Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Hunger Strikes For Raised Wages

Several students at Georgetown University staged a hunger strike to shame the University into raising the wages it pays to its janitors. Today that strike ended when the University agreed to increase janitors’ wages and fringe benefits.
I have nothing against Georgetown U. raising the amount it pays to its janitors. But the full picture of this little episode is different than the cropped snapshots that I see in the newspapers and hear on the local radio stations. The pop image is of selfless, concerned students making a noble sacrifice to help voiceless, hapless janitors get a better deal from a penny-pinching University bureaucracy.
This pop image is distorted.
Why was the pre-strike janitorial wage as low as it was? Answer: because Georgetown University discovered that, at that wage, it got as many janitors as it needed, of sufficient quality, to perform the desired cleaning services. To pay more would have been an act of charity to the janitors and not a act of commerce.
Now there’s nothing wrong with charity; I applaud it (when it’s done wisely). But why, in this case, did the hunger-striking students single out Georgetown University as an alleged malefactor? Why was the janitors’ employer targeted for its failure to extend charity?
Why didn’t the hunger-strikers demand that George Mason University or Catholic University extend charity to Georgetown University’s janitors? Or why didn’t these strikers demand that all merchants in Northwest DC extend charity to these janitors? Why didn’t the strikers give their own money as charity to the janitors? (They’re students, you say; so they don’t have much extra cash. Well, they can take out loans to give charity today to the janitors and then work after graduation to repay these loans.) Or why didn’t these hunger-striking students demand that Georgetown University increase its charitable contributions, not to its relatively well-off janitors, but to seriously poor people in sub-Saharan Africa?
I’m not being flippant. I’m quite serious. Because Georgetown University is no monopsonistic buyer of janitorial services, it must compete in the market to buy these services. The wages it pays for its janitors are, therefore, competitive. Paying anything more than these wages to secure the desired number of janitors is, therefore, charity. And while there’s nothing wrong with Georgetown University extending charity to its janitors (or to anyone else), there’s also nothing obligatory about it. The fact that Georgetown paid its janitors what it did was not, contrary to the hunger-striking student’s claims, a moral breach.
Post can be found here

Monday, July 6, 2020

Where Would General Motors Be Without the United Automobile Workers Union?

Where Would General Motors Be Without the United Automobile Workers Union?
04/19/2006 George Reisman

This is a question that no one seems to be asking. And so I've asked it. And here, in essence, is what I think is the answer. (The answer, of course, applies to Ford and Chrysler, as well as to General Motors. I've singled out General Motors because it's still the largest of the three and its problems are the most pronounced.)

First, the company would be without so-called Monday-morning automobiles. That is, automobiles poorly made for no other reason than because they happened to be made on a day when too few workers showed up, or too few showed up sober, to do the jobs they were paid to do. Without the UAW, General Motors would simply have fired such workers and replaced them with ones who would do the jobs they were paid to do. And so, without the UAW, GM would have produced more reliable, higher quality cars, had a better reputation for quality, and correspondingly greater sales volume to go with it. Why didn't they do this? Because with the UAW, such action by GM would merely have provoked work stoppages and strikes, with no prospect that the UAW would be displaced or that anything would be better after the strikes. Federal Law, specifically, The National Labor Relations Act of 1935, long ago made it illegal for companies simply to get rid of unions.

Second, without the UAW, GM would have been free to produce in the most-efficient, lowest cost way and to introduce improvements in efficiency as rapidly as possible. Sometimes this would have meant simply having one or two workers on the spot do a variety of simple jobs that needed doing, without having to call in half a dozen different workers each belonging to a different union job classification and having to pay that much more to get the job done. At other times, it would have meant just going ahead and introducing an advance, such as the use of robots, without protracted negotiations with the UAW resulting in the need to create phony jobs for workers to do (and to be paid for doing) that were simply not necessary.

