Author:Iglesias, Tim
Position:Article by Raphael W. Bostic in this issue, p. 969

Introduction 1187 I. Clarifying the Thesis and Operationalizing the "Social Order Dynamic" 1188 II. Testing the Article's Examples Against the "Social Order Dynamic" Paradigm 1190 III. Probing "Social Order" and Its Inextricable Relationship to "Social Welfare" 1195 IV. Solving the Governance Problem with a "Family Impact Statement" Policy 1199 Conclusion 1204 INTRODUCTION

Dr. Raphael Bostic argues that a phenomenon called the "social order dynamic" explains the negative effects on families of various past and current housing and land use policies. (1) Dr. Bostic defines social order dynamic in the following way: sometimes policymakers adopt policies to maintain the urban economic order, but "because domains rarely operate in isolation, efforts to maintain order along one dimension can exacerbate conditions and increase disorder in others." (2) "Families, particularly those with low incomes, often live at the intersection of these conflicting forces," (3) and suffer negative effects because of such policies. Dr. Bostic's article ("the Article") identifies examples of the social order dynamic, and then offers some suggestions for avoiding this dynamic or mitigating its effects, while still serving the original policy goal of maintaining the urban economic order.

This response to the Article consists of four parts followed by a brief conclusion. First, I clarify the Article's thesis and operationalize the social order dynamic by clarifying its elements. Second, I compare the Article's examples of the social order dynamic with the refined definition of the social order dynamic. Third, I explore the meaning of social order in the Article and its inextricable relationship to social welfare. Fourth, in light of these discussions, I consider the Article's proposed solutions to the problem and offer an alternative.


    The Article aims to identify the social order dynamic as a distinct policymaking or governance problem: a situation in which policymakers adopt a particular policy to bring social order into one particular dimension of urban life (i.e., the economic one). (4) This policy, however, has the unintended effect of causing disorder in the "family" dimension of social life through some kind of spillover effect. (5) In other words, it is a problem of externalities (6) applied to policymaking. Because the Article invents a new phrase to name the problem it examines, I assume the problem is not just a standard application of the economic concept of externalities, nor is it just the traditional argument that every policy has unintended consequences. To follow and analyze the argument, it is necessary to flesh out the social order dynamic phenomenon--to make it operational and, therefore, testable.

    The Article views cities in economic terms as "the spatial realization of firms and households responding to" economic incentives to invest or to spend. (7) "[T]he focus of order in this context is the preservation of conditions that permit for an efficient functioning of urban markets, such that resources are primarily devoted to commerce and production." (8) This focus entails two goals: (1) limiting impediments to "establishing and operating businesses and buying and selling finished goods," (9) and (2) permitting "a maximal amount of private investment, so as to maximize the productive capacity of the regional economy." (10) In other words, the Article appears to embrace the standard economic view that governments create and maintain the conditions for well-functioning economic markets to maximize social welfare. It explains that certain "urban disamenities" (e.g., crime) create disorder, that this disorder leads to both private and public outlays to address it, and that these expenditures are inefficient because they represent money that could have been used for more productive purposes. (11)

    At some point, these forms of disorder and the inefficient expenditures they elicit present "the risk that the costs of urbanizing exceed the benefits of urbanizing" (12) (i.e. threaten the urban economic order). For this reason, policymakers may seek to avoid or mitigate "private activities that increase social costs" (13) and that interfere with the desired social order. The focus of the Article is that these efforts by policymakers to maintain the desired social order (i.e., protect economic market functioning in urban areas) by reducing or eliminating externalities may themselves, unintentionally, impose negative effects on families. (14) A further claim is that the negative impacts on families have a feedback loop that "can cause its own disorder and undermine the original intent" of the initial policy to maintain urban economic order. (15)

    The Article identifies three characteristics that define the social order dynamic as:

    [F]irst, one must be able to document that policymakers are focused on a single problem, and that the problem threatens social order in a fashion described above. Second, and importantly, the policymaker must either not be aware of the potential that the policy solution will adversely affect families or are not (or less) concerned about those adverse effects. Finally, the policy choices made to maintain social order... must impose observable negative costs for families. (16) Using the Article's analysis, I think it is more analytically accurate and useful to parse the characteristics into four as follows: first, policymakers were only interested in addressing a single problem (e.g., crime). Second, their concern about that problem is that it threatens the urban economic order; and the sole or primary objective of the policy is to maintain the urban economic order by means of addressing the problem that threatens it. Third, policymakers were either unaware of the policy's possible negative impact on families, or not concerned or less concerned about those possible effects than about their goal of maintaining the urban economic order. Fourth, these policies that are intended to promote social order in the intended single dimension of the urban economic order cause observable negative effects on families by spilling over into, and causing disorder in, what might be called the "family dimension." (17)

    My parsing of the necessary characteristics divides the Article's first characteristic into two. The rationale behind this division is that claiming a policy has a single focal point as the target of its action is quite distinct from articulating that the concern behind the policy is that the problem threatens a desired social order.


    The social order dynamic is a complex hypothesis because it has four required characteristics. Further, it makes important assumptions about social life. The Article offers numerous examples of the social order dynamic at work. This Part argues that considering the information given in the Article, none of the proffered examples actually meet all of the criteria.

    The Article acknowledges that its thesis depends upon one being "able to document" that the challenged act of governance meets the characteristics of the social order dynamic. (18) For this reason, it seems fair to test the relationship between the characteristics of the social order dynamic and the examples offered in the Article.

    Upon a close analysis, none of the examples fit all of the criteria completely, or at least it is impossible to confirm that any examples completely fit the social order dynamic paradigm because the Article does not provide sufficient evidence to demonstrate that all of the criteria are met. And, in some cases, the information the Article provides or is otherwise available to this author conflicts with one or more of the criteria. While each of the policies the Article discusses contains one or a few characteristics of the social order dynamic, there is a mismatch between the social order dynamic and the policy examples discussed in the Article. The only characteristic that every example meets is the fourth one--that the policy caused negative impacts on families.

    The Article offers three historical examples from federal housing policy and three contemporary housing policy examples. This response considers how well each of them meet the four characteristics defined above.

    The Article describes the establishment of the Federal Home Loan Bank system, the Home Owners Loan Corporation, and the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) as focused on "stabilizing the banking industry, mortgages, and the housing market" and serving to "reduce social disorder" (19) in response to the Great Depression. While this example arguably meets the last two characteristics (i.e., the policies "were of limited use for renters and lower-income families"), (20) it fails on the first two. Certainly these institutions were created to reduce social disorder and to support an economic order, but the social order in view was not a single problem but rather a massive multifaceted complex of problems from unemployment to foreclosure. Additionally, the economic order in view was not specifically or exclusively the urban economy (which is the Article's focus) but the national economy.

    The Article asserts that "the early-years policies of the [Federal Housing Administration] represent a classic example of the social order dynamic." (21) It describes the FHA's infamous redlining policies that "only extend[ed] loans to minority families in specific neighborhoods, mainly those with already large minority populations." (22) The Article suggests redlining was adopted "[i]n the name of preserving social order--blacks were thought to adversely impact property values." (23) This example conflates the first two characteristics. The "single problem" being addressed, namely, blacks living in the same...

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