Sunday, March 31, 2013

God and Hollywood: The Onslaught Continues

Republicans do badly with young voters [because] they’re seen as uncool. . . [It’s the] “Footloose” [factor.] For a large majority of people, the political question is, “How would the sanctimonious preacher from the movie ‘Footloose’ feel about this subject?” They answer the question, and then take the opposite position.

--Glenn Harlan Reynolds, New York Post

Michelle vs. “the sanctimonious preacher.” That’s one way to encapsulate the cultural war Democrats seem to be winning. As former adviser to the Romney campaign Tevi Troy wrote recently:
Throughout 2012, . . . Obama continually demonstrated an unprecedented and often disturbing level of pop culture fluency, showing himself to be up to date on music, movies, and especially TV. Obama, at one time or another, mentioned Homeland, Modern Family, Boardwalk Empire, and Mad Men as among his favorite shows. . . Obama also knew where to go to demonstrate how hip he was, appearing on more than two dozen “soft” entertainment-style interviews during the campaign. . . He told the deejays [he] enjoys working out to Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe.”
Obama also used his strong relationships with pop culture figures to get stars like George Clooney and Sarah Jessica Parker to direct their pro-Obama efforts toward targeted demographic groups in which the Obama data machine discovered that they would have the greatest appeal. . . the strategy paid off, especially with America’s screen-loving youth.
Nothing symbolized that strong Hollywood-Democratic Party relationship more vividly that Michelle Obama’s center-stage role at this year’s televised--to a gigantic worldwide audience--Oscar ceremony, presenting the award for best picture from the White House, backed by the U.S. military in dress uniforms.

This blog has repeatedly noted that Hollywood seems to have supplanted religion’s place in American culture. Now with the First Lady, in the role of Queen Michelle, tying herself to Hollywood the way presidents used to grab onto God and religion at key moments in our history, who can doubt Hollywood's triumph?

Much of this is due to organized religion’s decline. Listen to Washington Post ombudsman Patrick Pexton, charged to be the keeper of his employer’s conscience, justifying a Post reporter’s attack on religious conservatives:
most journalists have a problem with religionists telling people what they can and cannot do. We want to write words, read books, watch movies, listen to music, and have sex and babies pretty much when, where and how we choose.
In other words, at one of America’s top newspapers we now call people of faith “religionists” (as opposed to socialists?), while defending “if it feels good, do it” morality.

And what of Republicans, who still tend to take organized religion seriously. What role can they possibly hope to play in America’s current “cool” and “hipster” culture? Liberal sage James Fallows, in the Atlantic magazine he once ran, pointed out that “Ridicule is generally more threatening to a public figure or a public idea than ‘logical’ rebuttal is. That's why Colbert and the Daily Show matter.” (The Daily Show and Colbert Report dominate late night TV among viewers 18-to-34, as well as among young men.) Fallows is right, so why should there be serious talk (as we just attempted) about culture, religion, values, and morality at all?

Over 50 years ago, Federal Communications Commission chairman Newton Minow famously called television a “vast wasteland.” There are notable exceptions, but generally Hollywood movies and TV have sunk lower since, to today’s open sewer.  Don’t we think of Rome as marked by excesses of immorality and violence that sent it into decline, with Emperor Caligula’s reign an especially low point?

Yet earlier this month, Justin Timberlake hosted Saturday Night Live. Timberlake, a respected member of Hollywood’s performing elite, ran through a series of tasteless, raunchy skits, topped by one where he played Caligula as a sympathetic figure! How low can they go? Hollywood, though ostensibly in jest, admiring Rome at its worst.

Timberlake sympathetically playing sadist Caligula touches the most objectionable side of Hollywood’s Rome-like decadence--its affinity for gratuitous violence. The Newtown massacre last December raised anew the possible link between mass media violence and impressionable potential mass killers. And once again, Hollywood, at least in the form of Tinseltown’s Vincent Bruzzese, president of the motion picture group at the market research firm Ipsos, brushed off any responsibility for the consequences of their work:
If [violence] didn't make money, studios wouldn't make these movies. It comes down to what's the biggest audience we can get for the best film we can make. The studios would put out a four-hour documentary about how to garden tulips if they thought they'd have a $100-mil opening weekend. But it doesn't work that way.
So that’s it. From the industry that routinely attacks capitalism’s greed, a straight defense of violence when it feeds Hollywood’s greed.