(Unbelievably, at its assembly plant in Oklahoma City, GM is actually obliged by its UAW contract to pay 2,300 workers full salary and benefits for doing absolutely nothing. As The New York Times describes it, "Each day, workers report for duty at the plant and pass their time reading, watching television, playing dominoes or chatting. Since G.M. shut down production there last month, these workers have entered the Jobs Bank, industry's best form of job insurance. It pays idled workers a full salary and benefits even when there is no work for them to do.")

Third, without the UAW, GM would have an average unit cost per automobile close to that of non-union Toyota. Toyota makes a profit of about $2,000 per vehicle, while GM suffers a loss of about $1,200 per vehicle, a difference of $3,200 per unit. And the far greater part of that difference is the result of nothing but GM's being forced to deal with the UAW. (Over a year ago, The Cincinnati Enquirer reported that "the United Auto Workers contract costs GM $2,500 for each car sold.")

Fourth, without the UAW, the cost of employing a GM factory worker, including wages and fringes, would not be in excess of $72 per hour, which is where it is today, according to The Post-Crescent newspaper of Appleton, Wisconsin.

Fifth, as a result of UAW coercion and extortion, GM has lost billions upon billions of dollars. For 2005 alone, it reported a loss in excess of $10 billion. Its bonds are now rated as "junk," that is, below, investment grade. Without the UAW, GM would not have lost these billions.

Sixth, without the UAW, GM would not now be in process of attempting to pay a ransom to its UAW workers of up to $140,000 per man, just to get them to quit and take their hands out of its pockets. (It believes that $140,000 is less than what they will steal if they remain.)

Seventh, without the UAW, GM would not now have healthcare obligations that account for more than $1,600 of the cost of every vehicle it produces.

Eighth, without the UAW, GM would not now have pension obligations which, if entered on its balance sheet in accordance with the rule now being proposed by the Financial Accounting Standards Board, will leave it with a net worth of minus $16 billion.

What the UAW has done, on the foundation of coercive, interventionist labor legislation, is bring a once-great company to its knees. It has done this by a process of forcing one obligation after another upon the company, while at the same time, through its work rules, featherbedding practices, hostility to labor-saving advances, and outlandish pay scales, doing practically everything in its power to make it impossible for the company to meet those obligations.

Ninth, without the UAW tens of thousands of workers — its own members — would not now be faced with the loss of pension and healthcare benefits that it is impossible for GM or any of the other auto companies to provide, and never was possible for them to provide. The UAW, the whole labor-union movement, and the left-"liberal" intellectual establishment, which is their father and mother, are responsible for foisting on the public and on the average working man and woman a fantasy land of imaginary Demons (big business and the rich) and of saintly Good Fairies (politicians, government officials, and union leaders). In this fantasy-land, the Good Fairies supposedly have the power to wring unlimited free benefits from the Demons.

Tenth, Without the UAW and its fantasy-land mentality, autoworkers would have been motivated to save out of wages actually paid to them, and to provide for their future by means of by and large reasonable investments of those savings — investments with some measure of diversification. Instead, like small children, lured by the prospect of free candy from a stranger, they have been led to a very bad end. They thought they would receive endless free golden eggs from a goose they were doing everything possible to maim and finally kill, and now they're about to learn that the eggs just aren't there.

It's very sad to watch an innocent human being suffer. It's dreadful to contemplate anyone's life being ruined. It's dreadful to contemplate even an imbecile's falling off a cliff or down a well. But the union members, their union leaders, the politicians who catered to them, the journalists, the writers, and the professors who provided the intellectual and cultural environment in which this calamity could take place — none of them were imbeciles. They all could have and should have known better.

What is happening is cruel justice, imposed by a reality that willfully ignorant people thought they could choose to ignore as long as it suited them: the reality that prosperity comes from the making of goods, not the making of work; that it comes from the doing of work, not from the shirking of it; that it comes from machines and methods of production that save labor, not the combating of those machines and methods; that it comes from the earning and reinvestment of profits not from seizure of those profits for the benefit of idlers, who do all they can to prevent the profits from being earned in the first place.

