Why Poor People Stay Poor

Hazards hamper the ability of many to lift themselves out.


Credit: _overfly_ / photo on flickr

In the 1970s, crime was soaring, and American policymakers had all sorts of ideas for how to reduce it: longer sentences, more police, prison reform and more. But one of the most potent remedies was not conceived as a way to combat crime. 

To clean up the environment and improve public health, the federal government banned lead in paint and gasoline. By diminishing lead, though, it reduced the harm it was doing to young brains—harm that could push kids into delinquency. Curbing lead exposure was a big reason for the decline in violent crime that began in the 1990s. 

Americans regard theirs as the land of opportunity, which makes the persistence of black poverty baffling and even exasperating. After all, the road out of permanent destitution is not hard to identify. Why do so many people refuse to take it? 

Rick Santorum made this point when he ran for president in 2012. Experts, he asserted, have documented that as a rule, you have to do just three things to avoid poverty: "work, graduate from high school and get married before you have children." 

There's much value in that formula. But putting it to use requires certain capacities. What research has starkly revealed is that poverty and other problems afflicting many black neighborhoods have a way of stunting the attributes needed to overcome them.

There is a biology of poverty that is not easy to overcome. 

One of the things you need to pull yourself up is a healthy brain. But poor people can't take that as a given. One enemy of sound mental function is lead, which seriously impairs cognitive development. 

In 1995, as the Chicago Tribune's Michael Hawthorne recently reported, more than 80 percent of kids in some of Chicago's poorest areas had dangerously high lead levels. If you know the rate of lead poisoning among children younger than 6 in a Chicago neighborhood in 1995, he found, you can predict with uncanny accuracy its current rate of violent crime. 

The kids whose brains were attacked by lead back then are now young adults. Many of them show the effects in lower intelligence and less self-control. Even today, poor African-American areas are unusually prone to lead poisoning. 

But lead is just one of several hazards. Blacks are far likelier than other groups to live in areas of concentrated poverty. They pay a high price for that luxury. 

A study this year in the journal Nature Neuroscience found that poor children, on average, actually have smaller brains than affluent ones. New York University sociologist Patrick Sharkey concludes that "the effect of being raised in a family that lives in a poor neighborhood over two consecutive generations is roughly equivalent to missing two to four years of schooling." 

Kids raised in these places suffer other problems besides material deprivation. Poor parents are less likely to read to and talk with their children. Violence is far more common than in other places, and violence has invisible but severe consequences—not just on direct victims but on other residents. 

Children who feel unsafe at school, who are disproportionately black, do measurably worse academically. Those who witness shootings or suffer violent attacks may develop post-traumatic stress disorder. 

Chronic violence carries hazards for the mind, as well as the body. "Simply put," writes Princeton sociologist Douglas Massey, "people who are exposed to high levels of stress over a prolonged period of time are at risk of having their brains rewired in a way that leaves them with fewer cognitive resources to work." 

Having fewer cognitive resources makes it harder to do those three things Santorum recommended. Getting and keeping a job is harder—and the job you get will pay less than it might otherwise. Completing high school is harder. Exercising self-discipline and using contraception are harder. 

It may be said in response that many whites and immigrants managed to overcome humble beginnings. That's true. But most of them didn't have to grow up in places where poverty, environmental contamination and gunplay were as pervasive as they are in many urban black areas. 

Some kids can triumph over all these. But the chronic onslaught of adversity ensures that many, if not most, will be tripped up. 

When these young people fail, a lot of Americans will blame them for not doing simple, obvious things to improve their lives. In reality, much of their fate is beyond their control. 

© Copyright 2015 by Creators Syndicate Inc.

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  1. Interesting. I had not realized that lead was still such a problem. It’s a good chunk of what brought down the Roman Empire. All of those ubiquitous aqueducts were lined with lead.

    What can we, as individuals, do about it? Are there any national groups working on it?

    1. What can you do?
      Don’t let the paint in and around your house get chipped, and replace copper pipe that was installed before the mid 80s with cheap and easy to install Pex.

      Unless you live in Chicago which doesn’t allow Pex since the plumbers and pipefitters union own a fairly large number of shares in city government. (Cheap and easy to install = less hours to bill a customer…can’t have that)

      1. you said: “chipped”

        1. He made no reference to wood or the machine-assisted chipping thereof, so I believe we’re in the clear.

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            ????????????? http://www.pay-buzz.com

      2. What does old copper pipe have to do with lead exposure?

        1. Lead solder. Though I don’t think very much lead leaches out from that. Brass plumbing fittings still usually have some lead in them, I think.

          Paint is the big one. The lead oxide is much more readily absorbed.

          1. I think it depends a great deal on the PH of the water flowing through how much leaches out.

            There really isn’t that much solder in a house, and the surface area where water actually contacts the solder is really quite minimal.

            I’d wager you come into contact with more lead handling ammo.

            I mention it only because to the lead freaks, any amount of lead 0 = mortal danger

          2. I was always taught to run my water for a minute in the morning to clear out the leady water. Was this bad advice?

            1. Makes sense to me

        2. Lead in the soldered joints?

        3. Lead in the solder that joins it.

        4. When I was growing up, hot water from the tap was never ingested. If a person needed warm or hot water for something, he took water from the cold tap and heated it over the fire and later microwaves were insanely popular, thankfully a rather brief span. Still, it was common wisdom that the heated water could leach out lead from the solder, and so shouldn’t be drunk. Oddly, I later lived amongst more urbanised folk, and they generally had no awareness of the possibility of getting some extra lead by ingested hot tap water, whereas I went through some kind of culture shock watching people with regularity use the hot water tap as a source for heated water for consumption. As far as there’s any truth to it, it could just be that I was raised amongst ignorant hillbillies who had some crasy notion about lead in the water and there is in fact no increased likelihood of greater contamination in hot water lines versus cold; in which case the city folk wasn’t aware of it because they were better educated and not so hornswogglable by that load of hogwash.

