The Habits of the Poor


Mike Dwyer

Mike Dwyer is a former writer and contributor at Ordinary Times.

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178 Responses

  1. Avatar Jaybird says:

    To change things in impoverished parts of town, to truly change things, would require a level of paternalism that I don’t think we’d even be comfortable *TALKING* about… let alone enacting.Report

    • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to Jaybird says:

      Part of the problem there is the size and location of the impoverished part of town.Report

    • Avatar J_A in reply to Jaybird says:

      200 years ago the vast majority of Europeans were dirt poor. 100 years ago most still were. Today, very few Western Europeans are poor, and almost none are dirt poor. A lot of that is attributable to policy changes that are as old or even predate Bismark’s (i.e.

      So I would think empirically policy changes can impact poverty in a massive way. However, those changes aacxcumulate through generations before they become as meaningful as what we see today in, for instance, Western Europe.

      It is said that when T. roosvelt was advised taht certain project will take 100 nyears to be completed, his response was: “we then need to start immediately”Report

  2. Avatar Tod Kelly says:

    Mike – What are the prevention policies you see that would curb poverty?Report

    • Avatar Mike Dwyer in reply to Tod Kelly says:

      That’s just it Tod – I don’t. I don’t think you can change human behavior.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

        I don’t think you can change human behavior.

        Of course you do.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

        I don’t think you can change human behavior.

        I’m curious what you mean my this. Do you mean you can’t change the behavior of individual poor people? Or you can’t change the structural problems which give rise to the behavior which you’re calling ‘the behavior of the poor’? Or that you can’t change the overt behaviors of the group of people we collectively call ‘the poor’? Or you can’t change the predisposition of certain people towards laziness and poor decision-making?Report

        • Avatar Mike Dwyer in reply to Stillwater says:

          What I mean is that I don’t think policy has the power to change people’s behavior on any kind of large scale.Report

          • I think it can if it is working in tandem with social changes. Drunk driving laws come to mind. In sometimes think smoking is heading in that direction. Take away the social component, and the laws don’t work. Take away the laws, though, and I don’t think it works on social change alone (I don’t know that the social change takes, I should say).Report

            • Avatar greginak in reply to Will Truman says:

              Seatbelt use and child car seat use are very common now but certainly weren’t years ago. Laws likely drove some of that.

              Its getting into a tangled area, but the Civil Rights Acts led to many changes. I’d argue they led to changes in attitudes and behaviours. As a matter of fact desegregating the military likely also led to big changes also.Report

          • Avatar Chris in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

            This is still empirically false, of course. Anti-discrimination policies changed behavior on a large scale. Not willingly, of course, and there was a lot of blowback, particularly at first, but behavior was changed. Large scale behavior changes, regardless of the source, tend to take time.Report

          • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

            I wasn’t clear. I mean, I get that that’s your view here. My question is more about the specific target of your comment here. There are all sorts of factors which converge on any ‘social’ problem which governmental policy might change. One is overt individual behavior – and I think conservatives think that lots of laws actually do change overt behavior. Another is predispositions to behave – and no one thinks that policy can change fundamental (biological) predispositions.

            Another is the structural factors which lead to social problems, and governmental policy can in fact change those arrangements, which can and often does change overt individual behavior radically.

            I’m just wondering what you mean when you say that policy can’t change people’s behavior. I think it’s demostrably false, unless you mean something like ‘predispositions to behave’. But no one, so far as I know, has ever advocated a policy to change biological predispositions to behave in one way or another. People enact policy to change overt behavior. The problem, and maybe this is closer to what you’re getting at, is that those policies often impinge on an individual’s cultural predisposition to behave. But that leads us back to structural issues wrt social problems and cultural flexibility/inflexibility.Report

          • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

            On a larger and more profound scale than traffic laws, I think that civil rights legislation and the policies that legislation spawned have absolutely changed some pretty fundamental bedrock behaviors and attitudes both.

            Which is not to say that those changes happened over night, or were in any way easy.Report

            • Avatar Mike Dwyer in reply to Tod Kelly says:

              The key difference is that the government made many forms of discrimination illegal. You can’t do that with the self-destructive behaviors that keep people poor.Report

              • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

                I need to think on this a bit, but yours is a most excellent point I had not pieced together.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

                Mike, this is true. But to what extent do you think the predispositional behaviors of poor people are the determining factor in their poverty? Is all poverty reducible to individual laziness and poor-decision making?Report

              • Avatar Mike Dwyer in reply to Stillwater says:

                I would say that it is more than 50% of the equation. The problem is that we don’t want to admit it and we want to attribute it to other things. McArdle makes a good point in her piece that when we see equally distructive behaviors in middle class folks we are more inclined to blame it on the individualand not society…but either way it’s free choice.Report

              • Avatar North in reply to Stillwater says:

                 Well McArdle posited that outside of the large effect that decision making and time constraints put on the poor there was also a strong negative effect from the very support networks they create to survive at that economic level. For instance a tight night social circle will help get you food and a place to sleep when the wolves are at the door but will also tap into you in return when you benefit from improved circumstances or a windfall.

                What did you think of McArdle’s post Stillwater?Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to North says:

                First, I didn’t see any real content there other than a) poverty is intractable and b) people are responsible for their choices. Second, when she’s talking about ‘generational poverty’ I think she’s talking about a very narrow range of the poverty spectrum, one that is identified by skin color and geographic locations. And the upshot of both is that since structural factors don’t matter, poor people just need to do better for themselves.

                What I am struggling to say is that however much those choices are now inflected by what went before–and the problems of other people in their families and communities–they are choices.

                Fair enough. But really empty. If we’re talking about generational poverty, then it’s a structural issue unless we suppose the ‘culture of poverty’ is actually the expression of a biological predisposition (towards laziness and bad decision-making). But given that she says that poor people want the same things as middle class people, she’s inherently undermining that claim.

                Shorter: poverty sucks, it’s not structural, and the only remedy is better bootstraps. How those a poor folks embedded in a cycle of ‘generational poverty’ are supposed to get better bootstraps is left out of the equation.

                But that’s really the only interesting question to be asking.


              • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to Stillwater says:

                I’m not so sure trying to find a winner between things such as habits, structure, etc. are useful.  I don’t know that it has to be one or the other gets us anywhere, other than at a base L vs. R discussion level.

