Will Ye Have the Poor Always With You?

For ye have the poor always with you; but me ye have not always.

— Matthew 26:11 (KJV)

In last week’s set of comments, a regular commenter observed:

Since blacks married themselves to the Democratic Party 50 years ago, the black family has been in steady decline.

He was asked:

Are you suggesting a causal relationship here?

The answer:

Yes I am. Since Lyndon Johnson and the Great Society started giving money to black mothers who had babies out of wedlock, there became a disincentive for black men to marry black women and have children in wedlock. We then started moving blacks into the ghettos and taught them to become dependent on government. Then if any Republican ever suggests cutting back on welfare, there’s a backlash from those receiving government assistance and Republicans are accused of being selfish and not caring about people and being racists.

[Note: I corrected miswordings and misspellings, and simplified the above exchange.]

Image via xkcd.com

So what is the evidence for a causal relationship between government assistance and poverty, children born out of wedlock and multiple children born to fatherless families?

Let’s stipulate that the correlation exists. I’m not sure I accept the correlation outlined above, but it will become impossible to discuss if we don’t start somewhere. Remember that “[c]orrelation does not imply causation, but it does waggle its eyebrows suggestively and gesture furtively while mouthing ‘look over there’.”

Are there other, more plausible, causal relationships that can be drawn between poverty and the dissolution of the family?

Both journalist Soledad O'Brien and First Lady Michelle Obama self-identify as "black." Sources: cnn.com; whitehouse.gov

First of all, as a biologist, I am wary of using the term “race” or specify a particular race (“black”) because in biological terms, the word has no meaning. In other words, how many melanin granules per square millimeter of skin must a person have in order to be called “black?” In biological terms, the word has no meaning. I submit (and will argue below) that socioeconomic status has much more to do with human behavior than skin color.

Still, I’m forced to use the term below because many of the statistics we’ll need to rely on are broken down by race. The rest of the world refuses to conform to my disdain for race-based classifications, as one can see in the discussion here.

Stepping away from the “race bomb” for the time being, let’s discuss some universal aspects of human behavior, for I suggest that because we’re all human, we are all subject to the same “rules” of human behavior.

Evolutionary Psychology and Human Behavior

E. O. Wilson

In 1975, E.O. Wilson and others advanced a new science that they called “sociobiology” which was used to explain many aspects of human behavior. Perhaps they overreached, or perhaps the foundations of the new science were not that strong, but after initial successes the sociobiologists met with stiff resistance.

The term “sociobiology,” now discredited by its political taint, has been replaced with “evolutionary psychology.” (Full disclosure: I have always allied myself with sociobiology, and now evolutionary psychology, which I find to have tremendous explanatory power.)

One key book which supported the revival of evolutionary psychology is The Moral Animal (subtitled Why We Are the Way We Are: The New Science of Evolutionary Psychology) by Robert Wright. Evolutionary psychology has something to tell us about poverty:

A second sort of light shed by the new Darwinian paradigm [in evolutionary psychology] may illuminate links between poverty and sexual morality. Women living in an environment where few men have the ability and/or desire to support a family might naturally grow amenable to sex without commitment. (Often in history—including Victorian England—women in the ‘lower classes’ have had a reputation for loose morals.) It is too soon to assert this confidently, or to infer that inner-city sexual mores would change markedly if income levels did. But it is noteworthy, at least, that evolutionary psychology, with its emphasis on the role of environment, may wind up highlighting the social costs of poverty, and thus at times lend strength to liberal policy prescriptions, defying old stereotypes of Darwinism as right-wing.

Maybe what the Victorians and others have called “loose morals” is just good sexual economics.

The Demographic Transition

There is ample evidence for this view in human populations, both across geographical boundaries and across time, as shown in this classic analysis from a high school geography class webpage:

The Demographic Transition model. Source: Mike Relf, High School Geography Online

Demographers call this the “demographic transition” model. Simply put, humans choose to reproduce more avidly when times are tough. You might lose your children; you can always put them to work in the fields (or, in an urban environment, stealing or running numbers, à la Ikey Solomon, the inspiration for Dickens’ Fagin); and the more children you have, the better chance one of them will support you in your old age. The problem is made worse by our psychological tendency to idealize parenthood, even in the face of overwhelming contrary evidence.

Note that there is a lag between the decline in the death rate (representing better opportunities, and fewer children dying of infantile diseases) and the corresponding decline in the birth rate. This is presumably the time it takes populations of people to “get the idea” that things are actually getting better. For example, a 1973 study of Sweden by Maurice Wilkinson is based on an analysis of demographics from 1870 to 1965. Then, as now, Sweden had only a tiny population of African descent. Wilkinson showed a lag of about 20 years between the decline in the infant mortality rate and a corresponding decline in fertility. This lag of about 20 years neatly matches the time it takes a child to grow up in a stable environment, then conclude that it is “safe” to lower her fertility rate, and begin to make decisions about her fertility on that basis.

Wilkinson states:

On the basis of the above analysis it appears reasonable to conclude that economic constraints on the household have a significant effect upon fertility.

Incarceration Rates

Incarceration rates for non-Hispanic black males are astronomically high. For example, Raphael estimates that one out of six black males (16.6%) is or has been incarcerated as of 2001. The incarceration rate for black males in 1974 was 8.7%.

Compare this to one in forty (2.6%) non-Hispanic white males incarcerated (now or in the past) in 2001. This rate has increased for both groups across time, but the ratio has remained constant. That is, in 2001 6.4 times as many black males as white males had been incarcerated; in 1974 it was 6.2 times as many.

“Fixed sentencing” policies instituted during the 1970s have increased, rather than decreased, incarceration rates, to approximately twice what they were in 1970, across all racial groups. Because blacks were already almost an order of magnitude more likely to be incarcerated, and this statistic has persisted, the effect of doubling the rate has been disproportionately strong on blacks.

There is widespread recognition, across the political spectrum, that the criminal justice system is broken. Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA) has sponsored S.306 appointing a blue ribbon commission to study the problem and make recommendations. He has garnered support across the political spectrum: the National Sheriff’s Association, International Association of Chiefs of Police, Heritage Foundation, Sentencing Project, Fraternal Order of Police, NAACP, American Civil Liberties Union, Prison Fellowship, and 150 other organizations have endorsed his bill.

Effect of Removing Males from the Population

The effect of removing males from human populations is to change the economics of sex and reproduction.

Higher male imprisonment has lowered the likelihood that women marry, and reduced the quality of their spouses when they do, and caused a shift in the gains from marriage away from women and towards men. [Emphasis mine.]

K.K. Charles and M. C. Luoh

This effect is seen across socioeconomic boundaries and across races; it’s a root human (and mammalian) characteristic. Humans behave pretty much like any other animals, with a thin veneer of society and morality laid delicately on top. Sperm is cheap and eggs are precious. Men have the incentive to spread their sperm far and wide. Women have the incentive to wait for a suitable, stable partner. In a stable society, neither has the upper hand and so neither “style” predominates.

For example, a recent article by Mark Regnerus in Slate (“Sex is Cheap”) makes this point for the “slacker” men now in their 20s and early 30s. (Notably, he doesn’t specify the race of his idealized slacker male but the accompanying art shows a white male and female.)

The idea that sex ratios alter sexual behavior is well-established. Analysis of demographic data from 117 countries has shown that when men outnumber women, women have the upper hand: Marriage rates rise and fewer children are born outside marriage. An oversupply of women, however, tends to lead to a more sexually permissive culture.

Therefore, I would submit that the destruction of the “nuclear family” ideal of the 1950s (which probably never really existed as such) is largely due to the changes in the sexual economics of the times. As men, especially high-quality men, became scarce, the biological imperative in males to spread seed far and wide without emotional entanglement exerts a stronger pull. Women can engage in sex without danger of pregnancy (at first) in an attempt to ensnare a partner. Both parties behave badly, but in their own self-interest. (“Men play at love to get sex; women play at sex to get love.”)

If we want to do something about endemic poverty, we could start by ensuring a more level playing field where there are (as closely as possible) equal numbers of men and women with equal economic opportunities. Across the world, humans have a lower birth rate and form more stable relationships when both men and women are empowered.

More importantly, men and women regardless of race or socioeconomic status need to feel that they live in a secure environment where their livelihood and ability to raise a family and participate in society is not constantly threatened.

Paradoxically, a stringent and unequal economic environment encourages people to have more children and ensures a continual downward socioeconomic spiral. Sure it’s stupid to do that, but humans (regardless of race) behave like humans, and are not always perfectly rational. The least we can do is to refrain from instituting government policies which weaken, rather than strengthen, the security of our citizens. A government which can “establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty” will eliminate poverty for its citizens once and for all.


About Monotreme

Monotreme is an unabashedly liberal dog lover, writer, and former scientist who now teaches at a University in an almost-square state out West somewhere. http://www.logarchism.com | http://www.sevendeadlysynapses.com
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104 Responses to Will Ye Have the Poor Always With You?

  1. mclever says:

    This analysis makes sense to me, Monotreme.

    I’ve seen studies elsewhere that show the empowerment (education+economic) of women plus easy access to birth control means lower birth rates. If women don’t think they have any potential use to society except as mothers, then they have lots of babies. If women think they can achieve economic independence and personal security, then they have fewer babies.

