causation and the failure of social programs

I’m 24 right now and even five years ago, I used to think about how to cure poverty and had unorthodox theories on how it could be done. One of the things I thought was that billionaires should find a random hobo on the street and write them a million dollar check. These hobos would then do whatever it is they planned to do and then become billionaires and do the same thing to a hobo decades down the road. Eventually poverty would end. In my naivete, I thought it would take several years to burn through a million dollars and that many of these newly-minted millionaires would live quite well. My mom would always tell me to read the stories about lottery winners who blew it all and the more I read, the more I realized that owning a million dollars does not instantly turn you into a Romney or Bloomberg. I also found it quite interesting how people could blow a million dollars within a year.

I also used to think that way when it came to housing. I live in a small midwestern city and would drive through what was, by our standards, the ghetto. These homes were built in the early 20th century and were dilapidated and what have you. I instantly thought that the problem was relatively densely populated homes and subpar early 20th century architecture. In the newer areas, there were less trees and more open space and a sense of newness. I at one point envisioned a utopian idea where the homes in the ghetto would all be demolished and be replaced by mcmansions (much of which would take up 2-3 lot sizes). The former residents could live in them and the neighborhood would be prosperous.

In the midwest and the northeast much of the homes in the ghetto were built in the pre-Great Depression era and I always assumed that new homes=good and old homes=bad. The only exceptions would be the occasional wealthy neighborhood of old homes (think somewhere like the North Shore of Long Island in which some of the homes were built in the time of the Great Gatsby). Part of my skepticism of this claim came when I began to study history and demography of a few areas.
1) The areas considered ghetto in other cities like Phoenix where not many homes were built before the Depression. One of the areas considered ghetto was the Maryvale neighborhood which was originally a kind of Levittown.
2) the story of Pruitt Igoe in the St Louis area where new public housing buildings were built with all the modern things but by ten years or so, had become a nightmare. Within 20 years, the buildings had been abandoned and then demolished. (BTW with public housing units housing tens and thousands of people, it makes me wonder where they all went, maybe they went to places like Ferguson).

I’ve also watched a lot of TV shows on murders. Overtime, I tended to figure out the M.O. and behavior of the people who commit them. I began to think that one of the problems with people is having “champagne tastes on a beer budget”. In fact a lot of the time these people kill their spouses or what not to collect life insurance to get rid of their debt. Giving a homeless person a million dollars could be a horrific decision. I always found Michael Levin, who spoke at the early Amren conferences, to be a pompous ass, but he wrote something about how guns can be lethal when given to a person from a group who has never had any experience with it or has not built up a resistance to it.

The same thing can be said of giving money to people who haven’t “built up a resistance” to shopping sprees and what not. The idea of a “401K” or what not is too abstract. Another unfortunate realization from social science is that people who are poor and/or criminal are usually not victims of circumstance but think differently than the mostly law abiding upper classes. Lastly, when it comes to housing, the fact that the nastiest neighborhoods are densely populated and built in the early 20th century is really a matter of coincidence.

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One thought on “causation and the failure of social programs

  1. I used to think the same way you did. I think I thought everyone thought the exact same way as me. But it’s not the case, everyone thinks differently, the world is different inside everyone’s head, even if it’s the same outside.

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