Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Finding: Poverty does not cause criminality

Huge sample size, rigorous analysis.  I am normally scornful of extreme quintile analyses but the intermediate quintiles in this study do not appear to be anomalous

In West Side Story Stephen Sondheim set out the theories of juvenile delinquency with more clarity, and certainly more brevity, than the academics who had dreamed them up. A prominent theory in sociological circles is that crime arises from poverty and consequently that the alleviation of poverty by paying social benefits should diminish criminality.

The link between poverty and crime has been demonstrated repeatedly, and recently confirmed for USA and Norway. Repetition of a correlation impacts academic and public opinion. However, as we are wearily cognizant of, correlation is not causation, though in ordinary life it damn well implies it. Correlation is a necessary feature of causation, but not a sufficient proof. The quip should be altered to: correlation is not always causation, but it helps.

This link has been investigated, in a different way, by a gang of sociologists led by Amir Sariaslan (ex-Uppsala) and his colleagues at the great Karolinska in Sweden, the country of Volvo, Saab (RIP), Bofors guns, Primus stoves, interminable Bergman movies, winter candles on the streets of gamla gatan, pacificism, social welfare, and obsessional scandinavian epidemiology. The latter has proved a redeeming feature.

"Childhood family income, adolescent violent criminality and substance misuse: quasi-experimental total population study.

Amir Sariaslan, Henrik Larsson, Brian D’Onofrio, Niklas Langstrom and Paul Lichtenstein.

British Journal of Psychiatry. Published online ahead of print August 21, 2014, doi:10.1192/bjp.bp.113.136200

Children of parents in the lowest income quintile experienced a seven-fold increased hazard rate (HR) of being convicted of violent criminality compared with peers in the highest quintile (HR = 6.78, 95% CI 6.23–7.38). This association was entirely accounted for by unobserved familial risk factors (HR = 0.95, 95% CI 0.44–2.03). Similar pattern of effects was found for substance misuse."

The authors point out:

"Behavioural genetic investigations have found that the liabilities for both violent offending and substance misuse are substantially influenced by shared genetic and, to a lesser extent, family environmental factors.7,8

7 Frisell T, Lichtenstein P, Langstrom N. Violent crime runs in families: a total population study of 12.5 million individuals. Psychol Med 2011; 41: 97–105.

8 Kendler KS, Sundquist K, Ohlsson H, Palme r K, Maes H, Winkleby MA, et al. Genetic and familial environmental influences on the risk for drug abuse: a national Swedish adoption study. Arch Gen Psychiatry 2012; 69: 690–7.

We linked data from nine Swedish, longitudinal, total-population registers maintained by governmental agencies. The linkage was possible through the unique 10-digit civic registration number assigned to all Swedish citizens at birth and to immigrants upon arrival to the country.

The final sample (omitting multiple-births, death, severe handicap and emigrants) consisted of 88.6% of the targeted population (n = 526 167). The sample included 262 267 cousins and 216 424 siblings nested within 114 671 extended and 105 470 nuclear families.

We calculated mean disposable family income (net sum of wage earnings, welfare and retirement benefits, etc.) of both biological parents for each offspring and year between 1990 and 2008. Income measures were inflation-adjusted to 1990 values according to the consumer price index provided by Statistics Sweden.

Gender, birth year and birth order were included in all models. We also adjusted for highest parental education and parental ages at the time of the first-born child, and parental history of ever being admitted to hospital for a mental disorder.

Violent crime was defined as a conviction for homicide, assault, robbery, threats and violence against an officer, gross violation of a person’s/woman’s integrity, unlawful threats, unlawful coercion, kidnapping, illegal confinement, arson, intimidation,
or sexual offences (rape, indecent assault, indecent exposure or child molestation, but excluding prostitution, hiring of prostitutes or possession of child pornography).

The participants entered the study at their fifteenth birthday and were subsequently followed up for a median time of 3.5 years. The maximum follow-up time was 6 years."

