Let's begin with some sober observations about recent events in and around my hometown of Baltimore.

The tragic story lines playing out in West Baltimore are by now familiar: an arrest and subsequent death of a young black man in police custody; peaceful and not-so-peaceful demonstrations; burning and looting of automobiles and businesses; police lines backing up in the face of brick/bottle-throwing young men; deadline-challenged, breathless reporters from 24/7 cable news outlets; serial appeals for peace from an embattled mayor and police commissioner; and the aggressive and retributive promises of an ambitious state's attorney who seems to be more interested in leading a populist cause against police than bucking up and improving her police department. A less newsworthy development was the temporary re-emergence of Prince — who wrote a song about our riots. The state's attorney was on stage for the debut.


Detached from the immediate news cycle and its incessant reporting of Charm City's considerable ills is an ongoing economic reality that many of us who grew up here know quite well: the loss of industrial-era manufacturing plants. For context, check out the demise of nearby Bethlehem Steel. Its Sparrows Point plant declined from a high of 36,000 (mostly blue-collar, skilled jobs) in the 1960s to zero today. The last remnant of the facility, a 32-story furnace built in 1978 and said to be the largest in the Western Hemisphere, was demolished in January.

The loss of such industrial era employment centers (one can add the old Bethlehem Steel shipyard, the General Motors Broening Highway assembly plant, the west side Washington Aluminum plant, and Eastern Stainless and Western Electric facilities to the list) significantly weakened Baltimore's financial position; former workers seek jobs elsewhere or find themselves under-employed or unemployed. Here's a fact sure to keep the Greater Baltimore Committee up at night: Baltimore lost $3.7 billion in taxable personal incomes between 1992 and 2011.

The foregoing figure comes from the organization "How Money Walks," which interprets IRS tax migration data. Baltimore is not alone in this predicament. The New York City metropolitan statistical area lost $79.3 billion during the same time period; Los Angeles, $42.2 billion; and Chicago, $25.5 billion. Our nation's three largest cities lost nearly $150 billion combined in taxable incomes during periods of both economic growth and recession.

This dramatic loss of high-paying manufacturing jobs is a primary contributor to a sense of hopelessness on the street. But other social maladies are deeply rooted and equally destructive. These include the familiar litany of too many dysfunctional schools, too many high school dropouts, too many pregnant teenagers, too many single parent/no parent households, too many missing fathers, and a value-less drug culture.

A portion of the ugliness has quieted for now. The National Guard is gone. Preakness Week came and went without incident. Pastors ask for calm. Beat cops ask for a break — and support from "downtown." And some say it is time to heal.

But a broken city refuses to get on board. Record shootings and a rapidly climbing body count steal local headlines. Most of this crime is black-on-black — just not provocative enough to garner national headlines or attract high profile visits from self-appointed black leaders.

Which brings us back to this healing thing.

I, for one, wish to explore just what brand of healing is in store for us. You see, the same-old-same-old will not do. Indignant reactions to police-involved shootings followed by quiet indulgence of daily street violence is not acceptable. When Baltimore's mayor is asked about costly civil disobedience, the indulgence continues with promises that the un-arrested perpetrators will "have to answer" for their destructive behavior — presumably, next time. Not so the scapegoated police: a Department of Justice "approved" Baltimore Police Department will be tasked with the thankless job of patrolling some of the most dangerous neighborhoods in the country. "Black lives matter" should apply to every senseless death, including the overwhelming majority of deaths that are not police involved!

And enough of the familiar "not enough" spending mantra. We've seen a staggering $22 trillion in transfer payments since Lyndon Johnson's Great Society. Who among you believes that $25 trillion or $28 trillion would have done the trick in places like Baltimore?

It's time for something different. How about a radical reduction in local property taxes. Tax-free investment zones. Vouchers for kids in the poorest performing schools. A cultural reawakening concerning the epidemic of out-of-wedlock pregnancies and the central role of fathers in the home. And while we're at it, a long overdue apology from the city leadership to all those innocent people who were dragnetted by a city administration intent on "zero tolerance" policing in order to improve its crime-fighting statistics.

Either party can lead the healing process, but action must follow when the TV cameras pack up and go home; here, real engagement means candidates and elected leaders willing to take on lopsided odds and entrenched monopolies. Such is the hard part — and I'm quite familiar with the hard part. Marketing the benefits of a healthy tax base, higher performing schools, community policing and two-parent households is the easy part. Just look at what the alternative has brought us.

Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a former Maryland governor and member of Congress, is a partner at the law firm King & Spalding and the author of "Turn this Car Around" and "America: Hope for Change." His email is ehrlichcolumn@gmail.com.