Thinking "outside the box" does not mean being an idiot.

I told Ray the other day that I was worried that with gun violence being so huge in Philly, the Mayor's race would devolve into some sort of law and order slugfest, where once again, root causes of crime are never addressed. That is something we need to deal with head on. Yet, when thinking about that as a worst case scenario, I never seriously thought anyone would argue this: That to end gun violence in Philadelphia, we should make poor people poorer! That will do it!

John Baer, in his column in the Daily News, channels a Rush Limbaugh fill-in, and argues that if we eliminated welfare, crime would be lowered, because so many women wouldn't want the glamorous life of the.... Welfare Queen. You know, since I was so young in the 1980's, I never really got a feel for how well Ronnie Reagan and his band of anti-New Deal marauders used the welfare queen. Yet thankfully, I am now getting a taste of it:

Williams, 70, a conservative who sometimes sits in for Rush Limbaugh on syndicated radio, blames the welfare system and altered values.

He says welfare benefits effectively replace a father and offer too great a "temptation" of housing allowance and food stamps for a pregnant teen in a house without a father.

"I don't know the answer, I really don't, but one idea is making welfare damn near impossible," Williams says.

Wow. That is actually the dumbest thing I have ever seen in print in the Daily News. It is great to see the GOP, here given a voice by Baer, returning to what they do best: demonizing poor people. I fully expect that in 2008 we are going to see that the real reason we have not caught Bin Laden is that welfare moms are hiding him in their beachfront condos in Maui.

I don't even know where to start with this idiocy, but, just for posterity, lets deal with some facts: A mother with two kids, who is on welfare, receives a whopping $403 dollars per month. $403! Wow, you sure can live a life of luxury like that! I wonder why my parents never let me follow my dreams, and live on welfare? I mean, that is high rolling!

And, of course, there is the whole problem that amongst industrialized Nations, we have the biggest income disparities (ever growing), and the smallest amount of assistance for people. Oh, and, we have the highest murder rate, and highest incarceration rate. But clearly, the answer is to take people who are already extremely, extremely poor, and make them poorer.

To be fair to Baer, he didn't neccesarily advocate this; but he did give it space as if it was a legitimate idea. Sorry, John, it is not. And, just because you say "oooooh, I am not being politically correct" does not give you cover. Because when you do that, you are just a two bit Michael Smerconish or David Horowitz trying to shield yourself from being criticized for saying stupid things.

Thinking "outside the box" does not mean you have free reign to be an idiot. And when you are the most prominent columnist at the local paper, you have a responsibility that you just shirked, big time.

That story gets worse

Baer goes on to repeat this tidbit:

Another idea, he says, is to have members of the Nation of Islam walk the streets in neighborhoods: "When they tell you to get out they don't give you any Miranda warnings." . . . "The violence would stop in a year," says Stone, "just by their presence in their garb (generally Middle East thobe and kufi)."

Talk about a stupid thing to say. You summed it up best Dan, Baer did us all a real disservice with this one.

With you 100%

Let's just assume that welfare payouts really were awesomely phat.
They aren't, but let's say they were.
Giving people money just doesn't cause crime. The very idea is ludicrous. People commit crime because they are anxious for money. Any fresh, free cash at all will undermine that anxiety. It's really that simple.
Any convoluted argument that says that giving people money, any amount, contributes to crime has got to be wrong once Occam's Razor is applied.
There are multiple potential explanations for rising crime in Philadelphia. This one is not only not the simplest, it isn't even close to being the simplest; Williams's argument is convoluted to the point of incomprehensibility, and, therefore, almost has to be wrong, based on this simple, age-old guideline [that is, when faced with multiple explanations for a problem, the simplest one is probably right].

BradyDale OnLine

During Clinton's welfare reform

thousands were taken off the welfare rolls and a limit was imposed on how long you could collect welfare (i.e. lifetime entitlement was ended). Crime declined nationally during those years. Obviously, there are many factors for this, but my point is that those who say ending welfare would lead to an increase in crime are not necessarily correct.

The Pedigree of Ideas

On August 3rd Baer reduced the problem of gun violence to young boys without proper adult supervision – specifically from fathers. As a source for his argument he relied on the National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI) which has a study that attempts to link absent fathers to juvenile delinquency. If you download their study , weapons use was not explained by family structure or father closeness. Not to let even his own facts get in the way the NFI representative cites instead:

“…a study of Prince George's County, Md., neighborhoods showing every 1 percent increase in female-headed households increases the odds of being murdered there.”

But why are there so many female-headed households?

Before we get to that just a brief aside on Baer’s source the National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI). The NFI was founded by Don Eberly former president of Pennsylvania’s own Commonwealth Foundation. Eberly is now in the Bush Administration as Deputy Assistant to the President for Faith Based and Community Initiatives. The NFI has received funding support from the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation and the Scaife Family Foundation among others.

August 10th

Now back to Baer on August 10th, this time with a little more vigor:

“Unwed birth rates in the city and absent fathers are proven links to violent crime.”

Again why are there so many absent fathers? For that answer Baer looks to the John M. Olin Distinguished Professor of Economics, Walter Williams who argues:

“…welfare benefits effectively replace a father and offer too great a "temptation" of housing allowance and food stamps for a pregnant teen in a house without a father…I don't know the answer, I really don't, but one idea is making welfare damn near impossible."

So what does the actual research show? Here is a summary by Harvard sociologists Robert J. Sampson and William Julius Wilson.

