If you listened to the Baltimore rioters and their spokesmen on television last week, you were told repeatedly that the pathologies in the neighborhood have occurred because the public isn’t spending enough money on it—or, worse, the neighborhood suffers from outright oppression by a dominant white society.

Why has the black family in Freddie Gray’s neighborhood broken down? Well, it is certainly not because young men and women make bad decisions that doom them to a life of poverty. No, it is because mean, white-dominated society sends too many black men to prison for silly ol’ drug arrests. If these young men weren’t in prison, they would be upstanding citizens raising intact families. (For the record and speaking only for myself, I favor drug legalization. But I don’t kid myself that the men who are in prison for drug offenses are otherwise model citizens. Deciding to engage in illegal drug activity is, alas, not a propitious social indicator.)

Baltimore Rep. Donna Edwards was on television yesterday, and she complained that the public isn’t spending enough to educate kids in Freddie Gray’s neighborhood. Baltimore is second in per-student spending in the hundred largest school districts in the U.S., according to the Census. Confronted with this, Ms. Edwards quickly and (dare I say automatically?) stated, with no evidence presented, that the rioting neighborhood gets less than its share. The situation in the Baltimore public schools is deplorable, but Ms. Edwards seems to think that education = spending. I’m told going to class and memorizing boring stuff are also important, but you couldn’t prove it by Rep. Edwards’ we-need-more money remarks. (A voucher program allowing low-income children to attend better shools is also helpful but liberals have been successful in thwarting such programs in Baltimore.)  

We saw calls for more investment in the neighborhood, coupled with signs of just how little investment was respected. “It’s just property,” was a sentence I heard more than once to dismiss the ravages of the rioters. Burned down CVS? Broken windows? Residences destroyed? It's just property. But it is necessary to have “just property” if there are to be jobs in the neighborhood. Jay Steinmetz, the owner of a business just 150 yards from a burnt-out liquor store, writes in today’s Wall Street Journal about just how hard government makes it to invest in downtown Baltimore:  

The supply-chain management company I started in the late 1990s and lead today is in downtown Baltimore. On the night of the worst violence last month, there were more tempting targets than our cement, nondescript building, like the liquor store 150 yards away that was looted. Yet on any given day what takes place in this neighborhood is a slow-motion version of recent events. Graffiti, which anyone with experience in urban policing will affirm is the first sign of trouble, regularly appears on the exterior of our building. From there the range of crimes escalates to burglarizing cars in the parking lot, and breaking and entering our building.

City policies and procedures fail to help employers address these problems—and make them worse. When the building alarm goes off, the police charge us a fee. If the graffiti isn’t removed in a certain amount of time, we are fined. This penalize-first approach is of a piece with Baltimore’s legendary tax and regulatory burden. The real cost of these ill-conceived policies is to the community where we—and other local businesses in similar positions—might be able to hire more of those Baltimoreans who have lost hope of escaping poverty and government dependency. …

Contrary to President Obama’s suggestion in a news conference following saturated television coverage of the riots, lack of urban “investment” is not the problem. The Maryland state and Baltimore city governments are leveraging funds to float a $1 billion bond issue to rebuild crumbling public schools. This is on top of the $1.2 billion in annual state aid Baltimore received in 2015, more than any other jurisdiction and eclipsing more populous suburban counties. The financial problem Baltimore does face is a declining tax base, the most pronounced in the state. According to the Internal Revenue Service, $125 million in taxable annual income in Baltimore vanished between 2009 and 2010.

Leadership can change this. Maryland last fall elected a new governor, Republican Larry Hogan, who campaigned on improving the state’s business climate and bipartisanship. Baltimore’s mayor since 2010, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, says she is committed to rebuilding the city. Despite some minor jabs at each other in the past few months, both showed an effective working relationship during the crisis of the past few weeks. Their political futures will now be linked as the real work begins to repair Maryland’s largest city.

They will be building on perceptions of the Baltimore area that go far beyond the 24-hour, instant-news cycle. We have corporate success stories to tell the world about, including Under Armour, a global leader in sports apparel, and McCormick, the classic American spice company founded here in 1889. But these companies succeed despite the business climate, not because of it.

The simplest, most direct way to offer hope to discouraged people is to hire them. The Baltimore business community has a simple message to law enforcement and elected officials: “Help us help you.” People making good wages, working at jobs they are proud of don’t destroy themselves or the place where they live. We have the political and business talent to rebuild one of America’s great cities, once we focus on creating the conditions for job growth.

Meanwhile, liberal journalist Eleanor Clift had an interesting take on whether the burned-out CVS in Baltimore will be rebuilt. The CVS was important to the neighborhood:

Analysts have described how critical the pharmacy was to a poor neighborhood with few services and no supermarket. Not since CVS made the socially-conscious decision to stop selling cigarettes in its stores has its name been invoked so many times on national television.

Ms. Clift seemed critical that “well-heeled corporate citizens like CVS make their decisions [including whether to return to this riot-torn neighborhood] based on the bottom line.” So that their property was destroyed in riots should be irrelevant? People can burn out a business and the executives should overlook this as a minor inconvenience? Actions, even serious ones such as burning down a drug store, should have no consequences? But I was interested in this from Clift’s story:  

So I emailed their corporate office, and in response to my questions, Mike DeAngelis, CVS/pharmacy’s director of public relations, replied that many of the employees from their two Baltimore stores that are closed have been working in other nearby stores, “and we are ensuring (stet) that all of the affected employees who want to work in one of our other CVS/pharmacy stores in Baltimore will have a place.”

The chain has about 30 stores in Baltimore, and DeAngelis said in an email that “given the extraordinary circumstances, we are paying our Baltimore store employees for their regularly scheduled hours this week. We remain committed to serving our patients and customers in Baltimore and we are currently formulating our rebuilding plans in the city.”

So CVS is trying to find jobs for employees of the burned out store. Sounds like the corporation has more concern for “the people” that the rioters. Even if it does not opt to rebuild and offer the lawless a second target for burning in any future riots.