Happy Easter.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Just Maybe? “Marriage + Family = Success”?

There are signs our national elite is awakening to America’s broken home disaster. Megan McArdle of the liberal-leaning “Daily Beast” is a moderate former senior editor at the (liberal) establishment Atlantic.

McArdle has fixed on Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry’s critique, in Forbes, of economist and author of The Great Stagnation Tyler Cowen’s New York Times op-ed. In his column, Cowen proclaims--to much approval from his fellow economists--that economists are biased (toward “good,” but biased anyway). Gobry notes that “economists praise Cowen’s finding,” even though it “undermines economics’ claim” to be based on “scientific knowledge.”

Gobry offers an example of economists’ bias: the discipline’s relative treatment of college versus marriage as a path to success. As McArdle puts it, “College improves your earning prospects.  So does marriage.  Education makes you more likely to live longer.  So does marriage.”  So she sides with Gobry when he asks why economists strongly back initiatives to move people into college, yet rarely back initiatives to get people married.

McArdle quoting Gobry:
economists’ “cosmopolitan perspective” (as Cowen puts it) makes them not feel good at the idea of public policy that would interfere with personal choices (allowing for a second that getting married is a “personal choice” in a way that going to college isn’t). Most economists think that government should not interfere or have a stance one way or another with decisions that feel intimate to people. That is a complete value judgement. And it’s a completely defensible one.
But at the level of the economics profession, this leads to bias: much more ink is spilled on, and thought given to the college wage premium than the marriage wage premium. One is mostly praised and interpreted in a certain way, while the other is mostly ignored. And, of course, the thing that academic economics focuses on has an effect on elite debate and public policy, especially when the socially liberal, pro-higher ed biases of economists line up well with those of the rest of the elite.
McArdle offers her own reason economists ignore the value of marriage:
all economists are, definitionally, very good at college.  Not all economists are good at marriage.  Saying that more people should go to college will make 0% of your colleagues feel bad.  Saying that more people should get married and stay married will make a significant fraction of your colleagues feel bad.
An even clearer sign our elite are finally grappling with marriage’s relationship to success comes from a recent column by liberal Ruth Marcus in the liberal Washington Post. Marcus defends the latest campaign of nanny City (“No Big Gulp sodas here!”) of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, this one against teen pregnancy. In addition to the poster above, Bloomberg is papering his city with ads that say, "I'm twice as likely not to graduate high school because you had me as a teen," and "If you finish high school, get a job, and get married before having children, you have a 98% chance of not being in poverty."

Marcus adds other relevant facts, including children of teenagers are more likely to be born prematurely and at low birth weight, more likely to be abused or neglected, less likely to complete high school, with boys twice as likely to end up in prison as the sons of mothers aged 20 and 21, and girls three times as likely to become teen mothers themselves compared to mothers who wait until 20 or 21. Only half of teen mothers obtain a high school diploma by age 22 compared to 89% of women who did not give birth as teenagers, and less than 2% of mothers who give birth before age 18 obtain college degrees by age 30, with half below the poverty line and the family's chances of living in poverty increasing as children grow older.

Marcus believes the New York City ad campaign will work. The city’s existing anti-pregnancy effort includes making “Plan B” emergency contraceptives available in schools, the effort helping drop teen pregnancies 27% over the last decade. And in Milwaukee, which once had the country’s second-highest teen pregnancy rate, teen pregnancies have fallen five years in a row -- faster than the national average -- since the city instituted "shock advertising" similar to New York’s. Says New York City's human resources director Robert Doar, "Cultural messages do matter, whether it's smoking or drunk driving or obesity."

Who would oppose a campaign against teenage pregnancy? Marcus calls out New York State Sen. Liz Krueger ("This campaign seems laser-focused on shaming already struggling teen parents or, ludicrously, convincing teens not to get pregnant because really bad things will happen"), City Councilwoman Annabel Palma (Teenage mothers across the city will feel "shamed and stigmatized"), and most of all, Planned Parenthood of New York City, whose Haydee Morales complained the ad campaign "creates stigma, hostility and negative public opinions about teen pregnancy and parenthood."

