By Matt Johnson
As you may know by now, President-elect Trump picked Dr. Ben Carson to head the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). And in fact, the armchair urban dynamicists are out in force criticizing Dr. Carson for not being qualified for the position and criticizing Trump for appointing him.
Look. I’m not here to defend the pick. And as an urban dynamicist, a mathematical scientist who studies cities (a city scientist), I’m not even sure how I feel about it at this point.
Indeed, Dr. Carson does not have an education in urban dynamics, nor does he have city management experience. These are indisputable facts. And yes, there are probably a lot of people more qualified than him. But dismissing him outright is probably not the most productive approach.
In fairness to him, no person yet, who has sat as secretary of HUD, has provided a viable economic policy plan to address the historical discrepancies that still resonate in depressed, urban environments. Black unemployment has continuously been at least twice that of white folks since the civil rights era.
Before the civil rights acts of the 1960s, black folks experienced redlining policies and economic partitioning in resources. And what is not understood is that these past adverse policies are still being dealt with today.
It is indeed the case that utility and economic vitality and security have increased here in the United States over the past few decades. However, black folks are still behind in economic and educational competitiveness. And it’s not just black unemployment is twice that of white folks. Black business owners are far behind white business owners in creating jobs and producing revenues. Why might this be?
Resources were disproportionately distributed before the 1960s. Local governments, for example Atlanta and Detroit, would provide white citizens with desirable geography, law enforcement for safe neighborhoods, good schools plus the best educational resources, economic support and resources for white businesses, and responsive city government solutions.
In contrast, black folks received undesirable geographical locations, harassment by local law enforcement, second-rate schools and little to no educational resources, and nearly no economic support, if they ever received any.
If black families wanted to move into better neighborhoods, which were white, white families would do what they could to keep white neighbors from moving and black folks from moving in. And this was as recent as the 1960s if not the 1970s and 1980s.
However, the reader should not be fooled. Urban neighborhoods are still very much segregated. What are the reasons for this in a modern America, where everyone is equal and has the same opportunities? There are many reasons, including political philosophy disputes between liberal structuralists and conservative behaviorists. But that’s the point. It’s still happening. Segregated neighborhoods are as American as apple pie.
As secretary of HUD, these will be some of the challenges Dr. Carson will need to address. Is he qualified? Most reasonable, non character assassinating people would probably agree he isn’t. Will he be successful? Who knows? If he surrounds himself with the best of the best when it comes to urban environments and delegates authority, then it won’t matter if he’s qualified. He’ll rely on his team and their education and experience.
But until Carson is appointed by the U.S. Senate , there are going to be a lot of armchair urban dynamicists and economists criticizing the appointment.
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