This is a short time to pick up the full flowering of criminal careers, so perhaps should be considered and under-estimate, or purely a measure of juvenile delinquency and not of life time criminality (which usually lasts until middle age).

Readers will know that I cast a particularly baleful eye over all “corrections” and “adjustments” but in this paper the techniques are transparent, and have an intrinsic justification. The data allows them to compare siblings with cousins, and intact nuclear families with more scattered ones: two natural experiments which allow contrasts of shared genes and experience. Crafty. That is my summary, but here is their explanation in detail:

We fitted two separate models for the entire sample (n = 526 167) that gradually adjusted for observed confounding variables. Model I adjusted for gender, birth year and birth order, whereas Model II also adjusted for highest parental education, parental ages at the time of the first-born child and parental history of admission to hospital for a mental disorder.

To assess the effects also of unobserved genetic and environmental factors, we fitted stratified Cox regression models to cousin (n = 262 267) and sibling (n = 216 424) samples with extended or nuclear family as stratum, respectively. The stratified
models allow for the estimation of heterogeneous baseline hazard rates across families and thus capture unobserved familial factors. This also implies that exposure comparisons are made within families. Model III was fitted to the cousin sample and adjusted for observed confounders and unobserved within extended-family factors. Model IV was fitted on the sibling sample and accounted for unobserved nuclear family factors and for gender, birth year and birth order.

Cousin and sibling correlations on the exposure variable were calculated based on a varying-intercepts, mixed-effects model where the intercepts are allowed to vary across families.

The magnitude of the variation was expressed as an intra-class correlation (ICC). The ICC measures the degree to which observations are similar to one another within clusters; in this case cousins and siblings nested within extended and nuclear family clusters. The measure ranges between 0 and 1, where the latter implies that cousins and siblings have identical exposure values within families.

As you can see, each model picks away at what would otherwise be seen as a purely economic cause of criminality and drug abuse. Model II which adjusts for parental education and mental illness has a big effect.

In an unusual departure, The Economist devoted an article to this paper, which suggests that they are beginning to wake up to the human factors in economics. Admittedly, they sub-titled it  A disturbing study of the link between incomes and criminal behaviour, suggesting they were disturbed. Here are The Economist’s conclusions:

"That suggests two, not mutually exclusive, possibilities. One is that a family’s culture, once established, is “sticky”—that you can, to put it crudely, take the kid out of the neighbourhood, but not the neighbourhood out of the kid. Given, for example, children’s propensity to emulate elder siblings whom they admire, that sounds perfectly plausible. The other possibility is that genes which predispose to criminal behaviour (several studies suggest such genes exist) are more common at the bottom of society than at the top, perhaps because the lack of impulse-control they engender also tends to reduce someone’s earning capacity.

Neither of these conclusions is likely to be welcome to social reformers. The first suggests that merely topping up people’s incomes, though it may well be a good idea for other reasons, will not by itself address questions of bad behaviour. The second raises the possibility that the problem of intergenerational poverty may be self-reinforcing, particularly in rich countries like Sweden where the winnowing effects of education and the need for high levels of skill in many jobs will favour those who can control their behaviour, and not those who rely on too many chemical crutches to get them through the day."

This is only one study, of course. Such conclusions will need to be tested by others. But if they are confirmed, the fact that they are uncomfortable will be no excuse for ignoring them.

What The Economist might have said is: Since this is a total population study of five birth cohorts and is the largest by far in the literature, it has high credibility, and the result will stand until another study of equal quality finds otherwise.


Federal judge strikes down Fla. ban on same-sex marriage

A federal judge declared Florida's voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional Thursday, but he delayed allowing county clerks to issue licenses, pending appeals.

U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle, sitting in Tallahassee, ruled that the 2008 voter-approved measure defining marriage as only between one man and one woman violated the Constitution's guarantees of equal protection and due process.