Of Planned Parenthood’s objections, Marcus responds, “Excuse me, but we're not supposed to have a negative opinion about teen pregnancy and parenthood? Isn't that the planned part of Planned Parenthood?”

Marcus writes that saying it's a shame when a teenager gets pregnant certainly isn’t the same as shaming pregnant teenagers. Being squeamish about pregnancy does teenagers no favor. To Marcus’ credit, she goes on to criticize “undue squeamishness” about “out-of-wedlock births in general.”

Though neither Bloomberg nor Marcus directly advocate marriage before baby, a campaign to slow down children having children does move our largest city in the right direction.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

No Dad, Big Problem (II)

Walter E. Williams is a black, conservative economist at George Mason University. He also is appalled at America’s working-class family breakdown.

In Investors Business Daily, Williams makes these points:
  • 29% of white children, 53% of Hispanics and 73% of black children are born to unmarried women. The absence of a husband and father from the home is a strong contributing factor to poverty, school failure, crime, drug abuse, emotional disturbance and a host of other social problems. [emphasis added] 
  • the low marriage rate among blacks is relatively new. Census data show that a slightly higher percentage of black adults had married than white adults from 1890 to 1940. 
  • In 2009, the poverty rate among married whites was 3.2%; for blacks, it was 7%, and for Hispanics, it was 13.2%. The higher poverty rates — 22% for whites, 35.6% for blacks and 37.9% for Hispanics — are among unmarried families. 
  • Other forms of cultural deviancy are found in the kind of music accepted today that advocates killing and rape and other vile acts. Punishment for criminal behavior is lax. 
Glenn Harlan Reynolds, a University of Tennessee law professor, is similarly alarmed. In USA Today, Reynolds writes:
why don't people get married. . .? [B]ecause they don't have to. Single motherhood (or fatherhood) is no longer looked down upon . . . Shotgun weddings are largely a thing of the past. Welfare payments and other social assistance can (partially) replace a father in the house. (When you subsidize something, you get more of it -- and we're subsidizing unmarried mothers). And. . . marriage [is] much less attractive . . . than it once was. [emphasis added]
marriage and kids [are] now seen as something closer to exile from adult life -- imprisonment in the land of Chuck E. Cheese and My Little Pony. Suburban parents often drive SUVs instead of minivans because minivans, though more practical, are associated with low-prestige activities like parenting, while SUVs are associated with higher-prestige activities like whitewater kayaking. . .masculinity in today's society [is] not a dad -- just look at the bumbling doofuses who portray dads on pretty much every TV commercial and sitcom.
The problem [is] the kids do worse. A government check isn't a substitute for a father, and. . . single-mom kids . . . tend to do worse on measures ranging from educational attainment and future income to criminality. And the process feeds on itself: Women want "marriageable" men -- those with good incomes and stable lifestyles -- but the more single-parent households there are, the fewer men are likely to be "marriageable" in the next generation.
Neither Williams nor Reynolds mention Charles Murray’s research on families Coming Apart, but both seem in tune with Murray’s concern that a government-encouraged moral breakdown contributes to the problem.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

No Dad, Big Problem (I)

Derek Thompson, writing in the Atlantic, is appalled by what’s happening to American families. He’s stung that “58% of first births in lower-middle-class households are now to unmarried women,” while “two in five of all births are to unwed mothers, an all-time high.” To Thompson, the big question is, “Why so few marriages?"

His answer:
  • marriage like any other contract [is] most likely to happen when the gains are big. So we should expect marriages among low-income Americans to decline if women perceive declining gains from hitching themselves to the men around them. 
  • Low-skill men have had a rough two generations. The evaporation of manufacturing work has gutted their main source of employment, while globalization has held down their wages. Marriage has declined the most among men whose wages have declined the most (see graph below--hit to enlarge). 
  • Thompson quotes from The Truly Disadvantaged author William Julius Wilson, who argues that "high rates of unemployment and incarceration mean. . .the local dating pool [is] populated by unmarriageable men--[so] women chose to live independently." 
  • Thomson also believes it’s much easier to raise a child and keep a home given modern household innovations, including cheap prepared foods, cheap clothes, machines to wash and dry, and to vacuum. Machines not only encourage women to seek work, but also make it easier for them to raise a child alone. 
In the end, this is bad news, suggests Thompson, meaning “women find themselves drifting ‘unintentionally’ into parenthood with men they have no intent of marrying,” thereby creating “another generation of problems.”