          1. Though it’s worth noting that whenever my surprise lead to an actual discussion about it with some urban man sucking on the hot water tap, it seemed like the city man wasn’t just immune to this particular old wive’s tale but was in fact shockingly ignorant of the danger of lead poisoning in general. Strange to be common knowledge in an unpopulated rural country but rarely thought on in dense urban milieux where lead toxicity is much more likely to be a problem.

            Another similar thing I noticed about tuberculosis. I never heard of a case of it where I grew up, but there was a rigid taboo against spitting on the street, commonly taken as a way of potentially spreading the disease. But then I meet people from Seattle and Portland, where this actually happens, and not only is there no taboos about it but they seem to be universally ignorant that spitting in the street may help spread the disease. Skinner’s theory about the propagation of successful cultural elements must be gone seriously wrong somewhere.

    2. Actually I thought we tore down all the lead-infested slums and ghettos (with their intact communities) and replaced them with one-size-fits-all government housing projects, where welfare recipients could live together without the negative influence of working stiffs. Of course the working poor had far fewer jobs because the barrio’s businesses were destroyed along with the housing, and enlightened zoning laws prohibited new businesses. (Except for illegal drug sales.)

      Sort of like the “reservations” where we stored the native Americans.

      What could go wrong?

    3. It seems to me that this is one area where we could eliminate the tilted playing field that we currently provide to slumlords. The problems are concentrated in particular neighborhoods. Those are neighborhoods where very few people actually own their own housing. And where the tax code often rewards big property owners who don’t maintain their property safely and penalizes big property owners who upgrade their property to be safe. ‘Safety’ simply becomes a negative market externality – borne by the residents of that neighborhood.

      This is actually where a Georgist-type ‘land value tax’ is far far superior to the current ‘property tax’ and federal tax deductions. But not many modern libertarians understand that Henry George was really a classical liberal. And big property owners – not just slumlords – will oppose a land value tax with every bone in their body and every politician that they own.

      1. As an aside – ‘public housing’ (ie government-owned housing) was NOT a creation of those looking to make housing ‘safer’. It was created as an exit strategy for slumlords and by slumlords. They can let the property decay and extract all the tax deductions and cash flow. And when they’ve sucked it all dry, they can extract a higher price for the property in court or by selling it to government. And let taxpayers foot the bill for ‘rebuilding’. If government does successfully ‘rebuild’ (unlikely – but play along and pretend its possible); then there will be a move to privatize that now-safe property for a cheap price – and then rinse and repeat.

    4. “What can we, as individuals, do about it?”

      Stop eating the lead paint. I know it sounds easy to most of us, but it’s hard for somebody whose brain has got rewired by years of abuse to just stop eating the lead paint.

  2. Yeah, it’s a real crime that we invented lead in the 50’s and forcibly installed it in all black dwellings. Same thing with gun violence. This is weapons grade stupudity and excuse making.

    1. Stupidity even. I hate phones.

      1. No shit man. Looks like this guy should go back to the left, where whining and making ridiculous excuses takes the place of reason.

    2. ^^Amen to this.

    3. My sister raised two eventual college students for 21 years in a crappy old house her husband anad she were too lazy to repaint over the interior lead. She just made sure they didn’t eat chips.

      1. +1 Frito Bandito

      2. Also, I believe I read that vacuuming to remove dust from old paint can help.

        1. Vacuuming and washing things makes a huge difference.

    4. It’s stupid to dismiss it completely too. Whatever the reasons and whatever government involvement there should or shouldn’t be, lead can be a big problem for children who live in old, poorly maintained housing. No one forced lead paint on black people and of course it was around before. But now exposure to lead paint dust is primarily a problem for poorer people. And it is associated with reduced intelligence and increased proclivity toward violence.

      It is probably one reason behind the situation that exists. Whether anyone uses it as an excuse is entirely irrelevant.

      1. And yet for most of the 20th century rich and poor had essentially the same exposure to lead. Yes, it’s stupid to claim that this is significantly causal. This is simply another excuse to avoid any personal responsibility.

  3. “Curbing lead exposure was a big reason for the decline in violent crime that began in the 1990s.”

    Fuck that, steve. Those laws were just another example of the federal government sticking its hob-nailed boot into the neck of American business. How many unintended consequences resulted from this bit of government overreach, I wonder? The problem of 9-month olds licking walls filled with lead should have been solved by the free market– which makes everything better

    1. You’re right, what the poor need are bigger and bigger governments that overreach into the lives of the individual! This is the prescription of the Democratic Party, after all. Cities like Baltimore, Detroit and New York are one party, the Democratic Party, cities. And just look at at the prosperity blacks living there enjoy under these great centralized governments!

      1. The poor receive very, very, very little assistance from all of the costly programs that the dems put in place in these places. The corrupt elected officials steal the vast majority of the funds. This is just another reason why no matter how much more spending they pass into law, nothing ever improves for the families that are supposed to be helped.

    2. Oh, and before I forget, fuck off, asshat.

    3. much better to foist the war on poverty on blacks. That turned out well, didn’t it? The black father, virtually made extinct. Rates of single-parent birth, incarceration, dropping out, and unemployment wildly at odds with percentage of population as a whole. Even accounting for disparities in the judicial system, you are left with the result of foreseeable consequences.

      1. This. It comes down to Occam’s razor. Why go looking for answers in lead or alleged black genetic inferiority when such an obvious answer is starting you in the face?

      2. Presenting the toxicity of lead, as though it were as much of a problem for the development of children into healthy adults as social programs and rampant violence towards children… well that’s just a Steve Chapman thing to do. It’s a cop out. “The blacks can’t help themselves. At fault here is a great deal of lead poisoning and other infrastructure that they didn’t build. They as a group have very little self-ownership or responsibility.” But lefty culture warriorism is deceptively racist, so it’s what you get from Chapman.

    4. Curbing lead exposure was a big reason for the decline in violent crime that began in the 1990s

      Correlation does not equal causation

      1. This is true, but not terribly relevant. Correlation is one clue to where a causal relation exists. And causation does imply correlation. Lead exposure early in life really does cause big problems with intelligence and self control. It would be very surprising if reducing lead exposure didn’t have something to do with declines in violence.

  4. Why Poor People Stay Poor

    Because Koch brothers?