                Isn’t “all the above” kind of the obvious answer?Report

              • Avatar Liberty60 in reply to Stillwater says:

                Well said.

                Re: better bootstraps, I am thinking of one small tidbit, about entry level jobs like administrative assistant or receptionist.

                Its pretty much a fact that the overwhelming majority  jobs go to pretty young white women (in Hollywood size 0 with a little black dress).

                So if you are in some other category, that particular bottom rung on the social ladder is out of bounds.

                Is there some form of government action that can remedy this? Not easily; but we can at least stop with the fairytale myth that pretty young white women rise from assistant to executive purely through grit and determination.

                Or that attractive auburn haired girls rise from “executive copy girl for one of the disaster-recovery firms at Ground Zero ” to being a regular columnist for The Atlantic by superior writing skills alone.Report

              • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to Stillwater says:

                 but we can at least stop with the fairytale myth that pretty young white women rise from assistant to executive purely through grit and determination.

                Or that attractive auburn haired girls rise from “executive copy girl for one of the disaster-recovery firms at Ground Zero ” to being a regular columnist for The Atlantic by superior writing skills alone.

                The first, sure.  (Unless you live in a Lifetime Made-For-TV movie.)

                The second, also sure – but maybe for different reasons than the ones I think you intend.  I would agree that MM is not writing a regular blog for the Atlantic because of superior writing skills alone.  She’s also there because she draws controversy, and therefore traffic and buzz – often for the exact same reasons people here love or hate her.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Stillwater says:

                With regards to better bootstraps, there’s are so many dynamics at work that it’s probably not possible to even touch on the top 5 most important ones without misapprehending 4 of them…

                It does seem that the biggest thing that needs to be overcome is the reasonable conclusions that most folks are able to reach. If you (you reading this) knew that you would never, ever, use calculus (like… not even to get into college), how much effort would you put into your calc courses? If no one you know has a job as a mid-level manager at a bank, how much effort will you put into getting mid-level managerial bank skills?

                My answer to those questions are “diddly” and “squat”.

                Which means that we’ll be asking this question again next election.

                And the one after that.

                And the one after that.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Stillwater says:


                Isn’t “all the above” kind of the obvious answer?

                Maybe. But not because of anything McCardle has argued. Her view is that historical, cultural, racial, economic, etc factors don’t matter. The only thing that does matter is poor people making better choices for themselves.

                A liberal, on the other hand, thinks that some people are impoverished because they are lazy or made bad decisions. We think that other people are impoverished because accidents happen and sometimes people are deprived the means to make a decent living, and that the elderly and adolescent poor ought to still be able to eat. But we also think that the culture of generational poverty is in large part a product of social and other structural factors that impinge on a person’s ability to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. (Tip: ‘generational poverty’ is code.)Report

              • Avatar James K in reply to Stillwater says:

                Shorter: poverty sucks, it’s not structural, and the only remedy is better bootstraps. How those a poor folks embedded in a cycle of ‘generational poverty’ are supposed to get better bootstraps is left out of the equation.

                That’s not how I read McArdle at all.  I think she is saying that poverty is structural, but the culture of some poor communities is one of the structural factors.  This mirrors the best understanding to date of the causes of poverty in 3rd world countries.Report

              • Avatar Simon K in reply to Stillwater says:

                Tip: ‘generational poverty’ is code.

                Code for what exactly? If you’re thinking its racial, I don’t think that’s correct. The pattern of generational poverty plays itself out in white families in lots of places.Report

              • Simon, one of the joys of having lived out in the lilly-white Mountain West is that I can talk about class without it being code.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Stillwater says:

                From an economic perspective, generational poverty is an economic fact independently of race. From a political perspective, at least here in the US, the term ‘generational poverty’ has a narrower meaning usually including only African American inner city populations.

                But since I can’t prove that in any concise way, I’ll just remind you that political speech is radically counterintuitive, for pretty obvious reasons. And that racism never gets expressed overtly – anymore! – in polite company. If McArdle was unaware of the the prevailing political meaning of the term – and how could she not be? – then I’ll take back the accusation. But how will we ever know the answer to that?


              • Stillwater, how can the meaning of generational poverty be conveyed in an uncoded way?Report

              • Avatar Chris in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

                Now you’ve made a very specific claim. Why, do you think, you can’t do that with the “self-destructive behaviors that keep people poor?” What do you think it is about those behaviors that makes them immune to the policy influences that affect many other types of behavior?

                Also, do you think it’s possible to indirectly affect those behaviors through policy (through alleviating some of the conditions that tend to influence those behaviors in the first place, say)?Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Chris says:

                Chris, your comment help me get clearer on something that’s been puzzling me: an ambiguity in the term ‘self-destructive behavior of the poor’. If it’s a biological predisposition, then saying they ought to make better choices is incoherent, since by hypothesis, they’re incapable of doing so.

                If it’s a cultural predisposition or just an instance of bad training (or whatever), then surely that behavior can change – at least in principle – by implementing certain policies.


              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke in reply to Stillwater says:

                What law can change a grasshopper into an ant?Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                So you’re on the nature side of this? That generational poverty is the product of an inheritable and biological predisposition towards laziness and bad decision-making?


              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                Pls, Mr. Stillwater.  I’m a culture guy all the way; you needn’t take me so literally.  It’s just that I have my doubts about the 2nd half of Moynihan’s famous dictum:

                “The central conservative truth is that it is culture, not politics, that determines the success of a society. The central liberal truth is that politics can change a culture and save it from itself.”


              • Avatar Liberty60 in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                It also needs to be pointed out to people like Ms. McArdle (and David Brooks for that matter) that there is many a grasshopper whose antlike parents or antlike camouflage misleads them into thinking they are such.Report

              • Avatar Murali in reply to Stillwater says:

                If it’s a cultural predisposition or just an instance of bad training (or whatever), then surely that behavior can change – at least in principle – by implementing certain policies.

                In a way yes. But the level of intervention required can be frightening. Let us suppose that we have identified the appropriate culural “vices”. How far would we have to go to change those “vices” into “virtues”? I’m thinking serious sustained re-education would have to be used. I dont think we are prepared to do that.

                Its not that behaviour in general cannot be changed by policy. Incentives do matter. It is a problem of whether or not there is any reasonable policy we know of which can change these behaviours. The best I can think of are big brother programs and other mentorship programs. Have college students mentor children from broken families.Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Murali says:

                Christ, we can’t even get people to quit smoking.Report

  3. Avatar Ian M. says:

    “Poor people are actually choosing not to hassle with their kid’s school. It’s a real choice that they have made. There is no reason to assume that you will be able to override it if you just get the policy levers in the right position.”

