20 June 2018

Not An Excuse But An Explanation

A piece in "The Week" by Matthew Walther offers an explanation for how "deplorable" Trump supporters got to be so heartless that deserves attention. I quote it at length because the points made are so critical to understanding the deep roots of the political divide in our nation and a political culture whose disregard for established norms has thrust our nation into a crisis.
You are also very likely to hear a defense of the policy from the average Trump supporter in the rural Midwest. Here in the bowels of Trump country, when the administration eventually reverses course, upsetting only Ann Coulter and a handful of contributors to Conservative Review, the images of sobbing children in metal boxes will have cost the president nothing. There are any number of reasons for this, many of which have to do with the ability of many voters to pretend that one or more of the non-arguments proffered above is convincing. But there are other, more important, reasons for this that are mostly invisible to members of my profession.

One is that in many parts of the country where Trump enjoys wide support, the invasiveness of Child Protective Services is a fact of life. Everyone here knows what it is like to see their children or grandchildren or their nephews and nieces taken away, frequently for nonsensical and capricious reasons. The women my wife sees enjoying weekly supervised visits with their children at the local public library in our small Michigan town live in childless homes because their toddler fell down once or because a member of their family was convicted of taking or selling drugs. Parenting is something they have learned to conceive of as a kind of privilege rather than as a right. 
They are accustomed to other sorts of random cruelties as well. Many of them live every day with the harassment of police officers, the condescension of teachers and social workers and the rest of the educational and public health bureaucracy, the leers of judges, the scolding of doctors and nurses, the incompetence of Veterans Affairs, even the smirks of grocery store clerks who seem to think that a woman who buys a case of beer while her children are in the shopping cart or when she is using food stamps to purchase her other groceries belong to a lower order of mammals. 
Their manners have been barbarized almost beyond description. Just the other day I was walking next to my older daughter, who is 2 and a half, while she rode her tricycle. Eventually we came to a crosswalk and waited for the signal; when it appeared a pick-up truck that had missed the light came within two feet of hitting us. When I looked up at the driver he rolled down his window screamed, "Next time I'll just run your f--kin' kid over!" (He declined my invitation to pull over and further discuss the matter with me on the sidewalk.) Incidents like this are a wholly unremarkable feature of life in a world in which even the casual inconvenience of having to wait five seconds at a stoplight can give rise to quasi-homocidal rage and the ludicrous sense of power that comes from being behind the wheel of an automobile when there are pedestrians present is intoxicating.

How did this happen? It is almost impossible to give a succinct account, but any meaningful answer would involve the endlessly disruptive pace of modern life, the rise of the internet, the decline of religion, the disappearance of meaningful work, drug and alcohol abuse, and the resilience of atavistically crude manners. 
None of this should be taken to suggest that the people I am talking about — even the one who almost ran over my daughter — are especially wicked. Anyone with a shred of empathy can see where most of these things come from. But there is a mode of politics in this country that appeals to the brokenness of their lives, the fracturing and poisoning of their imaginations, one that involves an affirmation of the thuggishness and despair with which they are so familiar and a suggestion that these feelings are the basis upon which a society might be organized. It did not begin with the rise of Trump. One could argue that it goes back to opposition to the civil rights movement or to the Know-Nothings or the anti-Federalists, all the way back to Cain and Abel, but I think in its modern incarnation it came into being with the Tea Party.
This is the story of people who don't care about others because they are so resentful of the treatment that they feel that they unjustifiably receive. Most of it flows from poverty. Most of the poverty flows from lacking the education and cultural capital necessary to function in a productive manner in modern society.

It is no longer possible for people with marginal functional literacy, who is disinclined to be docile at a desk or computer all day, who doesn't respect and tolerate others, to function in our economy.

Opportunities for unskilled laborers or blue collar workers to make a living have gone away with the manufacturing industry. Their unemployment rates are higher than everyone else's. They become physically unable to work in their customary profession far younger due to the toll that physical labor takes on your body and the demands your body must be able to manage to do that work.

