The missing phrase

From the front of the Post.com just now:

New signs U.S. economic recovery is faltering

(N.Y. job fair / Getty Images)

Neil Irwin 5:43 PM ET

Latest reports on manufacturing, private payrolls and home prices point to a slowing recovery, and Washington is running out of ways to get it back on track.  [emphasis mine]

We’re running out of politically feasible ways to get it back on track. There’s ways left that can work, but pretty much all of them require the government spending money and that’s not on the table with the current composition of Congress.  To quote Drum:

And on that scale [adjusted for new workers added to the economy], we lost about 112,000 jobs last month.

But quick! Medicare might start having funding problems in 2025 and Social Security might go into the red in 2040. Those are obviously the problems we should be dealing with right this second. And we should deal with them by cutting spending on a bunch of other programs because, um, um, um……

Yep.  Ignore all those unemployed people over there and the faltering recovery, we’ve got a deficit!   Also, feel free to ignore the fact that the best way to get rid of the deficit is economic growth (and no, more tax cuts are obviously not the secret, that hasn’t exactly worked).

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Lead and crime

I’ve been meaning to do a quality post about the recent– and very surprising to criminologists– drop in the crime fate.  Since, I’ve failed to get around to it, time to just mention that most interesting thing I’ve read on the matter.  Famous and groundbreaking criminologist James Q. Wilson suggests that a very significant portion of the drop in crime can be explained by the fact that we’ve removed a (metaphorical) ton of lead from our environment in recent decades:

There may also be a medical reason for the decline in crime. For decades, doctors have known that children with lots of lead in their blood are much more likely to be aggressive, violent and delinquent. In 1974, the Environmental Protection Agency required oil companies to stop putting lead in gasoline. At the same time, lead in paint was banned for any new home (though old buildings still have lead paint, which children can absorb).

Tests have shown that the amount of lead in Americans’ blood fell by four-fifths between 1975 and 1991. A 2007 study by the economist Jessica Wolpaw Reyes contended that the reduction in gasoline lead produced more than half of the decline in violent crime during the 1990s in the U.S. and might bring about greater declines in the future. Another economist, Rick Nevin, has made the same argument for other nations.

Wow!  Would also seem to lead additional credence to the theory that the lead-lined aqueducts truly did hasten the decline of the Roman empire. One thing I’ve read about lead not mentioned here is that it leads to cognitive impairment, which is definitely also an intermediate cause of more crime.  I remember learning years ago that the discovered that many prisoners had two Y chromosomes, i.e., XYY, and they assumed this let to more crime because these criminals were more aggressive.  Actually turned out that XYY’s were not more aggressive, but much less intelligent than ordinary persons.

If you’re curious, Wilson’s piece also does a nice job summing up other solid explanations for the drop in crime.  Short version: decline of crack/cocaine,  better policing in a variety of ways, and more bad guys in prison where they cannot commit crime (though I suspect all the low-lever marijuana dealers in prison aren’t making us much safer).

The measure of a psychopath

This is just a terrific, terrific NPR story on how one crusading psychologist invented a psychological test for Pyscopathy (i.e., psychopaths) and how it has come to  be a very important element in the criminal justice system when it comes to parole decisions.  Apparently, the test is amazingly predictive about who will re-offend and who will not.  As it turns out, though, the creator of the test has very serious concerns with how it is being used and thinks it is probably being over-used.  Most distressing fact: the test is on a 40-point scale and psychologist’s for the prosecution find scores 8 points higher on average (a full fifth of the total scale) than psychologists for the defense.  Obviously, there’s a whole lot of subjectivity in this assessment.   The story personalizes the details with an account of a criminal who appears to be reformed by the accounts of virtually everybody that knows him, yet he scores high on the PCL-R, so he’s not going anywhere.  I realize that psychopaths can be charming and manipulative, but I do wonder if he could have completely fooled so many people– many of whom have had life-long relationships (i.e., his father) with him.  Maybe so, but I can’t help but be skeptical because all these people seemed to think he was a loser degenerate before, but not now.  Can people get way better at being a psychopath?  Again, maybe so, but it strikes me as unlikely.

I found the part of the story about the development of the psychological test to be really fascinating.  Here’s a tidbit:

In one experiment, he placed the prisoners in chairs and told them that in 30 seconds he was going to zap them with an intense electrical shock. Then Hare measured their heart rate to see if that information bothered them. Most of the prisoners were bothered, but a small subset weren’t.

“Most people show lots of emotional arousal, anticipatory fear, anxiety, while they’re waiting for the shock to occur,” Hare says. “Psychopaths, hardly any.”

Another time, Hare showed prisoners both highly emotional and totally neutral pictures — a picture of a rape, say, versus one of a table. And again, he measured their physical response.

He found that for most prisoners, the emotional pictures prompted a very different reaction than did the pictures of a table or chair.

“But with psychopaths, there’s no difference,” Hare says. “They treat these horrific pictures as if they were neutral pictures — no difference whatsoever between them.”

The #1 item on the PCL-R is “glibness.”  Ahh, I get off to a bad start, but fortunately I get better from there.

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