A partisan yet sometimes penetrating analysis of urban America's decline. Siegel (History/Cooper Union) argues that ""policy wagers"" made in the 1960s have wreaked havoc in New York, Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles. Rather than assimilating blacks into the community, guilt-ridden liberals decided that past injustices required recognition of black culture. At the same time, economic free markets were undermined and a free market in morals was promoted. The result: an ideology of ""dependent individualism,"" political machines providing poor services at high cost, ever-expanding social-service industries that inhale revenues while politicians blame all failures on inadequate federal funding, and the charge of racism leveled against anyone favoring reform. Although racial politics are most extreme in Marion Barry's Washington and racial violence is most pronounced in Los Angeles, there is no doubt this book is really about New York. As a moderate Republican with ties to NYC's Mayor Rudolph Giuliani--described as an ""immoderate centrist"" with a talent for making enemies--Siegel eagerly blames the city's ills on liberals, Democrats, and exploiters of racial animosity. Siegel relies heavily on donning rose-colored glasses to view the city prior to the mid-'60s while using a racial magnifying glass to examine recent decades; there have always been problems, and a distorted perspective results from downplaying basic factors like aging infrastructure, changes in transportation, and shifts in national and international markets. Nevertheless, his analysis is not just ideological hot air. There are serious difficulties to be confronted in these cities, and Siegel exposes the systematic patterns of avoiding change favored by those in power intent on furthering their own narrow agendas. Siegel's arguments have as many loose ends as urban America has problems, but there is no shortage of ideas to ponder.