Wednesday, 4 January 2012

A critique of Welfare Commentator Lindsay Mitchell's (2011) "The association between welfare and crime"

This critique explains that the assertions made by the article in question are not substantiated by evidence, and are little more than an poor attempt at linking unrelated research literature to the ideological predisposition of the author. The article repetitively assumes that welfare dependency is synonymous with income inequality, that family break-ups and single parent families are synonymous with out-of-wedlock births, amongst other methodological flaws. Additionally, the article is poorly constructed, frequently implying that large bodies of quoted literature were written by the publisher. This website its self attempts to be politically persuasive in support of the current governments intense fixation around bullying those who are most vulnerable, namely beneficiaries. This particular publication appears to legitimately connect welfare availability with rising crime rates. Methodological flaws such as those stated above will be discussed critically, as well as the proposed mechanisms of action implied by the article as a whole.

The article begins by making the claim that "welfare encourages teenage parenthood through the availability of benefits". While this may be the case, the extent of such a mechanism's action appears to be entirely assumed. Factors such as (and not limited to) the percentage of accidental conception amongst this population in comparison to the general population have been neglected from mention. Although mention of the availability of contraception is present in the article, the efficacy of contraception education programmes and the extent of use of said contraceptives between socio-economic population groups, as well as causation behind any such relationship, has not been assayed. At the same time, causation is implied from weak positive correlation between welfare accessibility and teen pregnancy rates. From a developmental psychology perspective, this grossly underestimates the contribution of adolescent risky behaviours which have been demonstrated scientifically to result from a variety of interconnected biological, familial and extra- familial mechanisms (See "Children and Their Development", Kail, R.V.).

The article further assumes that because teenage pregnancy rates declined the least in some poorer communities after the introduction of contraception, that this therefore provides conclusive evidence that the availability of the DPB is largely responsible for teen pregnancy. Contrary to this statement, there is vast documentation of high teenage conception rates in poorer parts of the world where adequate welfare is not in place, and in many countries where any form of welfare is almost (if not entirely) non-existent.

What has been presented however, is research that documents association between income inequality and crime. It is important to understand that income inequality is not synonymous with welfare dependency as this article implies.

This article further attempts to use argument from authority, quoting excerpts from a so called Canadian Academic, Jennifer Hunt (actual position omitted). Jennifer Hunt asserts that because there has been correlation observed between teen pregnancy rates and violent crime that this therefore proves causal association between the two variables. Even if this was established, which it is not, the article further stretches this assertion implying that Jennifer Hunt's findings assay any link between welfare availability and crime whatsoever. They do not. The article continues to make unsubstantiated assertions based on the fact that because "relevant research has not been conducted" that therefore such assertions cannot be discounted.

Suggesting that high teen pregnancy rates are the reason that Maori make up around half of our prison population, and that this supports the idea that welfare dependency causes violent crime, is unprofessional and poor science to say the least. As many New Zealand academics have established, there are a large range of attributable factors to current prison demographics, welfare accessibility not being one of these.

The publication is littered with unrelated references which the author has attempted to use as some form of support for the ideology that welfare availability causes crime. In yet another example of this poor methodology, a report is quoted which found that compared with women who have a first child at age 20 or 21 years, girls that give birth at the age of 17 or younger are more than twice as likely to have a child placed in foster care, to be reported for child abuse or neglect, and to have a son sent to prison and, additionally, that their children are far more likely to drop out of high school and their daughters to become teen mothers themselves. Such literature says little, if anything, about a link between welfare dependency and any of the dependent variables mentioned. Furthermore, many of the dependent variables themselves have been demonstrated to display back and forth cause and effect between one another, even with the independent variable (teen pregnancy) removed.

The article then goes on to quote a 17 year old speech from Michael Tanner (June 7, 1995), a member of "The Cato Institute", which is a libertarian think tank headquartered in Washington, D.C. It was founded in 1977 by Edward H. Crane, who remains president and CEO, and Charles Koch, chairman of the board and chief executive officer of the conglomerate Koch Industries, Inc., the largest privately held company by revenue in the United States.

Mr. Tanner asserts that because behavioural problems have manifested to a greater extent in populations of children from single-parent families, that this somehow demonstrates a causal link between welfare availability and crime. Failed to be mentioned is the fact that many non-welfare dependent children come from single parent families, over 50% of all marriages result in divorce, and it is family breakdown which is correlated to crime in this study, not welfare dependency. The article continues to reference a number of publications which have found a strong relationship between family break up and delinquency from Mr. Tanners speech. Unless the author of is claiming that welfare availability causes family breakup (for which no evidence suggests), this literature is entirely irrelevant to the proposed mechanism of action (welfare availability = crime).

In an attempt to link the two, the author has continued on to quote mention of a number of studies which have found links between "out of wed-lock births" and welfare dependency. Firstly, "out of wed-lock births" are not synonymous with family break up. Secondly, a child being conceived "out-of-wedlock" does not equal a child being raised by a solo parent, it simply means that the childs parents were not married by law at the time of conception.