Our society no longer needs what white working class men did for generations, and those men have mostly failed to find good alternatives. Yet, their options aren't great. Not everyone is capable of being book smart, and those who are leave the places they grew up and find greener pastures elsewhere.

Stretches of unemployment and depression further untether them from civilized society. The good manners that flow from knowing you can be fired without cause at any time whither away swiftly when you have nothing left to lose.

This piece doesn't offer a solution. But, it does ring true. Walther has accurately discerned, I think, where this seemingly unfathomable mass insanity and cauldron of hate comes from in the modern United States.

We know from the World Value Survey that poverty and uncertainty drive conservative values, while affluence and security creates liberals. So, in the long run, the way to change hearts and minds is to replace poverty with affluence and uncertainty with security.

In all likelihood, this isn't going to happen with the free market alone, which is doing exactly what it is designed to do when it harshly punishes people who can't contribute what the market needs, while rewarding handsomely people who do.

19 June 2018

Environmental Factors Influence IQ

There has been a great deal of skepticism expressed that education has any impact on IQ, but a large meta-analysis of research studies suggests that education does significantly increase IQ. 
Intelligence test scores and educational duration are positively correlated. This correlation could be interpreted in two ways: Students with greater propensity for intelligence go on to complete more education, or a longer education increases intelligence. We meta-analyzed three categories of quasiexperimental studies of educational effects on intelligence: those estimating education-intelligence associations after controlling for earlier intelligence, those using compulsory schooling policy changes as instrumental variables, and those using regression-discontinuity designs on school-entry age cutoffs. Across 142 effect sizes from 42 data sets involving over 600,000 participants, we found consistent evidence for beneficial effects of education on cognitive abilities of approximately 1 to 5 IQ points for an additional year of education. Moderator analyses indicated that the effects persisted across the life span and were present on all broad categories of cognitive ability studied. Education appears to be the most consistent, robust, and durable method yet to be identified for raising intelligence.
Stuard J. Ritchie and Elliot M. Tucker-Drob, "How Much Does Education Improve Intelligence? A Meta-Analysis" Psychological Science (June 18, 2018).

This is in line with recent research on the Flynn Effect and Anti-Flynn Effect which shows that changes nationwide in average intelligence are driven by environmental factors.
Using administrative register data with information on family relationships and cognitive ability for three decades of Norwegian male birth cohorts, we show that the increase, turning point, and decline of the Flynn effect can be recovered from within-family variation in intelligence scores. This establishes that the large changes in average cohort intelligence reflect environmental factors and not changing composition of parents, which in turn rules out several prominent hypotheses for retrograde Flynn effects. 
Population intelligence quotients increased throughout the 20th century—a phenomenon known as the Flynn effect—although recent years have seen a slowdown or reversal of this trend in several countries. To distinguish between the large set of proposed explanations, we categorize hypothesized causal factors by whether they accommodate the existence of within-family Flynn effects. Using administrative register data and cognitive ability scores from military conscription data covering three decades of Norwegian birth cohorts (1962–1991), we show that the observed Flynn effect, its turning point, and subsequent decline can all be fully recovered from within-family variation. The analysis controls for all factors shared by siblings and finds no evidence for prominent causal hypotheses of the decline implicating genes and environmental factors that vary between, but not within, families.
Bernt Bratsberg and Ole Rogeberg, "Flynn effect and its reversal are both environmentally caused" PNAS (June 11, 2018) https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1718793115 (pay per view).

Of course, it has always been uncontroversial that negative environmental factors like pre-natal nutritional deficiencies and lead poisoning in children can lead to lower IQ. 

Probably the most mainstream position is that genetics quite strongly predict maximum intelligence, and that environmental factors, including lack of exposure to the quality education necessary to nurture your potential IQ, can prevent you from reaching your potential.

But since adequate education is so widespread in developed countries where nutrition and other heath factors that reduce IQ are rare for much of the population, our inaccurate intuition from data in these places is that environment plays a relatively minor role in determining IQ. This also leads us to underestimate the genetic IQ potential of populations abroad and domestically that suffer environmental impairments to IQ.