Baltimore, Border problems share common cause

During a hearing on July 18th, House Oversight Chairman Elijah Cummings took Acting DHS Secretary Kevin McAleenan to task over the conditions of detention facilities for migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border.

The President shot back this past Saturday, tweeting that “Rep. Elijah Cummings has been a brutal bully, shouting and screaming at the great men & women of Border Patrol about conditions at the Southern Border, when actually his Baltimore district is FAR WORSE and more dangerous. His district is considered the Worst in the USA......”

Forget the border. Baltimore's murder rate is actually higher than those of Guatemala, Honduras or El Salvador.

Source: Princeton Policy analysis based on multiple sources

Source: Princeton Policy analysis based on multiple sources

Baltimore is on track for 340 murders in 2019, on a population of about 610,000, representing a murder rate of 56 per 100,000. Guatemala's murder rate in 2018 was 22. El Salvador's was 50, and declining. Honduras was tracking a pace of 38 through the first four months of the year. That Baltimore's murder rate is higher than the most dangerous countries' in Central America is frankly appalling on many levels, and as someone who grew up in Baltimore, I believe increased accountability is long overdue.

Having said that, half of the violent crime rate in Baltimore and other major US cities, as well as 95% of the entire suite of pathology at the southwest border -- and 22,000 of Mexico's record pace of 34,000 murders this year -- are the direct result of US prohibitions in drugs and migrant labor. Black markets resulting from prohibitions are well understood and easily documented through historical precedent, for example, Prohibition in the 1920s and Mexico's war of drugs since 2006. The coefficients of pathology -- rates of murder and rape, for example -- can be modeled in advance.

Baltimore's "disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess" has been projected through the lens of race. In terms of problem-solving, however, we believe the situation is better appreciated as safety-related. People don't want to work, study or live in dangerous neighborhoods. That means businesses and employers will be few, incomes will be low, and crime and blight will spread. A more constructive approach to illegal drugs would see violent crime rates fall by half in Baltimore and the city's prospects improve commensurately.

Moreover, there is nothing immutable about murder rates. Many readers will no doubt be surprised to read that Baltimore has a higher murder rate than the Central American countries whose violence the left has claimed led to the asylum crisis. Central America used to be much worse. As late as 2015, El Salvador's murder rate was about 100 -- almost twice that of Baltimore. But security is much improved across the Northern Triangle countries (one reason we concluded that the asylum surge was caused by a change in US policy, rather than push factors in Central America). With better governance, crime rates can be reduced substantially.

The results at the border could be much more impressive. A market-based approach for migrant labor would reduce related crime and victimization -- including death, rape, kidnapping, robbery, human smuggling and trafficking, incarceration, illegal immigration, and migrant wage theft and exploitation -- by 95%, and would do so in as little as two years even as enforcement is substantially curtailed. From the policy perspective, repealing Prohibitions is not hard and the dynamics are well understood.

With all the charges of racism over the last few days, it is worth keeping in mind that prohibitions relying primarily on supply suppression (enforcing principally against economic migrants, for example) represent the key form of institutional racism in the country, by far. Prohibitions are central both in determining the culture and economic prospects of inner cities and in setting public perceptions of the Hispanic community.