    McArdle claims that welfare reform improved the lives of folks, but it also removed many of the volunteer hours from inner city schools (covered by Sharon Newman in The Missing Class). Deny people the time to get involved and then claim they are just making a choice – the classic stupidity of the libertarian mind.

    If a poor person DID want to hassle w/ their kid’s school, how would they go about that? Assuming they worked full time? Perhaps what was meant was “schoolwork” not “school”, but expecting someone in the bottom quintile of the economy to have the time or ability to effectively change a school is ludicrous.Report

    • Avatar Mike Dwyer in reply to Ian M. says:

      Ian – Middle class folks do it every day. McArdle covers that in her post.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

        If you don’t think that low income parents have barriers to participation in their children’s education that middle class parents don’t, then you’re not thinking very hard about this, and you’re at least nearly completely ignorant of the literature.

        Some of these are attitudinal: low education levels, for example, make parents more anxious about dealing with teachers and administrators. Then there are the actual time issues, issues with transportation and other resources, lack of peer support, etc. The list goes on.

        Anyway, said literature also deals with ways to get parents more involved, including low income parents. Some of those ways might even be amenable to policy. This is precisely the sort of thing that it’s a good idea to read up on… read up a lot on (the literature is HUGE), or know someone who studies it for a living (my shortcut), before forming and publicizing an opinion. Particularly when that opinion comes off like this one seems to.Report

      • Avatar sonmi451 in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

        You seriously see no difference between middle-class people and people making minimum wage in terms of taking time off work to involve themselves in their children’s school? That guy working an office job with good benefits is in exactly the same position as the guy working 12-hour shift in a factory? They can both take time off with the same ease to? And the guy making minimum wage is just not doing it because he’s a lazy bum and that’s a problem policy can’t solve so fuck those people?Report

  4. Avatar Jakecollins says:

    The OP was confusing.

    You begin by saying policy can’t change behavior.

    Then you conclude by saying liberal policy changes behavior for the worst.

    Is your point that there is a downward ratchet… Policy can only make behavior worse?

    Now that would be pessimistic!

    PS Actual social science would be more useful than anecdotes… No one gives a fuck about your kids.Report

  5. Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

    With my kids I’ll give two examples of negative behaviors we have tried to change: messy rooms and not completing homework. One of our daughters prefers to keep her bedroom in a condition that resembles the city landfill. The other daughter seems to believe that homework is an optional activity. We have tried any number of approaches to both negative behaviors. We’ve tried punishments, rewards, pleading, trickery, providing assistance and even low-level shaming. Nothing works. The behaviors don’t change and we are left frustrated and feeling the effort was wasted. Yet we still keep trying because to give up seems both an admission of defeat and an admission that we have raised less-than-perfect children (parenthood often conflicts with rational thought).

    Oh, things can work.  Eventually.  Every stone can be worn away by erosion.

    That’s not to say that they *will* work, though.  Human behaviour is a tricky widget: if someone wants to change, but has a lot of inertia, then assistance can help quite a bit.  If someone doesn’t want to change, the likelihood of getting them to change is much, much lower… and the tactics and strategies that will work for one person won’t necessarily work for anybody else.

    But behavioral change can be done, for most humans, even to extremes… if you’re willing to pay the price.  Boot camp is proof.

    This is not a great approach to the solution space, generally, though.

    My kids attend a public school where white middle class kids are in a minority.  A goodly number of the kids who are there come from the standard raft of sad stories: one parent, no parent (living with the grandparents), no engaged parental figures, bad socioeconomic backgrounds, etc… and yet a very small percentage of them are perniciously incorrigible.

    There are, of course, perniciously incorrigible kids.

    But, many of those kids aren’t close to ingrained behaviours.  They do learn to apply themselves.  They do learn to do their homework.  They learn it from their peers and from their teachers and from the parent volunteers who show up and help out and provide those alternate engaged parental figure models.

    I guess what I’m saying, Mike, is that most people are fungible, especially at a young age.  But the problem is that the Left expects that it can fungibleate anybody regardless of age using the same tactics that they use to fungibleate your average folks.  That doesn’t work.Report

    • Avatar Mike Dwyer in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

      We see the same positive effects of socio-economic integration here in Louisville – unfortunately they disapear around 7th grade. Culture trumps policy it seems.Report

      • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

        Unfortunately they disapear around 7th grade. Culture trumps policy it seems.

        I think part of the problem there is that people see strategies and tactics that worked fine at ages pre-K through grade 6 and think, “Well, hell, this is working!”

        7th grade starts pre-adulthood.  Lots of things change, very rapidly.  “Why isn’t this working any more?”

        I don’t disagree that degrees of change in culture has a much bigger impact than similar degrees of change in policy, Mike; I agree with that.  Children have children’s minds.  7th graders start to think in terms of themselves as non-children any more.  Developmentally, they’ve got a long way to go but the sense of self advances to “I think I’m an adult” pretty damn fast.Report

        • Avatar Mike Dwyer in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

          The problem is that once kids hit that age schools have much less impact on their lives. Kids in elementary school talk endlessly about their teachers, often with a bit of reverance (especially for girls). They interact with their friends outside of school minimally. Once they hit middle school their social lives take top billing. That’s extremely hard to compete with.Report

          • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

            Yes, that’s true.Report

          • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

            To expand on this a bit:

            In mixed-class environments, though, the social lives bit can be decidedly different at 7th grade.

            The kid from a marginal background who is friends with a number of kids who get him/her into music programs, athletic programs, etc., is the kid who has a different social context than the kid from a marginal background who is friends only with other kids from marginal backgrounds who don’t get involved in music programs, athletic programs, etc., because the programs don’t exist, aren’t funded, or because none of their friends are doing it, either.

            I suspect (although I have no evidence to back this up at the moment) that this can have a pretty big impact on social context.

            I generally suspect that putting all the impoverished kids into the impoverished part of town with the impoverished school and the zero extracurricular activities and the near-zero parent volunteerism rates is the collective root cause more than any one of those individual factors.Report

            • Avatar Kim in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

              “zero extracurricular activities”? Maybe those run by the school, sure… But what’s rapping if not Demanding that someone polish off their verbal skills, their reaction times, and their quick thinking? And it’s easy enough to set up a basketball court.