    Based on what you’re saying in this article, the scarcity of stable, solid, reliable men would probably exacerbate that trend. And in inner city communities, the biggest reason there are so few good men around, is because so many of the men are in prison for various drug charges and other crimes. (Perhaps this then becomes an argument for revamping the current drug laws, too.) In addition to how racial bias plays into incarceration rates, we also know that crime rates rise with poverty, because desperate people do desperate things.

    So, as you note at the end of your article, the key in all of this is reduction of poverty. Empowering, educating, and employing women to encourage a lower birth rate while making sure that the children they do have don’t grow up thinking that impoverishment or crime are their only options. Empowering, educating, and employing the men to help them find non-criminal means to support their families, thus ensuring fewer incarcerations and a greater availability of “good” fathers.

    There are many good ideas out there for improving the plight of the poor, but I believe that education is the great equalizer. If young people learn that there’s more to the world than their neighborhood, then education provides the foundation and incentive to reach for something better. The drawback to the education approach (as Wilkinson noted in the 20-year lag), is that it takes time for the kids to grow up and realize they can achieve stability and success. In the meantime, the adults and older kids also need support, education, and jobs to help stabilize the current situation.

  2. shortchain says:

    Excellent stuff, Monotreme.

    I feel an impulse to re-read Brave New World.

  3. Monotreme says:

    Tying this to recent posts and comments in this blog, I’d argue that this worldview is pervasive and an example of overreach.

    Recall that Rep. Newt Gingrich in in 1994 suggested that women with children be denied welfare and that their children should be given over to orphanages, a suggestion that “America-basher” Hilary Clinton called “unbelievable and absurd”.

    She was wrong on the “unbelievable”, because the idea is being mentioned even today in the pages of the Wall Street Journal.

    It may or may not be absurd, but it’s almost certain not to work without forced sterilization, because the analysis here argues that a woman whose children are removed without other changes in her economic circumstances will simply have more children.

    I would argue that welfare reform of the sort suggested by Gingrich is a classic example of Republican overreach in the Culture Wars, and is precisely the sort of thing that led to his eventual downfall.

  4. filistro says:

    Great, great artcile, Treme. A perfect example of how the shape of an issue can change completely depending on the slant from which it’s perceived.

    Simply put:

    Do poor women have more babies in order to get government handouts? Or do poor women need government handouts because they have more babies?

    That seems like a pretty basic question, but the answer we arrive at makes world of difference in how we devlop and administer intelligent policy (as well as revealing a lot about us as a society.) We can reason from suspicion and dislike… They’re a bunch of lazy, slutty freeloaders…. or we can reason from intelligence and compassion… They’re a valuable national resource that’s being squandered through neglect.

    And as we’ve recently learned right here at this blog… whether you view your fellow man with dislike or with compassion depends on whether you eat a lot of pickles 🙂

    I think all of us arrive on this planet with two deep, innate, primal urges… first to survive, and then to make our lives meaningful in some way. For those of us with lots of opportunites, surviaval is easy and the search for meaning is a pursuit we can afford (often lifelong.) For those born without opportunities.. especially women, who have a unique additional set of challenges… survival is paramount, and the search for meaning is usually satisfied through parenthood, which (as Treme points out) is universally perceived as a meaningful function.

    So the secret to solving this problem is not removing from women the means for survival. The solution is… from a very early age, and in every way possible… for society to to provide them with opportunities to make their lives meaningful.

  5. Monotreme says:

    filistro said:

    I think all of us arrive on this planet with two deep, innate, primal urges… first to survive, and then to make our lives meaningful in some way.

    That’s a really profound insight, fili.

    I wonder if a downside to modern, industrialized society and the existence of seven billion souls on our little planet has a lot to do with what Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits called “Industrial Disease”. Humans strive to find meaning but each of our voices is lost in the crowd. Some act out in destructive and pitiful rage.

    In that context, the search for meaning becomes incredibly difficult and somewhat poignant.

  6. Mule Rider says:

    First of all, good article, ‘Treme. It was very thought-provoking and detailed. I found myself neither agreeing nor disagreeing with much of what you wrote but found it unique, original, and, dare I say, enlightening.

    Responding to one of your comments….

    “It may or may not be absurd, but it’s almost certain not to work without forced sterilization, because the analysis here argues that a woman whose children are removed without other changes in her economic circumstances will simply have more children…..”

    I think this gets at the heart of something that gets to the divide on conservatives and liberals on this subject. Liberals often deride conservatives as being “heartless” when it comes to taking care of our downtrodden and unwilling to help them in any way. I say “Not so!” and offter the numerous ways that conservatives are charitable to their fellow man in need as evidence that they do want to help….

    But back to this particular situation. I find myself, and other conservatives, don’t have a problem with “handouts” to the single moms and welfare queens or whatever. What I have a problem is throwing money at them and letting them have the freedom to make choices that tend to make their situation worse. My take is that if you have gotten to the point where you can’t take care of yourself and need gov’t assistance – be it from societal neglect, a run of bad luck, or just outright laziness – you forfeit the right to be the primary shot-caller in determining your economic destiny. It sounds pretty “right-wing” and totalitarian but I posit that it’s only fair in a civilized society that if we’re going to help the needy, they have to be told (forced?) to do exactly what it takes to become less needy rather than keep making decisions free and clear of outside intervention that keeps them stuck in neutral or makes them even more dependent on society’s help.

    You mentioned sterilization…..and I think that’s something that should be on the table. Why does a single mom with 5 kids getting gov’t help need to have a 6th? And I think she should forfeit the right to have a 6th (or more) if she already has trouble feeding herself and the 5 she has when the rest of us are being asked to forfeit a portion of our salary to take care of that.

    I could expound with other examples but you get the idea. But the idea is simple: the more help you need from the gov’t, the more rights you forfeit and fewer choices you are allowed to make, especially on matters that could make you more dependent on gov’t assitance.

  7. Monotreme says:

    Likewise, Mule Rider. Much to think about.

    I would argue that you are removing a basic human right if you try to exchange survival/food for reproductive capacity. It’s in violation of the Helsinki Declaration, to which the US is a signatory.

    In short, you are removing autonomy, and in my world of ethics, autonomy trumps all.

    I would also note, in passing, that you called me and others “statist” in yesterday’s comment thread, but your suggestion is about as statist as they come. Giving people the freedom to screw up and trying to craft policies that forgive them when they do is what I support, and probably the opposite of “statist”.

  8. filistro says:

    @Muley… But the idea is simple: the more help you need from the gov’t, the more rights you forfeit and fewer choices you are allowed to make, especially on matters that could make you more dependent on gov’t assistance.

    As usual, Muley gets right to heart of the issue and lays it out for all to see with dispassionate… one could even say brutal… clarity.

    (That’s one of the many things I like about Muley… he has the guts to say things everybody else is just thinking.)

    So… philosophical question. Are the words in italics at the top of my post actually true? When you need help and somebody provides it, does accepting that help mean you forfeit some rights in the process, and limit your choices? Does the helper, by providing assistance, “buy” the right to exert control over aspects of your life?

    Note… I don’t know the answer.

    My husband (who is something of a hard-ass :-)) has always insisted that if any of our adult offspring (he refuses to call them “kids” because they’re NOT) require financial assistance, we will provide it but the act of doing so gives him to right to “look at the books” and lay down certain dictates about how their budget should be managed. In other words… by accepting my help you forfeit the right to manage your own affairs for as long as the help is being provided.

    In a family situation, I tend to be ambivalent about this (though I admit his approach has usually been quite effective.) I also don’t know if its right for society to adopt a familial model in dealing with the poor and disadvantaged. Does this not foster the very top-down, patriarchal, dependent social structure that we are trying to break away from?

    As I said… I don’t know. It’s an interesting question.

  9. mclever says:

    @Mule Rider

    I would suggest that such policies as forced sterilization are treating the symptom rather than the disease. It may be effective in the short term, but it doesn’t really solve the underlying problem.

  10. Mule Rider says:

    “In short, you are removing autonomy, and in my world of ethics, autonomy trumps all.”

    If someone wants to consider themselves “autonomous,” then they don’t need financial assistance from myself or the rest of society.

    “I would also note, in passing, that you called me and others “statist” in yesterday’s comment thread, but your suggestion is about as statist as they come.”

    I disagree. Nobody would be forcing anyone to do anything so long as they’re capable of taking care of themselves. It’s only statist in the sense that it’s a response to the statism of forcing the rest of society to forfeit a portion of their well-being to help secure the well-being of those unwilling or unable to do so themselves.

    “Giving people the freedom to screw up and trying to craft policies that forgive them when they do is what I support, and probably the opposite of “statist”.”

    Allowing people already milking the rest of society to secure their well-being to screw up further and then forcing the rest of society to keep paying the increasing tab is what I’d consider a hallmark of statism.

  11. Monotreme says:

    @Mule Rider,

    Good. Now we’re getting somewhere.

    In most ethical systems that I associate myself with, human autonomy is not conditional. That is, it is an inalienable right.

    I believe you can’t trade your autonomy for food (or anything else). In my system, the only thing that removes your autonomy is if you are a danger to yourself or others, as properly adjudicated in a court of law.

    Are we seeing a debate between “rights-based” and “utilitarian” theories of government? The linked author declares that democracy is the offspring of a “rights-based” theory but I never could stomach philosophy so I don’t know who does (or does not) agree with Kant on this point.

