No, The Poor Aren’t Undeserving Moral Reprobates

What 7 States Discovered After Spending More Than $1 Million Drug Testing Welfare Recipients
by Bryce Covert and Josh Israel, Think Progress

“According to state data gathered by ThinkProgress, the seven states with existing programs — Arizona, Kansas, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Utah — are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to ferret out very few drug users. The statistics show that applicants actually test positive at a lower rate than the drug use of the general population. The national drug use rate is 9.4 percent. In these states, however, the rate of positive drug tests to total welfare applicants ranges from 0.002 percent to 8.3 percent, but all except one have a rate below 1 percent. Meanwhile, they’ve collectively spent nearly $1 million on the effort, and millions more may have to be spent in coming years.”

This goes back to my thoughts on the scapegoating of the poor, most especially poor minorities. It is minorities who are used as the symbol of and proxy for poverty, even as most poor people are white. It is poor minorities that get called welfare queens, even as most people on welfare are white. Besides, most people only go on welfare temporarily and most public assistance goes to people with employment.

The poor, of all races, are supposedly lazy. The more well off think that, if they just worked harder, all of their problems would be solved. That is obvious bullshit. As I’ve noted, the poor are the hardest working Americans around. The problem is that they are working too hard for too little.

The other trope is that the poor, especially those on welfare, are stuck in their situation because of low moral behavior. They are criminals, drug addicts, etc. We could argue about correlation versus causation. It is unsurprising that impoverished, unemployed, and sometimes homeless people turn to crime and even drugs. But what we should be careful about the assumptions we make. Why would we assume poor people are doing more drugs when drugs are an expensive habit?

Similarly, we find in reality that it isn’t poor minorities who use most of the drugs in our society. White people do as much or more drugs than minorities in general, although of course minorities get targeted, profiled, and arrested more for drug crimes. The wealthier demographics of our society have high rates of drug use, because of the simple reason that they can afford it and can avoid the legal consequences.

I’d like to see us do random drug testing of wealthy people. I bet the rates would be off the charts. Why the double standard?

When we consider other data, we find an interesting pattern. The poor are better at identifying the emotional experience of others, which is to say they are better at empathizing. Related to this, the poor give a higher percentage of their money to charity. If we are looking for undeserving moral reprobates, maybe conservatives are looking in the wrong place.

5 thoughts on “No, The Poor Aren’t Undeserving Moral Reprobates

    • I’d come across that book before. I think I first saw it because hbdchick mentioned it. For obvious reasons, it was popular in the HBD crowd. I looked at a bunch of reviews and decided it wasn’t worth my time.

      There were too many strong and compelling criticisms of the way the data was gathered, analyzed, and interpreted. Like HBDers the evidence was far too weak for the conclusions offered. It was yet more ideologically-driven speculation. I’ve grown weary of that kind of thing.

      Here is my take on this. If we had a functioning democracy and meritocracy, there would be extremely high social and economic mobility. But obviously the limited mobility we have seen and continue to see falls far short of the smoke that gets regularly blown up our asses.

      There is no genetic evidence to explain any of this. We already know many of the environmental factors involved. There has been a ton of research about systemic and structural biases. None of this is a secret, despite some people preferring to ignore it.

      That said, environmental factors are indirectly related to genetics by way of their expression. We know the powerful effect epigenetics can have across multiple generations and no one yet knows how far epigenetics can be carried from past events and conditions.

      Certainly, we know that a century or so of impact is simple to accomplish with epigenetics. We are influenced by the nutrition or malnutrition, the peace or trauma, etc our great grandparents experienced and maybe further back than that. All of that connects us back to such events as the Indian Wars, slavery, Potato Famine, and hundreds of other major events in recent history.

      No one is arguing the past can’t and doesn’t carry over into the present. It’s actually those arguing against genetic determinism who are the ones most willing to take the past seriously on its own terms, instead of rationalizing it away through just-so stories.

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