In sum, without the UAW, General Motors would not be faced with extinction. Instead, it would almost certainly be a vastly larger, far more prosperous company, producing more and better motor vehicles than ever before, at far lower costs of production and prices than it does today, and providing employment to hundreds of thousands more workers than it does today.

Few things are more obvious than that the role of the UAW in relation to General Motors has been that of a swarm of bloodsucking leeches, a swarm that will not stop until its prey exists no more.

It is difficult to believe that people who have been neither lobotomized nor castrated would not rise up and demand that these leeches finally be pulled off!

Perhaps the American people do not rise up because they have never seen General Motors, or any other major American business, rise up and dare to assert the philosophical principle of private property rights and individual freedom and proceed to pull the leeches off in the name of that principle.

It is easy to say, and also largely true, that General Motors and American business in general have not behaved in this way for several generations because they no longer have any principles. Indeed, they would project contempt at the very thought of acting on any kind of moral or political principle.

One of the ugliest consequences of the loss of economic freedom and respect for property rights is that it makes such spinelessness and gutlessness on the part of businessmen — such amorality — a requirement of succeeding in business. Business today is conducted in the face of all pervasive government economic intervention. There is rampant arbitrary and often unintelligible legislation. There are dozens of regulatory agencies that combine the functions of judge, jury, and prosecutor in the enforcement of more than 75,000 pages of Federal regulations alone. The tax code is arbitrary and frequently unintelligible. Judicial protection of economic freedom has not existed since 1937, when the Supreme Court abandoned it, out of fear of being enlarged by Congress with new members sufficient to give a majority to the New Deal on all issues. (Try to project the effect of a loss of judicial protection of the freedoms of press and speech on the nature of what would be published and spoken.)

Any business firm today that tried to make a principled stand on such a matter as throwing out a legally recognized labor union would have to do so in the knowledge that its action was a futile gesture that would serve only to cost it dearly. And a corporation that did this would undoubtedly also be embroiled in endless lawsuits by many of its stockholders blaming it for the losses the government imposed on it.

But none of this should stop anyone else from speaking up and making known his outrage at what the UAW has done to General Motors.

This article is copyright © 2006, by George Reisman. Permission is hereby granted to reproduce and distribute it electronically and in print, other than as part of a book and provided that mention of the author's web site www.capitalism.net is included. (Email notification is requested.) All other rights reserved. Reisman is the author of Capitalism: A Treatise on Economics (Ottawa, Illinois: Jameson Books, 1996) and is Pepperdine University Professor Emeritus of Economics. His book is available through Mises.org, Amazon.com, and on his web site. See his Mises.org Daily Articles Archive and read his interview in the Austrian Economics Newsletter. You can contact him by mail. To comment on this piece, go to the blog.

Sunday, July 5, 2020

Liberals, Race, and History: Left’s House of Cards Threatened

Liberals, Race, and History: Left’s House of Cards Threatened

By Thomas Sowell on June 1, 2005

If the share of the black vote that goes to the Democrats ever falls to 70 percent, it may be virtually impossible for the Democrats to win the White House or Congress, because they have long ago lost the white male vote and their support among other groups is eroding. Against that background, it is possible to understand their desperate efforts to keep blacks paranoid, not only about Republicans but about American society in general.

Liberal Democrats, especially, must keep blacks fearful of racism everywhere, including in an administration whose Cabinet includes people of Chinese, Japanese, Hispanic, and Jewish ancestry, and two consecutive black Secretaries of State. Blacks must be kept believing that their only hope lies with liberals.

Not only must the present be distorted, so must the past — and any alternative view of the future must be nipped in the bud. That is why prominent minority figures who stray from the liberal plantation must be discredited, debased and, above all, kept from becoming federal judges.

A thoughtful and highly intelligent member of the California supreme court like Justice Janice Rogers Brown must be smeared as a right-wing extremist, even though she received 76 percent of the vote in California, hardly a right-wing extremist state. But desperate politicians cannot let facts stand in their way.