  12. Monotreme says:

    Also, note:

    I use the word “alienating” advisedly, because the issue is whether constitutional rights-such as the Fourth Amendment right to security against unreasonable searches and seizures-should be regarded as inalienable or not. Inalienable is not just a pretty word, inserted by Thomas Jefferson into the Declaration of Independence for rhetorical effect. It means rights that may not be given away by those who have them, and therefore that no system of absolute power may ever be defended on the ground that reasonable people would have found it prudent, in certain circumstances, to alienate these rights. Meares and Kahan say that “we ordinarily think of rights as belonging to individuals,” with the implication that of course they can be sold or bargained away like any other form of property. In fact, there was a century or two of controversy in early modern rights theory about that very point. Some sixteenth century theorists defended slavery, for example, on what we would recognize as Hobbesian grounds: it would be rational for a person or a whole people to sell themselves into subjection in order to better preserve their life and security. Insistence on the inalienability of rights was a way of opposing such contracts, and it was this opposing conception-the idea of rights held in trust and the right-bearer as steward rather than owner of his rights-that triumphed in works of John Locke and the formulations of Jefferson.
    Jeremy Waldron

    Mule Rider, are you arguing that Jefferson is incorrect, or that Waldron is incorrect?

  13. mclever says:

    @filistro

    I agree that it’s an interesting question. There is some inherent truth to the notion that the benefits of government come with an understanding to give up some freedoms for the better of society. If we want the police to protect our property from thieves, then we also have to respect the property rights of others. If we get the benefits of the legal system to enforce contracts, then we have to follow the jots and tittles of contract law ourselves. But those examples are usually enforced universally rather than specifically. In other words, everyone has to follow the law, not just those who are pursuing legal remedies for contract violations or trying to recover stolen property.

    I would think that as Americans, we would be leery of allowing the government that much intrusion into personal choices. Sometimes things like that make sense–like making unemployment benefits contingent upon minimal job search efforts–because the individual still retains choice, the contingency isn’t overburdensome, and the one is clearly related to the other. Forcing someone to give up their right to procreation seems extreme, especially if we want the “moral majority” on board with their aversion to birth control and abortion.

    What other restrictions might we add to those welfare recipients? Wouldn’t it be better to give them the tools to improve their situation and give them more (good) choices, rather than extremely restricting their existing poor choices? Like I said, I can see the merits of the argument that financial help comes with strings attached in some circumstances, such as tying unemployment benefits to job searching. But if there’s a way to keep the government from restricting personal choice, then I always prefer that path.

    So, attack the “disease” of poverty rather than the “symptom” of too many children.

  14. Mule,
    Your perspective highlights an issue with the criminal justice system as well. Is the purpose of the criminal justice system short-term prevention, long-term prevention, or punishment?

    I suspect that the way one answers that question would line up with the way one would answer a similar question about welfare systems.

  15. msgkings says:

    It’s always tricky to figure out how to balance the aid vs. control equation in any context. And the answers might be different depending on the context, who’s providing the aid, etc.

    filistro’s example from her own family is probably a pretty good way to handle it…in that context. Should government aid be held to a family-type standard?

    And sterilization is the least of it…should welfare recipients be allowed to buy lottery tickets? Go to the movies? Go out to dinner, ever? After all, if they are using that money for anything other than food, shelter, clothing, and education/job expenses at the absolute lowest possible cost aren’t they cheating the taxpayer?

    It’s a tough question, and like most of those probably has no one ‘right’ answer.

    That’s me…opining like a true mushy moderate. 🙂

  16. dcpetterson says:

    I would submit that IF one accepts Mule’s reasonable suggestion (that receiving government assistance means you give up at least some autonomy) then this should apply to corporations as well (corporations, according to SCOTUS, are just people, too). So the companies that we give assistance to, in the form of bailouts, tax breaks, incentives, etc., should be at least partly subject to being run by the government, for precisely the same reasons as Mule suggests we should limit the autonomy of individuals who accept government help.

    In other words, those corporations, and the people who support this viewpoint, should not complain about any regulations that the government feels are proper and needed for those corporations and industries who cannot be responsible for themselves.

  17. mclever says:

    Monotreme,

    I always thought Hobbes and Locke were the “rights based” ethicists and Kant was more deontological (duty/rule based) in his approach, because he defined “good” as acting out of respect for moral law rather than whether the actions have an objectively “good” outcome. Kant argued that the person’s motives matter more than the results. However, some of his later political theories (which got him in trouble with the German government at the time) were precursors to the “Rechtsstaat” concept in German jurisprudence, that governmental power is necessarily constrained by law, and Hobbes and Locke borrowed a lot of their beginning arguments from him, so I can see how his views could be considered rights-based in comparison to utilitarian. OK, the cobwebs have been shaken clear now.

    Constitution-loving Americans should feel a lot of consanguinity with Kant’s Rechtsstaat principle, because it’s based on the supremacy of the state’s constitution which “must be derived a priori from the considerations for achievement of the absolute ideal in the most just and fair organization of people’s life under the aegis of public law” and which guarantees the enumerated rights of citizens. There’s a duty to the state by citizens balanced by the state’s duty to its citizens, and the constitution lays the rules by which both sides must abide.

    At its founding, our country seems to have been based on the rights-based principle of contractarianism which assumes that “morality” is derived from the social contract between the government and its citizens which necessarily includes the provision of certain inalienable rights to those citizens. Our Bill of Rights illustrates this perfectly.

    I think the key is “inalienable.” It’s very important that these rights be unassailable by government intrusion or revision, because individual citizens are on the wrong end of the power balance when confronted by government. Also, citizens may also unwittingly or foolishly bargain away their rights, which is something that we as a free contractarian society should be very wary of allowing to happen. Our Declaration and Constitution named certain rights as inalienable, which means they can’t be taken away no matter how “reasonable” the argument for doing so seems to be.

    I guess that makes me a rights-based ethicist, at least in regards to government policy.

  18. filistro says:

    @DC… In other words, those corporations, and the people who support this viewpoint, should not complain about any regulations that the government feels are proper and needed for those corporations and industries who cannot be responsible for themselves.

    DC.. you are a deviously, devilishly clever person. (Remind me never, never to get in an argument with you… ;-))

  19. dcpetterson says:

    @msgkings
    filistro’s example from her own family is probably a pretty good way to handle it…in that context. Should government aid be held to a family-type standard?

    This is an excellent insight. Should a government be run like a VERY BIG family? Should it be run like a corporation? Or is it a different kind of entity that should be run by some other analogy, some other system of rule and thought?

    I have heard pundits suggestion over the years that government should be run more like a business … or that, like a family, when times are tough, the government should tighten its belt. Personally, I think a government is neither a family nor a business, and does not have the same interests, needs, structures, or purpose as either. It isn’t supposed to make a profit. It isn’t supposed to teach morals to children. It serves other purposes entirely, and we get into trouble when we try to warp it into something it should not be.

    By the way, government also isn’t a church or a school or a social club or a sports franchise. It falls into none of these categories, and trying to run it like any of these things is a serious error.

  20. By the way, government also isn’t … a school

    Except that most people in the US are educated in schools run by the government. So it is a school.

    or a sports franchise.

    Except in Green Bay, Wisconsin.

  21. mclever says:

    @msgkings

    It’s always tricky to figure out how to balance the aid vs. control equation in any context. And the answers might be different depending on the context, who’s providing the aid, etc.

    You’re absolutely right that context matters.

    Should government aid be held to a family-type standard?

    I would argue that it should not, because I don’t want the government to take the place of my parents. In my opinion, the government’s role should be providing a safety net and level playing field, not nannying everyone. A personal loan from father to son is a very different matter than societal aid.

    …should welfare recipients be allowed to buy lottery tickets? Go to the movies? Go out to dinner, ever? After all, if they are using that money for anything other than food, shelter, clothing, and education/job expenses at the absolute lowest possible cost aren’t they cheating the taxpayer?

    You’re absolutely right that it is a tough answer. I would again argue that once the money is given, it’s up to the person to spend it as they freely choose in their inalienable right to pursue happiness and liberty. If they want to survive, then they will spend it primarily on the means for survival, but minor “splurges” are also essential components of living life. Are we really going to be the arbiters of which splurges are OK and which are not? I would suggest that if we as taxpayers are that worried about how the money is spent, then we should consider offering debt counseling and basic finance training perhaps as “contingencies” for receiving aid, with the further stipulations that bosses must accommodate their employees taking advantage of these services. We don’t want the single mom of three to lose her job as a maid because she had to take an hour off of work to learn how to balance her checkbook… (And, yes, some people who receive welfare benefits and food stamps work full-time, sometimes more than one job, and still can’t break above that poverty barrier.)

  22. mclever says:

    @filistro

    Personally, I think a government is neither a family nor a business, and does not have the same interests, needs, structures, or purpose as either.

    I agree. 🙂

  23. msgkings,

    should welfare recipients be allowed to buy lottery tickets? Go to the movies? Go out to dinner, ever?

    This is why there are forms of welfare like AFDC and Section 8. It helps to ensure that money is going to the basics. That’s especially important when the money would otherwise be used for forms of intoxication.

  24. dcpetterson says:

    @Michael
    Except that most people in the US are educated in schools run by the government. So it is a school.

    I beg to differ. That governments run schools does not make government a school. It’s an important distinction, I think.