              Kids are quite capable of setting up their own extracurricular activities. The best we can do is make fun activities that teach ’em something.

              Man, now I’m just being cranky… your point is well put, and ought to stand up to my quips.Report

    • Avatar greginak in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

      +1 for fungibleate

      What behaviours are liberals trying to change with what programs?Report

  6. Avatar greginak says:

    Poor people less time typically, flexibility and less likely to have their own cars to be able to spend time at children’s schools.

    I wish i had more time to get into this but i think the view that liberals are looking to change peoples behavior or nature is off the mark. People will always do stupid things or make unwise choices. That’s people. I don’t see any of the policies, as a lib, i am for that aim to change that. However people should have health care/insurance. (Yes many health care providers encourage healthy behavior. Is that liberal? Doesn’t that seem part of any health care system any person would ever think up?) Having health care doesn’t mean people don’t act like knuckle knobs, or act in a healthy manner, just that they can get care. How about some sort of jobs program? Well having a fed job program, or the WPA, didn’t make people work against their will or aim to give them a work ethic. I gives them a place to work. The ones who wanted jobs got in line first and worked hard so they were able to get another job or didn’t get fired/dropped. None of those are changing behavior, they are offering opportunities. If you want to see behavior change then look at drug treatment or child protective services but those are not aimed specifically at poor people ( although for more then one reason the poor may be involved in those things).Report

    • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to greginak says:

      I don’t think it’s about the “hand up” programs, it’s the “hand outs”.  One offers those willing to work a way to get ahead, the other seems (IMHO) to be a way to prolong the behavior while offering no incentive to change, or worse, offering incentives to not even attempt to change (McArdle talks about the poor having a higher Marginal Tax Rate).Report

      • Avatar greginak in reply to Mad Rocket Scientist says:

        What handouts are you talking about? I’m serious, which programs?

        One of the things that lead to poor discussions of “the poor” or “liberals” or “conservatives” for that matter, are over generalisations. “The poor” is not one group. Some people are poor because of drug abuse, some due to laziness, some due to be being victims of DV, etc. I can , i am sure, agree with you on some “liberal” programs being useless. Some libs have become over attached to a specific program which is an error. But to many critiques of lib ideas are uselessly vague by just calling out “programs.”Report

        • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to greginak says:

          These days, I’m not sure.  I haven’t been part of the welfare system since I got out of the military.

          When I was growing up, food stamps, section 8, etc were the programs du jour. They often created incentives to stay poor, either out of laziness (why work when I get all this free money), or simple economics (if I take a new job, or promotion, that pays me $10K more a year, I’ll cross some arbitrary income line and lose $20K a year in assistance).

          I hear tell such programs still exist, and still have the same problems.Report

    • Avatar Mike Dwyer in reply to greginak says:


      “I wish i had more time to get into this but i think the view that liberals are looking to change peoples behavior or nature is off the mark.”

      I don’t think they are. I think they just want to mitigate the impact of bad decision making.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

        I think they just want to mitigate the impact of bad decision making.

        I think that gets it all backwards, unless by ‘bad decision making’ you mean the sum total of all decisions which lead to outcomes liberals want to mitigate against, ameliorate, perhaps even try to change. Liberals generally don’t blame poor people for being poor. Isn’t that the standard (and in some sense correct!) conservative criticism of liberals wrt poverty relief? So I don’t think you’re correctly understanding liberal’s views of these things.Report

      • Avatar greginak in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

        I’m not sure i can see the practical difference between a program that is mitigating the impact of bad decisions and a safety net most of us would agree with/ a hand up program.Report

      • Avatar sonmi451 in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

        And you just want those people to shut up and go away, so you can tell more anecdotes about your precious kids (BTW, are your kids poor? No? So why are they relevant to this discussion) to make broad-stroke assertions about what lazy bums poor people are. Just because your kids can’t be taught, doesn’t mean other people are hopeless. Maybe you shoudl take a look at your own parenting method before generalizing your children’s behavior to an entirely different class of people.Report

        • Avatar Mike Dwyer in reply to sonmi451 says:


          I could have very easily made the analogy about something else beyond my own personal responsibility. For example, I could talk about how I sat through a long conference call at work the other day where one of my managers explained how they wanted to use required fields in our project management software as a way to force people to manage their time better. I could relate dozens of stories about the really crappy parents that my wife deals with as a social worker that are not bad parents because they are poor, but because they are selfish and irresponsible. I could discuss how when I lived in a lower-class neighborhood people’s yards were filled with garbage but when I moved to a middle class neighborhood suddenly the garbage disappeared.

          Should I continue?

          The point is that OFTEN poor people make bad decisions by CHOICE and not because circumstances force them to. Acknowledging that is a good way to reform social programs in a way that is much more in-line with reality.


          • Avatar sonmi451 in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

            Could, could, could? So why didn’t you? What made you decide that the best analogy to use is between the behavior of children and poor people? The reason you chose THAT analogy rather than the others could reveal something about how you think about poor people, no? I mean, you must have known how ridiculous that analogy would make you look (various comments here about navel-gazing and so on), but you still chose that one. Why?Report

            • Avatar Mike Dwyer in reply to sonmi451 says:

              Sonmi – take a good look at the people making the most critical remarks about the analogy. Take a look at the content and tone of their comments (Scott & JoJo). Are you sure you want to count yourself among them?

              Analogies are always subject to dispute. How ridiculous I look is YOUR opinion. You seem to take particular offense to the implication that poor people are like children. That’s an over-simplification. The correct way to interpret it would be that the habitual negative behaviors that we see people engage in are often very similar to patterns the patterns of behaviors we see in children. Under-developed reasoning skills. An inability to see cause and effect. Immaturity. Etc.Report

              • Avatar sonmi451 in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

                But I thought Megan McArdke’s whole point is that the poor are behaving in a rational manner as they see it in choosing to do the self-destructive things that keep them poor, so policy that forces behavior-changing are treating them like automaton with no ability to CHOOSE for themselves? How does this fit with your assertion that the poor are immature, don’t have developed reasoning skills etc etc? Weren’t you JUST NOW in your post extolling Megan’s opinion? So you don’t agree with her after all? Or you agree witt her conclusion that policy to help the poor  is worthless, but you don’t share her neutral opinion about poor people, you think poor people are more devious than Megan thinks?Report

              • Avatar Mike Dwyer in reply to sonmi451 says:

                I think you should probably re-read my post a couple of times. The whole point is that policy doesn’t change people’s behavior and we need to focus more on how to mitigate the effects of bad decision making and determine how much responsibility the government has in the process.

