Segregation Revisited — A Modest Proposal

People, especially people with children, loathe having to be around crime. They will move heaven and earth to bring up their children in a place that is safe.

50 years ago, some of the country was explicitly racially segregated. Even in the supposedly enlightened north, there were subdivisions where the deed of every house had a clause that the house could not be sold or rented to blacks. This was obviously unjust, but it was a crude way to achieve an end — blacks had a much higher crime rate than whites, and by living in such a place, a white family who could not afford to live in a rich neighborhood could find themselves living in a much lower crime rate than they would have found in an integrated neighborhood.

This was obviously a terrible system — it did nothing to protect anyone from white criminals, it did nothing to help law-abiding blacks find a safe place to live, and was just so generally gross that such contracts eventually failed to stand up in the courts.

But people want segregation — not racial segregation, but they don’t want their families to live among criminals. To this end, people live in houses they can barely afford in remote places with long commutes — wasting huge amounts of energy and time, when all they want is the criminals out of the neighborhoods they live in. This has led to wildly escalating real estate costs, and a rash of foreclosures as people, in their desperate search of safe neighborhoods and better schools, bought houses they couldn’t really afford. Or that they could just so barely afford that any setback — a layoff, for example, would push them over the financial brink and into bankruptcy.

Spending a lot of money to buy a house is an extremely dangerous proposition, financially. If your family income decreases for any reason, such as an illness or layoff, it is very difficult to move to more affordable accommodations, especially in a down housing market. But Americans have been thus courting danger in droves, and paying the price. Elizabeth Warren, in her 2004 book “The Two Income Trap”, discusses how, long before the financial crisis, more Americans were going bankrupt than getting heart attacks, or getting cancer, or getting divorced, or graduating from college. Most of us don’t see the epidemic, because it’s usually a secret event. People usually don’t tell their friends about it. Sometimes they don’t even tell the kids.

Since people want this segregation and are willing to pursue it so vigorously, and with such catastrophic results, I propose a new means to segregation. Why couldn’t a town enact an ordinance requiring a criminal background check for any new home buyer or rental tenant? Existing inhabitants would be exempt and grandfathered in to the neighborhood, but new inhabitants would need to be checked, and if convicted of a crime after moving in, required to leave.

This way, a modestly priced neighborhood near to downtown could achieve a higher level of safety without bankrupting its inhabitants.

Children who are over 13 would have to be subject to the same restriction. Normally it is young men, including those in their late teens, who often terrorize neighborhoods and join gangs.

Segregation is a fact of American life, and not one that most people, especially families with children, are in any hurry to get away from. Segregation by race is gone, but it has been replaced with segregation by paycheck, incurring people to undergo tremendous financial waste just to prove what social class they are in. Let’s replace it with a system that allows law-abiding birds of all incomes to flock together.

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