To Thompson, it’s pretty much economic determinism, a concept associated with Marxism. At least Thompson, however, sees family breakdown as a problem.

This blog, in contrast to Thompson, has repeatedly followed the lead of Charles Murray, whose book Coming Apart first and best documents family breakdown in the white working class since the 1960s.   Murray pins the breakdown on “Hollywood” values combined with government policies that encourage single (female) parent families, while lowering the importance of (male) employment.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Harvard takes on Princeton (II)

Harvard's Alesina
Way back in 2010, when everybody in Washington seemed determined to anoint Representative Paul Ryan as the ultimate Serious, Honest Conservative, I pronounced him a flimflam man. Even then, his proposals were obviously fraudulent: huge cuts in aid to the poor, but even bigger tax cuts for the rich, with all the assertions of fiscal responsibility resting on claims that he would raise trillions of dollars by closing tax loopholes. . . Since then, his budgets have gotten even flimflammier. . .

“[L]et’s turn to the serious proposals. . . the one released by Senate Democrats[, b]y comparison with the Ryan plan, . . . is a very reasonable plan indeed.”

--Paul Krugman, New York Times

As the title indicates, this is our second time going to Harvard to answer Paul Krugman, the Nobel prizewinning Princeton economist. Our thanks to Daniel Henninger, who in the Wall Street Journal, has grabbed onto the work of Harvard economist Alberto Alesina.

Henninger calls Alesina “the last economist that Democrats want to deal with” at a time the country is gaining sympathy for spending cuts. He notes that Democrats have long believed in the 1931 Keynesian multiplier (“spend your way to prosperity”; Paul Krugman), saying no president believes in it more than Obama.

Alesina contrarily argues for a combination of significant, permanent cuts in public spending and small tax increases, if any. His views come after Alesina and his colleagues analyzed the International Monetary Fund history of all fiscal plans enacted by 17 OECD governments--including the U.S., Canada and Japan--between 1978 and 2009. Together, these countries tried everything to grow the economy—raise spending, cut spending, raise taxes or cut them, in endless combinations.

Alesina and company concluded:
"Adjustments based upon spending cuts are much less costly in terms of output losses than tax-based ones.  [Cuts] have been associated with mild and short-lived recessions, in many cases with no recession at all. Tax. . . increases—have been associated with prolonged and deep recessions."
Alesina says the European debate over "failed austerity" is misleading because it emphasizes the spending cuts but rarely refers to tax increases. In truth, "austerity" plans fail to revive growth when they too heavily rely on raising taxes—in Europe or in the U.S.

The studies found that fiscal plans based on large, permanent spending cuts lead to renewed growth more than any alternative policy mix tried. Canada is the leading example the past 15 years. Henninger adds that in the U.S., the Dow reached its all-time high after the sequester happened. Weren’t the cuts the first credible step in rebuilding private-sector confidence?

The Patty Murray Senate budget: A $975 billion spending cut and a $975 billion tax increase. The Paul Ryan House budget: $4.6 trillion of spending cuts and no new taxes beyond the fiscal-cliff increases.

Henninger concludes the Murray budget would be a disaster, while the Ryan budget is the way to go, if Harvard’s Alesina is right.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Viva il Papa! Francis fights poverty.

"Francis . . . is attuned to the needs of the impoverished, perhaps more than any of his predecessors since John XXIII. If [he] first addresses . . .social justice, it may be the result of his pent-up frustration with the increasing gap between rich and poor"

--John Moody, Fox News and former TIME Vatican correspondent and Rome bureau chief  

“Francis, Go and rebuild my Church, which you can see has fallen into ruin." 

--God to St. Francis

The Catholic church’s renewal and reform effort is in its 55th year, having begun with the papacy of John XXIII in 1958. Francis will continue this renewal, which weaves between reform (John XXIII: 1958-63 and John Paul II: 1978-2005) and consolidation (Paul VI and Benedict XVI), with Francis' elevation suggesting another surge forward. That is good.