Additionally, the speaker again incorrectly rewords correlative findings as causal relationships e.g. "Likewise, research by Shelley Lundberg and Robert Plotnick of the University of Washington showed that an increase in welfare benefits of $200 per month per family increased the rate of out-of-wedlock births among teenagers by 150 percent". Claiming that because correlation has been observed that therefore increase in benefits "increased" out-of-wedlock births is poorly worded, and implies cause and effect from correlation.

Somewhat contradictory to the underlying tone of the article, the author has quoted Mr. Tanner's comment that "Of course women do not get pregnant just to get welfare benefits. It is also true that a wide array of other social factors has contributed to the growth in out-of-wedlock births". It is argued that "A teenager looking around at her friends and neighbors is liable to see several who have given birth out of wedlock. When she sees that they have suffered few visible immediate consequences, she is less inclined to modify her own behavior to prevent pregnancy". This says nothing for the proposed relationship between welfare availability and crime, instead suggesting a contributory mechanism to teen pregnancy (which has not been established as a causative factor in relation to crime as the article is intended to imply).

It is further argued that proof of this comes from a study conducted by Professor Ellen Freeman of the University of Pennsylvania, which in its self is not flawed in any obvious way. Problems arise when the author quotes that , 69 percent either did not believe having a baby out-of-wedlock would present a problem or were unsure because this study found that more than 31 percent of those who elected to carry their pregnancy to term, before their pregnancy was diagnosed, stated that they believed a baby would present a problem for them at this period in time. Ignoring the minor mathematical errors (>31% + 69% = >100%), the claim that welfare disguises the complications present in such a situation as teen pregnancy would be to significantly underestimate (if not ignore) the various and far-reaching complications of raising a child whether the parent has access to welfare or not.

Suggesting that welfare takes away the "breadwinner" role of the male, and therefore deters women from marriage after the birth of their children, asserts gender-role stereotypes that are not reflective of modern society. indeed, in the same article it is reported that "the typical inner-city today is almost a matriarchy. The women receive all the income, dominate the social-worker classes and most of the schools". Based on this assessment, one must wonder whether these working women would be afflicted by the same lack of desire to remarry, and whether or not their children will be contributing to the rising crime rates if they are from single parent families (regardless of whether these are working women, or mothers dependent on welfare).

Mentioning research that has reported single men being five times more likely to commit violent crimes than married men serves only to suggest that in order to help put a damper on violent crime, that more men should get married. This is hardly helpful insight into what is a complex issue supposedly largely involving welfare availability.

It is hard to discern which parts of the article "Welfare and Crime" were constructed by the author (Lindsay Mitchell), and which parts were copy+pasted from United States based authors in an attempt to apply non-domestic policy and/or outcomes to a New Zealand setting. The final four pages of this publication seem to be almost entirely direct quotation of Dr. Tanner's address to the United States Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Youth Violence from 17 years ago.


The author concludes that New Zealand statistics show that welfare benefits are supporting the "criminal classes". Not only is this a generalized statement (to say the least), the majority of those who are dependent on welfare are in fact not criminals at all. The total percentage of welfare recipients that have been convicted of violent crime while receiving a benefit has been omitted by the author, perhaps for this reason. The author cites an increase in the number of benefits being canceled due to recipients going to prison as evidence, although welfare payouts have not increased correspondingly with living costs over the respective time period and, therefore, increased welfare payments cannot be further correlated to rising crime. Given that crime committed by all of societies demographics is on the rise (welfare dependent or not), this is hardly supportive evidence of the authors claim that welfare availability is responsible for an increase in crime. It appears that this publication (and the website in its entirety) is in fact not from an unbiased source, but instead one with political predisposition in favour of current government agenda and/or policy.

One can only imagine that, if there is in fact causative link between solo mothers on the DPB and the breeding of criminally inclined offspring as this article suggests, it would be highly unlikely that the current Prime Minister of New Zealand could have achieved the position that he is in today. After all, the Prime Minister was raised by a solo mother, in a state house, dependent on welfare. Additionally the Prime Minister's generation were heavily dependent on government hand-outs, for example Mr. Key's entire university education was paid for by the tax payer (without expectation of repayment, let alone with interest attached). To suggest that such forms of welfare are significantly implicated in the above mentioned impacts upon our society, would be to ignore the history of our country and, indeed, the current research.

The article discussed above is available at:

Sunday, 1 January 2012

Our Beef with Whale Oil

The right's internet presence in this country is a bit of a joke. Its two most prominent cheerleaders, as pictured in together in the background, make up the noisy and often-times offensively putrid butt of that joke.

The antics of Cameron Slater aka 'Whaleoil' in particular often descend into malicious buffoonery involving overt racism, unsolicited divulging of personal information, sexual harassment and the list goes on and on...

The sad thing about it all, apart from the mere existence of these creatures, is that they can often be seen receiving patronage from our mainstream media organisations, both on screen and in print.

If only for this reason, we at Whale Oil Beef Thugged have decided that some light could be thrown on the more salient examples of these right-wing sociopaths at work.

Let the party begin!