Lefties Treading on HBD Territory


I suppose I could have also titled this post “Victory Lap”.

In any case, via Kevin Drum (Matt Yglesias as well), today I learn that teaching kids critical thinking skills, and working to eliminate hyperbolic discounting is very effective for preventing violent crime:

We find that participation reduced violent crime arrests by 8.1 arrests per 100 youth….Arrests in our “other” (non-violent, non-property, non-drug) category decreased by 11.5 arrests per 100 youth….Participation also led to lasting gains in an index of schooling outcomes equal to 0.14 standard deviations (sd) in the program year and 0.19sd in the follow-up year….We estimate our schooling impacts could imply gains in graduation rates of 3-10 percentage points (7-22 percent). With a cost of $1,100 per participant, depending on how we monetize the social costs of violent crime, the benefit-cost ratio is up to 30:1 just from effects on crime alone.

Study is here. Many of my own comments that conveniently line up well with the results of the study are here.

What I find really interesting about this is that the HBD guys have been making the case for teaching poor children what they term “middle class values” (and here) for years. Needless to say, this particular frame of the issue is certain to rub lefty-liberals the wrong way…but the results of the study are certainly consistent with what HBD’ers have been preaching.

I’ve gotten a lot of flack in various circles for suggesting that poor people suffer from hyperbolic discounting and poor critical thinking skills…but I’m glad to see this line of thinking gaining traction among the lefty intellectuals. Unfortunately, while these type of interventions are very cheap (so should be provided), they are very likely unscalable in a free society because of selection effects. The criminal justice system could circumvent that problem to a point — but often one bad mark can haunt someone forever, so that could be too late. HBD’ers get around the issue by advocating that this type of intervention be mandatory for poor people, but I’m not comfortable with that.

On a completely unrelated note, Kevin Drum also has an uncharacteristically bad post on medical care costs in which he seems to put on his “uncritical lefty rhetoric” hat to make an invalid point:

This doesn’t explain everything, but it explains a fair amount. The private sector, we’re told, is always more efficient than the public sector. Competition, you understand. But that doesn’t seem to be the case in the healthcare industry. I will allow you to draw your own conclusions.

Now lets put aside the comment about the private sector, because it’s simply invalid. Imagine that you are in a situation where you are solicited to serve two people. The first, because of varying circumstances, you are informally obligated to serve, but can only charge a fixed amount (by law) that is narrowly above profit margin. The second has a much less elastic demand curve (possibly perfectly inelastic?). As a rational businessperson, what do you do? Of course you make up the lost margin on person A by overcharging person B…

Now, I’m not saying this is what is happening (though I would say that it is almost certainly part of the issue). What I am saying is that the obvious answer isn’t the one that Drum is insinuating.

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2 thoughts on “Lefties Treading on HBD Territory

  1. “circles for suggesting that people *people* suffer from hyperbolic ”
    Did you mean to write *poor* in place of people?

    Anyways, as you I’m sceptical about these interventions as you are…Its somehow as if Hitler decided that jews are going to be “re-educated” with real “german” values because the society will be better off for some reason…
    OK….I went to far here.

    Anyways, thnx for this and other interesting posts.

    1. Thanks for the heads up!

      There are so many moving parts when it comes to poverty that if we are going to treat people with even a semblance of autonomy it becomes a genuinely intractable problem. That’s why I always default a position of provide subsidy to income, and high quality public services, and let the chips fall where they may.

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