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Commentary By Heather Mac Donald

What Government Should – And Should Not – Do

Economics, Cities, Culture, Culture, Energy Race, Culture & Society

During her confirmation hearings, which she sailed through, she emphasized that she wants to restore confidence in the agency and spoke of respecting scientists’ opinions. But the FDA will need more than platitudes; it needs an overhaul.

The government should focus on doing the things it can do and recognize what it cannot do. The dismal legacy of the War on Poverty, which destroyed the black family to the misery of generations of children, suggests that government has very little capacity to engage in what sociologist Nathan Glazer has called “social uplift.”

Government can, however, create the backdrop for individual success. New York should become the opportunity city by creating the most efficient public services in the country — the best roads, rails, communications services and parks — that allow all individuals to seize opportunity and to better themselves.

New York can become much more economically vibrant by cutting taxes and ineffective social programs that only enrich social workers. The tax burden in New York prevents many entrepreneurs from opening businesses here and creating more and better paying jobs. As Mayor Bloomberg himself says, the best antipoverty program is a job. But as long as the middle class is priced out of the city, our job growth will continue to lag far behind the rest of the country.

New York schools should be unfailingly rigorous and demanding; students should be drilled in spelling, writing, and their multiplication tables. Children should graduate not just with academic skills but also having learned to control their impulses and to show respect for legitimate authority. So far, our schools are far from achieving those goals, in large part because the educational bureaucracy remains in thrall to the knowledge-crushing nostrums of progressive education.

Government is responsible for public safety, and here, New York leads the entire country. Mayor Bloomberg and the New York Police Department come closer everyday to ensuring that residents of every neighborhood enjoy the right to safe streets.

What government cannot do is create personal responsibility and drive in individuals. Yet that is what Mayor Bloomberg is attempting to do by paying people to send their children to school or to keep medical appointments. This payment system creates a very odd situation for the long term, as well as the short term. Will the recipients ever be weaned off their payments? The entitlement mentality will inevitably suck in a larger and larger range of paid-for activities. Not just attending classes, but refraining from hitting your teacher, not bringing a gun to school, showing up for an exam, bathing your kids and feeding them -- all will be candidates for a bribe. How will the city choose which individuals to pay and explain to those it is not paying why they should act in their self-interest for free?

Finally, the single most effective way to reduce child poverty would be to restore the norm of marriage to the inner city. Children growing up in single parent homes are five times as likely to be poor as those raised by married parents. They are also many times more likely to fail in school, become juvenile delinquents, suffer mental problems, and, for girls, become teen mothers. Restoring marriage as the norm for raising children does not lie within the power of government. But the mayor can call on private groups to campaign for such a change, and put his own considerable rhetorical stamp on marriage. If successful, such an initiative would be the most important social change in a century.

This piece originally appeared in Gotham Gazette

This piece originally appeared in Gotham Gazette