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What’s The Matter With Jackson?

What are the roots of the Mississippi capital's water crisis? 'Racism' is not a sufficient answer
What’s The Matter With Jackson?

The water situation in Jackson, Miss., is a national disgrace. People in that poor, black city are suffering from an inability to get clean drinking water. In a country as wealthy as ours, this is unacceptable. No American citizens should have to suffer like this. Period. The end. We owe it to them as our fellow Americans.

That said, the stories examining how Jackson got into this mess are all predictable. It's racism's fault, they say. For example, this from a Washington Post story:

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Urban planning experts contrast the investment that flows to better-off White areas with that lacking in places like Jackson.

“Racism set Jackson up for failure. It was a man-made disaster that was decades in the making,” said Andre Perry, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution Metropolitan Policy Program. “It was a lack of investment in Black people that failed the water system.

“When you do get a new mall, a new community college, a new movie theater, they’re typically placed in non-Black areas. Those developments lead to infrastructure development,” he said. “So there is a tacit refurbishing or a greater likelihood that infrastructure is built in White areas.”

Andre Perry seems to believe that developments arise in certain places for no particular reason. He seems unaware that people who invest money in businesses have an expectation that those businesses will be profitable to operate. In my Southern city, which is 52 percent black, if you wanted to put a new mall, new community college, or new theater in the city, the last place you would go is to the black part of town. Why? Because it is poor, violent, and crime-ridden. Once again, let me cite the senior executive in a supermarket chain who explained "food deserts" in poor black parts of cities by saying that his company can't afford to operate in places like that, because shoplifting is so rampant.

A friend of mine's father-in-law does business with the City of Jackson. His in-law reports that corruption and incompetence and racial back-scratching is par for the course there. Back in the 1980s, I read in the New Orleans Times-Picayune a letter to the editor from a black reader angry at the anti-corruption investigation of Ernest Morial, the first black mayor of the city. It had something to do with airport contracts, as I recall. The reader said that when every other ethnic group ran the city, corruption was rampant. Now that blacks have their turn at the trough, what right do people have to be upset? And people wonder why things never change in my state.

I knew when I moved back to Louisiana that I was moving to a state where people had a much higher tolerance for corruption and inefficiency than in Northern states. There were compensations, though: family, the joie de vivre of the people. But it shouldn't be hard to understand why people who don't have a pre-existing connection to this state -- to this wonderful state -- would find it hard to understand why they should be eager to live here. And if you were going to move here, you would have to think strategically before moving into the City of New Orleans or the City of Baton Rouge, given the crime, which is almost entirely black phenomenon. If you're woke, you have trained yourself not to see that. But most normal people, whatever their color, can't afford to be blinded by ideology, not when their family's safety, and the security of their investment in a home, is on the line.

The Post story does point out that the black middle class also left Jackson, when it was able to:

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When Cole, 78, moved to his home in South Jackson in 1984, the neighborhood was about half Black. By the time his now 40-year-old son graduated from high school, the area was majority Black, he said.

“The tax base shrunk to the point where there just hasn’t been money to do the core infrastructure,” Cole said. “Towns around us that used to be 2,000 to 3,000 people are now 35,000 people, many of whom used to live in Jackson.”

The typical villains of stories like this are white people who left so their children didn't have to go to school with black kids. But what do you do with a man like Nick Lewis?

Since moving to Clinton five years ago from Michigan, Nick Lewis hasn’t had any water problems.

Lewis, 26, a Black software engineer, said he and his wife, a registered nurse and Jackson native, are expecting their first child but chose not to live in Jackson even though she still has family there.

“Jackson’s got a bunch of issues: water, the roads, but also crime” and schools, he said Saturday as he cut the lush lawn surrounding his red brick home.

Nick Lewis, a black man, plainly isn't a racist. Why did he not settle in Jackson? The usual reasons middle-class people don't go into a locality -- including crime.

It is undeniable that criminality in America is overwhelmingly the province of young black males. Black males commit a wildly disproportionate number of violent crimes, and their victims are usually other black people. Why should Nick Lewis and his wife want to live in a neighborhood where they would be less safe? It makes no sense. And if it makes no sense for Mr. and Mrs. Lewis, why would it make any sense for white Mr. and Mrs. Lewis?

