A world that is free from conscious intent and in which actions do not have consequences must come as a constant surprise. In a recent article the Economist laments that the United States isn’t more like Europe with compact cities and comprehensive mass transit:
In a paper* published in 1965, John Kain, an economist at Harvard University, proposed what came to be known as the “spatial-mismatch hypothesis”. Kain had noticed that while the unemployment rate in America as a whole was below 5%, it was 40% in many black, inner-city communities. He suggested that high and persistent urban joblessness was due to a movement of jobs away from the inner city, coupled with the inability of those living there to move closer to the places where jobs had gone, due to racial discrimination in housing. Employers might also discriminate against those that came from “bad” neighbourhoods. As a result, finding work was tough for many inner-city types, especially if public transport was poor and they did not own a car.
Some suggest that governments should encourage companies to set up shop in areas with high unemployment. That is a tall order: firms that hire unskilled workers often need to be near customers or suppliers. A better approach would be to help workers either to move to areas with lots of jobs, or at least to commute to them. That would involve scrapping zoning laws that discourage cheaper housing, and improving public transport. The typical American city dweller can reach just 30% of jobs in their city within 90 minutes on public transport. That is a recipe for unemployment.
Let me provide an alternative explanation.
Stage 1: There are many inner city jobs.
Stage 2: Blacks move into inner cities.
Stage 3: Jobs move out of inner cities.
Stage 4: The increase in new entry level workers represented by the Baby Boomers begins to come to an end.
Stage 5: The United States imports entry level workers, mostly from Mexico, to fill the gap.
I think I see a pattern emerging here. American businesses don’t want to hire blacks.
The obvious explanation is racism and I think that racism is a substantial component but it’s not the only component. Other components include mutual lack of cultural understanding and social pressure opposing cultural assimilation, just to name two. None of those problems are going to be solved by scattered site low cost housing or improved mass transit. Or by more immigration for that matter.
Just as a point of reference the last gasp of low-cost housing on the North Shore, a strip of SROs, was razed a decade ago. Anyone who thinks scatter site low cost housing is going to catch on is whistling past a graveyard.