Least of all can they afford to let Janice Rogers Brown become a national figure on the federal bench. The things she says and does could lead other blacks to begin to think independently — and that in turn threatens the whole liberal house of cards. If a smear is what it takes to stop her, that is what liberal politicians and the liberal media will use.

It’s "not personal" as they say when they smear someone. It doesn’t matter how outstanding or upstanding Justice Brown is. She is a threat to the power that means everything to liberal politicians. The Democrats’ dependence on blacks for votes means that they must keep blacks dependent on them.

Black self-reliance would be almost as bad as blacks becoming Republicans, as far as liberal Democrats are concerned. All black progress in the past must be depicted as the result of liberal government programs and all hope of future progress must be depicted as dependent on the same liberalism.

In reality, reductions in poverty among blacks and the rise of blacks into higher level occupations were both more pronounced in the years leading up to the civil rights legislation and welfare state policies of the 1960s than in the years that followed.

Moreover, contrary to political myth, a higher percentage of Republicans than Democrats voted for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. But facts have never stopped politicians or ideologues before and show no signs of stopping them now.

What blacks have achieved for themselves, without the help of liberals, is of no interest to liberals. Nothing illustrates this better than political reactions to academically successful black schools.

Despite widespread concerns expressed about the abysmal educational performances of most black schools, there is remarkably little interest in those relatively few black schools which have met or exceeded national standards.

Anyone who is serious about the advancement of blacks would want to know what is going on in those ghetto schools whose students have reading and math scores above the national average, when so many other ghetto schools are miles behind in both subjects. But virtually all the studies of such schools have been done by conservatives, while liberals have been strangely silent.

Achievement is not what liberalism is about. Victimhood and dependency are.

Black educational achievements are a special inconvenience for liberals because those achievements have usually been a result of methods and practices that go directly counter to prevailing theories in liberal educational circles and are anathema to the teachers’ unions that are key supporters of the Democratic Party.

Many things that would advance blacks would not advance the liberal agenda. That is why the time is long overdue for the two to come to a parting of the ways.

Friday, July 3, 2020

Talkers versus doers

Talkers versus doers

Thomas Sowell
|Posted: Jun 09, 2004 12:00 AM

Doctors and hospitals have helped but much of the improvement in our health has been due to pharmaceutical drugs that keep us from having to go to hospitals, and has been due to pharmaceutical drugs that keep us from having to go to hospitals, and have enabled doctors to head off many serious medical problems with prescriptions.

Yet the people who produce pharmaceutical drugs have been under heated political attack for years -- attacks which often do not let the facts get in their way. 

During the anthrax scare of 2001, for example, the maker of the leading antidote for anthrax was accused of making "obscene profits" even though (1) the total cost of treatment with their drug was just $50 and (2) the company actually operated at a loss while they were being denounced for obscene profits.

People who know nothing about advertising, nothing about pharmaceuticals, and nothing about economics have been loudly proclaiming that the drug companies spend too much on advertising -- and demanding that the government pass laws based on their ignorance.

Today, we take the automobile so much for granted that it is hard to realize what an expansion of the life of ordinary people it represented. There was a time when most people lived and died within a 50-mile radius of where they were born.

The automobile opened a whole new world to these people. It also enabled those living in overcrowded cities to spread out into suburbs and get some elbow room. Trucks got goods to people more cheaply and ambulances got people to hospitals to save their lives.

Yet who among the people who did this are today regarded as being as big a hero as Ralph Nader, who put himself on the map with complaints about cars in general and the Corvair in particular? Hard data on automobile safety and tests conducted on the Corvair both undermined Nader's claims. But he will always be a hero to the talkers. So will those who complain about commerce and industry that have raised our standard of living to levels that our grandparents would not have dreamed of.

Home-ownership is far more widespread among ordinary people today than in the past because of entrepreneurs who have figured out how to produce more, bigger and better houses at prices that more and more people could afford. But can you name any of those entrepreneurs who have been celebrated for their contributions to their fellow human beings?

Probably not. In California, anyone in the business of producing housing is more likely to be demonized as a "developer," a word that causes hostile reactions among Californians conditioned to respond negatively -- and automatically, like Pavlov's dog.