                And poor reasoning and immaturity still don’t trump free will. They just make the exercising of free will more dangerous.Report

          • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

            I remember reading about “decision fatigue”, where people start to become mentally exhausted by the weight of the decisions they have to make, and thus start to make bad decisions because they don’t have the energy to make the “right” decision over the “easy” decision.

            The more critical and primal the decisions are, the heavier a toll they take.  A choice between working extra hours to pay the bills or getting enough sleep or seeing your kids requires more effort than the choice of which vacation destination you’ll go to this year.  Also, education, confidence, & experience all factor into how much decision making endurance a person has.

            This is why a CEO, say, can make good, tough decisions all day long, while a single mother who dropped out of HS can’t.  He never has to think or worry about how to pay the rent, or buy food, etc.  Those primal needs are met without him really thinking about it, and thanks to his experience, confidence, & education, a great host of daily decisions are effortless for him.  The single mother, on the other hand, is dead tired at the end of the day just trying to figure out how to feed her kids.

            I can see how some assistance can relieve that daily decision load, but if nothing is done to help those who want to make better decisions learn how to do so, then once the aid is gone, they are back to square one.Report

  7. Avatar DensityDuck says:

    This is interesting to read in concert with Rose Woodhouse’s guest post.Report

  8. Avatar scott says:

    You’re right about the analogy being clumsy.  It’s based on a small set of people you know, and the large conclusions you draw from it are therefore baseless and fairly stupid.  I know this site often specializes in precious navel-gazing, but embarrassing even by that low standard.  The give-away, I suppose, was the expressed reverence for McArdle, a recognized expert in extracting large social verities from her own ass.Report

    • Avatar Mike Dwyer in reply to scott says:


      An analogy isn’t used to draw conclusions. It’s used to illustrate a point in a more simplified manner. Surely you understand the difference…right?Report

      • Avatar scott in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

        If the circumstances and scale of the two situations are vastly different, the analogy isn’t illustrative but rather a bit of colorful window dressing for your own unsupported generalizations, which may express your visceral opinions but don’t convince on the merits.Report

      • Avatar sonmi451 in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

        Maybe you should consider that the point is that you’re an ineffective parent, rather than your children’s behavior is proof-positive that we should not try to help the poor because we can’t change behavior. I mean, I’m sure they are some parents here who can tell stories about their success in changing their children’s behavior?Report

    • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to scott says:

      What is it about people who go by just “Scott?”Report

      • Avatar scott in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        I dunno.  What is it about people who go by “Tod,” Tod?Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        Well, the harshness directed towards Mike was a bit uncalled for. But not the critique of McCardle. She’s a really horrible thinker. Here’s what I wrote about her not too long ago, and I think it’s even more accurater then ever.

        McArdle paradigmatically instantiates an antiquated epistemological weltanschauung in which a priori ratiocination is presumed sufficient for descriptively accurate analyses of empirical subject matter.


      • Avatar North in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        If we could somehow bring both of the Leagues Scott’s into close proximity to each other in a controlled setting the resulting all heat/no light fooferaw could probably power enough turbines to keep the east coast illuminated with carbon free electricity. Of course it might also produce a troll-fest singularity that’d suck the entire internets in and crush it to the size of a grape. Perhaps best not to risk it.Report

        • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to North says:

          Are you sure?  It seems like one is pure angry conservative, and one pure angry liberal.  I would think if they touched they would cancel each other out and either disappear in a blink, or somehow fuse together and become Jay Leno.Report

          • Avatar North in reply to Tod Kelly says:

            Ohh or they’d cancel out and turn into Jay Bird! *ba dum dum*Report

            • Avatar Jaybird in reply to North says:

              My angry tends to manifest in different places than either of the Scotts.

              “I should be able to make this decision on your behalf” is something that truly sets me off when the same thing is something that gets folks like the Scotts to nod… so long as they agree with the decision. (If they disagree, of course, this is because of evil on the part of the decision-maker.)Report

  9. Avatar Liberty60 says:

    Any discussion of “The Poor” is automatically suspect. About the only thing that all poor people have in common is a small number on their 1040 forms.

    Oftentimes poverty is the result of bad decisions and social failure; drunkeness, drugs, criminal behavior, relationship choices, the stuff that social conservatives talk about.

    But oftentimes it isn’t. There are plenty of low income families who are low income for no other reason than they were born in a poor neighborhood in a social class that isn’t offered ready access to the beginning rungs on the ladder.

    We have plenty of evidence of what can help to reduce poverty; the New Deal and the great Society had measurable effects on reducing the amount and severity of poverty.

    The other factors like bad social decisions are not easily solved by government action, but are amenable to influences by non-state actors like churches and social pressure.

    P.S. yeah, McArdle is an buffoon.Report

    • Avatar Mike Dwyer in reply to Liberty60 says:

      The post is specifically about using policy to try and change the (bad) habits of the poor…hence the title. Your last sentence sems toagree that no, this is not an achievable goal of govt policy.Report

      • Avatar Liberty60 in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

        I would agree with that, generally speaking; contra other social critics I think welfare policies had only slight effects on people’s decisions to marry or not, get pregnant or not.Report

    • Avatar North in reply to Liberty60 says:

      McArdle can been a touch kooky at times but I found her post in question pretty thoughtful and even handed. Did you read it? It addressed most of your points here.Report

  10. Avatar DensityDuck says:

    This is the kind of thinking that suggests a four-year-old’s temper tantrum has an entirely reasonable and rational basis, and if only we made more effort to communicate in a meaningful way–to put aside our privileged bias, to step away from our comfy suburban middle-class cocoon, to really understand what this other human being needs–then he would voluntarily stop screaming and thrashing on the floor, and would accept the logic of our refusal to give him more cookies and let him watch “Cars 2” for the third time today.Report

    • Avatar Liberty60 in reply to DensityDuck says:

      Sorry to be so thick here, but in your analogy who is the 4 year old?

      The Poors, or the people screaming and thrashing on the floor about “work ethic”?

