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The City Moynihanism

By Thomas Geoghegan

URBANOLOGISTS are an optimistic breed. The most recent endeavor of Daniel P. Moynihan. Presidential Advisor on Urban Alfairs, is to outline in ten points what he hopes can become the first national urban policy. The initial draft ("Toward a National Urban Policy") appeared in the fall issue of Public Interest and a second will appear in book form this spring. These ten points quickly collapse into three major recommendations: to relocate slumdwellers, to reorganize the political and fiscal bases of local government, and to encourage more national decision-making in the federal government.

There is an irony- intentional or not- to these priorities. Both major parties now agree that the problems of the cities have enormous price tags and must await the end of the Vietnam war. The peace dividend, however small, must be forthcoming before the nation commits itself to more expensive programs. Urban problems are believed expensive because Americans visualize them as deficiencies in physical capital-buildings that must be turndown, highways that must be built. Yet the problems that Moynihan finds most critical cost relatively little money. Their real costs are political and social, in amounts neither the Administration nor the nation are likely to pay.

Moynihan contends that the federal government lacks a coherent policy, not program, toward the cities. Programs abound. Between 1960 and 1968, the number of domestic programs rose from 45 to 485. These programs do not add up to a specific set of ends, but this does not impair administrative efficiency. The problems of the cities are diverse and rightfully belong in various program categories. Some problems like traffic congestion or air pollution have clear-cut economic or physical remedies. Other ladies like family disorganization or inferior schooling require more nebulous social responses. Here the need is more accurately cooperation than policy, particularly between two bureaucratic empires like HEW and HUD.

By defining an urban policy, however, Moynihan is able to spell out in boldface his own views on environment and violence. To Moynihan, the "urban problem" means chiefly the social isolation of the black minority. The crisis of authority in the cities- the riots, the white backlash, the flight of the mayors-originates in the social disorganization of the black poor. A heavy emphasis on environment is regarded by many black political activists as demeaning. Moynihan, though, steadfastly believes that the ghettoes are "human cesspools" and that the government should relocate blacks throughout the metropolitan area.

Ten years ago the dispersal strategy seemed radical and daring. Today it is simply impossible. It is clearly repugnant to demands for neighborhood control, to the growing sense of specific community. Prodded by the black power advocates, even liberals have been pushing "community control." Such localism has inevitable racial overtones, which may one day result in intricate warfare. Whether or not it increases the self-reliance of the blacks, in the white areas localism means law-and-order and school segregation. Moynihan ignores these unhappy political realities. To him, the neighborhood-oriented approach is self-defeating if the neighborhoods are human cesspools. Though he may be right, the relocation proposal is foolishly bucking a powerful trend on the most volatile of issues.

This old fashioned plea for integration sounds quaint at a moment when ethnic power and "positive polarization" are carrying the day. It sounds curiously quaint from the man often credited with the rediscovery of the ethnic community ( Beyond the Melting Pot ). Perhaps Moynihan could soft-pedal his policy as "the creation of black suburbs." The creation of black suburbs, though, has been going on for many years; to some extent, it has aggravated the social disorientation of the blacks left behind. Moynihan actually has in mind a federally financed migration out of the ghetto. But to where- the white suburbs, the rural hinterlands, the sea? Whatever its messianic possibilities, the details of the migration remain unclear.

Moynihan's association with the Nixon Administration has caused many people to label him-perhaps unfairly- a conservative. He does accept some key conservative doctrines: the need for economic incentives, the reduction of federalism, and the return to local initiative. He scored the old welfare program for breaking up families. He stands opposed with many Republicans to the provision of services through the federal government. The government, he holds, is good at collecting revenues but bad at distributing services. Direct cash payments to the poor are more effective than what he calls "the monopoly strategy of services," because the government rarely provides what the poor really need. Since Republicans also prefer the income strategy to the services strategy, Moynihan has fitted surprisingly well in the Nixon hierarchy.

But the cheapest strategy, Moynihan's dispersal strategy, would virtually sabotage Nixon and Mitchell's grand political design. The Administration has committed itself to the white silent majority, with a few feints toward the Wallace constituency. The surest way to lose a silent majority, as any politician knows, is a risky social experiment. Regardless of ideology Moynihan is emotionally and ultimately a Democrat. Only the Democrats have commitments to the minority groups, which stand to gain most from a "national urban policy."

THE SECOND point of this policy- the reorganization of local government- might even do more to aggravate stolidly Republican suburbia. Moynihan correctly calls urban government "fragmented and obsolescent." The flight of both industry and middle class to the suburbs has eaten away at the urban tax base. This smaller tax base must simultaneously finance more and more government services for the outcast population left behind.

There is little agreement on the best way to restructure local government, and Moynihan vacillates accordingly. The metropolitan sprawl, he recognizes, has made it "difficult to collect power in one place." This leads him at first to espouse annexing the suburbs. Later on, he opts for community control and decentralization. Soon he is also stressing the responsibility of the states, and, in a final dizzy burst, ends up praising the sensibleness of county government. Instead of conserving political energies, Moynihan seems to suggest that reformers pursue all these goals simultaneously.

As for the federal government, he writes, it should encourage local government to reorganize by "restoring its fiscal vitality." He recommends federal revenue sharing to make urban citizenship as financially painless as possible. His answer is only a partial one. Fiscal vitality alone would not overcome the reluctance of the suburbs to associate with the central cities. Self-interest, self-satisfaction and fear would keep them detached. They wish not only to protect themselves from crime and urban poverty but also to reduce their involvement with these problems.

Instead of suburb in cooperation coercion might be the eventual answer. While allowing the suburbs their symbolic independence, the county governments could initiate a metropolitan-wide tax base for "public goods" which benefit the whole area. Such public goods include transportation, police protection, and air pollution. The exception to these is education. Here one must accept community control as political reality. In the central city, however, federal funds should increase substantially to put the quality of urban schooling on roughly equal footing with suburban. Political control over these funds, however, is lost for good and must be accepted.

THE THIRD and last tenet of the national urban policy concerns "institutional naivete," particularly as practiced by the federal government. The bureaucrats, according to Moynihan, have been neglecting the secondary consequences of their programs. This neglect has caused "sharp imbalances in the ecology of urban areas." Building highways, for example, may also depopulate the countryside, redistribute employment opportunities, or fill up the slums.

This carelessness has a deeper explanation than "naivete," but it is one that Moynihan ignores. It is often in the self-interest of government agencies to ignore the secondary consequences of their decisions. It facilitates both their survival and expansion. In the real world there exists little rational planning. The most critical decisions result haphazardly, for they must be ratified at a number of unrelated levels: Congress, the state legislature, and city council. The New Federalism, which Moynihan is advocating, will encourage more neglect by increasing the strength at each level.

Moynihan's manifesto for a national urban policy is articulate, well documented, but ultimately divisive. It will not rouse the Administration to action: it will not rouse Congress to action; at most it will rouse a few social scientists to speculation. But it deserves a measure of appreciation. It takes a brazen man to outline policy- and national policy, at that- on problems of such complexity that their prolonged study can induce paralysis.

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