    1. They lack the motivation of well-whipped orphans

  5. “Curbing lead exposure was a big reason for the decline in violent crime that began in the 1990s.”

    Wait, I thought it was the rise in abortions after Roe.

    1. Yeah, I’m willing to buy into some of these assertions – lead poisoning causing cognitive impairments – but I need more legitimate sources.

      I’m pretty sure the decline in violent crime had a lot to do with 1)demographics (including the availability of abortion and birth control) 2) changes in policing (broken windows) and more incarcerations 3) welfare reform.

      What explains the persistent poverty in places like Appalachia? Lead paint?

      I’m from a long line of WV hillbillies who lived in poverty for generations, and, yet, I’d bet a large amount of money that if you measured our IQ’s as a group they’d be average or above average. I have a brother serving 8 years in a WA state prison and I’m sure his IQ is above 120+. I know the plural of anecdote is data – yada, yada, yada, but crime, violence and scamming SS disability can be challenging and hard work.

      1. The intelligence of criminals who game the system never ceases to amaze me.

        Take for instance those who file fraudulent IRS returns and make off with hundreds of thousands of dollars in fraudulent refunds- they come up with ingenious methods of throwing off the systems that review returns, and even more crafty methods of laundering the money so that they get away clean.

        1. Go on…

          *starts taking notes and becomes misty eyed at the prospect of expanding the family business*

          1. D. Ray White was supposedly brilliant at gaming the welfare system.

          2. If he does go on I think he probably has to kill you.

            /rewinds mob movies to such scenes.

        2. There are a lot of intelligent criminals out there. There are even more extremely stupid ones.

        3. The IRS’s trifecta of incompetence, laziness and indifference didn’t hurt either. I went to a fraud meeting given by the IRS (I work for a financial institution) and asked how thousands of tax refunds could be mailed to a single address and was told “We don’t check that.” The guy didn’t even have the self respect to be embarrassed. They put the responsibility for catching these asshats on financial institutions (don’t get me started) and then turned around and started issuing tax refunds on debit cards. And then they sent thousands of debit cards to a single address. Think about the level of stupid it takes to be an IRS employee. And they don’t even have the excuse of being exposed to lead paint.

          1. There was a four bedroom house in Lansing MI that received over 2700 individual tax refund checks totaling over $3.2 million combined.

            A four bedroom house.

            Part of the reason why the IRS has this problem is that Congress implemented a law that requires the IRS to get us our refund checks within 45 days of receiving the return. The IRS has openly admitted they are unable to meet this standard so their answer is to just mail out refunds without verifying any of the info on the return first.

            Problem solved!

        4. Most criminals probably aren’t that intelligent. They learn these methods of playing the system from other people.

      2. Thing is, lead was fucking everywhere before 1978, yet people all over the country managed to escape poverty and have decent lives. It strikes me as a wholly insufficient explanation.

        1. Lead continues to be all over China and yet if you attend an engineering Ph.D. program anywhere in the U.S., half of your peers will be from the most lead-stricken areas of China.

      3. I’d have to read up on the history of lead paint, but I can’t imagine that the large increase in crime the US experienced during the 60 and 70’s had much to do with an increase in lead paint (or decrease in abortions) so I’m inclined to think their overall effect was probably marginal.

        I think it primarily comes down to more difficult to quantify (and talk about) data like social and legal changes, so we look to finding “magic buttons” like lead paint.

        1. I’m pretty sure it’s about underclass culture. Now, there maybe some biological commonalities or correlations but they may be explainable by the interaction of nature/nurture.

          1. Of course it’s underclass culture, which is relatively huge among the Scots-Irish (Appalachians, predominately) and blacks.

            Talking about it, at least in reference to blacks, is a huge no-no though, so we focus on stuff like lead paint.

        2. My guess is beginning of War on Poverty+ramping up of War on Drugs+ beefing stages of decline of manufacturing

          1. “My guess is beginning of War on Poverty+ramping up of War on Drugs+ beefing stages of decline of manufacturing”

            Yeah possibly, good luck getting all of that into a chart though.

            1. And we wonder why we keep going around and around the mountain with one side talking about lead paint chips and und other side coming up with racist theories of black genetic inferiority.

              We line in a sound bite culture, but problems have more complex explanations.

              1. You can say that again.

                1. Yeah, damn squirrels are extra hungry today

            2. And we wonder why we keep going around and around the mountain with one side talking about lead paint chips and und other side coming up with racist theories of black genetic inferiority.

              We line in a sound bite culture, but problems have more complex explanations.

  6. In reality, much of their fate is beyond their control.

    This article is confused and makes weak assertions. In the third to last paragraph poverty and race are conflated. Most poor people in America are white. People make decisions. Most people in this country can make good decisions and never be without food or housing no matter where they started from. Even the homeless where I live have access to job assistance, bank accounts, clean water, and daily meals. It’s just that for some of them falling asleep to a pint of vodka is less work than all that.

    I vehemently disagree that people in poverty don’t make choices. Either all of us make our own choices or none of us do. To say that certain underprivileged people have no faculty for decision-making seems like a trot down the road to progressive eugenics.

    1. The problem is the social construct which denies that people make decisions. Every difficulty arises from people believing that they or others are mindless automata controlled by the course of events.

  7. One of the things you need to pull yourself up is a healthy brain.

    Now you’ve done it, Chapman. You’ve gone and othered the brain-damaged, thereby making them feel unsafe. Give yourself a time out.

    1. This is your brain.
      This is your brain on poverty.
      Any questions?

      1. *reads handle above, give power salute*

  8. Lead abatement is a good thing. The sad thing is it’s also pretty damn easy to deal with without full-on removal, at least as far as paint is concerned. Literally all you have to do is paint over it with any modern non-lead paint and provide proper upkeep to your living environment.

  9. So basically, this article is arguing that democrats are poisoning black children on purpose by keeping them trapped in the inner city ghettos by subjecting them to complete dependence on government assistance?

    Can’t we just sue the democrats in an international court for crimes against humanity?

    1. Hahahaha!

      “[D]emocrats are poisoning black children on purpose by keeping them trapped in the inner city ghettos by subjecting them to complete dependence on government assistance” should be the LP’s campaign.