As for computers, no one made them more usable by more people around the world than Microsoft. And no one has been hit with more or bigger lawsuits as a result.

Why can't the talkers leave the doers alone? Perhaps it is because that would leave the talkers on the sidelines, with their uselessness being painfully obvious to all, instead of being in the limelight and "making a difference" -- even if that difference is usually negative.

Thursday, July 2, 2020

The Hidden Danger of Seat Belts

The Hidden Danger of Seat Belts

If there's one thing we know about our risky world, it's that seat belts save lives, right? And they do, of course. But reality, as usual, is messier and more complicated than that. John Adams, risk expert and emeritus professor of geography at University College London, was an early skeptic of the seat belt safety mantra. Adams first began to look at the numbers more than 25 years ago. What he found was that contrary to conventional wisdom, mandating the use of seat belts in 18 countries resulted in either no change or actually a net increase in road accident deaths.

How can that be? Adams' interpretation of the data rests on the notion of risk compensation, the idea that individuals tend to adjust their behavior in response to what they perceive as changes in the level of risk. Imagine, explains Adams, a driver negotiating a curve in the road. Let's make him a young male. He is going to be influenced by his perceptions of both the risks and rewards of driving a car. The considerations could include getting to work or meeting a friend for dinner on time, impressing a companion with his driving skills, bolstering his image of himself as an accomplished driver. They could also include his concern for his own safety and desire to live to a ripe old age, his feelings of responsibility for a toddler with him in a car seat, the cost of banging up his shiny new car or losing his license. Nor will these possible concerns exist in a vacuum. He will be taking into account the weather and the condition of the road, the amount of traffic and the capabilities of the car he is driving. But crucially, says Adams, this driver will also be adjusting his behavior in response to what he perceives are changes in risks. If he is wearing a seat belt and his car has front and side air bags and anti-skid brakes to boot, he may in turn drive a bit more daringly.

The point, stresses Adams, is that drivers who feel safe may actually increase the risk that they pose to other drivers, bicyclists, pedestrians and their own passengers (while an average of 80% of drivers buckle up, only 68% of their rear-seat passengers do). And risk compensation is hardly confined to the act of driving a car. Think of a trapeze artist, suggests Adams, or a rock climber, motorcyclist or college kid on a hot date. Add some safety equipment to the equation — a net, rope, helmet or a condom respectively — and the person may try maneuvers that he or she would otherwise consider foolish. In the case of seat belts, instead of a simple, straightforward reduction in deaths, the end result is actually a more complicated redistribution of risk and fatalities. For the sake of argument, offers Adams, imagine how it might affect the behavior of drivers if a sharp stake were mounted in the middle of the steering wheel? Or if the bumper were packed with explosives. Perverse, yes, but it certainly provides a vivid example of how a perception of risk could modify behavior.

In everyday life, risk is a moving target, not a set number as statistics might suggest. In addition to external factors, each individual has his or her own internal comfort level with risk-taking. Some are daring while others are cautious by nature. And still others are fatalists who may believe that a higher power devises mortality schedules that fix a predetermined time when our number is up. Consequently, any single measurement assigned to the risk of driving a car is bound to be only the roughest sort of benchmark. Adams cites as an example the statistical fact that a young man is 100 times more likely to be involved in a severe crash than is a middle-aged woman. Similarly, someone driving at 3:00 a.m. Sunday is more than 100 times more likely to die than someone driving at 10:00 a.m. Sunday. Someone with a personality disorder is 10 times more likely to die. And let's say he's also drunk. Tally up all these factors and consider them independently, says Adams, and you could arrive at a statistical prediction that a disturbed, drunken young man driving in the middle of the night is 2.7 million times more likely to be involved in a serious accident than would a sober, middle-aged woman driving to church seven hours later.

