Monday, September 16, 2013

Privilege can make you stupid

It’s a little recognized fact that privilege can make you stupid. So it’s a damn good thing we have graduate schools to continually remind us of that harsh reality. Usually the subjects of research forays are women & we always come out on the short end of the stick. There are 40 years of this crap with every idiotic study dutifully reported in the media. Susan Faludi wrote an invaluable book on the subject (Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women); I myself have written an exposé or two--though my damnations are considerably more epithetical than Faludi.

Who else but a behavioral economist at Harvard could claim being broke taxes the brain so much that it “perpetuates the cycle of poverty”--& say that like he was uttering profundities rather than idiocies? It might be worth mentioning here that behavioral economics (which you can only major in if you have a trust fund backing you up) deals with social & emotional factors in financial decisions. Which leads to the question “why don’t they study people with dough rather than those of us without any?” Cause when you don’t have dough you don’t make financial decisions; you make disaster recovery plans.

Unfortunately our good man doesn’t know when to keep his trap shut before he exposes what a complete moron he is. Last year, our behavioral economist (shall I reveal his name & bring even greater shame on Harvard than E.O. Wilson & Steven Pinker?) published an article in Science showing that when people have an urgent financial problem like no money & an unpaid utility bill “they develop tunnel vision & ignore their long-term goals.” You bet your sweet ass they do! Especially if it’s winter & they need heat--not to mention light. Double that if your long-term financial horizons are just as bleak as your present.

To see if this tunnel vision was universal & could be used to damn the poor wherever they are, the Harvard researchers traveled to India to IQ test sugar cane farmers who get paid once a year. They tested the farmers a month before harvest & one month after when they’re rolling in dough. Our man was stunned to find you act smarter when you can afford to eat & pay the utility bill. And this floored him! And what floors us is that research grant money is used to bankroll this halfwit. For half the dough those sugar cane farmers could explain the fluctuation in IQ between when they’re eating & when they’re starving. But not even a steady diet of chateaubriand can help that economist.

To make sure you know just how damn stupid our man is he compared the sugar cane farmers to shoppers in a New Jersey mall. What do the New Jersey equivalent of Valley Girls have to do with Indian sugar cane farmers? But he really didn’t have to go all the way to New Jersey; he could just have strolled around Harvard Square & interviewed the well-heeled shoppers there. Lord, you’d like to say “you just can’t make this stuff up” but that’s exactly what our man does.

The researcher (who should remain anonymous to avoid ridicule) concludes pompously that many behaviors linked to poverty like lack of preventive healthcare, high obesity rates, being less attentive parents, & making poor financial decisions may be caused by poverty rather than the other way around. And he thinks he’s on to something!

Sendhil Mullainathan, the researcher, is the recipient of a MacArthur Foundation genius grant so presumably he is eating well & has his utility bill paid up to date. This photo accompanied article in the LA Times. We don’t know if it is before or after the farmers have eaten & paid their utilities bill. It’s not easy putting on your smart face carrying a 100 pound bag.

(Photo by Narinder Nanu/AFP/Getty Images)

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