The thing nobody talks about in public when it comes to problems like this is that some people are bearers of an antisocial culture. When it correlates with race, then you really can't talk about it ... but people recognize it, and behave accordingly. You don't see middle-class white people jumping through hoops to live around other white people who have chaotic, even violent, lives. If there were a large population of white people who were tolerant of criminal Nick Lewis didn't get into the middle class by being stupid about how this stuff works. A white friend of mine who comes from a poor white family says she knew that she had to put physical distance between herself and her kinfolks so any children she would have one day wouldn't be sucked back into the multigenerational violence and dysfunction of that culture. Most people in this world, regardless of their racial background, want a safe place to live, and in which to raise their kids. If you live in a bad neighborhood, and you have the opportunity to get out, you can either choose to stay and try to make it better, or get out and find a better place. For those who want to stay to make it better, they have to have a reasonable sense that the risk they're taking will pay off. If not, why shouldn't they leave?

Why can't Jackson pull out of this spiral of decline? Is it simply for lack of money, or are there cultural explanations as well? As I wrote here the other day, Jackson's murder rate is 97.6 per 100,000. The most violent country in the world, El Salvador, has a murder rate of 52 per 100,000. It's not fair to compare a city to a country, but still, it's remarkable that an American city has a murder rate almost twice that of a poor Third World country that is the world's most violent. Why? There are poor people all over the world. Why are the poor in Jackson so much more likely to commit homicidal violence? I don't have a clear answer, but I know that you cannot blame it entirely on material factors, and you can't blame it all on white racism.

The link between fatherlessness (that is, children being raised without a father in the home) and juvenile crime has been very well established. Well, Mississippi leads the nation in teenage births, and that means babies without fathers in the home. According to this data (2008-12), Mississippi was dead last in the nation among states where kids were raised with two parents in the home: 66 percent of the state's children had only one parent in the home. These 2019 data found that Mississippi leads the nation in births to unwed mothers, with 54 percent of all births there occurring to women without husbands. Whites, Asians, and immigrants have fewer such births. If you have a lot of black people in your state -- Mississippi is 38 percent black -- you will have a disproportionate number of births to unwed mothers. And that means you will have a disproportionate amount of dysfunction, including criminal dysfunction, correlated with fatherlessness. In turn, you will drive away people of all races who want to live in a safe, stable place.

And there goes your tax base. It's not a racist conspiracy. These are just the facts. Culture matters.

The problem with the discussion of violence, social dysfunction, and culture, is that it violates the hallowed tenets of DEI. But take a look here:

Why would Sweden be on that list? Because it has imported so many immigrants from the Third World, most of them Muslims. From Reuters this past April:

Sweden has failed to integrate the vast numbers of immigrants it has taken in over the past two decades, leading to parallel societies and gang violence, Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson said on Thursday, as she launched a series of initiatives to combat organised crime.

In the past twenty years -- only twenty years! -- Sweden doubled the number of migrants it accepted. Now migrants make up 20 percent of the population. They brought with them crime. The leftist Swedes have ruined their own country.

I don't know what's happening in Chile, but in Mexico, it has to do with the narcotization of the state. I recently had dinner in Rome with a former Mexican lawmaker who fought back tears telling me about a priest he knew who was assassinated by the drug cartels for opposing them. He told me that one-third of Mexico is under full control of the cartels, not the government.

Take a look at the top three countries Least Worried About Crime. Poland and Hungary are at the top. I haven't traveled extensively in Poland, but I can tell you that unlike the western European countries on the list -- places where large numbers of people worry about crime -- Hungary is not a wealthy country at all. It is also a country with a strong, cohesive culture ... and unlike France, Belgium, and other rich EU countries, very few migrants. You'd have to be blind as a bat -- or an ideological leftist -- to fail to see the connection between the culture that these migrants bring with them, and crime and social breakdown.

Similarly in the United States, regarding our cities. When people are free to move where they want to live, it should surprise no one that people who want stability and peace will get out of the parts of town where they can't find that.

