If you are wont to embrace all of Ronald Reagan's and Dave Stockman's budget cuts as a proper purgative for bloated government spending, then come and spend a few hours in the proverty-ridden and garbage-strewn Franklin Avenue area of south Minneapolis.
Here, in a troubled neighborhood of 22,000 people that belies the Twin Cities' squeaky clean, progressive image, is the largest agglomeration of Indians in any American city. Deep trouble has accompanied the urban migration of these native peoples. Franklin Avenue provides a startling array of social pathologies: massive unemployment, alcoholism, vagrancy, knifings, rapes and chronic welfare dependency.
Doorways are littered with broken glass of the wake of monthly binges when the welfare or Social Security check roll in. Here people live in abandoned cars during Minnesota's sub-arctic winters. Between a garage and fence just off the avenue, there's a doghouse; three Indians seek shelter there.
But climb the narrow stairs just to the right of Branch One, a Catholic charitis' drop-in center where some 300 Indians come each day for a cup of coffee or a peanut butter sandwich, and you discover an unusual scene. It is the office of the American Indian Business Development Corp. (AIBDC) -- the only organization devoted to economic development for city Indians in all America.
Then talk with Brenda Draves, a scrappy 32-year-old part Indian from Wisconsin who heads AIBDC, and her board president, Charlotte White, and their supporters. You will hear an article of faith almost breathtaking in its audacity: that this little group actually believes urban Indians can turn a new leaf, from paralyzing self-scorn to natscent self-confidence. And that Indian-owned, Indian-manned business enterprises are the way to start.
But here comes the rub. Urban Indians are poor. For seed capital, they can't even, in the style of their luckier reservation cousins, look to an occasional oil royalty.So AIBDC has sought heavy government subsidy to mount the enterprise which Draves and her crew believes could be a ticket to future self-sufficiency -- a proposed two-block shopping center at the heart of Franklin Avenue, just 13 blocks from downtown Minneapolis.
That $2.6 million shopping center, four years in the planning, was on a fast track toward ground breaking when Reagan became president. Architects' drawings were complete; the city had gone to great lengths (and expense) to assemble the land from some 20 private owners.Two "class A" tenants, including a supermarket, had been recruited. The Northwestern National Life Insurance Company had agreed to a $750,000 loan. A federal Urban Development Action Grant (UDAG) for $550,000 was committed.
But there was a vital, missing ingredient: a $1.3 million shopping center construction grant from the Economic Development Administration (EDA). No one had been more supportive of the Indians' effort than the EDA. The agency urged them to proceed at every step, assured them early final approval of the loan.
But in the fall, there was a bureaucratic snafu at EDA, delaying the final signofff. January 20 came, Reagan took office, and still there were no final papers. And then the new administration froze the EDA's grant-making power.
The result: despair on Franklin Avenue, indeed a deep feeling of betrayal by the federal government. AIBDC feared it would take years to reconstruct its shopping center financing, that indeed it might ever do so and might be forced to disband.
So over the last months Draves and her colleagues have been desperately contacting all their friends in city and state government and Congress, trying to persuade the Reaganites to relent and let the Franklin Avenue grant be consummated. There's precedent for that: Some other EDA projects, enjoying strong political support, have been so favored.
The Franklin Avenue issue raises disturbing questions. Will the nation again add to its long and shameful list of broken promises to its native peoples? And is Office of management and Budget Director Dave Stockman, in disparaging EDA and all targeted government subsidies for business in depressed areas, selling valid economic theory -- or economic snake oil?
"EDA doesn't create jobs; it [simply] reallocates them," the OMB director has said. EDA and UDAG grants, he argues in supply-side economist's language, "impose an economic cost on the overall economic efficiency of the private sector." They merely "compensate the private sector for shifting investments to high-cost or less economically efficient areas."
Even if you have heard of a number of dubious, probably wasteful, EDA grants, the idea that targeted goverment investment here would be wasteful is hard to accept. There are a dozen local businesses, for instance, that have promised to invest $100,000 to $600,000 each on nearby streets and to hire many more Indians if the shopping center is built. Among them are a large clothier, a drugstroe and a heating and cooling firm.
City official Jim White notes that "public investment around Franklin Avenue has been enormous" -- several high-rises for the elderly, a new library, a Native American Center for Indian exhibits and social services, repaved streets, a new junior high school.
"But the neighborhood is still garbage because we're missing the economic development function," White says. "You can put public money down all sorts of rat holes, but unless you have private people willing to put in dough, as well, the neighborhood can't be viable again."
To me, that kind of economics makes enormous sense.