    One of the functions of our state governments is to fund public schools, and to see to their proper maintenance. This does not mean that government should be run as if it was a school. It means that governments should run schools as if they are schools, and should run other other functions of government as if they are those other functions.

  25. filistro says:

    @mclever… Personally, I think a government is neither a family nor a business, and does not have the same interests, needs, structures, or purpose as either.

    Mac… it was DC who said that, not I. (And yes, it’s a terrifyingly intelligent observation. ;-))

    I don’t want to hijack Treme’s excellent thread (which still has a lot of room to run, IMO, and poses many questions that have yet to be answered)… but I think sometime down the road we need a dedicated thread to address the question of just what government IS.

    If not a family, nor a business… not a church, school or club.. then what?

    I love this place 😉

  26. If not a family, nor a business… not a church, school or club.. then what?

    I suspect we’d answer it much like this

  27. Max aka Birdpilot says:

    “or a sports franchise.”

    Wanna rethink that one? Please tell me, of the 90 or so sports venues for major league baseball, football and basketball, how many “places of business” were built with the owners’ money and how many were built with taxpayer (government) money.

  28. Monotreme says:

    Let’s return to the narrow example of autonomy for medical procedures, such as sterilization. Philosophers, law (e.g. the Helsinki Declaration) and medical ethics all agree: a person’s internal organs and the use thereof is an inalienable right.

  29. Mule Rider says:

    I agree 100% with dc re: corporations yielding control the more they screw up and “need” government intervention.

  30. dcpetterson says:

    @Max
    Please tell me, of the 90 or so sports venues for major league baseball, football and basketball, how many “places of business” were built with the owners’ money and how many were built with taxpayer (government) money.

    I agree with filistro, we shouldn’t hijack this thread yet. But in brief, I think this view falls into the error of looking at government somewhat like a business — that because government made the monetary investment, therefore, government is in this case a business.

    We had a commenter on here a while back who insisted that government employees did nothing useful, because they did not produce “wealth.” Putting aside that this assertion is provable false, it also falls into the trap of assuming the purpose of government is the same as the purpose of business — i.e., to produce wealth.

    To me, the purpose of government (or at least, the purpose of our government) has already been quite clearly stated —

    to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity…

    Therefore, the functions it serves should address these purposes, and the structures and rules by which it operates should be geared toward these ends.

    To bring this back to the topic of this thread — How “should” government react to the challenges posed by the issues Monotreme describes? My short answer is, “In such a way as to see to one or more of the purposes described in the preamble to the Constitution.”

    Does it serve these purposes to limit the autonomy of the individuals to whom we provide assistance? Or does “providing assistance” justify itself, under the purpose of “promot[ing] the general welfare”? Would limiting autonomy run counter to the idea of “secure[ing] the Blessings of Liberty”? Or would some measure of regulation imposed upon those to whom we give assistance help to insure a greater “welfare” or “liberty” to others?

    These, I think, are the sorts of questions we should be weighing — not a question like, “I’m paying for it, so I should have a say in whether that person does something I consider wasteful with my money.” This question, I think,puts the emphasis in the wrong place, and asks the wrong sorts of questions of a government function.

    It is true that, in a democracy, we have a say in what our government does (duh — that’s the whole point of a democracy.) But the question should be on the level of the concepts and values in the preamble, not simply an economic / business question.

  31. dcpetterson says:

    Mule Rider:
    I agree 100% with dc re: corporations yielding control the more they screw up and “need” government intervention.

    I’ve long suspected we have more in common, and greater areas of agreement, than would be immediately apparent.

  32. Mule Rider says:

    “Philosophers, law (e.g. the Helsinki Declaration) and medical ethics all agree: a person’s internal organs and the use thereof is an inalienable right.”

    And that’s fine. Sterilization is an taking it to the extreme and I didn’t necessarily mean to advocate for it. Just suggest it’s something that should be on the table. Similarly, I’d suggest something like much more stringent penalties (license revokations of 1 or more years) for even relatively minor driving offenses to curb all the unnecessary highway deaths. Not necessarily something I really wanna push but it should be on the table.

    Back to the sterilization, while I wouldn’t advocate that, I think there’s a point where you tell people, “Look, this is all we’ll do to help you get out of your situation. If you go and make it worse – be it blowing your assistance on junk food, lottery tickets, and alcohol, and/or you decide to have more children (or do anything else to dig a deeper hole) – tough shit. This is all you’re getting. So don’t blow it.”

    That way, they’re free to do what they want, but if they make their situation worse, the rest of society is not responsible for their actions.

  33. Monotreme says:

    Mule Rider,

    I take your point, at at the risk of beating a horse we agree is dead, I’d say that sterilization should be off the table. Even if we mandated it as a condition of getting government benefits, medical professionals are constrained by their own ethical strictures and therefore couldn’t perform such procedures for that reason.

    I’m not opposed to conditions on the provisioning of benefits. I tend to ally myself with those who argue for “harm reduction” in this, in drug policy, and in other government functions.

    That is, the children are here already, so let’s do what we can to provide them with a stable environment so that in 20 years they make the right choice, rather than perpetuate their parents’ wrong choices.

  34. mclever says:

    @Monotreme

    Let’s return to the narrow example of autonomy for medical procedures, such as sterilization. Philosophers, law (e.g. the Helsinki Declaration) and medical ethics all agree: a person’s internal organs and the use thereof is an inalienable right.

    I’ve read a lot of science fiction that plays with the idea of mandatory (temporary) sterilization of women (e.g. IUDs at puberty) unless there’s an agreed contract for a child or some other government-driven approval. Some of them make this sort of society utopian, and some dystopian depending on whether they’re playing up the overpopulation-is-horrible or women-empowerment angle.

    Of course, it’s always the woman who gets sterilized…

    I agree with you. A person’s internal organs are their own by rights. We really don’t want to go down road of only allowing government-approved children, do we?

  35. mclever says:

    @dcpetterson

    Does it serve these purposes to limit the autonomy of the individuals to whom we provide assistance? Or does “providing assistance” justify itself, under the purpose of “promot[ing] the general welfare”? Would limiting autonomy run counter to the idea of “secure[ing] the Blessings of Liberty”? Or would some measure of regulation imposed upon those to whom we give assistance help to insure a greater “welfare” or “liberty” to others?

    Excellent encapsulation of what the real debate should be. 🙂

  36. mclever says:

    @Monotreme

    That is, the children are here already, so let’s do what we can to provide them with a stable environment so that in 20 years they make the right choice, rather than perpetuate their parents’ wrong choices.

    Absolutely.

    That’s the longer-term “fix the disease” approach rather than just treating the immediate symptoms. That’s the whole idea behind programs such as Head Start, is to give the kids a chance to escape the cycle that their parents are in.

  37. DC,

    Or does “providing assistance” justify itself, under the purpose of “promot[ing] the general welfare”?

    Promoting general welfare shouldn’t be an “at all costs” sort of function. Given that we, necessarily, have limited resouces, we should be aiming to make those limited resources work in the most effective way possible. This may well mean strings attached.

  38. dcpetterson says:

    @Michael,

    Agreed. And that’s an excellent approach to the question.

  39. Mule Rider says:

    “We really don’t want to go down road of only allowing government-approved children, do we?”

    My only response (not agreeing or disagreeing with your underlying premise) is that we’ve gone down the road of government-supported and -raised children. Judging by the tens of millions of people on food stamps, the school lunch program, and similar assistance, we’re not talking about just a handful of kids either.

    In other words, if government is in the business of raising children, does it not get a say in how many it will raise?

    disclaimer: I do think it’s possible to influence people to have fewer babies that they can’t take care of without forcibly removing their capacity to have children, but it might involve a little more “tough love” than you libs wanna exert.

  40. mclever says:

    I hear you, Mule. 🙂

  41. Of course, it’s always the woman who gets sterilized

    Biologically, it’s an easier thing to do in a reversible fashion.

  42. Monotreme says:

    That’s what I love about these sorts of discussions. I think we’re all in agreement on the foundational principles.

    My argument (both in the original post and here in the comments) is that we can make rational choices about what sort of conditions increase the chances that people will make bad choices (use drugs, have more children than they can support) and what sorts of conditions decrease the chances that people will make bad choices.

    Then, the government does things that decrease the incidence of bad choices. That way, autonomy (liberty) is preserved, while still meeting the overall needs of society. As Mule Rider says, that may involve “tough love” but if it’s supported by the evidence, then I’m in favor of it even if it wasn’t my first choice.

  43. dcpetterson says:

    Regarding: In other words, if government is in the business of raising children, does it not get a say in how many it will raise?

    It is interesting to me to see where various people fall in their view of what reasonably constitutes things government might legitimately have a “say” in, and what justifications are used to explain those lines.

    For example, I would say government has a legitimate say in how much banks are allowed to charge in overdraft fees or interest rates on credit cards; also, government has a legitimate say in how much carbon dioxide businesses are allowed to produce, because these activities all relate to the promotion of the general welfare. I don’t mean to get into a discussion of these particular things at the moment. I bring them up only as an observation on the limits of liberty.

    That is, I have heard some conservatives (I’m trying to not make any too-general statement) complain about financial regulations or environmental regulations as infringements on “liberty,” yet support things like mandatory sterilization — and see that as not harming liberty, but as protecting their investment in the form of welfare payments.

    It’s just interesting to see the different approaches, is all I’m saying.