“Are the Causes of Black Crime Unique? Disentangling the contextual basis for race and crime requires racial disaggregation of both the crime rate and the explanatory variables of theoretical interest. This approach was used in recent research that examined racially disaggregated rates of homicide and robbery by juveniles and adults in over 150 U.S. cities in 1980 (Sampson 1987). Substantively, the theory explored the effects of black male joblessness and economic deprivation on violent crime as mediated by black family disruption. The Results supported the main hypothesis and showed that the scarcity of employed black males relative to black females was directly related to the prevalence of families headed by women in black communities (W.J. Wilson 1987). In turn, black family disruption was substantially related to rates of black murder and robbery, especially by juveniles (see also Messner and Sampson 1991). These effects were independent of income, region, density, city size, and welfare benefits.”

And this is also interesting again from Sampson and Wilson:

“Despite a tremendous difference in mean levels of family disruption among black and white communities, the percentage of white families headed by a female also had a large positive effect on white juvenile and white adult violence. In fact, the predictors of white robbery were shown to be in large part identical in sign and magnitude to those for blacks. Therefore, the effect of black family disruption on black crime was independent of common cited alternative explanations (e.g. region, density, age composition) and could not be attributed to unique cultural factors within the black community given the similar effect of white family disruption on white crime. To be clear, we are not dismissing the relevance of culture. As discussed more below, our argument is that if cultural influence exits, they vary systematically with structural features of the urban environment”

To restate the linkages here is Sampson from the original paper, Urban Black Violence: The Effect of Male Joblessness and Family Disruption, published in the American Journal of Sociology.

“…the effects of black male joblessness and economic deprivation on crime appear to be mediated in large part by family disruption. In other words, while male joblessness has little or no direct effect on crime, it has the strongest overall effect on family disruption, which in turn is the strong predictor of black violence.”

To simplify, it’s jobs stupid!

Baer through Williams is parroting the work of Charles Murray the author of Losing Ground: American Social Policy 1950-1980 which argues that social spending perpetuates poverty. Murray’s work although popular among libertarians like Williams is not supported by empirical research. Murray you will note is also the author of The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life which makes the case that poverty is also a function of innate differences in intelligence.

It’s truly a shame that Baer used 1000 plus words on violence in Philadelphia to pander to views on the issue not supported by the facts. One in five young people age 16 to 29 living in the city of Philadelphia were not working and not enrolled in school in 2000. The absence of high paying employment and training opportunities linked to good jobs for Philadelphia’s poor represents the single greatest challenge facing the city. Shifting the debate to the choices people make rather than also considering the quality of choices people have allows Baer to avoid consideration of the difficult public choices required to stem the rising tide of violence. Baer’s carelessness appeals to the all too common willingness to divide the world into “them” and “us”. The reality is we are all in this together, it’s just that Baer and his ilk have first class seats on the same runaway train.


Brady, just to be clear: are you advocating increasing cash welfare?

"People commit crime because they are anxious for money. Any fresh, free cash at all will undermine that anxiety. It's really that simple."

I also disagree with Williams, but for different reasons.

To the extent that inner city poor are unable to find jobs, or render themselves unhirable, as Professor Anderson contends, welfare is necessary. I do question though, whether heads of households--often single--relying on welfare do not pass on entitlement to their children, who turn to crime for "easy money".

Whether this is true or not is opinion. However, I think a better answer to welfare dependency is access to employment and affordable housing, not its elimination.

Come on, now, this is really

Come on, now, this is really silly.

During Clinton's welfare reform, thousands were taken off of the rolls. And yet the Phillies never won a world series. Must be a casual relationship.

Yes, crime declined under Clinton, and people moved off of Welfare. But why did these things happen? Oh, I dunno, because the economy was booming like no other time, and so, even though income disparities were still widening, many poor people made it out of poverty.

Making the poor poorer would increase crime.

Or, to put it another way Gar- and this is an honest question, what do you think causes crime?

don't confuse a negative comment with a positive one

while I'm all for more welfare,
please don't confuse a negative comment with a positive one.
The statement "cash welfare does not cause crime"
or even the stronger statement, "cash welfare diminishes the inclination towards crime"
does not translate into
"cash welfare should be increased."
I was saying Williams was wrong, not that the inverse was an optimal crime elimination strategy.

BradyDale OnLine

Why this is really silly

Yes, Bill Clinton started Welfare Reform. And crime went down simultaneously. Gar above argues that that is a sign that ending welfare won't make crime go up.

Why is Gar's point so silly?

OK- the welfare law was enacted in around 1996. This imposed a 60 month time limit that a person could be on welfare. If not a single person was able to find a job, that means you would start to see people kicked of welfare... after Bill Clinton had left office. So crime was going down when there was not yet any real change in the welfare siutation, except for their being a ticking clock far off in the future.

People did not move off of welfare with such speed because of a new law, or because they were kicked off. They moved off because there was an expanding economy that was lowering poverty rates for all Americans. In other words, in the late 1990's, the poor were not becoming poorer, for reasons that had nothing to do with the welfare reform of 1996.

The fact that Baer was willing to print what he did, without even considering some basic logic, aint such a good thing.

Daniel you're missing my point

I was simply saying that crime is caused by a variety of factors and that one cannot make the flat statement: "If you end welfare, crime will go up." This argument was used by the opponents of welfare reform in the '90s and there has been quite a bit of research done on it. It is false.

Well, first, Baer's point, or

Well, first, Baer's point, or the man he was quoting was that ending welfare would make crime go down, which is really plainly a dumb argument.

As for what you said- welfare went done in the 90s, because the economy was booming, among other things. Again, time limits did not take effect for a minimum of 60 weeks, so welfare wasnt "ended" until 2001 for anyone. And, we have no idea what happened to those people. I distinctly remember Sen. Wellstone standing on the Senate floor asking for the Senate to at least study the people it would eventually kick off welfare, so that we could know exactly what happened. He was of course voted down.

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