  10. One thing left out of the article is that US government policy after WWII has been to perform “slum clearances”, kicking people out of homes they owned and the concentrating poor people in the projects.

    1. Wasn’t it Milton Friedman who said Housing and Urban Development destroyed more housing units than it ever built?

    2. Don’t forget the other post-WWII US government policy to spray government housing projects with radioactive flakes to experiment on the local population’s resistance to radiation poisoning. (spoiler; they weren’t very resistant.)


  11. Why do poor people stay poor? Because they spend all their money. It’s that simple.

    1. Rich people stay rich because they keep doing the same things that made them rich in the first place. So poor people stay poor because they…

      1. So how do half of all lottery winners lose their fortunes then?

        1. They stop playing the lottery, duh.

          1. +23 44 21 12 53 3

        2. the same way large numbers of professional athletes are broke within years of retirement from their sport. It’s not a money issue.

        3. They didn’t earn the money and thus don’t value it the way they would had they done so.

          Much in the same way entitlement recipients treat their “free money.”

      2. So how do half of all lottery winners lose their fortunes then?

        1. Because they, being poor people who stay poor by spending all their money, spend all their money.

        2. Poor people win a lot of money, then do all the things that made them poor in the first place.

        3. Same reason my so many professional athletes lose their fortunes. They spend it all.

          1. dammit, sarc. Beat me to it

        4. Because they don’t know the difference between a bank account and a woodchipper.

        5. It isn’t just lottery winners. Money is easy to spend, particularly if you’ve never had any before. People who come into a windfall mean to just spend a little but for the first time in their lives they can buy whatever they want and before they know it they get carried away. Buying a big house gets them every time. The taxes and utilities eat them alive. You wouldn’t believe how many people I’ve seen get a large inheritance and be flat broke by the end of the year.

    2. Rich people stay rich because they keep doing the same things that made them rich in the first place. So poor people stay poor because they…

    3. And they can’t earn money lest CPS steals their children and they suffer high legal fees.

      1. They can earn money. The just have to spend it all in order to keep the government checks coming in. If they were to live below their means, and set a bit aside every week, they would soon accumulate enough wealth to disqualify themselves from assistance. This is how government programs perpetuate poverty.

        1. that just means the government needs to increase the amount of each check. then the poor could save.

        2. that just means the government needs to increase the amount of each check. then the poor could save.

          1. Nope. There is literally a $2000 limit on accumulated assets, and you lose a bunch of your benefits if you go over. I work as a recovery counselor, and every few months I need to encourage my thriftier clients to domine so they won’t lose their Medicaid and SSI.

            It is very close to the stupidest system imaginable.

            1. That’s absolutely insane. And it’s not adjusted for inflation either?

            2. There is literally a $2000 limit on accumulated assets, and you lose a bunch of your benefits if you go over.

              Before I met my wife she was a single mother on hard times, and she went to see about getting some housing assistance. They told her that she had too much assets and made too much money, but if she sold her car and quit one of her jobs that they’d put her in the back of the line. She told them to screw.

              1. Samething with my parents. They had a mortgage. They told them they had to lose the house before they could get assistance.

              2. My neighbors have two kids and were actually told by the local welfare department that if they maintain separate mailing addresses and never get married, she’ll get paid to be a single mom.

                My local welfare office just loves to encourage people to get on the doll and stay there. They actually post advertisements for their programs at the local liquor store.

                1. Isn’t that illegal someway, somehow for them to do that?

                  1. Isn’t that illegal someway, somehow for them to do that?

                    Laws don’t apply to government employees. You should know this by now.

                  2. Isn’t that illegal someway, somehow for them to do that?

                    Sarc might be on to something there. But in this case, I’m not sure the same laws apply when the extortionist agency isn’t federal. To be honest I’m not sure if it’s kosher with state of Ohio or local laws, but they certainly have no qualms about it. Nor does the notoriously pro-government local paper or the local prosecutor’s office.

            3. It is very close to the stupidest system imaginable.

              Not if you’re the party that gets to benefit from vote farming…

    4. I have a former friend that I got fucking sick of hearing complain about how much money I had, when our annual incomes were close to the same.

      I finally told him to fuck off because it isn’t my “fault” that I didn’t blow $50k over the last 25 years on cable TV. (I blew less money on other entertainment, but then he also blew roughly the same amount on additional entertainment.)

      1. I look at people who eat out a lot and wonder how they can afford it. You can buy a week’s worth of groceries for what it costs to eat dinner at a decent restaurant.

        1. But but but… food deserts.

    5. Why do they spend all their money?

      1. Because that’s what poor people do. Back in my restaurant days, I would work with guys who were always broke on payday. Always. And they had nothing to show for it. I always had money left over. Many of them made more money than me, but they still managed to spend it all. Every. Single. Week. They could have been making a hundred grand a year and they’d still be broke on payday.

  12. Creating a ‘Crisis’ on Poverty

    Something must be done! About it! Whatever that is! Soon!

    1. The state should remove these children from these neighborhoods and hand them over to wealthy families, and offer wealthy families (those families with over twenty million dollars in assets and/or over one million dollars in income) a one million dollar annual tax credit for adopting children from these neighborhoods.

  13. What a great article. Perfect for an example of “privilege” and how it isn’t about you as a person but simply recognizing that life may not be as easy for others.

  14. The state should remove these children from these neighborhoods and hand them over to wealthy families, and offer wealthy families (those families with over twenty million dollars in assets and/or over one million dollars in income) a one million dollar annual tax credit for adopting children from these neighborhoods.

    1. I guess that’s a logical conclusion if you accept the continued pervasive intrusion of government into raising children.

      1. Steve Chapman exposed a crisis here, and explained its causes. The solution is obvious; we can end this problem once and for all. We just need the will to do what is necessary.

        1. The final solution is obvious; we can end this problem once and for all. We just need the will to do what is necessary.

          Try it with a German accent.

    2. +1 different strokes

  15. …And our top story tonight. Libertarian writer takes nose out of Austrian economics textbook, looks around, and observes that poverty may in fact have an environmental or sociological cause and may not solely be caused by one’s own moralistic failings.

