Periods of urban social malaise are routinely followed by vigorous reform efforts by mayors who break free of machine politics and forcibly assert control over the physical and social landscape of the city. Bloomberg is a particularly poor follow-up to men like LaGuardia or Giuliani, but he’s following the same pattern of trying to perfect the city by turning it into a perfect prison. And unlike LaGuardia or Giuliani, Bloomberg is trying to take his perfect prison campaign national.
Bloomberg is a living model of the glass half-full theory of human behavior. This is after all a man who banned large sodas, and if you can’t trust people to have large sodas, then you can’t trust them to have cold medicines, let alone guns. Where does it end? It ends the same place it ends in a prison. Nowhere. If you believe that people are basically bad, then every problem you identify is met with another control measure until you control absolutely everything.
With a big city politician in the White House, for the first time in a long time, the progressive impulse to extend that total net of control over everything and everyone seems to have come together. The old urban muckrakers became sociologists and community activists and then community organizers all over again in the great circle of rich kid busybodying. They are still looking for the worst possible examples of human behavior to justify total crackdowns on everything and everyone.
Fix the social problems by fixing the people. Fix the people by controlling their environment. Total control for total social morality. The social missionaries became social activists. The social activists have become social despots. Their single ability resides in documenting a condition, generalizing it and then crowding the cameras and newspapers and demanding immediate action. And they have gotten it over and over again. And we are much worse for it.
Most cities are once again trending downhill. A century ago the cities were centers of industry and commerce. Now they are warehouses for the poor who have no jobs and will never have jobs. The progressives cleaned up some of the messes and replaced them with static broken systems deep in debt and with no hope of a future. And that is their plan for the rest of the country.
The cities are chock full of laws but not law abiding. There are three classes of people in this perfect prison. The working lower, middle and upper, classes who care about the law. The welfare classes who care nothing for the law. And the upper upper classes who buy their way out of the law.
Laws apply to law abiding people, who are a self-selecting group. They don’t apply to people who shoot up schools, fast food joints or pension funds. The people who are the most controlled are also the people in the least need of being controlled. The people who are least controlled are in the most need of being controlled. This is an old paradox of government that governments never deal with.
Meth will go on being cooked, regardless of how often Joe Q. Public is forced to show his photo ID at the pharmacy. Schools will go on being shot up no matter how many assault rifle bans are passed. Most cops still know that law enforcement is small scale, it’s about what you do on one block, not about the big picture press conferences and proposals. But those still keep coming along with the dream of a magic social bullet. A way to fix the problem at the source. A perfect prison that will finally work.
The magic bullets are all about bigger scale crackdowns. Bigger laws and bigger prisons. Don’t bust meth dealers, outlaw cold medicines. Don’t bust gangbangers, bust the gun industry. It’s the type of thinking that exemplifies college smarts over real world smarts. Real world smarts says you have to get dirty to fix a problem and then you have to go on fixing it day after day while accepting that it will never really be fixed. College smarts says that a problem that has to be fixed over and over again is bad design and has to be put under a microscope so that it can be fixed once and for all.