Those Who Do Not Remember History Are Condemned to Repeat It

According to yesterday’s edition of The World on NPR, the government of Catalonia in Spain has decided to certify the Latin Kings as a cultural organization.  Yes, that’s the Latin Kings street gang founded in Chicago in the 1970s.  It’s spread into a worldwide organization, and was carried into Spain by emigrants from Latin America.  The Catalonia group now says it plans to provide services to the emigrant community and the state government has responded with certification, which entitles the group to government funding.   

This would win a prize for World’s Stupidest Innovation–if only it were innovative.  But in the 1960s the Black P. Stone Nation street gang announced that it had taken up providing hot lunches to its community of origin (the African-American South Side of Chicago), and the Federal government gave it funding.  The gang promptly embezzled the money to buy guns and drugs.  Whoops.

The idea sounds like mis-application of a business principle to the world of social services.  The principle?  "Eliminate the middleman."  Rather than fund social service organizations and cultural institutions to conduct outreach to street gangs, simply fund the gangs themselves and hope that access to resources will reform them. 

Doesn’t it make you wonder how many other business principles produce perverse outcomes when they’re transferred unthinkingly to the world of nonprofits?  If it doesn’t, it should.

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