To be clear, none of this means that we shouldn't hasten to help the people of Jackson with their water situation. We should! These are our fellow Americans. The Biden Administration is asking for an additional $13 billion to buy weapons for the Ukrainians, but actual Americans living in Jackson don't have clean drinking water. That is the emergency now, and the crisis that needs urgent attention. We can argue about the rest later. No American, anywhere, should suffer from a lack of clean water.

But when we do argue about it, you can be sure that the argument will be dishonest. Will we be able to ask why Jackson's political leadership has been so bad at delivering for its people? Maybe. But under no circumstance will anybody be able to speak clearly about the possibility that Jackson is so poor and hopeless in part because of its failed culture -- a culture that has driven productive citizens and stable families (like the Lewises, who are black) away from the city. We don't talk about that because it's too politically charged, and because I think most everybody realizes there's not a lot anybody outside those communities can do about it. You can't pass a law that restores the moral sense of a community, and makes forming families a priority. In fact, marriage rates are in decline across the board in America, and the more children born to single mothers, the more likely we are to be headed into a situation in which more of America looks like Jackson.

For that matter, how are we doing on maintaining our infrastructure in the USA? What's happening to Jackson could be a sign of things to come for many more of us.

UPDATE: From a Wall Street Journal editorial that blames poor local governance for Jackson's water woes:

The city’s progressive mayor, Democrat Chokwe Lumumba, blames white state Republicans for not providing sufficient funding. Yet the state made available nearly $170 million in loans and grants from 2016 to 2021 for Jackson’s water and sewer infrastructure. Earlier this year, Mr. Lumumba grumbled when the state offered another $25 million from federal American Rescue Plan Act funds because lawmakers insisted on exercising oversight on how the money was spent.

The state had good reason. In March 2020, the federal Environmental Protection Agency issued an Emergency Administrative Order to Jackson citing conditions “that present an imminent and substantial endangerment to the persons served” by the water system. The city had “failed to perform filter maintenance” at both of its water treatment plants, EPA noted. Jackson residents say the city doesn’t respond to calls when pipes burst or sewage backs up in their homes.

The progressive media narrative is that Jackson’s problems are the inevitable result of whites fleeing the predominantly black city, resulting in a shrinking of the local tax base. But many blacks have been escaping too. Blame lousy schools and infrastructure and a homicide rate that is among the highest in the U.S. In any case, city revenue increased to $264 million from $242 million between 2018 and 2020. Yet the city’s water and sewage disposal system ran $27 million in operating deficits during that time.

Uncollected bills are one problem. Faulty meters installed under a $90 million contract with Siemens in 2013 have resulted in the city losing as much as $1.8 million a month, according to the Jackson Water Sewer Business Administration. In March 2020 as Covid hit, the state imposed a two-month moratorium on water shutoffs owing to unpaid bills. But the city maintained a moratorium until September 2021, which meant the city collected less money to fund repairs.

UPDATE.2: A reader writes to say his son lives and works in Jackson, and everything I write in this post is spot on with the young man's experience in that city. Another reader who works in the public utilities field writes to say:

One of the largest municipal bankruptcies, over the water and sewer system, happened in Birmingham, Alabama. Mayor Larry Langford's exit was pathetic - literally wore sackcloth and ashes. He’s a disgrace. But go down the list of places run by black revenge politics - these mayors all in the federal penitentiary: Kwame Kilpatrick, Ray Nagin, Larry Langford. Atlanta, Memphis - name the place - it's a disaster. Basically every place run by blacks is corrupt and failing. 

Water systems are local -- not national. There is no "we". What happened in Jackson is 100 percent their problem -- and it's a problem of local leadership.

Harsh words about black political leadership. Can any of you come up with counter-examples?

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JON FRAZIER
JON FRAZIER
"Every place run by blacks is corrupt" is a full on racist statement. It's one thing to point out the crimes and follies of individuals- go for it, and I'll add some stuff about certain Baltimore polticians . But when this switches gears to lay the blame on a vast group of people it's crossed a line. It's a sad thing that Rod would feature such a comment.
schedule 3 weeks ago
    Hank Batts
    Hank Batts
    Agreed. Rod should have encouraged people to read something by J. Philippe Rushton instead.
    schedule 1 day ago