POST HOC ERGO PROPTER HOC….2blowhards

POST HOC ERGO PROPTER HOC….2blowhards provides an almost unbeatable example today of lousy sociological analysis:

In the Wall Street Journal of 1/7/03, James Q. Wilson quotes William Galston, a former Clinton Administration official, on what I would call “the basics”:

To avoid poverty, do three things: finish high school, marry before having a child, and produce the child after you are 20 years old. Only 8% of people who do all three will be poor; of those who fail to do them, 79% will be poor.

Would it be so hard to incentivize these three behaviors?….

It’s stuff like this that makes people like me just scream at the entire profession of sociology sometimes (sorry, Kieran). Repeat after me: those three things do not cause poverty. Rather, they are the result of other factors that also cause poverty.

The real story is almost certainly that people who aren’t very bright, have lousy upbringings, and live in crappy neighborhoods tend to be poor. These same factors are also likely to produce teenagers who drop out of high school and have children out of wedlock. If you want to fix the problem, you have to attack the root causes, not the symptoms. And those symptons are both environmental and heritable.

Why do people write stuff like this?

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