      Because if it is the latter, man, I am so with you. I often hear that crap and feel like backhanding them across the mouth.Report

  11. Avatar Steven Donegal says:

    Mike, I’m curious about something.  If policy can’t change behavior, then I assume that all the conservative discussion about how high marginal tax rates negatively affect people’s desire to work must be wrong.  Or is there a distinction between policies for the poor and the wealthy that I’m missing?Report

  12. Avatar joey jo jo says:

    so sensitive to mccardle criticism mikey.  lack of empathy should make you less sensitive, no?Report

  13. Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

    As a tangent:

    A lot of the criticism of Ms. McArdle, I’d guess, comes from the fact that people start reading her and depart in either a fluff, or a huff, or a righteous (or self-righteous) rage before they get to the end.

    A goodly number of her posts have verbiage that sounds strongly declarative in the middle, but she often ends with a paragraph like this:

    Public policy can modestly improve the incentives and choice sets that poor people face--and it should do those things.  But it cannot remake people into something more to the liking of bourgeois taxpayers.  And it would actually be pretty creepy if it could.

    (emphasis mine) … which is much more squishy and less bold of a takeaway than some people might think she’s leading up towards while ingesting the rest of the post.

    In short, I think she’s read very uncharitably in general, but that’s to some degree due to her voice in the body of her posts, which sounds a lot more “This is That” than “this leads me to believe that”.Report

    • Avatar North in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

      Well yeah, Mcmegan has a special writing tone she uses that drives people nuts and she has some tics that justifiably earn her a lot of negative credit.

      But I found this article of hers pretty decent, once you get around the way she sometimes puts things. Certainly reading the whole thing really helps.Report

    • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

      My complaint is that her ‘this’ is often completely devoid from reality. Like just brute fact-of-the-matter wrong. That she offers some a priori useful prescriptions gets lost in the haze of factually false claims to justify her a priori useful presecritions.

      Also too, her inclination to aprioricity justifies, in her own mind, the rejection of inconvenient empirical evidence.

      Bonobos aren’t like humans!


    • Avatar Mike Dwyer in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

      I’m (obviously) a huge fan of McArdle. I think she is very, very good at digesting complicated social dynamics and expressing her opinions in easy-to-understand ways. Her conservatism on social issues also dovetails very closely with my own, so there is the basis for much of my admiration.Report

      • Avatar joey jo jo in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

        She and Bobo are great at using complicated social dynamics to justify their preferred policy position.  Their secret power is making stuff up.Report

      • Avatar joey jo jo in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

        i will say that your dick dastardly avatar is perfect.  you can’t hear it but i’m giving you the slow clap, a la Rudy.Report

        • Avatar North in reply to joey jo jo says:

           Joey, I haven’t been around my old haunts here at the League as much as I’d like so I’m unfamiliar with you and am unsure if you’re about a lot. As a (presumably) fellow liberal would you mind upping your game? The trolling and such is kindof embarrassing for us fellow travelers on your side of the political spectrum. Also it could eventually get you thrown out (and rightfully so) so come on, put some effort and thought into your comments dude. Please?Report

          • Avatar joey jo jo in reply to North says:

            suggestion noted.  also noted, there are many types of “liberals”.  while you view your contributions as “good for the team”, others may view your contributions as defeatocratic kow towing.  or not………


            • Avatar North in reply to joey jo jo says:

              I’d be grateful if you’d stop implying through word and behavior that courtesy and thoughtfulness are antithical to the left.Report

            • As a general rule of thumb, if you’re using the word “you” and aren’t actually addressing any arguments but are instead lobbing insults and contributing nothing of substance to the discussion, this is probably not the place for you.

              Your first comment does not comply with this rule of thumb.  If I were not pressed for time today, it would have been a good candidate for deletion by limerick.Report

            • Avatar Liberty60 in reply to joey jo jo says:

              Joey, there are precious few of us liberals here at the League; while I like your writing style in general, it would work better at Balloon Juice, another of my favorite hangouts.

              As for here, the bloggers pride themselves on behaving like, well, gentlemen. They engage in the sort of dialogue that guys who wear bowlers and fedoras unironically might engage in.

              May not be your cuppa, but its actually a pretty cool place to actually engage conservatives and libertarians.

              If you prefer more bloodsport I am sure Ace or Erick son of Erick would be happy to indulge. Otherwise, stick around to help defend the proud tradition of the New Deal from the rabbellous hordes.Report

              • Avatar Murali in reply to Liberty60 says:

                defend the proud tradition of the New Deal from the rabbellous hordes

                I never thought that I was a part of a rabbellous horde. As a libertarian and a technocrat (as in I support it not that I make decisions) I object to being characterised as such.Report

              • Avatar sonmi451 in reply to Murali says:

                Wait, I thought you’re a LIBERALTARIAN? What happens to the “liberal” part? Not interested in it any more now that you’ve proven liberals are illiberal because they don’t support incestuous marriage and banning abortion as your interpretation of Rawls tells them they should?Report

    • She was more gracious than I deserved when she took the time to comment on a couple of posts where I was quite critical and snarky about her.  Since then, I’ve made an effort to read her with more charity and goodwill.Report

  14. Due to the un-LoOGy tone and nature of the conversation that followed, I’m not going to really get into the muck here, except to say “great post, Stick.” I think that you are underestimating the effect that policy has on our behavior, but there’s a lot to chew on here.Report

    • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to Will Truman says:

      I am obviously OK with diving in, but want to second there rest of what Will says here.    Especially the great post thing.

      For all the whining by some about so-called navel-gazing, I like that you came to the table even if you admit you don’t have all the answers.  Maybe especially because.Report

      • Avatar Mike Dwyer in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        Thanks fellas.

        A point I made that maybe got lost is that I am really interested in changing the conversation between Right and Left from one about prevention vs. safety nets to a more realistic one about the size and scope of said safety nets. This means my side has to acknowledge prevention doesn’t work that well and the Left would need to acknowledge their preference for safety nets.Report

        • Avatar joey jo jo in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

          Sir Michael Dwyer,

          Does the Left (capitalized!) as not ackowledge a preference for safety nets?  They certainly push for safety net programs.  Isn’t that an admission of the preference?Report

        • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Mike Dwyer says:


           A point I made that maybe got lost is that I am really interested in changing the conversation between Right and Left from one about prevention vs. safety nets to a more realistic one about the size and scope of said safety nets.

