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Pub Date: Jan. 14th, 1970
Publisher: Pantheon

One exemplary victim-blamer is the Moynihan thesis that weakened Negro families produce kids too damaged to profit from social opportunities: therefore the family, not society at large, must be changed. Ryan, a clinical psychologist and community activist, goes after this approach with a number of tactics and broadens his targets to include issues of education, crime, mental health, housing, welfare assistance and illegitimacy. His factual refutations stress the great socio-economic-educational-cultural variations within ""the black community."" His commonsense appeals point out that a mother is hardly responsible for a child eating lead-paint; and if you think per-pupil expenditures are inconsequential, how would you like your child's school budget to be halved?. His methodological attacks score the Coleman Report and the psychiatric establishment which imputes faulty values to poor people, then denies them care. Sometimes Ryan gets so carried away with defending the victim -- insisting that poor black unwed mothers are not wanton or stupid, reminding us that arrested and jailed criminals total only a fraction of the lawbreaking population -- that he underrates the seriousness of the problem in question. Moreover, his opponents, the antipoverty strategists for whom causes and cures revolve around status, manners and ""culture"" rather than money and power, are brimful of detailed programs, while Ryan's practical remedies remain ad hoc and unelaborated: making welfare more attractive, separation of law-enforcement and order-maintenance police functions, political and educational decentralization, a tax on gambling and commercial sex, turning housing into a public utility like, God help us, ""phones, electricity, and passenger travel."" However, as with James Graham's The Enemies of the Poor (1970), it is the diagnoses, polemics and investigations, not the solutions, which will draw readers.