    Don’t miss our 11 o’clock broadcast when nick Gillespie debates just how fascist school free lunch programs are– Francisco Franco bad or Adolf hitler bad?

    1. This is so stupid. Imagine you wake up with nothing. I can either curse my fuckoff hippie parents and paint chips or I can fucking do something about it. I maintain that people make decisions.

      I think if there’s real inequality in this country. And that inequality is environmental. The environment is created by the parents. And yet I know people who have dipshit lousy parents and manage to not be poor. Perhaps they made good choices despite starting at a disadvantage.

    2. Welp, your tedious attempts at snark have convinced me! Only government action can save these poor, helpless black folks from the dehumanizing environments into which they’ve been crammed by government action.

      1. I can’t wait for the government to do something about poverty too! Oh, if there were only programs out there to help them! Maybe we should start a war on poverty, too!

      2. The state could remove the children, and offer rich people an annual million dollar tax credit for adopting them. Imagine this, wiping out intergenerational poverty in less than two decades. What would be the downside?

        1. Uh developing a government mechanism that takes children away from their families based on subjective criteria is a pretty fucking huge downside, holmes.

          Not that such things don’t currently happen anyway.

          1. why not rely on the objective criteria in this article?

            1. Wait a minute, are you actually being serious? Fucking Poe’s Law, making it impossible to differentiate attempted ‘Modest Proposals’ from actual totalitarian awfulness.

        2. an annual million dollar tax credit

          Well, let’s say we have a million kids who get sold, err, adopted, in exchange for this tax credit.

          That would be, carry the 1,

          1 trillion dollars per year [puts pinky to corner of mouth].

          Yeah, that’ll work.

      3. and who can argue with the results of these govt actions? Other than rational people.

        Have we reached the point where it’s time to ask if the outcomes are not what was intended all along?

    3. “poverty may in fact have an environmental or sociological cause and may not solely be caused by one’s own moralistic failings”

      That is some PROFOUND shit right there. Deep, bro

      1. Not really. Some people though just don’t seem to understand that a person may be poor and not lack fundamentally good morals, a work ethic, and the ability to get along with others. My own father comes to mind.

        1. Well, if he had all those things, he certainly did a bang-up job passing them onto you…

          1. No, don’t you see? Our socialist friend is explaining, in a roundabout way, that he ate an enormous amount of paint chips as a kid. All is illuminated!

        2. and taxpayers should pay for them because?

        3. More often than not it’s the work ethic.

          And don’t conflate the poor lazy smuck with the hard working poor.

    4. poverty may in fact have an environmental or sociological cause

      Here’s the thing:

      If poverty has an environmental or sociological cause, you know what that means?

      Since I’m not “the environment” or “the society” – just being little old me – that would mean that I personally didn’t cause anyone’s poverty.

      Thank you for relieving me of the moral burden of dealing with the poverty of others.

      I can now ignore the poor with complete aplomb.

      1. You know your Dad was a lead-based paint salesman. Own your guilt!

    5. Libertarian writer takes nose out of Austrian economics textbook,

      Are you actually claiming that Steve Chapman favors Austrian economics?

  16. If Martin Luther King, Jr. were alive today and saw what has become of black culture, he’d shoot himself.

    1. Again with the lead poisoning!

    2. you really did not mean: “shoot himself”….you mean something else, right?

      1. Throw himself into a wood chipper?

  17. But the chronic onslaught of adversity ensures that many, if not most, will be tripped up.

    Sorry, but this is just nonsense. Let’s bear in mind that lead paint used to be fairly ubiquitous. Yeah, maybe everybody was stupider. But, people still managed to get ahead. Frankly, intelligence is probably overrated for relative success. Things like hard work, perseverance and grit probably pose a much bigger role.

    I’d say the biggest challenge faced by poor people is the condescension people like Chapman offer. He, in effect, suggests that poor people can’t be expected to act any differently than they do. People rise and fall to meet expectations.

    1. “The vision of the anointed is one in which ills as poverty, irresponsible sex, and crime derive primarily from ‘society,’ rather than from individual choices and behavior. To believe in personal responsibility would be to destroy the whole special role of the anointed, whose vision casts them in the role of rescuers of people treated unfairly by ‘society’.” -Sowell

    2. No no. Lead was invented by libertarians in the 50’s. No rich person’s house ever had lead paint. And guns don’t work in rich neughborhoods because of a little known law of quantum mechanics.

      The fact that poverty leveled off from its multi-decade decline with the advent of the great new society deal has NOTHING to do with it. It’s all lead paint.

    3. Thank you for pointing this out, as I was going to say the same thing. Before lead paint was outlawed, we all grew up with lead paint, yet somehow have normal IQ’s. (Just as, before pregnant women were told to avoid alcohol all normal Western women drank while pregnant and gave birth to most of us reading this blog.) Maybe ingesting lead causes developmental issues, but maybe just having lead-based paint on walls doesn’t actually lead to ingestion. Not that I think there are easy solutions, but repainting houses is probably not one.

      1. The alleged story is that paint flakes and rich people can afford to repaint but poor people can’t. Then the loose flakes are eaten by unsupervised children. Lead makes things taste sweet, so the yoots eat more and more until the lead destroys their brain cells.

        1. Actually, I think that dust is more of a problem than eating flakes.

    4. The thing is, most people maintained their lead paint when lead paint was ubiquitous. There is no danger to lead paint if it isn’t chipping off and creating dust. Which means that the places where lead exposire from paint is still a problem, and has always been the biggest problem, is in shitty apartments where poor people live.

      I’m not saying it is the major cause of poverty or violence. I think it is mostly a cultural problem exacerbated by harmful, misguided government “help”. But I won’t dismiss it entirely.

