Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Caused or Correlated?

Richard over at Going Fast, Getting Nowhere has put down some thoughts on gang injunctions and the root causes of violence.  He is annoyed at the ever-present assumption that unemployment and poverty cause violence and crime.  He points out that he (like me) has experienced times when he had little or no money, but managed to stay non-violent.

He offers a reason - it is "because I am not a violent person". That made me think.

It is fairly well established that there is a correlation between poverty and crime.  The problem, as any philosopher will tell you, that correlation does not prove causation.  To prove causation requires use the scientific method, and social science is unfortunately not a scientific discipline.  After all, to use the scientific method would require us to take a large sample of comfortably-off middle-class families, throw them into destitution, and watch what happened.  That would obviously be unacceptable to any caring, intelligent human (which tells us all we need to know about Labour Chancellors of the Exchequer).

But what if there is a causal link?  After all, we tend to assume that a longstanding and consistent correlation is in fact indicative of a causal link of some sort.  Our assumptions in this regard are not always accurate, but we make them for a reason - which is that they often are.

Thinking about it, it is very likely indeed that there is a causal link.  And the link lies in Richard's words -  "I am not a violent person".  Richard is not violent or criminal (so far as I can see!) but some people are.  What will happen to those two groups?  Richard will work hard and is more likely to apply himself at school.  He is likely to get qualifications.  That leads to a job, in which he will work hard and get on with his co-workers.  The thug, on the other hand, will not work hard at school (you all remember at least one, surely?).  He (yes, usually it is a he) leaves at 16 with few or no qualifications, and finds it hard to get a job.  If he does, he is likely to antagonise his co-workers and be generally unco-operative, meaning that he is not advance and is more likely to leave, willingly or unwillingly.

Now, these are stereotypes, and extreme ones.  But they do point to a strong causal relationship, which is the precise opposite to that usually assumed by the soft liberal left.  So no, poverty does not cause crime.  Crime causes poverty.

My prescription?  For the ones who are still children, school discipline and youth counsellors.  For the adults, a mix of continuing education, prison or the Army for them to choose from.

It has to be better than telling them that it's all so not their fault, it's nothing to do with their outlook on life, they've just been hard done by, society should give them more money and more stuff, and ow, that hurt, and Oi! that's my bag, come back here!


  1. I'm as peaceful and law-abiding as can be, but thanks for the hint that I might be a dangerous (and therefore very attractive) subversive. I wish.

    This whole correlation/causation thing is hugely complicated, as you say, and my post didn't really go into it. My main point was that blaming 'society' for 'not doing enough' misses the point in a lazy and dangerous way, and you correctly conclude that there are better ways of dealing with the issue. (I'm always a bit wary of proposals to send 'em into the Army, though: what has the poor old Army done to deserve that?) But your point about correlation is a good one. Low eduational achievement and poverty show a high correlation. We might assume a causative link somewhere. But do poor people lack the nutrition and physical and social resources to take advantage of freely-available education (as the Left would say), or does the lack of qualifications (and the other life-enhancing and enabling aspects of education) lead to poverty? It's probably both, forming a classic vicious circle. What we seem to agree on is that feeling guilty and throwing money at the problem is unlikely to benefit the poor in the long term.

  2. I wouldn't send them. Forcing people into the Army produces neither good soldiers nor a good army. But it is an institution with a long and good record in taking people who are heading for failure and giving them some self-respect.

    Yes, we do agree on that. It is the lazy option, quite frankly. It is the kneejerk reaction of "Oh, we need a budget! And a department! And some staff!" that solved nothing and gave us the deficit.

    Alleviating this one takes time, effort and intelligence. So the sooner we get it out of the hands of government, the better.

  3. "It has to be better than telling them that it's all so not their fault, it's nothing to do with their outlook on life, they've just been hard done by, society should give them more money..."

    How long has that been the default option? 13 years? More, in some London boroughs that never ever change political hands?

    I'd say the experiment is now complete, wouldn't you?

  4. Please let it be complete. Please....