"The founders of this nation said in the preamble to the United States Constitution that a goal was to secure the blessings of liberty to themselves and their posterity. Liberty has come more slowly for some than for others," he wrote in a 33-page opinion covering two cases, noting that it took the Supreme Court 200 years to invalidate laws prohibiting interracial marriage.

"When observers look back 50 years from now, the arguments supporting Florida's ban on same-sex marriage, though just as sincerely held, will again seem an obvious pretext for discrimination. Observers who are not now of age will wonder just how those views could have been held," Hinkle declared.

The ruling, which also applies to same-sex marriages performed in other states, followed similar decisions by Florida judges in four counties. The state attorney general has appealed those decisions and will challenge Hinkle's order.

In a friend-of-the-court brief supporting the state's ban, the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops argued it "has a strong interest in protecting the traditional institution of husband-wife marriage because of the religious beliefs of its members and due to this institution's benefits to children, families and society."

In a statement, the bishops said they were "sadly disappointed by the court's decision to reject marriage as the union of only one man and one woman as husband and wife." They argued the decision "fails to adequately consider that marriage unites a man and a woman with any children born from their union and protects a child's right to both a mother and a father."

The bishops said their belief in heterosexual marriage "is not motivated by unjust discrimination or animosity toward anyone. Human dignity is manifested in all persons; and all have the capacity for and are deserving of love. This is especially true of children, who should be given the opportunity, to the greatest extent possible, to be raised and loved by the mother and father who conceived them."

Hinkle issued his opinion in Brenner v. Scott and Grimsley v. Scott a day after the U.S. Supreme Court intervened to prevent same-sex couples from marrying in Virginia after a federal appeals court struck down the state's voter-approved ban in July.

Attorneys general in Virginia, Utah and Oklahoma have asked the justice to pass final judgment on whether states can prohibit same-sex couples from marrying.

Since the Supreme Court struck down a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act last year, 20 federal courts have ruled that bans on same-sex marriage are unconstitutional, Hinkle noted.

"Based on these decisions, gays and lesbians, like all other adults, may choose a life partner and
dignify the relationship through marriage," he wrote. "To paraphrase a civil rights leader from the age when interracial marriage was first struck down, the arc of history is long, but it bends toward justice."

Same-sex marriage is legal in 19 states and the District of Columbia.

More than 70 court challenges have been filed in 30 of 31 states, plus Puerto Rico, where same-sex marriage has been outlawed. Five federal appeal courts are reviewing cases from 11 states.


Supreme Court puts hold on gay marriage in Virginia

The U.S. Supreme Court stopped gay marriage in Virginia from going ahead today, staying an appeals court ruling that had struck down a state ban.

The court granted a stay application filed by opponents of gay marriage. The action was not a ruling on the merits of gay marriage, but means a July 28 pro-gay marriage ruling by the Richmond, Virginia-based 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will not be implemented while litigation continues.

The high court issued its brief order less than 24 hours before gay and lesbian couples in Virginia could have begun applying to be married.

The Supreme Court issued a similar order in January blocking gay marriage from going ahead in Utah. So the court’s order on the Virginia law was not wholly unexpected.

The Supreme Court is expected to take up at least one case on gay marriage in its coming term, which starts in October and ends in June. There are already three case the justices can choose from pending at the court. They involve fights over the bans in Virginia, Utah and Oklahoma.

Michele McQuigg, Prince William County clerk of court, had filed the Virginia stay application last week seeking to prevent the appeals court ruling from going into effect.

“The Supreme Court acted wisely in restraining the lower court from implementing a ruling of this magnitude before the high court has a chance to decide the issue,” Byron Babione, a lawyer for McQuigg, said in a statement.

The state’s Democratic attorney general, Mark Herring, who backs gay marriage, and opponents of same-sex marriage have already said they would like the Supreme Court to be have the ultimate say in the case. Herring had backed the call for the delay of the lower court ruling.

Since a June 2013 ruling in the United States v. Windsor case struck down a federal law defining marriage as between one man and one woman, nearly 30 federal and state courts have ruled against bans on same-sex marriage at the state level. Only one court in the past 14 months has ruled in favor of a state ban.

