America’s cities are petri dishes of “progressive” governance. Anyone who cares to see the consequences of radical left-wing policies need look no further than our country’s urban centers. From the monstrous modernist architecture to decaying infrastructure, they look more like Soviet hell than the once-thriving metropolises that were the envy of the modern world.
The English historian James Bryce called Medieval cities “centers of … intellect and freedom.” Peasants flocked to urban environments. Now the stream flows the other way. City denizens today labor under oppressive, insouciant regimes more akin in spirit to those suffered by the struggling, land-bound serfs of the past.
Students aren’t receiving anything remotely close to an adequate education in crumbling government-run schools dominated by unions more interested in feathering their nest than teaching. Any talk of change sends these tax-funded minions into the street, screaming about more tax funding and, of course, “the children”—despite the already astronomical costs associated with “public” education and its long-running record of failure. Kids don’t learn the basics, but they do learn to be treated like prisoners.
City governments penalize hardworking adults with large bureaucracies that micro-manage private businesses and require a license to engage in virtually every trade. Zoning laws prevent cottage industries. Rent control gives landlords an incentive to let their buildings fall apart. Income, sales, and property taxes take from the productive to fund a welfare system providing substandard housing in impoverished neighborhoods. Generations live in indigence.
The drug war keeps police officers chasing dealers and consumers instead of murderers, rapists, and robbers. City streets have been turned into war zones, where drug gangs kill each other over “their” territory and law-abiding citizens—the overwhelming majority—are caught in the crossfire. Continuous run-ins with police, especially in poor neighborhoods, leave residents feeling like they are under the heel of an occupying army. Even worse, gun control laws keep them disarmed and powerless.
Politicians are utterly clueless. Their campaign promises to fix roads, “fix our schools,” deal with rising crime, and “restore trust” in elected officials are quietly forgotten the day after every election, lost in the midst of all the cocktail parties. Wealthy elites, working hand-in-glove with local governments, boast of “proudly” paying their exorbitant taxes, congratulating themselves for caring so much despite the continued and growing hardships suffered by those (much) further down the socio-economic ladder. Few question the role played by government in keeping out competition and innovation.
These failures are not accidental. What you see is a natural consequence of intentional government meddling in virtually every part of people’s lives. Officious bureaucrats, prison-like schools, onerous taxes and regulations, and a heavy police presence are baked into the leftist mindset. They want people to accept oppression and hopelessness as their lot in life, as Medieval lords of old rode roughshod over the peasants and ground them to dust.
Predictions abound that the United States is on the decline, that we are entering a period of rising crime and continued social and economic deterioration. Many have completely given up on cities, abandoning them to criminal gangs and Democratic Party machines (often one and the same); in despair, they retreat to the suburbs or rural settings. One thing is certain: If we continue on the present course, our once-thriving, beautiful, safe, and exciting cities will collapse in ruins. However, this is not a foregone conclusion—if we instead embrace the principles of freedom and the free market.
Our broken education system can be fixed, if we separate school and state; parents, extended families, and even whole neighborhoods can unite to provide instruction in private homes or rented spaces. Free from the yoke of unions and politicians, kids can learn and thrive. The elimination of zoning laws would free people to open businesses close to home, or even to utilize areas of the city abandoned by the political class. Abolishing barriers to entry, like occupational licensing laws, would open up every industry to competition; consumers, not city employees (who often act to protect entrenched interests), would decide for themselves if a tradesman was honest, competent, and dependable. Police resources can be used to catch actual criminals; a private citizen engaged in peaceful commerce should never fear the gendarmes at his door. Finally, the dignity of all people should be acknowledged by repealing laws that infringe on the right to keep and bear arms. The armed, free citizen is the surest way to take back city streets from the criminal class.
A genuine Renaissance in our cities is possible, if only today’s “progressives” would get out of the way.