The 1.2 billion-member church faces what secularists believe to be its terminal crisis, the one resulting from the scientific progress sweeping religion aside in Europe, North America, and even Latin American cities. Relevancy is important in the Catholic fight for survival; empty churches symbolize approaching death.

The previous great Catholic renewal effort--the 100 year Counter-Reformation which began in 1545 with the Council of Trent--rebalanced Europe between Catholics and Protestants, and kept the church relevant through the next three centuries. In the present renewal, John XXIII (and Paul VI) democratized the faith with vernacular language masses, greater reliance on scripture and the life of Jesus, devolution of greater authority to bishops (over 5,000 today), and greater participation by lay people.

John Paul II is remembered for drawing developing world Catholics into full church participation. But John Paul’s greatest contribution was precipitating the Soviet empire’s collapse, which began in Poland with his 1978 selection as pope, an event that led directly to the rise of Lech Walesa, Solidarity, liberation of the Eastern Europe satellites the following decade, and finally the U.S.S.R.‘s complete break-up in 1991.

Now Francis will be going after poverty--the developing world’s greatest problem by far, however little the issue grips a Western elite fixed on birth control, abortion, and gay rights. (To those arguing population growth is bad for the economy, my response is: Julian Simon, The Ultimate Resource.)  Will a Catholic war on poverty restore the church’s relevance?

I would think so.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Ryan says, "close tax loopholes to spur growth, not to enlarge government."

Yesterday, House budget chair Paul Ryan said on “Fox News Sunday”:
By continuing to raise taxes to fuel more spending, you’ll never get tax reform, which is critical for economic growth and job creation. And so yes, we have an impasse right now, which is that the president wants to continue raising taxes not for deficit reduction, but to fuel more spending, and we see tax reform as an incredibly important goal in policy, to getting pro-growth economics, to getting business growing again and to hiring people. Tax reform to us is an economic growth-generating exercise.   .   .
I do believe there is a consensus for tax reform. There are a lot of moderate Democrats, especially in the Senate, that are in favor of lowering tax rates by closing loopholes. That's what we are proposing. Stop picking winners and losers in Washington. Let people keep more of their hard-earned money. You don't lose revenue for the federal government. And you make it easier for small businesses to create jobs and hire more workers. We think there is a bipartisan consensus for that and I'm hoping the president comes to join that consensus.
Obama wants to close tax loopholes benefiting the wealthy, in order to underwrite more government spending. Ryan and Republicans instead want to lower tax rates, especially the corporate tax rate now at 35% the highest in the developed world, in order to fuel private sector growth and investment.

“Tax reform” to Ryan means using Obama's desired loophole closing to finance lower tax rates, and to do so during this time of unbalanced budgets by keeping net taxes where they are now. Ryan is not, as some Republicans want, asking to lower total tax collections, nor does he want to raise them, as Obama advocates.

Ryan’s goal is economic growth.  And if you want economic growth and jobs, Ryan's tax reform path of exchanging loophole closing for lower rates is the road to follow.

Friday, March 08, 2013

Huh? Jobs up, stocks up, Obama approval drops?

Big numbers are making big news. The two biggest economic numbers are the monthly jobs report (which includes the unemployment rate), and the daily Dow Jones closing. Both are doing well, with the Dow at all time highs. Yet the most important political number--the president’s job approval rating which is tracked daily like the Dow--isn’t doing well at all. What gives?  


The U.S. economy created 236,000 jobs in February and the unemployment rate fell to its lowest level since late 2008. This in spite of expectations that higher taxes and federal spending cuts would damage the economy. The number of people who found work in February easily topped Wall Street forecasts of 160,000 jobs. The job creation pace in February was the fastest since November, and entering the new year, the U.S. has averaged more than 200,000 new jobs a month.

The unemployment rate, meanwhile, fell to 7.7% from 7.9%. Experts said the unemployment rate would stay at 7.9%. The last time the jobless rate was this low was in December 2008, before Obama took office.  

Yet . . .

“MarketWatch’s” Jeffry Bartash, who supplied the positive figures quoted above, added in his report:
the falling jobless rate stemmed mostly from a small decline in the size of the labor force, reflecting the most negative aspect of an otherwise upbeat employment report. The percentage of people who have a job or are looking for one fell a tick to 63.5% and matched a 32-year low.
Some 22.6 million Americans remain out of work, including nearly 5 million who have been without a job for at least six months. The unemployment rate is an even higher 14.3% when including people who have gotten too discouraged to look for a job or who can only find part-time work.