          It’s a good point. One I was going to give you props for admitting on it’s own, but also for – as you say – trying to move the discussion in the direction of costs and limits rather than the binary type of debates folks often get into. It’s an important conversation.Report

        • Avatar greginak in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

          I’m all for getting past the L v R discord. I think libs have always said we want safety nets. Has that ever been questioned? Beats me. I’m not trying to be pedantic, but i really think we need to talk more about specific programs and how well they work. What are you referring to as prevention programs and/ or safety nets? The distinction isn’t immediately clear to me.

          Nobody has all the answers for certain problems so we need to get the best from every-bodies views.Report

          • Avatar Mike Dwyer in reply to greginak says:

            A prevention program would be a proactive program designed to prevent someone from falling on hard times or to give them a leg up. Affirmative action might qualify. A safety net would be something like welfare – which usually comes after the bad problem starts.Report

  15. Avatar The Cardiff Kook (Roger) says:


    Aren’t we assuming that your kids should want to clean their rooms and do their homework? The point is that they apparently don’t, at least not enough to put in the effort to do so.

    And aren’t we assuming the poor should want to change their habits? Again, maybe — just maybe — they don’t.

    In the case of income statistics, I am voluntarily poor. I chose to become a beach bum a few years ago. Of course, that means I live with my actions. I can’t surf all morning and demand an income. I couldn’t be happier.

    Perhaps we should send a memo to all the poor on the keys to prosperity.  Stay in school. Study hard. Don’t deal or do drugs. Don’t have kids before getting married. Be courteous, timely and respectful. Pass these same skills on to your kids.

    Maybe we could even provide a 1-800 Middle Class Mores Hotline.


    • Avatar Liberty60 in reply to The Cardiff Kook (Roger) says:

      Actually there is tremendous value to a society iin adopting a set of Mores We Believe Are Important and using social pressure to enforce them.

      As with all things, best done in moderation and limits but the basic idea is still very sound.Report

    • Avatar Mike Dwyer in reply to The Cardiff Kook (Roger) says:

      Roger – you draw a distinction also made by McArdle:

      “If you assume you know the choice they should make, and that there is some reliable way to entice them to make it, you’re imagining away their humanity, and replacing it with an automaton.”Report

    • Avatar Kim in reply to The Cardiff Kook (Roger) says:

      Met a guy on a bus, eighty miles and a full day out of town. He had an eagle feather in his hand, and hiked four days out of the week. Worked in a hospital cafeteria the rest. A writer, and an agent.. He’s probably dead now, or wandered off and “gone missing” — people what keep an eye out for trouble sometimes have trouble come seeking them.

      But for my money, he had a better life than I do — hiking and outside, fit as a fiddle, and sharp as a tack.Report

      • Avatar sonmi451 in reply to Kim says:

        Sigh. As much as I hate the “poor people are lazy bums” formulation, this naive, starry-eyed romanticism bothers me too. Poor people are not always more virtuous, more happy, more “enlightened” or more whatever adjective you want to use, than other people. And it’s almost as condescending as the OP analogizing the behavior of poor people with the behavior of children.Report

  16. Avatar DensityDuck says:

    And another take on the notion of “incentives and punishments are meaningless”: The Tennessee Taxonomy.Report

  17. Avatar BlaiseP says:

    Want your kid to do her homework?    Keep the dining room table cleaned off and schedule time to sit down with her, to make sure the homework gets done.   You make sure that homework gets done.  You’re the only one who cares about the homework, quit guilting her and just make sure it fucking gets done.

    Want your kid to clean her room?   Don’t ask, just wade in there and throw it all into black trash bags, drag it all to the laundry room and wash it all.   Clearly you’re the only ones who care about the state of her room.   She doesn’t, and won’t, until you do it and put it all away, treating her like a three year old.   That’s how she’s behaving.  Here’s why.   There was a time when she was three where you were cleaning her room.   You stopped, she never started.

    No effective transfer of control there.   It’s not her room, it’s your room.  Take control of your own home, it’s aggravating enough to warrant your own intervention.  Don’t make a big deal out of wading in there to clean it up, your Sturm und Drang only reinforces the problem, it’s attention and kids crave attention more than anything.   Let her get all pissy about it.   You don’t.

    The poor have as many reasons for being poor as there are poor people.   Want to lift people out of poverty?   Talk to ’em, you’ll get some interesting responses.    As for Meg McA, she knows about as much about poor people as the man in the moon.   Look at that self-adulating byline.   Sickening.Report

    • Avatar Stillwater in reply to BlaiseP says:

      This is awesome Blaise, on so many levels!Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Stillwater says:

        Not really.  Tougher than it seems, raising kids.  Raised three of them.

        Here’s what I told my kiddoes when they were just beginning adolescence:

        This society is very screwed up, as you are coming to realize.  Five hundred years ago, as soon as you were biologically able, you’d be married and raising a family.   Of course, five hundred years ago, you’d be dead at age 45, so there’s that to consider, too.

        I wrote this check to the US Navy, when they were raising money for buying Lincoln artifacts for the USS Abraham Lincoln.   They sent me an invitation to visit the ship.  I stood there in my little cheap suit next to these captains of industry and watched them launch an aircraft off the deck.

        Out on that deck, these men in various colored jackets were dancing in a deadly ballet.  They raised a multimillion dollar fighter jet on an elevator, with some mother’s son sitting in the pilot seat.   They rolled him across the deck and hitched him to the catapult with a little steel pin.  They raised a blast shield behind him and he lit his engines, pushing against that steel pin.

        Below decks, they had calculated the weight of that jet and set up the catapult to pull it down that deck.   Too fast and they’d pull off his nose gear, pin and all.  Too slow and he’d end up in the water.   They turned the aircraft carrier into the wind so his wings wouldn’t hit the decks in a crosswind.

        That whole ship waited until a guy called the Air Boss gave the order to launch.   In a bay on the side of the ship, another guy pressed a button and there was no stopping that launch once he did.   A thousand things could go wrong.   But none of them did, because the jet had enough thrust and the catapult had enough power and that jet sank down a little bit then roared up into the sky.

        And that’s who you are, kiddoes, you’re that pilot in that jet.   You’re supposed to be pushing as hard as you can.   And I’m supposed to be the carrier, the air boss, the guy who runs that deck.   I run this show but you’re the whole reason I’m doing it.