Nineteen of the 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia allow same-sex marriage.


The holy war on corporate politicking

The religious left's long-running campaign to silence those with different views has moved aggressively into corporate boardrooms. CEOs and directors of public companies are being hectored by social justice activists to abandon lobbying and other political activities.

Let's hope they don't succeed. Our political life would be impoverished and unbalanced by muzzling corporations whose interests go far beyond the boardroom to number millions of employees, shareholders, and community members. The cravenly political ploy of dressing up a progressive campaign to silence dissent with religious sentiment and Scripture proof texts brings honest religious witness into disrepute.

A newly issued critique of the role of money in politics titled "Losing Faith in Our Democracy" by the New York-based Auburn Theological Seminary is a case in point. The report ostensibly presents Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish viewpoints on money and politics. Yet the 10 essays in the critique -- with one notable exception -- simply rehash the religious left's talking points about corporate spending and the alleged harm it does to American democracy.

Every annual meeting season, we watch as a small group of activist groups on the left such as As You Sow and the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility submit proxy resolutions that demand disclosures of corporate public policy expenditures. This is done, these groups claim, in furtherance of a more "just and sustainable world." In fact, such resolutions are designed to first bully corporations into disclosing lobbying activities and then promptly turn the tables by conducting aggressive campaigns in the press to shame them.

But the religious underpinnings for such arguments are spurious. The argument always goes that corporations have money and the poor and disadvantaged (always "disenfranchised" from the political process) do not. Therefore, according to this logic, it follows that it's unfair that corporations are allowed to make public policy expenditures to unduly influence the political process. Curiously, opponents of such spending are often themselves corporate entities (albeit non-profit entities) that spend large sums of money to voice their own opinions.

The religious left should heed the counsel of William Cavanaugh, a senior research professor at the Center for World Catholicism and Intercultural Theology at DePaul University in Chicago. In his white paper for Auburn Seminary's very own critique of corporate political spending, Cavanaugh identifies Biblical precedents for corporate personhood. Adam and Christ, he points out, incorporate the whole human race. This, he says, shows that personhood properly understood cannot be limited to the individual. Likewise, writes Cavanaugh, "Paul's image of the Church as the body of Christ (e.g. I Corinthians 12) is so powerful; our salvation is our reunification into the corporate person of Christ."

Civil society, says Cavanaugh, requires us all to speak "with united voices. Unions, families, churches, and other organizations of people must remain strong in order to resist the reduction of public life to a binary of the state on the one hand and individuals on the other." And the same holds for businesses, especially as the power of government regulatory agencies grows exponentially and leftist billionaires like the Steyer brothers increasingly exercise their own First Amendment rights. (I searched in vain for them in the Auburn report.)

Another report, this one from the Center for Competitive Politics, a Virginia-based First Amendment advocacy group, deftly reveals the activists' questionable strategies, funding and end game. The Center notes that many of these social justice activists couch their resolutions in language advocating the best interests of the company's shareholders. Not surprisingly, CCP concludes, these arguments for political disclosure are "in actuality pursuing an ideological agenda unrelated to the profit-maximizing interest of most shareholders." CCP identifies these gadflies as a "cadre of unions, public pension funds, and activist investors...pursuing actions that would selectively burden American public companies from exercising their First Amendment rights to participate in public dialogue."

The political process only works when all sides are allowed to freely express themselves, a right guaranteed by our Constitution. This is an argument that must be made from secular and spiritual perspectives. Targeting the free speech of political adversaries, under a smoke screen of pious outrage, is not only unjust but immoral.



Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the  incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.

American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of  other countries.  The only real difference, however, is how much power they have.  In America, their power is limited by democracy.  To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already  very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges.  They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did:  None.  So look to the colleges to see  what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way.  It would be a dictatorship.

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH,   EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS and  DISSECTING LEFTISM.   My Home Pages are here or   here or   here.  Email me (John Ray) here


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