The Daily Sandwich

"We have to learn the lesson that intellectual honesty is fundamental for everything we cherish." -Sir Karl Popper

Location: Boston, Massachusetts, United States


Saturday, November 18, 2006

Divine Right

One of the most tiresome things about American conservatism is its justification of social Darwinism-- if you make a fortune, it's because you're inherently superior and deserving, and if you live in poverty it's because you're either lazy, immoral, or non-white (a likely sign of laziness and immorality). Rationalizing selfishness, in short. And if you can add religion, well, home run.

So Charles Murray now preaches the gospel of Leave It To Beaver. The approach is a particularly elegant form of pandering: It denies the need for government action, reifies the Christian obsession with marriage, and insinuates that the poverty of poor blacks can be blamed on their insufficiently virtuous family structures. In other words, it's their fault.

Problem is, the evidence doesn't support the claims. There's plenty of data proving a correlation between marriage rates and better situations for children, but precious little proving that it is an effective bulwark against intergenerational poverty. (. . .)

According to the National Education Longitudinal Study, eighth-graders living apart from their biological fathers have an expected poverty rate of 16.6 percent. Those in an intact family have an expected poverty rate of 9.9 percent. But that latter group is almost three times as large as the former one. As such, a deeply generous estimate -- one that assumes all fathers are, so to speak, equal and equally desirable, and that single-parent families aren't actually that way for a damn good reason -- suggests that eliminating single-parent families would lower poverty by a mere 16 percent. As such, marriage promotion, while a possible part of an eventual war on poverty, is totally insufficient. It's just not enough. The authors conclude that "to reduce poverty among future generations, there may be no substitute for a system of social insurance and income transfers."