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Article Summary

Imbroscio, David L. 2006. Shaming the Inside Game: A Critique of the Liberal Expansionist Approach to Addressing Urban Problems, Urban Affairs Review 42: 224-248.

Shaming the Inside Game deals with an urban policy approach that Imbroscio calls liberal expansionism. Advocates of this policy stress that the social and economic problems of US central cities can only be solved by linking them to resources in the wider metropolitan area via activist government. Imbroscio situates this policy approach in the tradition of liberal political philosophy, which stresses the maximization of individual utility as the central normative goal, as opposed to a community-based focus. The former philosophy shames the inside game because it is biased against locally-focused policy initiatives and thereby undervalues the group utility in place- or culture-based communities.

Prominent advocates of liberal expansionism the National League of Cities, the Brookings Institution Metropolitan Policy Project, the Urban Institute, and the Clinton-Cisneros HUD do not recognize the liberal political philosophy as one value set amongst others. Instead it is considered the default. The danger is that a default ideology colors the way that urban policy problems are perceived and addressed. Supposedly empirically-minded policymakers unconsciously substitute their values for a careful data assessment, assuming conclusions about the direction policy must take in order to be successful without considering alternate ways of framing the problem or potential solutions.

Imbroscio finds examples of this ideology-for-analysis substitution in a variety of expansionists assessments of urban issues. The clearest example is the performance assessment of community development corporations (CDCs). While empirical evidence indeed shows that CDCs have been largely unsuccessful in their efforts to fight poverty, the respective assumptions made by liberal expansionists and Imbroscio differ widely. Liberal expansionists see the efforts of CDCs as doomed to failure because they do not address regional dynamics, but instead focus efforts on poor, isolated communities. Imbroscio laments that there is no causal evidence presented for this conclusion; indeed, academic literature points to other possibilities. For example, in the late 1960s, community development split from community organizing, depoliticizing it and degrading its effectiveness. This degradation was exacerbated by the advent of neoliberal capitalism during the same period. Likewise, liberal expansionists claim that federal programs aimed at curing urban slum conditions failed because they only target the socially- and economically- isolated ghetto. This claim completely ignores the use of flawed development models, mis-targeted aid allocation, and chronic underfunding.

At the most abstract level, Imbroscio identifies the treatment of two types of constraints as underpinning each position: the resource constraints faced by poor communities (Type I); and the regional cooperation problem of gathering support for redistribution and sharing of resources (Type II). Expansionists see Type I as insurmountable, while the reverse holds for lmbroscio. Our author argues that correcting Type I problems requires actively identifying and building up strengths, as well as a more vigorous brand of politics. Type II constraints refocus politics at a regional level, which are dominated by white middle-class and corporate interests and oriented towards civility and consensus. Politically, this also represents a shaming of the inside game it disregards the immense difficulties in regional cooperation and pulls representation away from the minority and working class groups that predominate central cities.

In conclusion, Imbroscio never makes an outright claim that the policy prescriptions are wrong (although they are clearly not his preference). His strongest claim is that there is not enough evidence for either side, and that evaluation should be based on careful empirical studies, not de facto ideological assumptions. The shaming of the inside game by liberal expansionists is, at this point, is unjustified.