Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Obama Administration's War Against Self Governance and Freedom of Assocation

To protect the fundamental right of families and individuals to live in any home and community that they desire and can afford is an affirmation of the American Way. One of the few instances in which federal authority should trump the rights of local self governance, is when communities actively bar individuals from exercising their constitutionally guaranteed liberties. But, when the federal government mandates that local communities take actions to ensure equal demographic outcomes, rather than equal housing opportunities, it violates the rights of self government to pursue self government and individuals to exercise their freedom of association.

More than any other American government, the Obama Administration has demonstrated a troubling penchant for disregarding the letter and spirit of carefully conceived limits on federal power, regarding the aforementioned rights. This was seen was the Administration demanded that Westchester County, under threat of a long and costly lawsuit to "spend more than $50 million of its own money, in addition to other funds, to build or acquire 750 homes or apartments, 630 of which must be provided in towns and villages where black residents constitute 3 percent or less of the population and Hispanic residents make up less than 7 percent. The 120 other spaces must meet different criteria for cost and ethnic concentration." To achieve this, the county will have to force local towns to rewrite their zoning laws, none of which have been deemed illegal. According to Ron Sims, the Deputy Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, “This is consistent with the president’s desire to see a fully integrated society." 

While I share the president's belief that integration is a social good and I would not want to live in a homogeneous community, I respect the rights of others to do so, as long as they are not depriving others of the opportunity to move to their community. There is no evidence that neither county, nor city governments, not any individuals have taken discriminatory measures. The only real barrier is the high cost of housing in the more homogeneous towns of Westchester and for the time being there does not exist a constitutional right to rent or purchase a home that exceeds your means. So, in effect, the federal government is pursuing social engineering to ensure equal outcomes, against the will of the local communities. And in effect this also intrudes on the freedom of individuals to enjoy the fruits of their labor, for most individuals have worked hard to be able to afford to live in desirable communities. Interestingly, upwardly mobile African-Americans are often the most critical of forced economic integration, because they worked the hardest to move into or build communities not beset by the problems that public housing often brings. 

An important aspect of this story is the flawed, underlying beliefs that drives the Obama Administration's efforts at social engineering, the first being that most African-Americans and Latinos want to live in majority white communities. Even in liberal, integrated high schools and universities, with no history of racial animosity, the majority of students self self segregate at lunch time and in their social activities. And when friendships form across racial lines, the individuals are almost always of a similar class and cultural background, so the chance of real social integration occurring through the government's efforts to import low income residents, is slim to none. 

More troubling, the actions of the Obama Administration implies that in order to thrive, African-Americans, unlike any other group, need to reside among other groups. A reader posted a response to this article that addresses this very point: "As a black American, I find this sends a message that African-Americans need to be surrounded by rich white families to be happy and successful. Young black student's don't need to sit next to a white student to do good in school - we can do it on our own." You are correct; neither through "osmosis," nor through the mandates of the state can we as individuals and communities achieve happiness and good fortune. And real, enduring integration will never emerge through coercive social engineering, but through an affirmation of the principles of individual liberty (not group rights) and freedom of association.

On a side note, this affair begs the questions: Why should we view homogeneous white communities as being any more offensive than (let's say) equally exclusive Jewish, Chinese or Mexican-American neighborhoods? Why doesn't the federal government seek to diversify the said communities? Is there any real moral or legal difference between Americans of European descent seeking to congregate with their cultural compatriots, than (let's say) Arab Americans doing the same? Perhaps when European-Americans constituted the overwhelming majority of the nation, such behaviors could have been viewed as objectionable, but given that they now constitute a minority in a growing number of cities and states, there is no rational reason to single out their expressions of communal self interest. We cannot simultaneously encourage every group to promote their narrow ethno-political interests, while reprimanding the few European-Americans who do the same. Personally, I would like to see us travel in exactly the opposite direction and have all Americans promote the broad interests of their country and communities, rather than continue down the tried and failed path of balkanization.

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