The market is booming . Wall Street loved the latest jobs figures, sending the Dow (14,397) to an all time high for the fourth day in a row, with NASDAQ (3,244) higher than it’s been since 2000, and the S&P 500 (1,551) within 14 points of its all time high.  My FOX Index (see chart), which tracks the distance from 15,800, the “healthy” market minimum total of a Dow of 12,000, an S&P 500 of 1,300, and a NASDAQ of 2,500, reached its all-time high of +3,392. (Obviously, since the Index only began in August 2008.) It’s all seemingly great economic news.  

But. . .

While Jeffrey Anderson at the conservative Weekly Standard points out that since March 2009, the Dow Jones Industrial Average has risen about 100% in inflation-adjusted dollars, at the same time, the typical American family’s income has fallen 6% or $3,168 (from $54,752 to $51,584), and the share of employed Americans has dropped by 1.3% (from 59.9% to 58.6%). Anderson believes that
the big government-big business alliance benefits the big guy.  . . heavy-handed regulation and cronyism, and . . . redistributing some portion of the [wealth] isn’t actually an effective solution to income inequality.  Rather, this approach — an example of trickle-down economics if ever there was one — has managed to undermine growth and equality simultaneously. A far better approach would be to decentralize power.

Job Approval

Most people pay little attention to Obama’s job approval ratings, if they even know such a number exists. But after years of closely following political reporting out of Washington, I’m convinced the almost-daily job approval tracking numbers from Gallup and Rassmussen, along with results from other recent polls and especially when brought together in the “RealClearPolitics” President Job Approval average, is to political junkies what the Dow is to stock brokers.

Few if any Washington potentates refer to the “RealClearPolitics” average. That’s possibly because the site as yet lacks the prestige of Dow Jones, possibly because “RealClearPolitics” seems to lean conservative (while striving to be scrupulously nonpartisan), and more than possibly because the D.C. pontificaters like to think they practice an art, not something reduced to a three-digit number. But the number exists, and its hard for a commentator to write Obama is flying high when his approval rating is below 50%, and the commentator’s fellow scribes all know it.

It’s time for this blog to record, therefore, the fact that Obama’s "RealClearPolitics" job approval average has now fallen below 50% for three days running, something that didn’t happen in Obama’s first term until November 26, 2009, or more than a year after he was elected. As the chart below shows, the president’s approval rating shot up after last year's re-election, probably emboldening him to go after Republicans on tax increases and to defend big spending in hopes of destroying the GOP. It didn’t work, his job approval rating dropped, and recently, his partisan attacks have eased.  

Still. . .

Will the economy help Obama, if job growth continues and the stock market boom is extended? Of course it will, and his job approval ratings--closely tied to the economy--will reflect that positive development. But the stock market rise and job gains first have to translate into real economic growth. That hasn’t happened yet.

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Schizophrenia and Mass Killings: Feds Botch Treatment

Dr. E. Fuller Torrey, founder of the Treatment Advocacy Center, tells us that 50 years ago, the federal government created community mental-health centers, or CMHCs, to take the place of state mental hospitals. The fed action was historic because care of the mentally ill had been a state responsibility for over a century.

