Nearly every day lately brings reports of deepening poverty and social disintegration in Connecticut, but state government fails to put them together and make sense of them.
.... School systems in Manchester and Vernon announced plans to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants to induce parents to get involved with their children's education. In some school systems such involvement is no longer even common.
Governor Malloy announced a $12 million federal grant "to expand high-quality preschool" for children from poor families and thereby "ensure that all Connecticut children have the resources and support they need to enter kindergarten ready to excel."
A study by a professor at North Carolina State University concluded that Bridgeport, Hartford, and New Haven lead the country in the flight of middle-class families from cities whose schools are being dragged down by students from poor households.
About three dozen young people acting as a "flash mob" were caught on security cameras looting a convenience store across the street from the Legislative Office Building in Hartford. The video was broadcast on television statewide. Interviewed about it by a TV station, a neighborhood resident remarked that when he was a kid his mother would have killed him for behavior like that. But today as many as 90 percent of city children lack two parents or even one.
.... The Connecticut Mirror reported that 500 students in New Britain are homeless or "couch surfing" as their families live temporarily with relatives or friends.
Traffic in front of a McDonald's restaurant in Hartford was blocked by a few dozen fast-food workers, mostly unmarried and unskilled women with children, to publicize their call to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour. A few days later the Connecticut Low-Wage Employer Advisory Board endorsed the idea. "People who work full-time should not be living in poverty," the board's chairman said.
State government's primary response to such things long has been to throw more money at them. But the poor have remained poor and become more numerous, their children have not been educated enough to break out of poverty, instead suffering debilitating medical and emotional problems, and the cities where the poor inevitably concentrate have become less livable. While this suggests that state government's policy premises are horribly mistaken, state government never reconsiders them. Instead it just doubles down.
But kids don't need "high-quality preschool" even a fraction as much as they need two devoted and competent parents. Businesses can survive only if wages are determined by the value an employee produces, not, as the movement for raising the minimum wage insists, by the number of an employee's dependents. And subsidizing people to have children outside of marriage before they can support even themselves, as welfare policies do, just keeps manufacturing poverty and turning the cities into poverty factories.
That is, the more Connecticut tries to remediate poverty, the more it creates poverty and child neglect and abuse requiring remediation and the more it destroys lives, schools, and cities. What Connecticut needs is poverty prevention, policies that encourage self-sufficiency instead of dependence.
Last week the WSJ published an essay by Paul Bloom, "The Perils of Empathy"., in which he distinguishes between empathy: identifying with the feelings of a person, and compassion: concern for others and caring about their fate. Empathy, he says. leads to bad decisions about policies and individual actions, while "rational compassion", using the cortex of the brain.
Given all these problems with empathy, it’s a good thing that we can use rational deliberation to override its pull. Most people would agree, on reflection, that these empathy-driven judgments are mistaken—one person is not worth more than eight, we shouldn’t stop a vaccine program because of a single sick child if stopping it would lead to the deaths of dozens. We can appreciate that any important decision—about criminal justice, diversity policies in higher education, gun control or immigration—will inevitably have winners and losers, and so one can always find someone to empathize with on either side of the issue.What about our motivation to be good people? If we don’t empathize with others, don’t feel their pain, why would we care enough to help them? If the alternative to empathy is apathy, then perhaps we should stick with it, regardless of its flaws.Fortunately, empathy isn’t the only force motivating us to do good. Empathy can be clearly distinguished from concern or compassion—caring about others, valuing their fates. The distinction is nicely summarized by the neuroscientists Tania Singer and Olga Klimecki in a 2014 article for the journal Current Biology: “In contrast to empathy, compassion does not mean sharing the suffering of the other: rather, it is characterized by feelings of warmth, concern and care for the other, as well as a strong motivation to improve the other’s well-being. Compassion is feeling for and not feeling with the other.”
Dr. Bloom's essay is an excerpt from his forthcoming book “Against Empathy: The Case for Rational Compassion,” - it sounds to me that Chris Collins up at the Inquirer has already read it.