Rights, dignity, and aspirations, it seems, are for those rich enough to enjoy them, not for those who, even more than we, need them.

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