Monday, November 06, 2006

Problem spotters vs problem solvers

David Simon spent 13 years as a crime reporter for the Baltimore Sun before rising to prominence with the publication of his 1991 book: Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets, the inspiration for two TV series. He and collaborator, Ed Burns, a narcotics detective and 20-year veteran of the Baltimore police department were on a promotional tour and were asked about the drug problem:
Ed Burns and I spoke at one of those groups. There came this point where a guy said, "Well, what is the solution? Give me the paragraph; give me the lede. What's the solution, if not drug prohibition?"

I very painstakingly said: "Look. For 35 years, you've systematically deindustrialized these cities. You've rendered them inhospitable to the working class, economically. You have marginalized a certain percentage of your population, most of them minority, and placed them in a situation where the only viable economic engine in their hypersegregated neighborhoods is the drug trade. Then you've alienated them further by fighting this draconian war in their neighborhoods, and not being able to distinguish between friend or foe and between that which is truly dangerous or that which is just illegal. And you want to sit across the table from me and say 'What's the solution?' and get it in a paragraph? The solution is to undo the last 35 years, brick by brick. How long is that going to take? I don't know, but until you start it's only going to get worse."

And the guy looked at me and went, "But what's the solution?" He said it again. Ed Burns restrained me.

Mr. Simon has a keen eye for what has gone wrong but doesn't seem to know what a "solution" is: "Undo[ing] the last 35 years" is a wish, not a plan. Center-cities, for example, have deindustrialized for a variety of good reasons and there are no policies that people can agree on that would reverse it. Often the people who can identify problems in emotionally compelling terms seem unable to recognize that, compared to finding the solution, identifying the problem was the easy part.

UPDATE: On the same theme, Democrats can identify problems with our policies in Iraq but soldiers interviewed in the Washington Post point out that the proposed Democratic "solutions" would be worse than the problems. Ann Althouse comments.

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