And the fed take-over was a big mistake.  Quoting Torrey:
  • Over the following 17 years, the feds funded 789 CMHCs with a total of $2.7 billion ($20.3 billion in today's dollars), as the number of patients in state mental hospitals fell by three quarters—to 132,164 from 504,604—and those beds were closed down. 
  • From the beginning, it was clear that CMHCs were not interested in taking care of the [discharged] patients. Instead, they focused on . . . "the worried well." [Though] individuals discharged from state hospitals initially made up [just] 4% and 7% of the CMHCs patient load,. . . the longer the CMHC was in existence the lower this percentage became.  [CMHC] failed because it did not provide care for the sickest patients released from the state hospitals. 
  • half [those discharged from state mental hospitals], many of whom lack family support and suffer from the most severe illnesses such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, have done poorly. . . these untreated mentally ill are responsible for 10% of all homicides (and a higher percentage of the mass killings), constitute 20% of jail and prison inmates and at least 30% of the homeless. Severely mentally ill individuals now inundate hospital emergency rooms and have colonized libraries, parks, train stations and other public spaces. 
  • Meantime. . . Medicaid and Medicare [--not] originally intended to become a major federal support for the mentally ill [--] now fill that role. In 2009, 4.7 million Americans received [social security support] because of mental illnesses, not including mental retardation, a tenfold increase since 1977. The total cost was $46 billion. 
  • The total Medicaid and Medicare costs for mentally ill individuals in 2005 was more than $60 billion. . . the annual total public funds for . . . treatment of mentally ill individuals is now more than $140 billion. The equivalent expenditure [when] the CMHC program [began] was $1 billion, or about $10 billion in today's dollars. 
  • President Obama['s] Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration['s] contribution to the . . . Dec. 14 Newtown tragedy focused only on school children and insurance coverage. . . its current plan of action for 2011-14, a 41,000-word document, includes no mention of schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or outpatient commitment. 
Torrey states the federal experiment has failed, as seen most recently in the mass shootings by mentally ill individuals in Newtown, Conn., Aurora, Colo., and Tucson, Ariz. He concludes, “It is time for the federal government to get out of [mental health treatment] and return the responsibility, and funds, to the states.”

Schizophrenia and Mass Killings: The Facts

Paul Steinberg, a psychiatrist in private practice, has in the New York Times given us a compelling picture of what’s wrong with our current treatment of potential mass murderers. According to Steinberg, we are the victims of
too little education about the public health impact of untreated mental illness.
too few psychiatrists to talk about and treat severe mental disorders — even though the medications now available can be remarkably effective.
too much concern about privacy, labeling and stereotyping, about the civil liberties of people who have horrifically distorted thinking.
As a result, we neglect the rights of ordinary Americans to be free from being shot.

Steinberg makes these points:
  • The most common source of severe psychosis in young adults is schizophrenia, . . a physiological disorder caused by changes in the prefrontal cortex, an area of the brain that is essential for language, abstract thinking and appropriate social behavior[, a] brain area . . . weakened by stress. . . often . . . in adolescence. 
  • [schizophrenia] may result in auditory hallucinations, as well as disorganized thoughts. When the voices become commands, all bets are off. . . symptoms include . . . distorted thinking. . . a spaceship, or a comic book character — is controlling one’s thoughts and actions. 
  • People with schizophrenia are unaware of how strange their thinking is and do not seek out treatment. 
  • At Virginia Tech, where Seung-Hui Cho killed 32 people in a rampage shooting in 2007, professors knew something was terribly wrong, but he was not hospitalized for long enough to get well. 
  • The parents and community-college classmates of Jared L. Loughner, who killed 6 people and shot and injured 13 others (including a member of Congress) in 2011, did not know where to turn. 
  • what demons tormented Adam Lanza, who slaughtered 26 people at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn. on Dec. 14, are not known, though his acts strongly suggest undiagnosed schizophrenia. 
Steinberg specifically criticizes the so-called Goldwater Rule, an ethical standard of the American Psychiatric Association that prevents psychiatrists from commenting on someone’s mental state if they have not 1) examined the person and 2) received permission to discuss the case. As a result psychiatrists, the ones who know the most about severe mental illness, have been marginalized.

And he reminds us that medication and treatment work. The vast majority of people with schizophrenia, even untreated, are not violent, though they are more likely than others to commit violent crimes.

Steinberg believes we need
criminal penalties for those who sell weapons to people with clear signs of psychosis; greater insurance coverage and capacity at private and public hospitals for lengthier care for patients with schizophrenia; intense public education about how to deal with schizophrenia; greater willingness to seek involuntary commitment of those who pose a threat to themselves or others; and greater incentives for psychiatrists to treat the disorder [over] less dangerous conditions.
For an idea of what Steinberg’s recommendations are up against, listen to Abby Rapoport, writing in the progressive American Prospect:
The stereotype that the mentally ill are very violent is simply incorrect. According to the National Institute for Mental Health, people with severe mental illness, like schizophrenia, are up to three times more likely to be violent, but “most people with [severe mental illness] are not violent and most violent acts are not committed by people with [severe mental illness.]” On the whole, those with mental illness are responsible for only 5%  of violent crimes.