Ideas

UNCOMMON KNOWLEDGE

Where children are safer

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Iowa, 2015.

State of abuse and neglect

One of the functions of government is to intervene when children are abused or neglected. But as with other issues, each state is different. According to a sociologist at the University of Washington, “Children in Iowa enter foster care at a rate 4.5 times greater than do children in neighboring Illinois, and children in Wyoming enter foster care at a rate 4.8 times greater than do children in Virginia.” In general, states with more generous welfare programs and less punitive criminal justice systems have lower rates of child removal and institutionalization, even controlling for rates of unemployment, crime, child poverty, single-parent households, and state politics. The effect of welfare generosity was tempered somewhat by having more welfare staff per capita, perhaps because they can turn up more cases.

Edwards, F., “Saving Children, Controlling Families: Punishment, Redistribution, and Child Protection,” American Sociological Review (forthcoming).

Feel the Bern. . . of inflation

Until the Reagan Revolution, labor had become increasingly powerful relative to capital. Inflation had also become a problem. Then, after the Reagan era, labor and inflation were tamed. Many economists have attributed the taming of inflation to monetary tightening, but sociologists at Johns Hopkins University argue that “continuous low inflation despite rising government spending and money supply growth over the past two decades, as well as the high inflation in the 1970s, can be better explained by a class power perspective.” Their analysis of developed economies from 1960 through 2009 reveals that labor’s share of gross domestic product, the fraction of workers in a union, and the unemployment rate have much more significant effects on inflation than the money supply, controlling for imports from developing countries, labor productivity growth, gross domestic product growth, and oil prices. Thus, the “imperative of fighting inflation is about reviving capital’s power” over labor, such that “the inflationary crisis in the 1970s was a crisis of capital more than a crisis of labor.”

Hung, H. & Thompson, D., “Money Supply, Class Power, and Inflation: Monetarism Reassessed,” American Sociological Review (forthcoming).

Troublemakers

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School suspensions are often a prelude to criminal activity. While many contributing factors are out of the school’s hands, psychologists at Stanford University hypothesized that an attitude change on the part of teachers could make a difference. After a simple experiment found that teachers’ punitive attitudes could be moderated by reading about how “good teacher–student relationships are critical for students to learn self-control,” the psychologists conducted a larger experiment in middle schools in California. Math teachers were randomly assigned to receive a 45-minute lesson midway through the fall semester and a 25-minute follow-up lesson two months later that “encouraged teachers to understand and value students’ experiences and negative feelings that can cause misbehavior and to sustain positive relationships when students misbehave.” Students of these teachers were half as likely to be suspended during that school year, and the most at-risk students — those who had been suspended the previous year — ended up perceiving just as much respect from teachers as nonsuspended students.

Okonofua, J. et al., “Brief Intervention to Encourage Empathic Discipline Cuts Suspension Rates in Half among Adolescents,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (forthcoming).

Try them and you may, I say

The Dr. Seuss book “Green Eggs and Ham” is one of the most popular children’s books of all time, even though the author was constrained to use only 50 different words. A psychologist thinks there may be something to this approach, which she’s dubbed the Green Eggs and Ham hypothesis. In experiments, college students were asked to come up with two-line rhymes for various greeting-card-style messages (happy birthday, congratulations, etc.). Some of the rhymes had to include a concrete noun specified in advance. Rhymes created with this constraint — whether the noun was supplied by the researcher or the student — were judged to be more creative than rhymes created without this constraint. Unconstrained rhymes were also more creative if they were created after, rather than before, creating constrained rhymes. In other words, there was a creativity spillover from being initially constrained.

Haught-Tromp, C., “The Green Eggs and Ham Hypothesis: How Constraints Facilitate Creativity,” Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts (forthcoming).

Motivated by corruption

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A key assumption in the Supreme Court’s rulings on campaign finance regulation is that the appearance of corruption will make people cynical and discourage political participation. However, campaign finance regulations don’t appear to have stemmed the tide of cynicism, and a new study suggests that the perception of corruption may have a counterintuitive effect. National survey data from both 2009 and 2012 indicate that the perception of corruption is associated with greater political participation, not less, even controlling for age, race, education, income, interest in politics, partisan intensity, and ideological intensity.

Kelly, K., “Political Quid Pro Quo and the Impact of Perceptions of Corruption on Democratic Behavior,” Election Law Journal (forthcoming).

Kevin Lewis is an Ideas columnist. He can be reached at kevin.lewis.ideas@gmail.com.
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