  44. Monotreme says:

    dc said:

    It’s just interesting to see the different approaches, is all I’m saying.

    Indeed. That’s what I love about this place.

  45. filistro says:

    I’ve read Treme’s article half a doxen times now, and every time it gets better and I see thought-provoking nuggets I had heretofore overlooked. Terrific research, great writing, thoughtful analysis.

    Bravo! What a pity that in the blogging world, the lifespan of such intellectual treasures tends to be as fleeting as a snowflake…

    One thing we’re missing in all this is something Treme addresses at some length, which is the MORAL aspect. I strongly suspect the conservative disdain and repugnance for these women is not just that they’re having all these kids, they’re having them out of wedlock which forces Republicans through their taxes to fund behavior they consider to be “bad.” Even worse, it involves… gasp… SEX. Even worse than THAT… lusty young black folks having … gasp… SEX.

    What if the people reproducing so abundantly were… say… married evangelicals whose religious principles cause them to have so many children that their families need government assistance to make ends meet?

    Would there be such widespread loathing from the right toward these people? Would they be accused of (in Muley’s words) “milking the system,” or threatened with sterilization to curb their profligate reproduction?

    I’ m just askin’….

  46. mclever says:

    @Michael

    Biologically, it’s easier…

    Yes, but it’s fiction, specifically sci-fi where they can make up any semi-plausible technology they need to make their stories work. Can’t these prolific authors be a little more imaginative?

    😉

    As anyone who’s read much sci-fi knows, the genre often explores hypothetical utopian/dystopian futures where the authors project some current (or possible) trend out into the distant future and try to imagine the society that would result. Sometimes the goal is to exaggerate the flaws of the current trend or to extol the virtues of the author’s idealized possible trend.

    Sometimes in these hypothetical futures, poverty has been eliminated, and it is always interesting to see how the author imagines that might have happened. Usually, it involves some sort of massive governmental overreach (such as internment of all poor people) followed by upheaval (such as riots among the unjustly incarcerated) followed by some sort of societal reorganization into an idealized socialist-democracy approach, a communist approach (which always fails), a philosopher-king approach, or the computers take over…

    I suppose, the question then becomes, how do we *really* solve the problem of poverty without going through the upheaval and societal reorganization that these authors imagine? Given the pressures that exist to keep people in poverty, how do we really break that cycle once and for all and put in place measures to help keep people from falling back into poverty once they’ve escaped it?

  47. dcpetterson says:

    @mclever
    Can’t these prolific authors be a little more imaginative?

    Call me a dreamer, but as a male, I’d think it would be far more practical — as well as encouraging a more cheerfully sexist attitude — to have simple and reversible male sterilization. First, the necessary organs are primarily outside the mass of the body, and therefore easier (and cheaper, and safer) to get at. Second, a sterile male doesn’t have to worry about whether the female he’s having sex with is going to get pregnant. not a moment needs to be wasted in thinking about birth control. In the science-fiction world where STD’s don’t exist, being a reversibly sterile male has all the sex-with-no-consequence that any healthy and sexist male could possibly want.

    I have no idea why this isn’t a more popular attitude. It seems perfect to me.

  48. Mule Rider says:

    “Would there be such widespread loathing from the right toward these people? ”

    I would be disgusted by anyone of any race or any religion (or non-religion) who procreated recklessly with little/no regard of taking care of themselves or the little ones they bring into this world.

    Not that there aren’t some “married evangelicals” recklessly spitting out children that they can’t take care of, but you sure don’t hear many examples of it being a problem in that segment of society. In fact, I’d argue, while it may be an extreme example, the Duggar family engages in some of the most “profligate reproduction” of any modern example, they’re also one of the most self-reliant families you’ll ever find.

    I don’t endorse people having that many children and think with our population issues nowadays coupled with the declining availability of resources, it should be considered taboo for someone to bring more than 3 or 4 more kids into this world.

  49. Monotreme says:

    fili says:

    Bravo! What a pity that in the blogging world, the lifespan of such intellectual treasures tends to be as fleeting as a snowflake.

    Well, I am considering rendering it into a more permanent form in my still-inchoate book.

  50. Monotreme says:

    Mule Rider,

    Come visit me in my almost-square state and I will show you many, many examples of large families who are members of the dominant religion hereabouts.

    The religious belief (as I understand it) is that there are spirit-children that require Earthly vessels in order to achieve eternal life. I don’t think that’s something you can argue with.

    Are we going to tell those people to stop at three or four?

  51. dcpetterson says:

    @mclever
    Sometimes in these hypothetical futures, poverty has been eliminated, and it is always interesting to see how the author imagines that might have happened.

    One of the novels I’m working on now deals with someone trying to build such a world, and the consequences of making the attempt. It doesn’t involve the common approaches you list, but another one that also occasionally shows up in the literature — artificial intelligences, slaves created for the purpose of building a utopia with no poverty. The book deals with the clash of liberty vs. societal well-being that we are discussing on this thread, so the conflict is very much in my mind these days.

    In contrast, the other book I’m working on is a werewolf novel, which has its own set of ethical dilemmas…

  52. filistro says:

    @Muley… I don’t endorse people having that many children and think with our population issues nowadays coupled with the declining availability of resources, it should be considered taboo for someone to bring more than 3 or 4 more kids into this world.

    So.. what, then? Enforced abortion for the 4th or 5th pregnancy?

  53. Monotreme says:

    dc says:
    The book deals with the clash of liberty vs. societal well-being that we are discussing on this thread, so the conflict is very much in my mind these days.

    Oh goody. Two books out of this post. Win-win-win.

  54. Mule Rider says:

    “Are we going to tell those people to stop at three or four?”

    No, but like it was mentioned above, just tell them that they’ll be own their own in raising them.

    “So.. what, then? Enforced abortion for the 4th or 5th pregnancy?”

    Heavens no. I just said it should be frowned upon, not forcibly stopped. Right now, it’s not even that (frowned upon) because I think the majority of people simply don’t understand what growing numbers of people means in terms of the planet and its limited resources, and it would behoove us all to educate the masses about overpopulation. I don’t think it would be unreasonable to remind people by screaming from every hilltop that we’re “7 billion and counting” and that having 3-4+ kids is contributing to that “and counting” part.

  55. filistro says:

    @Muley…I don’t think it would be unreasonable to remind people by screaming from every hilltop that we’re “7 billion and counting” and that having 3-4+ kids is contributing to that “and counting” part.

    So you would be opposed to the goals and tactics of these folks who are riding across America in a bus dedicated to “Defunding Planned Parenthood”?

  56. Mule Rider says:

    “So you would be opposed to the goals and tactics of these folks who are riding across America in a bus dedicated to “Defunding Planned Parenthood”?”

    I don’t really line up with those people nor do I agree with much of what Planned Parenthood does, and I would suggest that invoking them strays from the issue a bit and is close to a non sequitur. This isn’t an abort-or-not-to-abort issue; this is the oblivious nature of the US and much of the world (outside of much of Europe, Japan, and maybe another country or two I’m overlooking) about what they’ve adopted as a “normal” reproductive cycle that is causing the world’s population to increase at an alarming rate.

    This is more an issue of Malthusian philosophy than a discussion of women’s reproductive rights; not to say there isn’t some tiny bit of overlap, but it’s really two different issues altogether.

  57. mclever says:

    @dcpetterson

    Call me a dreamer, but as a male, I’d think it would be far more practical — as well as encouraging a more cheerfully sexist attitude — to have simple and reversible male sterilization.

    I agree! It does sound like a male ideal! Sex without any risk of consequences! 😉 So, have I just given you an idea to include in your next (apparently 3rd in the queue) book? Perhaps as the sequel to the one where the enslaved artificial intelligence takes over? The machine overlords could enforce temporary male sterilization, perhaps.

    The idea of enslaved machines doing all of the “real work” doesn’t solve the problem of people who lack the funds to purchase basic goods. Even if robots were providing all of the basic needs, how does that solve the problems of slums and pockets of ingrained poverty? Is everyone absolved from the need to do any work and the machines just take care of everything? Sounds interesting as a thought experiment, but not practical for solving our current problems.

    Casting aside the fantasy and focusing on our actual situation, I think that, whether inner-city, rural, or backwoods, people who lack opportunity and education get stuck in a cycle of poverty that is very, very difficult to break. The old adage is that you need money to make money, as much as we like to pretend that one can pull oneself up by one’s own bootstraps. I don’t support mandatory sterilizations, for reasons of the obvious privacy intrusion. However, something needs to be done to improve the situation so that the pressures that encourage poor, unwed mothers to have multiple kids are diminished. Cutting welfare payments isn’t the answer, because that just hurts the kids and re-starts the cycle all over again for the next generation. I seem to recall filistro having some good suggestions about how to honestly and sincerely address the problem head-on through job training and other community interventions.

    (Oh, and the werewolf book sounds interesting, too. Is it “urban fantasy” or more historical? Be sure to let us all know when they’re available!!)

  58. mclever says:

    @Mule Rider

    You are aware that most of what Planned Parenthood does has absolutely nothing to do with abortions, right?

    I mean, most of what they do involves educating women in underprivileged communities about sex, STDs, women’s health, birth control options and responsibilities of parenthood. They provide free or low-cost physical exams, cancer screenings, counseling, and birth control to women. The current funding already prohibits any federal dollars from supporting abortion or abortion counseling. Suggesting that Planned Parenthood is strictly an “abort or not abort” issue really misses what they do.

