Benign neglect

For the British policy of avoiding strict enforcement of parliamentary laws see Salutary neglect.

Benign neglect was a policy proposed in the late 1960s by New York Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who was at the time on Nixon's White House Staff as an urban affairs advisor. While serving in this capacity, he sent the President a memo suggesting that "the issue of race could benefit from a period of 'benign neglect'. The subject has been too much talked about....We may need a period in which Negro progress continues and racial rhetoric fades." This "benign neglect" policy was designed to ease tensions following the American Civil Rights Movement of the late 1960s. Moynihan was particularly troubled by the speeches of Vice-president Spiro Agnew. However, the policy was widely seen as an abandonment of urban (particularly black) neighborhoods, as the Senator’s statements and writings appeared to encourage, for instance, fire departments engaging in triage to avoid engaging in a supposedly futile war against arson.

A Rand Institute report suggested that a large proportion of the fires in the South Bronx and Harlem were arson, however subsequent analysis of the data did not back this up. Of the fires in buildings only a very small portion were arson and that portion was not higher than the rate of proven arson found in wealthier neighborhoods. However, influenced by the report, Moynihan went on to make recommendations for urban policy based on the assumption that there was "widespread arson" in poverty stricken neighborhoods like the South Bronx and Harlem. To Moynihan, arson was one of many social pathologies caused by large cities that would benefit from benign neglect.

Other usages

The term is today more widely known as a variant of laissez faire policy, wherever it is considered that a lack of regulation and/or investment will improve (or at least not hurt) the interest of the 'neglected' group. It is still a very controversial policy whenever proposed.


See also

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