        This society will treat you like children, though you clearly are biological adults.  Between 13 and 21,  you will be so goddamn aggravated by this stupid system you’ll think you’re going crazy.  But you’re not crazy.   You’re supposed to be pushing, supposed to be rebelling against stupidity in the world.  But inside this house, you act like adults, I’ll treat you like adults, as you want to be treated, as you deserve to be treated.   Of course, if you don’t, I’ll treat you like children, and there’s no shame in that.  You’ll simply master the skills of being adults and we can get on with life.Report

    • Avatar The Cardiff Kook (Roger) in reply to BlaiseP says:

      Funny thing is that when my kids grew up and got out on their own they absorbed all the lessons. It was just when they were kids that they were difficult.Report

    • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to BlaiseP says:

      And here we see BlaiseP admit that he thinks of black people as children who Rich White Daddy has to boss around because they don’t know how to Behave Like Responsible Adults.Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to DensityDuck says:

        Go snap at someone else’s heels.   You’re sorta like Pedro, an ill-mannered little chihuahua of my acquaintance.   His owner never house trained him and he was generally confined to places where they could mop up after him.   I told his mommy, a gullible and pliant woman, that the chihuahua had been bred by the Aztecs to be eaten.

        It wasn’t true, of course.   But she believed it.Report

  18. Avatar Burt Likko says:

    The realities of human behavior seem to dictate that social policy should be geared towards mitigating the effects of bad decision making and not towards preventive measures that have little chance of success. An appropriate conversation between Right and Left might be about where society’s obligation begins and ends.

    I agree with the second sentence wholeheartedly, and note the nuance between “society” and “government.”

    The first sentence, though, I’m not sure that I’m 100% on board with that. As to eschewing ineffective preventative measures, sure, that’s good policy on both the governmental and social level. But you’re ignoring another legitimate, and pleasant sort of policy goal — we should also make success possible. A system that simply assumes that there will be failure and bad choices will inevitably encourage the result it is engineered to handle.

    Please don’t assume I’m rosy-eyed enough to believe that fluid social mobility and wealth generation is a realistic possibility for a lot of the sorts of folks the lovely and talented Ms. McArdle writes about. When I write of “success” I’m not saying that every kid from the ‘hood can be the next Jeff Bezos. But they can be productive members of society, holding down real jobs that pay more than minimum wage, raising families, staying on the right side of the law, generally being citizens and maybe even modestly improving things for themselves and passing along good opportunities for their kids. That can happen, and does.Report

    • Avatar Liberty60 in reply to Burt Likko says:

      An appropriate conversation between Right and Left might be about where society’s obligation begins and ends.

      Is “obligation” anything like “duty”?

      Some folks get the heeby jeebies at that kinda talk.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Liberty60 says:

        Nice one, Liberty. We just can’t get away from that language, can we?Report

        • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Stillwater says:

          Just try to ask people to define what these obligations are and where they come from and next thing you know…Report

          • Avatar The Cardiff Kook (Roger) in reply to Jaybird says:

            Conversation is good and has its place, but only gets us so far. If we are honest, none of us (except maybe Blaise) are really 100% sure what needs to be done or even how to define the problem. Nor will we ever agree what these obligations and duties are.

            We need social experimentation. We need multiple states and local communities and groups trying different things that seem appropriate to their values and circumstances. Over time, some ideas will succeed compared to others, some will fade away, some will adapt, some will spread.

            We need a problem solving system.


            • Yeah, that’s a good point too… I mean, imagine something that would help the bottom 10% in Baltimore. There’s no real reason to believe that this would help the bottom 10% in Chicago or the bottom 10% in Los Angeles.

              Another thing that I’ve been thinking about is the whole immigrants moving to Europe thing… let’s say that you live in a country where you don’t have a list of things. (Easy for us to imagine this list.) Now move to Sweden. How many of these things do you have now? If it’s less than 90%, I’d be surprised. What should our expectations now be for these immigrants whose list of things that they want most can be supplied by something as simple as moving from here to there?Report

    • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Burt Likko says:

      I dunno.  South Central Los Angeles gang violence shows what happens once society’s immune system goes into effect.   Curiously, gang violence has dropped somewhat, where communities have worked to provide alternatives, but once someone’s been through the justice system, he’s not going to get a meaningful job and go off to live a happy life in the suburbs.

      Society is like a living organism.   The leukocytes are constantly probing the other cells they meet, interrogating them, demanding proof of identity.   The T cell literally carries wanted posters of likely suspects, extending grisly little fragments of already-killed invaders and the other leukocytes are instructed to hunt them down and destroy them on contact.

      All those employment forms have a little box asking the question, “Are you a convicted felon?”   Society doesn’t want these people, ever.   Oh, to be sure, a few goodhearted souls might try to put them to work.   It doesn’t seem to be an impediment to high office or lobbying.   Perhaps there’s a life in politics for them.   This may explain why so many of our Conservative politicians are Born Agains:  there’s no sin so sordid, no stain so set that Pardon from On High won’t give them a New Life in Jeeeeezus….

      But I digress.   One in four black men is a convicted felon and has done serious time.   These folks remain among us and I don’t see how society is going to reintegrate them into the ranks of the Shiny Happy People.   Perhaps we might see our way clear, as a society, to preventing these little boys from becoming felons but probably not within my lifetime.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to BlaiseP says:

        Are we talking serious time for property crimes? Because a lot of that can be sending people to rehab. It’s Cheaper, People! It may not sound as good, but if you REALLY care about the budget, you filter out the “decent but dumb, made a bad mistake” shmoos from the hard criminals.Report

  19. Avatar sonmi451 says:

    Not to mention the utter condescencion of using the example of your children’s behavior, who are, after all, CHILDREN, to draw conclusions about ADULTS. Why, these are poor adults,  so in your opinion they will behave no better than children? It’s not just a clumsy analogy, it’s a deliberately insulting one.Report

    • Avatar Mike Dwyer in reply to sonmi451 says:

      Unfortunately immaturity and an abdication of responsibility is all too common among the poor (see absentee fathers, child truancy, etc)Report

      • Avatar sonmi451 in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

        Ahhh, so you’re standing by the analogy then, THE POOR BEHAVES NO BETTER THAN CHILDREN? Wow, you’re like that strawman that liberals use to paint conservatives in the worst light possible (heartless people who think the poor are underserving,  lazy bums), except, you’re real. You’re a liberal strawman comes alive!! Behold, citizens of the League.Report