Moynihan Was Right
Half of all black men in the United States who are in their 20s and 30s and have not gone to college are noncustodial fathers. Half of these men drop out of high school and are jobless; six out of 10 have spent time in prison. Stephen Weisman’s recent book, Daniel Patrick Moynihan: A Portrait in Letters of an American Visionary (Public Affairs), has brought back the ideas of a scholar who tried to warn us about this problem and failed.
Moynihan (1927-2003) was a Catholic public intellectual who, in his 1965 report “The Negro Family: The Case for National Action,” argued that in the rise of single-mother families in ghettos there is a “tangle of pathology” (in part a legacy of slavery) that includes delinquency, unemployment, school failure and crime. The fatherless ghetto child learns that adult males are not expected to finish school, get a job, take care of their children or obey the law.
In the 1970s some liberal critics, feminists and African-American leaders pilloried Moynihan as a racist and sexist. In the 1980s, when the out-of-wedlock birthrate among blacks more than doubled to 56 percent, opinion began to shift toward Moynihan’s ideas. The National Council of Churches and leaders as diverse as Bill Cosby, William Julius Wilson and President Obama have acknowledged the problem.
Reversing this calamity requires an effort to rebuild the nuclear family, keep young men in school and get them into college. Today the fact that 70 percent of black children are born to unmarried mothers undermines the stability not just of African-American culture but of Ameri-can society at large.
Poison in Nigeria
Lead poisoning has killed hundreds of children under age 5 in northern Nigeria. The underlying cause is illegal gold mining. Seven villages in Zamfara state have been affected. There are high concentrations of lead in the gold ore. When villagers bring the soil home and sift through it looking for gold, they inhale the lead-laden dust and fall ill. The contamination came to light earlier this year during a yearly immunization program. Local health workers and physicians from Doctors Without Borders performed blood tests and found concentrations of lead 250 times the levels typically found in U.S. residential areas.
The people in the villages had been reluctant to speak about the illness for fear that government authorities would ban the mining, which they have now done. Some even denied that any children had died and instead blamed their illnesses on malaria. Doctors Without Borders said that denial of the problem had hampered timely intervention. When help did come, it arrived too late for many. The true number of illnesses and deaths may be even higher than reported.
The deaths reflect the poverty of inhabitants in an area where most villagers live by subsistence farming, which pays much less than illegal gold mining. Two of the United Nation’s eight Millennium Development Goals are eradication of extreme poverty and reduction of child mortality. The deaths in Nigeria are a reminder that efforts toward both goals must be intensified and that responsibility rests on the developing countries as well as the wealthy nations.
Britain Grows Less Defensive
Total U.S. defense spending now approaches—and by some analyses exceeds—$1 trillion a year. The United States remains engaged in wars it cannot afford, following an increasingly questionable strategy that could pave the way for future violence. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has agreed to “limit” future defense spending to just 1 percent above inflation. Yet with calls for restraint in federal spending echoing through the halls of Congress, why does the nation’s bloated defense budget remain politically sacrosanct?
Great Britain now offers a fiscal precedent, breaking through the iron triangle on defense. Their new anti-Keynesian budget trims government spending by about $130 billion, sharply reducing welfare benefits, raising the retirement age to 66 by 2020 and eliminating hundreds of thousands of public sector jobs. It will be a matter of some argument whether Britain’s take-no-prisoners approach to its budget deficit is the right way out of the global recession. (Results from Ireland’s austerity budget so far have not been promising). But one aspect of Britain’s colder eye on national spending is worth emulating: The British Ministry of Defense did not escape the Conservative budget axe; it was cut by 6 percent. In what The Economist dubbed a retreat “but not a rout,” Britain reduced the defense budget to 2 percent of its gross domestic product. That defense commitment is more in line with Britain’s European peers and less than half of the 5 percent of G.D.P. the United States still funnels into defense during a time of acute national need. Following Britain’s lead, the United States should devise a more proportionate defense policy. A budget that comprehensively protects American interests will prove the kindest—and wisest—cut of all.