      1. My father used to invent and fabricate things all the time, and as such he kept stores of various metals on hand, including a huge, perhaps priceless iron collection containing all sorts of different irons and steels. In addition, he had a large lead collection, comprising several bins of the stuff. This was stored in an indoor workroom under the house, adjacent to the children’s rooms (which were situated between the metalworking area, the woodworking area, and a tack room). I remember as children we were permitted to go through the lead and fiddle with it, so long as we got it back in the right bins. There was no concern, and I don’t ever recall anybody thinking to try eating any of it or licking his fingers afterwards. Similarly, I never knew anybody who thought eating paint chips would be a good idea. But all but one of us ended up considerably less successful than our parents, so perhaps there’s something to it. Curiously, the one successful sibling is also the one who’s certainly got an IQ a tiny fraction of anybody else in the family, but he works like the dickens and is a cutthroat bastard when it comes to money.

  18. Interesting that lead poisoning has such a unique effect on blacks. Presumably lead has no effect on the Vietnamese, given that they seem to be thriving despite having arrived in with little but the clothes on their backs following the war in the 1970’s.

    Also interesting is how lead contamination in America appears to have such far reaching consequences throughout the world, given that black IQ’s and pathologies seem to be pretty consistent all over the world.

    1. I think it is a mistake to conflate race and poverty. They aren’t synonyms.

      1. Perhaps not, but when the same races consistently show up in your poverty metrics all over the world, environmental explanations start sounding a bit thin.

      2. Not a mistake to make culture a factor. There’s not some “black gene” that kept Thomas Sowell from being the brilliant man that he is. However quite exceptionally for Sowell, nor was there enough mainstream black culture in his upbringing to hold him back either.

    2. Fuck off, man. Go peddle your racial collectivism somewhere people believe in that kind of shit, like Salon or Gawker.

      1. yes, it’s collectivism to notice that sub-Saharan Africa is a collection of third world nations ruled by some variety of autocrat.

        1. Oh, is that what he was doing? Maybe you’re right; maybe when he said “black IQ’s and pathologies seem to be pretty consistent all over the world” he meant that as an indictment of despotic policies, and not, as it is straight up written, a condemnation of dark-skinned people.

          1. Look, if you think I’ve written anything that was untrue, you’re certainly free to rebut it. Presumably you can provide documentation to support your position. But point-and-splutter ain’t gonna cut it.

            1. Sure, since you’ve provided such excellent documentation that being of African descent makes a person uniquely unfit for civilization. Don’t you have a sister you should be groping?

            2. Oh look, Merkin managed to slip in amidst the confusion and blend in with the crowd…

        2. yes, it’s collectivism to notice that sub-Saharan Africa is a collection of third world nations ruled by some variety of autocrat.

          Explain Botswana.

          1. Come on, man, if he’s using something as superficial and shallow as race to determine the worth of individuals, he’s not going to be interested in sense or intelligence.

            1. I know, it sure as hell ain’t for his benefit, it’s for the lenders and newcomers who might associate libertarianism with this nonsense.

        3. yes, it’s collectivism to notice that sub-Saharan Africa is a collection of third world nations ruled by some variety of autocrat.

          So are many other regions in the world.

          1. That’s the thing. Why focus on race. Pretty much every part of the world that is humid tropical is like that (with the exception of weird city states). And lots of other places too.

            If I had to make some sort of broad conclusion, I would say that hot weather is bad for civilization and work ethic.

            1. So you’re saying climate change is to blame, not individual choices?

  19. I know that Reason generally doesn’t cover internet-y stories like this, but holy shit is today the day Reddit died.

    It’s like the SJW apocalypse out there. Gamergate times about 10,000.

    Ellen Pao is such an idiot.

    1. There’s no way i’m going to reddit to see for myself. Are they eating each other over there? Is it basically a shit ouroboros?

      1. I will not dive in either.

        This seems to have something to do with it.

        Apparently these islands of elevated discourse devoted to “Fat shaming” are far above our capacity to appreciate, we being the lowest form of stupid, blowhard, asshat, scum and villiany on the internet.

        I truly feel for the poor souls who are fat, who purposely go out of their way to read Reddit boards devoted to mocking fatties, and get upset.

        1. When Reason commenters consider Reddit a hive of scum and villainy…

          1. Yeah, that is like finding something a roach would shun eating… 🙂

      2. Are they eating each other over there?
        That’s funny, seeing as /r/fatpeoplehate was the biggest sub that got banned.

    2. Ellen Pao is such an idiot.

      Yeah, who could have predicted a lawyer who sued her previous employer for not promoting her fast enough (even when she was brought on to improve the role of women in the company and given huge amounts of mentoring) wouldn’t be a terrific CEO.

      1. Wait, who the fuck hires someone who sued their previous employers? That’s just nine thousand levels of stupid.

        1. Wait, who the fuck hires someone who sued their previous employers?

          A social justice warrior who thinks they’re too pure to have the witch hunt turned on them.

    3. I think you mean “Chariman Pao” as redditors have resorted to calling her.

    4. Hah, nice, I look forward to reading more about this. I saw something earlier about a “fatpeoplehate” sub being banned, and I figured a lot of redditors were making a stink about it.

      It’s pretty obvious what reddit is about and who it is for, Ms. Pao. Attacking the assholes for using reddit to be assholes is almost as self-destructive as attacking the exhibitionists.

    5. Does it bother you that there may be reasons for poverty outside of LAZY, BOOTSTRAPS?

  20. I have lived in the inner-city for 30 years. I don’t need some nonsense-spewing theorizer to speculate what causes poverty. I see it every fucking day. People are poor because they are fucking morons who teach their 3-year-old to say, “BACK, BACK, MOTHERFUCKER!” and “GIVE ME MY SHIT!” on the motherfucking bus. People are poor because despite dropping out of high school, they have six kids by the age of 22 because they know Uncle Sugar is going to pay for everything need.

    1. This is more reason that the state should remove the children and adopt them to rich families.

    2. Chapman is easily the second-biggest dipshit on Reason after Dipshit Dalmia. A complete, 100% fake libertarian. Lead being to blame for the pathologies for the modern black underclass has been the bog standard left-liberal talking point du jour for a while now.

      1. Um, Chapman isn’t number one or two on that list?

        1. Excuse me, I meant Richman!

  21. When these young people fail, a lot of Americans will blame them for not doing simple, obvious things to improve their lives.

    Chapman is a good mind-reader, based on the comments.