    In fact, a large part of what they do directly addresses one of the issues we’ve been talking about in this thread, about poor women making bad decisions about pregnancy. That’s what Planned Parenthood does is helps educate women to make better decisions BEFORE they get pregnant with kid number 6 from dad number 4. If we want those welfare moms to stop having so many kids, then having Planned Parenthood talking to them about the risks of pregnancy, the availability of birth control, and offering guidance for new mothers… Isn’t that exactly one of the things we should be looking to provide? Educating these women to make informed decisions about pregnancy in lieu of mandatory sterilization?

  59. msgkings says:

    MuleRider wrote:

    I don’t endorse people having that many children and think with our population issues nowadays coupled with the declining availability of resources, it should be considered taboo for someone to bring more than 3 or 4 more kids into this world.

    I’m a total +1 on this. Frowned upon, not forced.
    How do we get there? When the Duggars and Jon & Kate and Octomom get their own TV shows?

  60. Brian says:

    Temporary male sterilization would be awesome. Take a pill and I shoot blanks? If there were a pill that did that + prevented STDs, it would be bigger than viagra.

  61. GROG says:

    Mono:

    The main point I was trying to make in my quotes you used above is that Johnson’s War on Poverty has been an epic failure. Since politicians, activists, and administrators set up our welfare system in the 1960’s, we have seen worsened poverty and social tragedies from rural Appalachia to inner city America. We’ve spent trillions and trillions of dollars on the War on Poverty and poverty has gotten worse. The status quo isn’t working and hasn’t worked for the last 50 years. Government has failed the poverty stricken in this country..

    @Fili: I strongly suspect the conservative disdain and repugnance for these women is not just that they’re having all these kids, they’re having them out of wedlock which forces Republicans through their taxes to fund behavior they consider to be “bad.”

    For this conservative, nothing could be further from the truth. I have absolutely zero disdain or repugnance “for these women”. My heart breaks for them because they were put in their position due to no choice of their own and most of them have no chance to ever escape it.

    @DC… In other words, those corporations, and the people who support this viewpoint, should not complain about any regulations that the government feels are proper and needed for those corporations and industries who cannot be responsible for themselves.

    I remember an article a few weeks back by Parksie dealing with Title 9. One of the commenters suggested that the U. of New Hampshire shouldn’t complain because they receive government subsidies. Basically, if you receive funding from the Government then do what they say or don’t accept money.

    It goes back to government dependance. Get as many people dependent on government as possible and you can then begin to control their behavior. And once you become dependant on government, it is almost impossible to relinquish your dependance on them. You usually only become more dependant and government dependency does not cure poverty.

  62. mclever says:

    @GROG

    And once you become dependant on government, it is almost impossible to relinquish your dependance on them. You usually only become more dependant and government dependency does not cure poverty.

    I agree that being in the condition of permanent dependency on the government is not desirable. The creation of a permanent underclass of dependents undermines our long-term economic and societal advancement.

    But, the solution isn’t to take away all of their benefits. We cannot simply abandon the poor with no assistance at all! It’s unconscionable to consider allowing our fellow citizens (especially children who have no control over their situation) to starve to death.

    So, what’s the answer?

    Perhaps, we need a re-examination of priorities absent partisan or ideological blather, resulting in a restructuring of the Welfare programs to have a more focused goal on advancing people towards independence. (Education, job training, childcare services, etc. etc.) We should make sure that the “rewards” within Welfare and other programs don’t punish people for improving their situation as sometimes happens now. (That’s what creates the “permanent dependence” scenarios.) There also should be some recognition that there will be *some* people who, due to mental or physical deficiencies, will be permanently dependent on others for survival. One measure of the advancement of a society’s ethics is how it treats those who can least care for themselves.

    I know I don’t have the answer, but I also can’t support anything that takes away money and services from these people who are already in so much need.

  63. GROG says:

    @mclever,

    I absolutely agree with everything you said and I certainly don’t agree with taking away all their benefits, but I do think our welfare system has failed. (I understand some will argue that it’s because we don’t have enough welfare, similar to arguing the 2009 stimulus wasn’t large enough.)

    Without getting too far into my background, I have a personal connection to plight of inner city blacks. As a kid some of the finest people I have ever met in my life were born and raised in the ghetto, but few of them ever got out. Why do such good people have so little chance in life? Most of the kids I grew up with as a kid are either dead or have been in and out of jail their entire lives. What’s happening with their fatherless children? It’s a perpetual cycle that needs to be stopped.

    I certainly don’t know the solution, but I know the welfare state we’ve created over the last 50 years ain’t working.

  64. mclever says:

    @GROG

    I agree with you. You seem to have a reasonable understanding of the conundrum–there are people who need current welfare benefits to survive, but the welfare system doesn’t solve the poverty problem. It’s just a very expensive band-aid, or maybe it’s more like basic life-support, but the doctor isn’t doing anything to really fix the patient’s problem. Just keeping ’em alive.

    Certainly, you can understand the panic in some liberals’ hearts when they hear conservatives talking about the failure of the Welfare system, because that usually means defunding and dismantling, and the human cost in this case would be tremendous. I’ve heard some conservatives talk as if it were as simple as just taking away benefits so those “lazy” people would just go work instead of sucking at the state teat. If you’ve worked with the poor, then you know full well that it isn’t that simple. Many, many welfare and food-stamp recipients are working, sometimes two jobs… Some of those needy people are our own soldiers and military families…

    You’re right, I don’t know what the answer is. But I do know that it isn’t ending the welfare programs.

  65. shortchain says:

    I agree totally that permanent dependency on the government is a bad thing. That’s why we should try to get Lockheed-Martin, SAIC, General Dynamics, etc, etc, weaned off government contracting.

  66. Monotreme says:

    I am interested in the mistakes of the past only insofar as it helps us avoid mistakes in the future.

    GROG is right. The current system is a failure. Why it’s a failure is the crux of the issue.

    We all agree that what has happened is that we’ve created perverse incentives for “bad” (more accurately, destructive or unhelpful) behaviors. As I pointed out above, I’m a great believer in harm reduction.

    I think we should first accept the fact that the adults are pretty much a lost cause. We can’t punish people for the mistakes they’ve made, but we can’t correct them either. The focus should be on the next generation, especially children under the age of six.

    (I think there is a potential side benefit of a good policy that some adults will claw their way out of poverty, but I don’t think we can adopt this as an intentional goal; rather, we can celebrate it when it does happen.)

    Part of that policy, as mclever has pointed out, is making a firm economic base for all families to rest on. It’s not a reward for sloth. It’s a recognition that everyone must be taken care of. Paradoxically, by threatening a woman’s benefits (even with strong words), one increases the chances that more children will be born to her. I’m saying, for the good of society and a reduction in crime, let’s try giving kids an equal shot at success. Part of that will be re-definining success as having a job and being in stable social relationships, not being the guy who gets $50M a year for putting a ball through a hoop.

    GROG, the only issue I’d take with your comment is that you seem to assume that social and economic mobility are the norm, and that government policies are interfering with that norm. Nothing could be further from the truth. In human history, very very few individuals have changed their social status. If we can change that, even by a tiny amount, then we will have accomplished something great.

  67. filistro says:

    GROG… my basic quibble with your argument is not what you’re actually saying, but what I darkly suspect (from context and connotation) that you are thinking.

    I suspect you think Democrats really want to keep the needy forever in need, because that makes them reliable votes for the left.

    Am I right? Because if I am, there’s no basis for further discussion. Your core position is just too whacked to talk about seriously.

    That said.. (I understand some will argue that it’s because we don’t have enough welfare, similar to arguing the 2009 stimulus wasn’t large enough.)

    That’s exactly what I would argue. The 2009 stimulus wasn’t nearly large enough. It was a weeny, paltry, timid half-measure. If the stimulus had been doubled, America would be back on track by now, heading toward prosperity again.

    Similarly, the welfare money being doled out month by month isn’t nearly enough to solve any problems… it’s just enough to perpetuate the problem for decades and centuries. The solution is to briefly increase welfare by orders of magnitude, enough to effect real change.

    Doing what, you may ask? Teaching people to fish so they become self-sufficient, instead of just giving them a couple of fish every month.

  68. mclever says:

    @filistro

    I agree.

    Welfare = basic life support ~ a couple of fish each month
    What we need = a real cure ~ “teach them to fish” (while still supplying basic life support in the meantime)

    I also agree with Monotreme’s point that it’s much harder to change the behavior of adults, so the more important efforts should be focused on breaking the cycle of inter-generational poverty, which means targeting children with programs to ensure that they have a chance to escape their circumstances of birth.

    Education is a significant part of the solution, but really solving persistent poverty involves more than just getting more poor kids to stay in school and go to college. (Poor college grads do as well as rich HS dropouts.) Sure, getting a college degree might double one’s chances of escaping the ghetto, but it doesn’t really level the playing field with middle- and upper-class kids. If someone hasn’t lived (or worked) with people from an impoverished area, then it may be difficult to understand the systemic hurdles that must be overcome just to catch up to their not-quite-so-poor peers. Those hurdles are what government programs need to address if we really want to fix this.

  69. Max aka Birdpilot says:

    What good is teaching people to fish, when one lives in the desert?

  70. Monotreme says:

    This reminds me of one of my favorite homilies.