The bottom line is that risk doesn't exist in a vacuum and that there are a host of factors that come into play, including the rewards of risk, whether they are financial, physical or emotional. It is this very human context in which risk exists that is key, says Adams, who titled one of his recent blogs: "What kills you matters — not numbers." Our reactions to risk very much depend on the degree to which it is voluntary (scuba diving), unavoidable (public transit) or imposed (air quality), the degree to which we feel we are in control (driving) or at the mercy of others (plane travel), and the degree to which the source of possible danger is benign (doctor's orders), indifferent (nature) or malign (murder and terrorism). We make dozens of risk calculations daily, but you can book odds that most of them are so automatic—or visceral—that we barely notice them.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Slavery In Context

Do me a favor, read this and this from Michael Medved and when you are done read this blog post and tell me if their description of what Medved wrote is accurate.

After reading the two articles I responded in the comments section to correct what I saw as a false representation of what he had written. After all was said and done I simply asked them to tell me what Medved said that was in error? Which of his general points were wrong? A simple request, I thought.

Reenee, one of the co-bloggers of the blog responded with this:
My co-blogger's post was not misleading nor was it myopic. It was her expressing her opinion.
This country does not get off the hook for introducing slavery merely because it was being done elsewhere on the planet. Nor does it get off the hook by "abolishing it quickly" after 240 years. You might want to expand your reading to other writers other than the glossed over tomes available to most schools.
After you've finished with those books, go here, pick out the first ten history books about the indigenous people and how they were treated, and then you'll have a more well-rounded grasp on their history and what was done to them.
Everyone in this country ought to be baffled when faced with an argument that tries to mitigate or downplay or excuse the very bloody history of what our country did to people, either found here or imported, since it was founded.
That they aren't, baffles me.
And, that's all I have to say about that.
In other words, still no list of errors. Simply rebuts to arguments I did not make and a recommendation of what books I should read to be more 'enlightened'.

I responded and then Leesee, whom I assume wrote the original post, responded with this:
His-Pan: That you would seek to defend Medved and ask for point by point disputation astonishes me.
Medved seeks to diminish the murder, the slavery, the genocide and the suffering, he gives a seemingly rational argument but I'm not buying it and it's my choice not to buy it. Frankly I'm a little sad you fell for his feel good take on these very sad episodes in our collective history.
Sometimes when you argue the fine points you miss the bigger picture, the fact is these things happened and putting them in so-called historical context does not diminish the crimes.
We as a gente cannot let anyone else define our reality or make less of our experience. It's your choice to buy into Medved's cleaned up history lesson and I'm just not there. Go on over to Crooks and Liars specifically Keith Olbermanns take on Medved, he called him the worst person in the world for "apologizing" for slavery, how is you don't get that?
You notice a pattern here? Still no list of errors and more of the same caricatures.
This was a few days ago and so you can imagine how surprised I was to see the topic brought up again today, see here. I thought for sure this time there would be a list of errors, a real critique of what Medved wrote. Well, if you guessed not, you would have been correct. It is more of the same. More caricatures, attacks on the credentials of Medved, and references to incidental parts of his article, not a direct rebut of his main points.

Don't get me wrong. I don't agree with everything Medved wrote. There are some points he makes that are stronger than others. There is wording he uses that I would not have used. There are some points he includes that I would not have. And of course, there are some exaggerations and misleading statements...but I do buy the overall heart of his article - specifically the points I commented on the original post (slavery was universal, it was primarily the west that abolished it, and the majority of Native Americans were killed by the unintentional transfer of diseases).

The reason I was asking for a critique is because he makes many of the same arguments that a book I am reading does, Thomas Sowell's, Black Rednecks and White Liberals. Thomas Sowell backs up his claims with reputable sources, many of them respected historians. So when I saw the Medved post, and saw that he was making many of the same arguments, I thought this would be a good opportunity to see how one goes about critiquing Sowell's arguments. However, the whole exchange left me with the impression that Sowell is more right than I initially gave him credit for (how else can you explain the irrational responses and refusal to deal with his central points?).

So if you have some time, read the two Medved articles, read the follow up posts by people who found the articles inaccurate, and if you find the refutations lacking and the topic interests you more I strongly recommend you read Thomas Sowells book, Black Rednecks And White Liberals, it gives more of the historical backing and larger context of some of the general points in Medved's first article.