    1. Not so good, otherwise he’d have mentioned Canadians, too.

      OT: I pity the poor bastard who accidentally says: “My, you’re looking chipper today” to a certain person…

    2. That’s because there are a lot of problems with Chapman’s assessment, such as the fact that dirt poor East Asia happens to have one of the lowest crime rates on the planet, and that Hispanic immigrants (who are poorer than African Americans) have far lower crime rates.

      Furthermore, West Virginia is one of the poorest states in the country but actually has a murder rate lower than the national average. How are such things possible if poverty is the cause of violence? Why are there so many relatively non-violent poor places outside of American inner cities? How come immensely poor Ukraine has a homicide rate that is almost identical to the far wealthier United States?

      Could it be that Chapman is cherry-picking by only talking about America’s inner cities and ignoring other poor areas that have never dealt with this kind of crime? That kind of neuters his thesis, doesn’t it?

      1. of course not.

  22. Here’s a story where a woman entered into a relationship with a man who’d just been released from prison for stomping on a guy’s head and causing brain damage. This man then proceeded to quit his job the first day they were dating and never bothered getting another one. Furthermore, he beat the woman severely and was arrested at which point the woman perjured herself to get him released. Then, after she stopped him from selling drugs to her neighbor because she was worried he’d get caught, he GOUGED OUT ONE OF HER EYES WHILE SHE SLEPT.


    “In her book, Tina Nash describes how she tried bravely to get on with life after being blinded. After she finished the book, she found a new boyfriend. He has just been sent to prison for assaulting her.”

    I think this woman might be poor and in bad shape because of certain issues she has with decision making. You can’t help but sympathize with someone who got her eye gouged out by her boyfriend, but goddamn, I vaguely suspect she’s made some bad decisions which got her in this position.

    1. Some people are attracted to people that abuse them. They’re addicted to the drama. Which also generally makes them terrible friends.

      1. Yet when Erin Pizzey published Prone to Violence in 1982, she was subjected to a harassment campaign by radical feminists.

        A quote from the book:

        We found Rose a model member of the community during the day, but once the staff went home, Rose went out to play. Unfortunately Rose’s games were extremely dangerous, particularly if she had a lot to drink. Her pattern was to begin an evening in the pub by attracting men to her table. Then, after a lot of good-natured sexual joking around, she would start drinking shorts which grew larger and larger as the men filled her glass. She usually wore very low-cut dresses and short skirts to display her excellent figure. One of her frequent acts was then to dance her version of the can-can on the table, with no knickers on. Although this was much enjoyed by the attendant men, the manager would inevitably try and stop her. Thereupon a fight ensued, with Rose joining in. The next morning a hungover Rose would sit in the office completely denying any responsibility. It was a totally unprovoked attack by the pub manager upon her innocent person. ‘Holy Mary, mother of God, would I tell a lie?’ she would say to me.

    2. before I rtfa I guessed that her poor judgment came from her mother and I was right

      Nash was born in Cornwall, one of six children to a mother whose relationships with men were tumultuous. “I’d seen my mum go through hundreds of break-ups and be badly treated by men,”

      One’s approach to relationships is heavily influenced by your parents, or lack thereof.

  23. I know another way out of poor neighborhoods. Feet. Two of them to be specific. You can alternately place them one in front of the other with the bad neighborhood behind you, and soon it’s out of sight. Pick a new place to settle and begin a new life. Get off your ass and make your own life better. You’d be surprised what motivation and perseverance can accomplish. Many people have used this very method to get ahead, it has a proven track record that doesn’t require government intervention. Articles about lead paint and hand wringing are the kinds of things that perpetuate the idea that it’s not an individual’s responsibility to advance themselves. Fucking get up and do something about your life if you’re dissatisfied, don’t wait on the nanny state to carry you to heaven.

    1. Why are you Othering those with only one foot? Or no feet? Check your limb privilege!

      1. Don’t the limb disadvantaged have access to wheelchairs? or carts… or something. Damn, now all the one legged poor are on my back. How did I end up here? 🙂

    2. Jima: You’re a complete idiot! I hope life strips you of all of your worldly possessions, livelihood, and assets ? and that you find out just how hard life gets when no one will hire you because you’re old, or you’re a minority, or your skills are outdated, or for whatever reason you just can’t get on your feet, as millions of people in the U.S. alone have discovered the hard way. I despise smug people like you who pretend to know what others are going through, with your pat, flippant responses to their pain! You might have a steady job and a roof over your head, but your heart is starving for nourishment!

    1. And it’s completely unpossible that the War on Poverty programs could distort people’s ability to delay gratification, right?

      1. Nobody thinks of the children.

        Preschoolers ought to be taught skills how to successfully delay gratification; but neither single mothers on welfare, nor ‘medal-for-participation’ preschools seem to (be able to) pay attention to the issue.

        1. Why the hell would government preschools want to? They’d be drying up their own fetid swamp that they derive their votes from.

          1. I agree; but Tony might have an explanation which puts the govt. in better light (and the libertarians in a worse one).

  24. Listen, libertardians, don’t vote for that wack-o Rand, vote for little Nancy!

    Little Nancy

    1. Yeah, the Establishment got to that guy.

  25. “Why poor people stay poor”

    What did I win?

    1. An extra ration of Soylent Green in the reeducation camps.

  26. Curbing lead exposure was a big reason for the decline in violent crime that began in the 1990s

    Really??? I mean, it doesn’t sound completely absurd, but I think I’m going to need a few citations to back that claim up.

    1. As the SJWs are fond of saying, “listen and believe!”

  27. It would also help if the successful people of the Left would tell the poor what made them succeed instead of always excusing them as victims of society that they can’t control.

    1. ROFLMAO. It would, but it would also help if I would win the Powerball lottery too.

      The successful people of the left almost completely depend on these people being lazy, stupid, uneducated, and dependent on them in order to maintain their iron grip on the levers of power.

      1. The successful people on the Left’s advice based on their own stories: be born rich, or graft!

    1. I wonder who she had in mind when she said “puerile?”

  28. Eminent domaining everything isn’t working?

  29. While I recognize that lead exposure can cause serious health effects, I think linking it with violent crime is pretty specious. Historians have already roundly debunked the theory that exposure to lead from the aqueducts was a serious problem in Ancient Rome.

