Monday, November 07, 2005

French Lesson For New Orleans

The US should learn from the French riots that segregating poor people is a terrible idea, and make sure that doesn't happen when New Orleans is rebuilt.

This argues that the lawless New Orleans projects destroyed by Katrina were built for the same reason the French built their ghettos:

Like their French cousins in Paris, the government of New Orleans tried to do it's best to house and supply the basic needs of the poorest of the poor. New Orleans acted on a basic impulse to "do something" while ignoring the needs of human dignity, and failing to providing a sense of hope and opportunity for a better future. Instead, state centered socialist solutions were favored over all other considerations.

In an effort to be all things to all people in need, the do-gooders with a socialist plan warehoused human beings on a massive scale and left them little hope for a future as bright as the one they could see all around them demonstrated by those who were free of the state's smothering embrace.

In 2002 Theodore Dalrymple wrote this prescient description of the French ghettos:

The state, while concerning itself with the details of their housing, their education, their medical care, and the payment of subsidies for them to do nothing, abrogates its responsibility completely in the one area in which the state’s responsibility is absolutely inalienable: law and order. In order to placate, or at least not to inflame, disaffected youth, the ministry of the interior has instructed the police to tread softly (that is to say, virtually not at all, except by occasional raiding parties when inaction is impossible) in the more than 800 zones sensibles—sensitive areas—that surround French cities and that are known collectively as la Zone.

A terrible chasm has opened up in French society, dramatically exemplified by a story that an acquaintance told me. He was driving along a six-lane highway with housing projects on both sides, when a man tried to dash across the road. My acquaintance hit him at high speed and killed him instantly.

According to French law, the participants in a fatal accident must stay as near as possible to the scene, until officials have elucidated all the circumstances. The police therefore took my informant to a kind of hotel nearby, where there was no staff, and the door could be opened only by inserting a credit card into an automatic billing terminal. Reaching his room, he discovered that all the furniture was of concrete, including the bed and washbasin, and attached either to the floor or walls.

The following morning, the police came to collect him, and he asked them what kind of place this was. Why was everything made of concrete?

“But don’t you know where you are, monsieur?” they asked. “C’est la Zone, c’est la Zone.”

This is a classic feedback loop, where lawless communities are cordoned off and so become more lawless. The solution for New Orleans is to subsidize the poor, let them live where they may and police them like everybody else.