Friday, January 12, 2007

On the dole in the Green Zone

In a bizarre inversion of the frequent claim of conservatives from about 2003 to early 2006 that Iraq was no more dangerous than any American city, future presidential candidates Rudy Giuliani and Newt Gingrich pop up in Friday's Wall Street Journal (subs. req'd; alt. free link) to argue that New York City's experience with welfare reform is a useful model for Iraq --

There are many lessons from the successful welfare reforms in New York City that can be readily applied in Iraq. In the early 1990s, New York City suffered an average of 2,000 murders a year while more than 1.1 million people -- one out of every seven New Yorkers -- were unemployed and on welfare. Too many neighborhoods were pervaded by a sense of hopelessness that came from a combination of high crime, high unemployment and despair. "Workfare" proved an excellent method to change this destructive decades-long paradigm. It required able-bodied welfare recipients to work 20 hours a week in exchange for their benefits. In the process, we reasserted the value of the social contract, which says that for every right there is a responsibility, for every benefit an obligation.

As many as 37,000 people participated at a single time, working in the neighborhoods that most needed their help, cleaning up streets with the Sanitation Department, removing graffiti from schools and government buildings, or helping to beautify public spaces in the Parks Department.

More than 250,000 individuals went through our Workfare program between 1994 and 2001, and their effort helped to visibly improve the quality of life in New York City. Many of them moved on to permanent employment. This change from welfare to work did as much as the New York Police Department Compstat program to keep reducing crime. A similar model can work in Iraq.

There is an opportunity not only to increase employment by rebuilding roads, houses, schools and government buildings, but also to engage the Iraqi people to participate in laying the foundation for a civil and prosperous society.

Leaving aside their isolation of New York City's improvements from Bill Clinton's booming economy, national welfare reforms, and demographic changes, note that the same logic -- forcing changes in behaviour with time-limited benefits -- could be used to argue that it's the Iraqi government, not its people, that needs to get on its bike, with the threat being a US withdrawal unless things improve.

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