I want to close with a quote from a somewhat dated Thomas Sowell article:
Of all the tragic facts about the history of slavery, the most astonishing to an American today is that, although slavery was a worldwide institution for thousands of years, nowhere in the world was slavery a controversial issue prior to the 18th century.
People of every race and color were enslaved -- and enslaved others. White people were still being bought and sold as slaves in the Ottoman Empire, decades after American blacks were freed.
Everyone hated the idea of being a slave but few had any qualms about enslaving others. Slavery was just not an issue, not even among intellectuals, much less among political leaders, until the 18th century -- and then only in Western civilization.
Among those who turned against slavery in the 18th century were George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry and other American leaders. You could research all of 18th century Africa or Asia or the Middle East without finding any comparable rejection of slavery there.
But who is singled out for scathing criticism today? American leaders of the 18th century.
The full article should be read in full, see here. I'd post this response on the original blog post but then my two previous comments have already been blocked and on the last blog post there is a clear request not to. (Originally posted 10/05/2007)

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Poverty In The United States

My longest friendship was with Edgar, a friend I met in the 6th grade. He was, like me, a child of immigrant parents and he spoke primarily Spanish. He loved to joke, tell stories, and that favorite of past times, sit around with your closest friends and make fun of each other.

Unfortunately, he was also one who tended toward the criminal side of life. Since we first met, he was always getting into trouble for something, be it ditching class, smoking weed, fighting, stealing stereos, stealing cars and other things - but nothing that would make him a bad friend. He wouldn't steal from his friends, I have never in my life seen him lose his temper, he was a friend who would watch your back and who you could trust.

I remember riding my bike from Compton to his parents apartment in Gardena and later to their new spot in South Los Angeles. He introduced me to a lot of new people. Everywhere he moved, within months, he would know many people in the neighborhood. Like me, he was someone who couldn't stay in the house and met new people easily. We both would ride our bikes anywhere, on a whim. To swapmeets, malls, hang outs, anywhere our bikes would take us. Also, as crazy luck would have it, he had two cousins that were from the Mexican gang that claimed my neighborhood in Compton. Eventually, he too would join that gang and become one of its lifetime members.

Like my mom, he had a family that would give him almost free reign to do as he pleased. There were no restrictions, even at an early age, we had no curfew, no limits on where or what city we can ride our bikes to, and little supervision outside of the home. His step dad, who had spent some time in prison and I knew only casually, would sometimes pick us up if we needed it. One time, I think I was about 13 years old at the time, his step dad picked us up and instead of taking us immediately home, drove deeper into LA to a place I had never been before. He left us in the car reassuring us he would be back shortly. Hours passed, well into the night, and we were still parked. He had an old Monte Carlo with really wide back seats, so Edgar and I fell asleep in the car, waiting for him to get back. Then out of nowhere, he comes back to the car, asks Edgar to get in the back seat with me, and brings with him a, what looked like, neighborhood cluck head. A cluck head is someone who is so addicted to drugs, primarily crack cocaine and has done so much of it, that they are visually drug addicts. The people you meet in high crime neighborhoods late at night with really red eyes, dry lips, missing teeth and always begging you for change, those are cluck heads. As soon as they got into the car, he drives a few blocks more and she gets out only to return a few minutes later. Edgar and I are both still in the back seat but I don't say a word and Edgar looks like he went right back to sleep. A few minutes go by and I hear them smoking something, I hear the burning of foil paper, the sight of a lighter, and eventually realize that they are smoking crack cocaine together. After doing this for some time, he eventually leaves the area and takes us home. Years later, the same step dad would be hospitalized after jumping out of his second story window while high on PCP, he believed he could fly and nobody could convince him otherwise.

