Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Politically Correct Science

It’s not just climate scientists and their global warming. Behavioral scientists have their own biases. The August 30, 2013 issue of the premier journal, Science, has a research report claiming that poor people stay poor because being poor “impairs their cognitive capacity.”[1] That is, being poor is so challenging and stressful that poor people have exhausted their mental capacity to regulate their impulses and make wise choices. The research was deemed so impeccable by the editors that they also ran a companion news story to publicize the findings to lay audiences.

The research yielded two basic, independent findings:

  1. In one group of ordinary people sampled at a shopping mall, inducing negative thoughts about finances impaired function on two thinking tests in poor but not well-off participants. The median incomes per household varied from $20,000-$70,000 per year.
  2. Testing of farmers at two stages of the harvest cycle showed that thinking performance before the harvest, when they were relatively poor, was impaired relative to performance afterwards, when they were relatively rich.
The conclusion was that people do not choose to be poor and that they become trapped in poverty because being poor impairs their thinking and decision-making. Blame for people being poor is put on their state of being poor. Nowhere, not in the research report nor its news summary, did anybody consider an alternate explanation for poverty in the U.S.:

Poverty of able-bodied, normal people can be a choice.

In terms of social policy, the implication of the politically correct is that you can help lift people out of poverty if you make them less poor through gifts, exempting them from taxation, and providing subsidies. Interestingly, the writers avoided this obvious inference, no doubt because it would irritate people who believe in the importance of personal responsibility. Rather, the writers focused on the need of government to ease mental challenges of poor people to a level commensurate with their impaired thinking capacity. For example, the authors suggested that government should reduce “cognitive taxes” in addition to monetary taxes for the poor. Specific policy suggestions included providing help in “filling out forms, planning, and reminders” to help the poor access government services and welfare.

Not mentioned is the current U.S. policy of spending $67 million for “navigators” to help poor people sign up for the Affordable Care Act. Who knows, that idea may well have come from these authors, two of whom were high-status Ivy League professors.

But I have to ask, wouldn’t these millions of dollars be better spent helping the poor get a work ethic and make better life choices? Instead, our government gives welfare payments and subsidies worth more than the poor can earn by working. And the poor don’t have to work to get the welfare. At the same time, politicians and bureaucrats push for an amnesty program for illegal aliens who are willing to do the work that our poor citizens refuse to do. Tell me, how is a government policy of promoting more dependency going to help anybody? If such government policy were not so deliberate, it would be insane.

[1] Mani, A. et al. (2013) Poverty impedes cognitive function. Science. 341: 976-980.

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