    Teach a man to light a fire, warm him for a night. Light a man on fire, warm him for the rest of his life.

  71. filistro says:

    @Treme… Light a man on fire, warm him for the rest of his life.

    Oh dear. Best not give the Tea Party any ideas…

  72. GROG says:

    @Mono: I think we should first accept the fact that the adults are pretty much a lost cause. We can’t punish people for the mistakes they’ve made, but we can’t correct them either. The focus should be on the next generation, especially children under the age of six.

    Absolutely agree.

    @fili: I suspect you think Democrats really want to keep the needy forever in need, because that makes them reliable votes for the left.

    Yes, I’ve said that here before. But to clarify, when I say that I mean Democratic politicians in general. Because without the poor there is no Democratic Party, IMHO. I’m not referring to you or Monotreme or mclever or the like. I think you all are good, kind hearted people who want to help the downtrodden of society. I do too, as do most conservatives I know, we just don’t think government welfare in the form of cash or food stamps is necessarily the best way to “cure” poverty.

    The solution is to briefly increase welfare by orders of magnitude, enough to effect real change.

    Increase welfare in the form of what?

    @mclever: which means targeting children with programs to ensure that they have a chance to escape their circumstances of birth.

    YES!

  73. filistro says:

    @GROG… Increase welfare in the form of what?

    In the form of MONEY… massive amounts of MONEY carefully targeted to the kind of specific, intelligent programs advocated by mclever, to educate a whole generation of kids and give them both a vision of a better life and the means to achieve it.

    Break the cycle for one generation and you’ve broken it forever.

  74. GROG says:

    Break the cycle for one generation and you’ve broken it forever.

    True, but it’s going to take more than just sacks full of money. How are you going to get the kids to go to school when many of their parents don’t care if they go? If they do show up, how are you going to get them to behave in a manner that allows teachers to teach and kids to learn? How are you going to get kids respect each other when they’re parents don’t respect each other? How are you going to get the kids to respect their teachers when their parents don’t respect the teachers?

    I’m not claiming to have the answers, but throwing a bunch more money at it isn’t going to solve the difficult real problems.

  75. filistro says:

    @GROG… How are you going to get kids respect each other when they’re parents don’t respect each other? How are you going to get the kids to respect their teachers when their parents don’t respect the teachers?

    In my teaching career I worked in some pretty tough schools, with some pretty hardened kids. A lot of them were actually scary… but we became friends over time. It has been my experience that the way to get kids to respect their teachers and their classmates is for the teacher to treat everybody in the classroom with respect.

    And yes, money is a BIG help… because if kids are in a clean, airy, well-equipped classroom with nice desks and shiny new books, they feel respected as soon as they walk in and sit down.

    OTOH if a teacher enters the job with the view you apparently have… that these kids (and their families) are little better than wild animals, and there really isn’t much hope for them at all… then you’re not going to get very far and the bit of money you’re willing to spend is all going to be wasted.

  76. GROG says:

    OTOH if a teacher enters the job with the view you apparently have… that these kids (and their families) are little better than wild animals…

    If that’s what you got out of my comments then so be it. I’m wasting my time here.

  77. Monotreme says:

    @fili:

    I would add that there would be, ideally, 10-15 students per classroom, so no one is “lost”. Even the Army has 8 men per squad. Study after study has shown that 8 is about the ideal number of people to supervise.

    That takes lots of money.

  78. filistro says:

    Treme… 10-15 student classrooms (while ideal) are probably beyond the reach of any school system, no matter how rich. But it wouldn’t cost a tremendous amount to have one teacher per dozen kids plus classroom aides for each additional group of 10. Aides aren’t paid much more than minimum wage but they make a huge difference in a classroom… especially at the elementary level which is where the short-term extra funds would be most effectively deployed.

  79. Gator says:

    Fili

    I have to say, I don’t see how you got what you did from Grog’s post. I see him asking questions about the need to address the underlying social issues that negatively impact these children. As opposed to simply throwing money at the problem. As we have previously done. Which has failed. I think you may be off base here.

    But then I’m not an enlightened liberal, just a swamp dwelling monster.

  80. filistro says:

    @Gator.. I have to say, I don’t see how you got what you did from Grog’s post. I see him asking questions about the need to address the underlying social issues that negatively impact these children.

    Yes, I can see that I upset GROG with my reply… which I truly regret since he’s one of my favorite people in here.

    But lets’ examine what he said or implied about these disadvantaged students (and more particularly, their parents):

    1.) their parents don’t care if they go to school
    2.) it’s hard to get these kids to “behave in a manner that allows teachers to teach and kids to learn”
    3.) their parents “don’t respect each other”, so it’s hard to get these kids to respect each other
    4.) their parents “don’t respect the teachers”, so it’s hard to get the kids to respect the teachers

    Now… some of those stereotypes may well be true in many cases. But they are very sweeping negative stereotypes to apply to a whole wide swathe of humanity. And when people deal in broad stereotypes about groups instead of individual human lives, I get really pissed off. I probably shouldn’t, but I do.

    When I was a teacher I had students who were rude, lax, disrespectful, disruptive and hard to tolerate in a classroom setting. But when I kept those kids after school and talked to them, I can honestly say that I never, ever met a child one-on-one in whom I was unable to find some good and some potential.

    We all have to get past the habit of seeing others as a group with a certain set of preconceived attributes.. and see them as PEOPLE.

  81. Monotreme says:

    @fili:

    I’ll take some of the blame for this. It’s hard, when describing these policy matters, to zoom way, way out — and get recommendations that will work for an entire state or nation — and then zoom way, way in, and get to discussing individuals. I think it takes both.

    In your usual caring, empathetic fashion, you’re personalizing the experience, which is appropriate. We certainly need more like you “on the ground”. But to come up with laws and appropriations and policy, it’s necessary to view from a distance and see the strategy, trying to create a strategy that makes it possible for the tacticians to do their jobs.

    I don’t presume to speak for GROG — I hope he’ll come back and speak for himself — but I would think he might’ve been trapped by the “big picture” aspect of the original post. It’s really the caveat I was trying to make at the outset: just because we can (and do) say, “blacks do this” doesn’t mean that all blacks do, or that we can even define what a black person is.

    ‘Tis a puzzlement.

  82. filistro says:

    Treme… I get what you’re saying. And you’re right… when dealing in verifiable demographic trends, stereotyping can be a tempting next step if one is so inclined.

    But I don’t see how the demographic facts in your article inevitably lead to statements like “their parents don’t respect each other,” “their parents don’t respect the teachers” and “their parents don’t care if they go to school.”

    Those statements are not supported by your article, they’re not germane, and they made me angry. But that also doesn’t accomplish much, ever, so…

    GROG.. I’m sorry I got angry. I’ll try to do better in the future.

  83. Gator says:

    Fili

    When groups of people have identifiable, measureable social norms specific to that group that can be directly correlated to specific behaviours within that group, to ignore that out of a need to be PC or out of some misguided idea of fairness is insane.

    If the graduation rate from ABC High School for students from single parent households is half that of students from two parent households, to then try to insist that there is no correlation/causation, because if you address the obvious connection you are passing judgement on single parent families, is simply foolish. If you aren’t even willing to acknowledge a problem for fear of offending someone, then it is foolish to believe that you can solve it.

    As far as Grog’s points:

    1.) their parents don’t care if they go to school
    (kids with parents that care usually aren’t in trouble)

    2.) it’s hard to get these kids to “behave in a manner that allows teachers to teach and kids to learn”
    (this should be last- it is the result of the other 3)

    3.) their parents “don’t respect each other”, so it’s hard to get these kids to respect each other
    (again, kids whose parents do respect each other tend not to be struggling)

    4.) their parents “don’t respect the teachers”, so it’s hard to get the kids to respect the teachers
    (and one more time, with feeling… if kids have parents that respect each other, respect teachers and insist their kids attend class, these are not at risk kids)

    You were talking about at risk kids. The things Grog addresses are the HALLMARKS of at risk kids. Get down off your PC soapbox or you will never truly address what ails these kids.

  84. filistro says:

    Well, there you go, Gator. It’s all definitional.

    You think we’re talking about “struggling, at-risk” kids.

    I think we’re talking about poor black kids.

    As Muley would say… “big difference.”

  85. Gator says:

    Fili

    It doesn’t matter what race they are. They are still at risk children. Those issues (Grog’s) are almost universal among them. Regardless of race. To ignore that is to fail the children.

  86. filistro says:

    @Gator: It doesn’t matter what race they are

    Well, yes, it sort of DOES matter… because that’s what the article and thread are all about and that’s the issue I assumed we were all addressing… the plight of poor black children whose families are trapped in an endless cycle of welfare.

    Those issues (Grog’s) are almost universal among them.

    Really? You mean all this parental “lack of respect” is universal among poor black children? You know, I don’t really think that’s true.

    I also think I’d better drop the topic because I can feel myself getting angry again, and I’ve probably caused enough trouble for one day.

  87. Mainer says:

    Been down this road before only in very rural settings but way too much of it is common. Parents that never had a good educational experience and then were never got any where in life believe rightly or wrongly that life has passed them by and they blame the schools for some share or it and that again rightly or wrongly passes on to the kids.

    Kids with nothing to do and no view of themselves ever going any where or doing any thing then multiply the problem by seeing no value to learning. Why workk hard and learn when there are no jobs there for the adults and less for them. Hell they can do as well selling drugs and that is there.

