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The press puppy-dogged Bill Clinton as he traveled the country
exploiting the troubles of others to pad his legacy. Oozing the
compassion that he kept under wraps as he bombed civilians in Serbia,
Clinton announced that he plans to use the power of the federal
government to fix up dilapidated
housing and schools and inspire a renewal of economic growth.

This is political agitprop. Indeed, news clips from his tour to
troubled spots around the country looked like a Soviet propaganda film.
America pretends to be wealthy, but look at the squalor and suffering
kept under wraps! The rich are getting richer, while the poor suffer in
silence!

The press ate it up. “There was a bit of magic in Mr. Clinton’s
trip,” wrote Jeanne Cummings of the Wall Street Journal in a story
purporting to report the news. But the only magic is that anyone takes
this nonsense seriously.

Think about Clinton’s claim: he and his friends are sure there is
money to be made in these places. Corporate America, for reasons of
prejudice or simple stupidity, doesn’t understand this. To prove his
point, he will offer tax incentives and investment guarantees for any
business that invests in
impoverished areas.

But wait a minute. If there are profits to be made, why are
government investment guarantees and regulatory favors needed? In fact,
free enterprise has proven itself quite capable of sniffing out profit
opportunities, while bureaucrats are worse than useless at this.

And think about this: Clinton has spent his lifetime in government,
and knows nothing about business except how to regulate it, tax it, and
hit up its owners for campaign contributions. Here’s Clinton on business
economics: “If you have people who want to go to work and people with
money to spend and they’re both in the same place, it’s a good place to
invest.”

Spoken like a true central planner. Notice, however, that he is not
committing his own savings; he wants to enlist the public to back the
investments of other people. And if such favors are necessary to bring
investment to a place, doesn’t that suggest that the profits to be had
there are marginally more risky than elsewhere? Yes it does. And who is
going to bear this risk? Taxpayers of America, that’s where you come in.
Your pocketbooks are being tapped again to fix up places that
politicians, not free markets, think are important.

In truth, government never brought prosperity anywhere; only
unhampered (and unaided) free enterprise does that. Public policy only
works to redistribute wealth. For evidence, see the previous
incarnations of Clinton’s “New Market Initiative.” In the 1960s, it was
the War on Poverty and Urban Renewal. In the 1970s, it was UDAG grants
and public housing. In the 1980s, it was Enterprise Zones, just as it
was Empowerment Zones in the 1990s. It’s always the same racket:
taxpayers are looted in the name of economic uplift, resulting in wealth
redistribution and poverty perpetuation.

Most fundamentally, the underlying assumption behind Clinton’s tour
is all wrong. There is a reason why the areas Clinton visited are poor,
and it is not because they are being irrationally “overlooked” by
business. In Kentucky, the labor unions destroyed many mining towns. In
urban areas, welfare and crime conspired to sap these places of economic
energy. On Indian reservations, look no farther than the socialist
governments that control these places, thanks to vast and everlasting
federal subsidies and regulations.

Places like East St. Louis, Watts, rural Mississippi, and the Pine
Ridge Indian Reservation should be on the National Tour of Government
Failure. These places aren’t “neglected.” Their problems are largely due
to the lavish attention politicians like Clinton have paid to them over
the years. If there are signs of hope, it is due to a handful of brave
entrepreneurs, not the bureaucrats from HUD and the Agriculture
Department that Clinton had in tow.

On the ideological front, and true to his political style, Clinton
wants to have it both ways. He wants to claim that he is a friend to
free enterprise while calling on the surgical “tools” of government to
fine-tune the local economy. In this way, he can avoid the charge that
he is repeating the errors of his predecessors.

But while he may not talk about the glories of public housing and
UDAG grants, his proposals are just welfare in the guise of bank credit
instead of outright spending. It is no less unsustainable than the Great
Society. Congress should tell him to let America’s poor communities
alone so that they will have a chance to recover from the last ten
thousand times politicians tried to help them.

Notice that Washington, D.C., wasn’t on his Magical Government Tour.
And yet there are few places in the country with more squalor,
criminality, drugs, illiteracy, and poverty. A resident knows that he
can attend a glorious reception at a fancy government embassy, leave and
walk a few blocks, and find himself in what looks like a third-world
country. This is a place where taking the wrong exit off the highway can
land you in the hands of gangs that would rather highjack your car than
take your tax credit.

Why doesn’t Clinton try some of his magic in his own backyard? Once
he turns D.C., the imperial capital of the world, into a bright and
shining City on a Hill (instead of a slum in a swamp) we can talk about
the rest of the country.

And yet Washington still gives us blather about a new plan for
“community renewal” that is “the product of a concerted, four-year
effort to construct a new model of revitalization” based on “a
public-private partnership to give people in currently low-income areas
new hope and opportunity as we enter the 21st century.”

The trouble is this: that quotation is not from Bill Clinton; it’s
from Dennis Hastert, the Republican House Speaker who believes, like the
man he pretends to oppose, that government is the source of hope and
happiness.

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