    1. And besides, we were told it was abortion that fixed crime in the 90s.

      1. Okay, so what fixed crime in the ’90’s?

        1. The boomers got old and stopped being violent yobs.

        2. Prison.

          Not joking — the police, prosecutors, and judges no longer have adversarial relationships.

        3. It probably depends on the state, especially since the rates haven’t stayed the same in either direction for each one.

    2. Similar to Roman history, there’s no shortage of people willing to blame something like lead and ignore the tremendous amount social and political entropy brought on by government policies and statutory law.

  30. It’s like the SJW apocalypse out there. Gamergate times about 10,000.

    Ellen Pao is such an idiot.

    I just saw a couple of days ago that she was named reddit’s “interim CEO” or some such thing. I’m glad to see my expostulation of amused amazement was not in vain.

    1. I’ve still yet to hear why a forum site with user-created content requires a CEO. Shouldn’t it be two guys running it out of their basement?

      1. Because they aren’t making any money off of the site, and the board wants to monetize.

        It’s the death of Reddit, certainly. But the quality posters can just move to a Reddit clone or a message board until that place too collapses.

  31. We’re not discussing the *real* solution to poverty, however: buying one’s own tools with which to make mulch or flakes or dust from putting wood into a device that contains sharp implements that reshape aforementioned wood into smaller but viable shapes.

  32. Has anyone bothered to ask. How did the successful people in those neighborhoods thrive under the same physical, economic, and social conditions ?

    1. * enviromental

    2. Uncle Toms

    3. ^^Exeactly^^

    4. Race betrayers and collaborators of course!

  33. I’ve worked with a couple of people from poverty-stricken 3rd world hell holes and they had no patience with American poor people. None whatsoever. I don’t know how much exposure to actual poor Americans they had, though they themselves were not very well off. (One guy I knew from Pakistan lived in a single tiny room with a bathroom down the hall.) But just the idea that there might be poor Americans filled him with dismay and exasperation. He couldn’t comprehend how someone born in America could be poor.

    1. Yeah, we (Americans) don’t even know what poor is. Half the people in Silicon valley came from conditions that would scare the shit out of our ‘poor’ people. Somehow they managed to get educated and save/make money.

  34. How did the successful people in those neighborhoods thrive under the same physical, economic, and social conditions ?

    They cheated.

    1. How did the successful people in those neighborhoods thrive under the same physical, economic, and social conditions ?

      They didn’t spend every penny they could get their hands on, as soon as they could?

  35. since lead was everywhere in all communities yet they all except for one group did well then you can’t blame the lead you can only blame the group.

  36. Lead chips really!?! Poverty is not caused by laziness (people often conflate unwillingness to work with laziness), stupidity, environment, race, or lack of education. Though these things can make it harder to escape poverty. It’s 100% time preference. If you have a high enough time preference, the idea of doing something boring or unpleasant now (say school or work) to get something good later is anathema. Time preference is a component of culture. Sometimes having a high time preference is rational–say if you live in a despotic dictatorship or a high crime area—there’s no point in doing something dull or unpleasant or saving, when the risk of being dead, dispossessed, or robbed the next day is high.

  37. So basically “No Paint, No Peace”? No no no “Stand up, Don’t Paint” lol

  38. OT – Zimbabwe currency to be taken out behind the barn and put out of its misery. Perhaps some Reasonoids can donate some woodchippers?

    (Note that the article makes no mention whatsoever of the mysterious, magical phenomenon that caused the currency to inflate beyond human comprehension in the first place.)

    1. Hitler?

  39. So. Lead is racist?

  40. “Even today, poor African-American areas are unusually prone to lead poisoning.”

    I’d like to see some real evidence about this. It shouldn’t be hard to control for average age of homes, which might have lead in the paint– but how that would differ in result with statistical significance from nearby poor white neighborhoods of the same age, I can’t see, unless you’re going to suggest that black toddlers are more likely to eat paint chips than white ones. As for atmospheric lead, in major East Coast cities black neighborhoods don’t differ that much from white ones, rich or poor, in terms of density or number of cars. I find the whole thing dubious.

    The parents-don’t-read-to-kids thing gets cited all the time, and that’s pretty doubtful too. In studies on twins adopted by parents of differing incomes, educations and social classes, twins tended to be like one another in income levels regardless of the “nurture” side of the equation.

    I’m starting to think this whole thing is simply another extended rationalization by an anti-poverty fighter applying more emotion than intelligence, stressing the things that might contribute to poverty that government (or anyone) can do something about, and ignoring or downplaying the things that nobody can, even though those things might be so significant as to make efforts on the first set of stuff a waste of time. Needing a solution doesn’t mean one exists.

  41. Sounds like just another excuse to me.

  42. Two words…Ai Sians. Proves all of this to be a convoluted rationalization and LIE.

  43. Lead paint is an excuse to pussy foot around an actual discussion. It is both demeaning and PeeCee bullshit.

  44. First of all, they don’t EAT the paint chips!! Touching the lead, breathing the lead that’s leached into the air from wall paint, radiators, etc, drinking from lead pipes, and so forth, over time is very toxic. Even our pencils used to have real lead in them, but were eventually replaced by graphite.

    Projects were not kept up by the property owners. Projects were an idea that failed when they turned into neglected little stacked boxes, devoid of community or plant life, that did nothing to improve the lives or the opportunities of people who were unfortunate enough to dwell in them.

    I worked for several unrelated employers in the 70’s thru the 90’s who flat out refused to hire minorities. (“I’m sorry, that position has been filled”.) Don’t stand there and try to say that everyone can get a job, or that everyone can get a job that pays enough to actually pay for shelter, food, and other necessities. People who parrot empty fallacies like that are complete idiots!

    Secondly, very few people here have the slightest inkling of what it means to be poor, or why poverty is self-perpetuating. In which case, your comments are worthless!

    And thirdly, I’ve never seen so many ignorant bigots gathered together in one place before, as there are in the comment section of this article! Some of you are so slimy, you must even disgust your own selves!

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