    Schools used the same what difference does it make dodge. Schools in poor areas had less spent on them, they got inferior teaches and worse administrators so it has been just a perfect storm built for failure.

    Can it be changed? Yes but both of the groups talking past each other here are both right and wrong all at the same time. This is not an issue limited to those of color, I can point to way to many communities in my own state that are so white it would shock you and there is just as much educational apathy and defeatism as any inner city school you might want to compare it with. What is common? There parents were failed by their schools and their parents. The jobs all left along with hope for the future and the communities and the state wrote them off in one way or another.

    I have also been part of turning that around. It does take some seed money to rebuild staffs (training and equipment mostly and some times simple things like a coat of paint) and no generally wholesale firings are not needed. In any teaching staff there are those with some support and being told that they have merit as well (yeah teachers feel it too and when they have been told enough times how bad they suck they will often live down to the perceptions) and I don’t care about the unions. Iwas a member and I was an administrator and I have never seen a teacher that could not be removed if it was necessary but it will take an administrator with some stones and the understanding that they need to build a paper trail to support it. And then you just keep setting goals you know they can reach and applaude every damned one of them. You pat parrents on the back some times when they don’t deserve it but have you ever met any one that didn’t want to be told their kid had done even some small thing well? It much hard work and some understanding of psychology and patience and then unfortunately one thing more.

    The last piece is hardest once you get them through high school the nyou have to get them to hell out of there. There has been a standing joke around here for some time that our biggest export was our kids. We get them a decent education and we do every thig we can to find them additional training some where else. A diploma and a one way bus ticket South as some call it. Some come back most don’t but my Facebook account is full of former students spread all over this country in places where they could turn that good basic education into a job.

    So it isn’t rocket science and it will never be cheap but what is the saying? If you think education is expensive try ignorance…..

  88. Mainer says:

    Man I just reread that. This cold medication must be good shit. My typing is worse than usual. Hopefully you were all able to follow that.

  89. Gator says:

    Fili

    No, I mean that those issues are almost universal among at risk kids regardless of race. Grog didn’t refer to race so I didn’t assume he was referring to black kids only. This is obviously a hot button for you and maybe you see things that aren’t necessarily there. I think those things that Grog addressed are found in inner city black kids, white Appalachian mountain poor, hispanic kids in the barrios and on and on. Poor kids from splintered families with cultural fear and distrust of schools and education, from under-educated family backgrounds, from criminally involved parents are all at risk children. Throwing money at the problem while yelling racist at anyone who questions the results or the methodology is counterproductive.

  90. Mainer says:

    Well I’m not yelling racist Gator. But not spending or spending less when you are not spending enough isn’t the answer either. This whole voucher thing smells to me, charter schools if done right can help but I have also seen it used just to screw teachers you know those awful Anti American union teachers. Now methodology I will speak to unfortunately No Child Left Behind focused almost all the effort to certain types of learning styles and had such a focus on 2 areas that we have sacrificed much in the name of test scores. There are answers but our current crop of politicians will never find them. For far to many of them kids are just another rock to throw at the other side.

  91. Max aka Birdpilot says:

    “such a focus on 2 areas that we have sacrificed much in the name of test scores.”

    It’s called “teaching to the test”.

    Instead, it should be “testing what we teach”.

  92. Mainer says:

    It certainly is Max. One needs to evaluate progress but when the evaluation becomes more important than the progress one has problems.

  93. GROG says:

    Gator and Mono,

    Thanks for the support.

    @Mono: but I would think he (GROG) might’ve been trapped by the “big picture” aspect of the original post. It’s really the caveat I was trying to make at the outset: just because we can (and do) say, “blacks do this” doesn’t mean that all blacks do, or that we can even define what a black person is.

    I admit, not ashamedly, that I have a particular interest in the inner city black community. I grew up on the outskirts of St. Louis and I went to schools that were about 75% white and 25% blacks from the inner city (due to inner city busing). As I said earlier, some of the best people and best friends I’ve ever known came from the ghettos of St. Louis. Talk to any of the many outstanding mothers and fathers in any inner city in America. They’ll tell the you the main problems in poverty stricken areas are the same ones I outlined above. And as Gator said and I alluded to earlier, the same goes for places like rural Appalachia and many small towns across America as well.

    @Fili: Break the cycle for one generation and you’ve broken it forever.

    Exactly, and my point is that it takes more than money to break that cycle because you will always have Generation A raising the children of Generation B. New shiny desks and books aren’t going to do the trick.

    I don’t hold grudges, Fili. And I’m sorry if I offended you.

  94. GROG says:

    @Mainer,

    I have no earthly idea why anyone would ever want to leave the state of Maine. If there’s a more beautiful state in the country, I don’t know what it is.

  95. Mainer says:

    Grog most of them don’t want to leave but most have too if they are ever to make some thing of themselves. Of late we have seen a return. When things are bad else where one might as well be where they want to be and just survive then be some where they don’t want to be and also just survive. It is no different than where you grew up. Have you seen the population numbers for St. Louis and other cities around there. The young, the bright and the energetic are leaving to find some future…….any future. Those that are left are those that didn’t or couldn’t get the education to move on so their children are going to be with those who have parents that don’t see education as an answer. It is going to be tough to ever fix this. Note I say tough not impossible.

    And I didn’t leave here. I live in oune of the poorest countys in the country not because I hav to but because I can. Even in semi-retirement I have to periodically go on the road to do my instructional thing so I can still afford to live where I want because you know I am one of those overpaid in retirement damned unionized worthless teacher/administrators. Hell if it were not for my military retirement and horrid government run TriCare health care system and still working part time I would be forced to live with one of my kids.

    Throwing money at any problem is never the answer any more than thinking one can have an adequate education system on the cheap.

  96. Gator says:

    Grog

    Someone very close to me grew up in St. Louis and graduated from Ritenour HS in 1978.

  97. mclever says:

    One of my best friends from HS was from East St. Louis and managed to escape because of parents and teachers who were encouraging and supportive of academic achievement.

  98. dcpetterson says:

    I’m sorry I’ve been mostly absent here. A great conversation,. GROG, thank you for your contributions.

    It is sometimes surprising how much we all have in common. When we really talk, as opposed to merely shouting and posturing, the basic humanity we share can sometimes be revealed.

    I think the most basic values are often held in common. It’s too bad we get lost in the detail. We should work together where we can, and at least exchange ideas where we can’t.

  99. mclever says:

    @dcpetterson

    I agree. 🙂

    As I say often to people who disagree with me on politics, the values and ideals where we do agree are much more numerous than those where we don’t. We’re just so conditioned to focus on the differences, that sometimes those are all we see.

  100. GROG says:

    @Gator: Someone very close to me grew up in St. Louis and graduated from Ritenour HS in 1978.

    That person should be familiar with the busing progam in St. Louis. It started in the early 70’s and I believe it ended in the late 90’s. Great program. It was completely voluntary so the kids I grew up with had parents who understood the value of getting their kids in the best schools possible.

    Webster Groves HS 1989, btw.

  101. filistro says:

    GROG.. no offense taken. You’ll always be my favorite caveman 😉

    You just touched one of my hot buttons, and I no doubt over-reacted. I just HATE blanket value judgments applied to groups.

    I’m not black, but I’m part Blackfoot. I know what it’s like for people who belong to a group about whom people say, “they’re all drunks, they’re bone-lazy, they have no respect for anybody, all that government money is wasted on them” etc etc.

    I know what it’s like for kids to grow up with “jokes” like:

    Q.. What do you call an Indian kid with a new bike?
    A: A thief.

    Q. Why should you never date an Indian girl who’s a virgin?
    A: Because if she’s not good enough for her father and brothers, she’s not good enough for you.

    Sweeping value statements about whole groups of people are hurtful, damaging, cruel, and always wrong. Because there are always exceptions (as you have pointed out.) And because there are, we have an obligation not to give up.

  102. Mainer says:

    Fili it would be an interesting study, and one that may well alreay have been done, to figure out why certain groups find the need to have other groups they can look down on or denigrate or blame for all of lifes failures. I have always believed that certain people or even groups have a gene that causes it for it seems to follow certain families pretty danged close (I know nature/nurture, I just don’t know). From what I have said on here I’m sure you see I didn’t take Grog or Gator in the same manner you did but our back grounds are different so maybe some of it is life experience as well.

  103. Max aka Birdpilot says:

    “Q. Why should you never date an Indian girl who’s a virgin?”

    Stop that!!! Y’all STOLE that!! EVERYBODY knows thats about Rednecks!

  104. filistro says:

    @Mainer.. why certain groups find the need to have other groups they can look down on or denigrate or blame

    I’ve always thought our social biology as humans is closest to that of wolves. Within the pack we’re very social… outside of it we’re wary, aggressive, savage and territorial. We’re most comfortable with a rigid pecking order that gives us individuals we revere and others we are free to despise. We worship the alpha male (and his consort) and within the pack, observe many subtle-to-elaborate rituals of dominance and submission. Put into a new, classless setting with unfamiliar individuals we will soon evolve a caste system based on some combination of valued attributes… heredity, wealth, beauty, strength.

    It’s probably inevitable given our DNA… but it would be nice if, knowing this to be true, we could begin to consciously evolve beyond it.. or at least find a way to enlarge our vision of who constitutes our “pack” 😉

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