As close to settled science as it gets

There are few things as tiresome as being called names by someone who refuses to take an honest disagreement in good faith.  I won’t dignify the most recent disgusting example with a link, but you can find it easily enough on your own:  Paul Krugman calls Paul Ryan a racist.

The editors of NR do a nice job of responding in Paul Ryan is Right.

I mean no insult to those who were not blessed, or lucky, or whatever else to have had an intact family that valued education and hard work.  I was, and do my best to pass the legacy on to my kids.  That notion of childhood – two parents, hard work, keep your grades up – simply is the ideal most (?) of us wish for ourselves and our children.  It doesn’t always work out, and some family situations are better ended than endured, but let’s not kid ourselves about the risks and trade-offs.

The social upheaval of the last 50 years has done a lot of good but threw the baby out with the bath water.  For fear of being called “judgmental” or in an attempt to not blame the victim we don’t preach what we practice.  But the truth is: not all decisions are equally wise or healthy, and not all environments are equally good for children.  I’m convinced 90% of the world’s ills can be traced back to the root cause of fatherlessness.  Either no dad in the picture or one who does more harm than good (likely because he had no dad or a harmful one himself…).

It is “as close to settled science as the social sciences” get.  There are no guarantees in life but if you want to increase your odds at escaping poverty:  (a) finish your education or trade, (b) get married, (c) have kids.  In that order.  Change the order and you will make it harder – not impossible, but harder.  Stick to that order and you may still catch some tough breaks, but you increase your chances.  (Not for nothing, it’s also the best shot at some measure of happiness this side of heaven.)

As the editors write, there are those who are “professionally and politically committed to not understanding” that the income effects of many social programs “...may influence household decisions regarding work, investing in education and the acquisition of skills, and possibly even marriage and fertility.”

The evidence regarding poverty, single motherhood, and economic mobility is overwhelming. It is as close to “settled science” as the social sciences have to offer. The question that must be answered is whether the poor’s actual interests are served by those who would help direct them toward marriage, work, and stability, or by those who loudly advertise their own compassion, which, conveniently, costs them very little and pays them very well.

This is a familiar situation for conservatives, whose Sisyphean task is to explain to the community at large the difference between the intended results of government programs and the actual results of government programs. Spending more money on Head Start and Medicaid sounds like a very good idea until one confronts the evidence that those programs provide few if any lasting and measurable benefits. A mature mind would understand that it is not only possible but likely that programs intended to benefit the poor will in fact harm them. The unhappy fact is that would-be reformers such as Paul Ryan are sitting opposite not mature-minded opponents but rather a collection of sentimentalists and opportunists; the former cannot understand the law of unintended consequences, while the latter are committed to exploiting the intellectual defects of the former for their own political benefit…

They also cheekily point out that a kid’s peer group is awfully critical too.  I’ve seen it argued that a child’s development is 50% genetic, 40% peer group, and 10% active parenting.  I might quibble with the percentages but the point is well taken.

New scholarship from Harvard and the National Bureau of Economic Research finds that children in single-parent households experience higher rates of economic mobility when they live in communities with relatively high levels of marriage — and that children of married couples experience lower rates of economic mobility when they live in communities in which single-parent households are prevalent. As W. Bradford Wilcox put it, it takes a married village.

UPDATE – Guess which racist (not Paul Ryan) said the same thing:

“In troubled neighborhoods all across this country — many of them heavily African American — too few of our citizens have role models to guide them.”

“We know that more than half of all black children live in single-parent households… We know the statistics — that children who grow up without a father are five times more likely to live in poverty and commit crime; nine times more likely to drop out of school and twenty times more likely to end up in prison.”

“We know young black men are twice as likely as young white men to be ‘disconnected’– not in school, not working.”

As you might guess, Paul Ryan said none of these things. Barack Obama did — in heartfelt speeches at a Chicago church in 2008, at Morehouse College in 2013, and at the White House a few weeks ago.

UPDATE II – from Ryan, Obama and ‘Racism‘ in today’s WSJ:

So even though Mr. Ryan never mentioned race, liberals attacked his off-the-cuff remarks as racist while the President’s moral lecture was hardly noticed. Republicans are accused of racism if they ignore the least fortunate, and now they’re racist for taking poverty and its causes seriously. Unless you unreservedly favor the welfare status quo, or used to be a community organizer, the left gets you coming and going.

The attacks on Mr. Ryan are one more example of the politics of personal vilification that typifies the left these days. Its policies were supposed to reduce inequality, but instead the income gap is widening. They were supposed to lift people out of poverty, but poverty has increased.

So the last thing they can tolerate is a conservative like Mr. Ryan who is looking for better solutions and using a moral language of opportunity and upward mobility that could appeal to Americans of all incomes and backgrounds. Liberals have to smear conservatives personally because they know they’re losing on the merits.

UPDATE III – from George Will’s The left’s half-century of denial over poverty:

(Ryan) sauntered into the minefield that a more experienced Daniel Patrick Moynihan — a liberal scholar who knew the taboos of his tribe — had tiptoed into five years before Ryan was born…

In March 1965, Moynihan, then 37 and assistant secretary of labor, wrote that “the center of the tangle of pathology” in inner cities — this was five months before the Watts riots — was the fact that 23.6 percent of black children were born to single women, compared with just 3.07 percent of white children. He was accused of racism, blaming the victims, etc.

Forty-nine years later, 41 percent of all American children are born out of wedlock; almost half of all first births are to unmarried women, as are 54 percent and 72 percent of all Hispanic and black births, respectively. Is there anyone not blinkered by ideology or invincibly ignorant of social science who disagrees with this:

The family is the primary transmitter of social capital — the values and character traits that enable people to seize opportunities. Family structure is a primary predictor of an individual’s life chances, and family disintegration is the principal cause of the intergenerational transmission of poverty…

The possibility that the decisive factors are not economic but cultural — habits, mores, customs — was dismaying because it is easier for government to alter incentives and remove barriers than to alter culture. The assumption that the condition of the poor must improve as macroeconomic conditions — which government thinks it can manipulate — improve is refuted by the importance of family structure.

To say that poverty can be self-perpetuating is not to say, and Ryan did not say, that poverty is caused by irremediable attributes that are finally the fault of the poor. It is, however, to define the challenge, which is to acculturate those unacquainted with the culture of work to the disciplines and satisfactions of this culture…

Next March, serious people will be wondering why the problem Moynihan articulated half a century earlier has become so much worse while so much else — including the astonishingly rapid receding of racism and discrimination — has become so much better. One reason is what Moynihan called “the leakage of reality from American life.” Judging by the blend of malice, ignorance and intellectual sloth in the left’s reaction to Ryan’s unexceptionable remarks, the leak has become, among some factions, a cataract.

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