The longest friendship from Compton I had was with (lil) Sid, he lived a few houses from my house. Though he was a few years younger than me, we hung out alot. He would come to my house and we would play nintendo, baseball, and craps in the front of my house. Thinking back to those early years, I remember most his temper, whenever he would lose big he would have to go back home because he would get so frustrated with himself, sometimes in tears of anger. As the years passed Sid got older (and bigger, grew up to be one big guy) and, sadly, ended up joining the neighborhood crip gang. Though he was black, a member of a crip gang, and had a circle of friends different than mine, we continued to stay really close friends.

Sid didn't know his father and his mother was a neighborhood walker, at all hours of the day and night she would be walking all around the neighborhood, to peoples houses, to the liquor store, to the adjacent streets, all over. Sids mom was also, though not at the level of a crack head, a crack cocaine user. Though I knew before, I remember hanging out with a local drug dealer when she showed up to buy crack. She looked at me straight in the eyes and told me never to mention this to her son. I promised her that I would not, and never did - though I am sure he already knew.

My neighbors in Compton were local crips. The mom was as addicted to crack cocaine as you can get. She had missing teeth, a temper like no other, a clumsy walk, always had a cigaratte or beer in her hand and if you met her elsewhere you could easily confuse her for homeless (nonetheless, I grew up with her as a friend and neighbor, and to this day when I see her we hug and respect each other). She has three sons, the older one of which was getting into trouble since I first moved into Compton (he is now serving life in prison).

These friends and family upbringings I write about are not that rare in Compton. Almost all of my friends families I had while living in Compton have something in common with these families. Very few of them, especially my black friends, have married parents, the ones that did had a dad that beats their mom, others one that is a drug and/or alcoholic, others a dad that is currently in prison or an ex-con former gangmember (like Edgars step dad) - some have prostitute moms, some have parents that sell drugs and push them to sell drugs. I remember walking into a friends house and seeing his mom sniffing cocaine right off the living room table. It didn't bother her either, we just walked right passed her into my friends room. She was a neighborhood drug dealer and her son would later follow in her footsteps, all with his moms approval and backing. In fact, all drug dealers I knew in Compton had atleast tacit approval from their parents - several had outright encouragement.

Poverty in the United States is not primarily material, it is not primarily nutritional, it is not even primarily a lack of opportunity, though some of that still remains - poverty in the United States is primarily with the family. As the must read political scientist James Q. Wilson wrote, "There are many families with competent single moms, but they are outnumbered by the families that are harmed by the absence of a husband. From the ranks of the latter come high rates of crime and imprisonment, heavy rates of drug use, poor school performance, and a willingness to loot unguarded stores....In my opinion, the condition of the black family is the key to the persistence of a large and criminal lower class."

It is not money, or nutrition, or greater opportunity that the poor in the United States primarily need, it is a family structure that is conducive to learning, to upward mobility, and to a crime free life. When you have a large amount of friends and family - dads, brothers, uncles, and neighbors either in gangs or intimately tied to the gang culture, and a world filled with drugs, and crime, it is hard to see a way out and it is hard to learn the virtues necessary to get out. Virtues like hard work, discipline, self control, and responsibility are hard if not impossible to learn in these environments and much of government assistant is wasted or counterproductive in these situations.

As far as Edgar and Sid go, Edgar was in jail the last couple of years I lived in Compton, and the last time I saw him was when I was in my last year of college, I picked him up from jail and took him to his parents house. At this point his parents had had enough with him and refused to let him in. He promised he is a changed man and begged them to give him one last chance but they wouldn't budge. I dropped him off with some of his homies, and that is the last I saw of him. Shortly after, he would land in prison again, this time his last and he is not set to come out for a very long time. Sid, on the other hand, started to do good. After I moved out of Compton I would occasionally come back to visit and last I heard he said he was finally leaving Compton in search of a better life in Long Beach. Unfortunately, that was the last I saw of him. In another Compton visit I spotted his mom and eagerly asked her about Sid, with the impression that he is doing well in Long Beach. She informed me that he had been shot and killed in LA, and with tears already in her eyes, I asked no further questions and expressed my condolences. May he Rest In Peace. (Originally published 2/13/2007)