Sunday, June 14, 2015

Does Not Equal Causality

Debate foul: Posing a question, but not answering it.
As I've noted before, when I was younger my father taught me that in activism motivating people is considered more important than educating them. This picture, which came to me via my Google+ stream, strikes me as an example of that. is interesting, but when you actually read the research on child poverty in Finland, these aren't the reasons cited. Instead you have things like "Studies of intergenerational persistence in Finland suggest that, compared to non-Nordic countries, Finland has relatively low persistence of income between generations," or "The difference between the Nordic countries, Finland included, and the United States, is particularly pronounced among sons of the most disadvantaged fathers," things that likely have little or nothing to do with a "Youth Parliament."

I'm all in favor of reducing the child poverty rate in the United States. But things like this, which are designed to make progressives feel good, while being unrelated to the actual factors involved, are not helpful. (It's also slightly inaccurate in its implications. Finland does not pay a basic income to minors. Instead the parents of children are overrepresented in transfer payments, representing income for minors, but which is different than direct cash payments to minors. So the picture of the girl holding dollars [which I'm pretty sure are not commonly used in Finland] likely comes from the person who assembled this collage misinterpreting the statement.)

What drives child poverty in Finland isn't really any different from what drives it in the United States: raising children on a single income and/or with a low level of educational attainment. But there's nothing in the picture about helping parents to find work or become better educated. And nothing about the stratification of marriage that tends to mean that low-income people find themselves establishing households with other low-income people.

When I look at the United States what I see is a nation that still behaves, in some ways, as if it were the 1950s. And it's the failure of social institutions to adapt to the reality they currently find themselves in that drives social problems. While I'm not going to hold up The Brady Bunch as a documentary, it's interesting in that it represents what the United States, at times, still seems to want to see itself as. Mike Brady was able to support a stay-at-home wife, six children and a live-in housekeeper in his salary. Under those circumstances, single parenting, lack of child care or Carol's level of education simply aren't issues. But that's not the world we currently live in. And adopting the policies that Finland has is not likely to change that.

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