Understanding Household Financial Distress: The Role of Noncognitive Abilities

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Yves here. I wish I could present this post as a critical thinking test, but instead I’m going to give you the punch line first and perhaps readers will have debate the issue of the prejudices of the comfortable versus the realities of being financially stressed (wonk speak for “desperate”) at greater length.

This post tries wrapping what amounts to morality (the old deserving versus non-deserving poor) and trying to legitimate it by making psychological claims. The study claims, in only slightly more neutral language, that “households” that exhibit “lack of conscientiousness, stress resistance, non-impulsiveness, or grit” are more exposed to “financial fragility”. In other words, people of poor character are more likely to be poor!

One big problem is that the authors used a questionnaire to assess personality traits. I’ve know some therapists, and one with serious academic chops stressed that just about no survey instruments are “well validated”. Translation: most are bunk.

Second is at best all they are doing is measuring a correlation. How about “having your finances fall apart” which can be through no fault of your own (illness + medical bills, dealing with death, divorce, or other emotional and financial stresses) makes you an emotional basket case? Anyone who has dealt with a supposedly successful men (the prototypical “big producers”) will tell you that their professional performance almost without exception takes a big hit when they are getting divorced.

Third is that the idea that poor people should be able to function like middle class people is unrealistic middle class prejudice. As Cathy O’Neil wrote on her blog in 2014:

I’ve long thought that the “marshmallow” experiment is nearly universally misunderstood: kids wait for the marshmallow for exactly as long as it makes sense to them to wait. If they’ve been brought up in an environment where delayed gratification pays off, and where the rules don’t change in the meantime, and where they trust a complete stranger to tell them the truth, they wait, and otherwise they don’t – why would they? But since the researchers grew up in places where it made sense to go to grad school, and where they respect authority and authority is watching out for them, and where the rules once explained didn’t change, they never think about those assumptions. They just conclude that these kids have no will power.

Similarly, this GoodBooksRadio interview with Linda Tirado is excellent in explaining the rational behavior of poor people…

Among the things she explains is why poor people eat McDonalds food (it’s fast, cheap, and filling), why they don’t get much stuff done (their lives are filled with logistics), why they make bad decisions (stress), and, what’s possibly the most important, how much harder work it is to be poor than it is to be rich. She defines someone as “rich” if they don’t lease their furniture.

By Gianpaolo Parise, Economist, Bank for International Settlements and Kim Peijnenburg, Associate Professor in Finance, HEC Paris. Originally published at VoxEU

Cognitive skills are often considered the key to financial wellbeing. Less weight is put on noncognitive skills. This column shows how a lack of conscientiousness, stress resistance, non-impulsiveness, or grit can explain economic fragility in households. When members possess these noncognitive skills, the household is more likely to save, less likely to have excessive unsecured debt, and less likely to be in financial distress.

Policymakers try to improve the financial wellbeing and resilience of households, especially of the most vulnerable. A recent Federal Reserve Board survey finds that almost half of US households would not be able to cope with an unexpected expense of $500 (Federal Reserve Board 2016). What drives heterogeneity in financial wellbeing in the first place? Recent research has shown that income differences are driven, in part, by noncognitive abilities (Heckman et al. 2006, Lindqvist and Vestman 2011). Using household survey data from the Netherlands, we find that these ‘character’ skills influence the financial wellbeing of households beyond the income differences they cause (Parise and Peijnenburg 2017).

It is hard to measure the strength of noncognitive abilities, particularly because there is no exact definition of what they are. We use emotional stability and conscientiousness as measures of noncognitive abilities, which are both derived from the ‘big five’ personality traits. This is a model of personality developed in psychology in the 1980s (Costa and McCrae 1985, Goldberg 1992), in which survey questions can measure personality traits, that has been applied in economics. ‘Emotional stability’ is the ability to remain calm when faced with pressure and stress, and also means not becoming anxious easily, or acting impulsively. This skill is important for making carefully thought-through financial decisions. ‘Conscientiousness’ describes the tendency to be organised, practical, dependable, and self-disciplined. This skill is important for keeping household finances in check and assessing the feasibility of purchases, for example whether it a good idea to buy a car on credit.

Noncognitive Abilities as a Source of Heterogeneity in Financial Choices

A savings buffer to cope with future bad times is key to protecting a household from financial fragility. Conscientious people are better planners and organisers, and this may mean they build up a savings buffer so they are less financially fragile. If these households are faced with job loss or unexpected health expenses, they tend to cope better. In our study, we find that people with lower noncognitive abilities tend to save less. Figure 1 illustrates this.

Figure 1 Percentage of individuals who save, by noncognitive ability

The rise in unsecured borrowing over the last decade has led many households to face severe financial distress, and even bankruptcy (Carrell and Zinman 2014). The annual costs of unsecured borrowing are sometimes more than 100% of the loan amount, leading to a vicious circle of financial strain. Figure 2 shows that noncognitive ability explains in part why some households refrain from building up this costly debt, while others decide to borrow.

Figure 2 Percentage of individuals with unsecured debt, by noncognitive ability

The difference in character skills has important implications for inequality in income, wealth, and health. People with less-developed character skills not only have lower incomes and make worse financial choices, but also tend to be in worse health (Heckman et al. 2017). In aggregate, differences in character skills have a significant detrimental effect to equality. This comes at a time in which polarisation is already considered a problem.

The Detrimental Effect of Low Abilities on Financial Distress

Our research shows that households that fall in the lowest categories of noncognitive abilities are nine times as likely to be in financial distress than people in the highest category (Figure 3). Financial distress can be measured in several ways, but all paint the same picture. Noncognitive abilities influence payment delinquency – both in the short and long term – the probability of having been visited by a debt collector, or of not being able to pay an unexpected expense of €500.

Figure 3 Percentage of individuals in financial distress, by conscientiousness and emotional stability

Where Do Abilities Originate From and Why Do Abilities Matter for Households’ Finances?

Character skills are part genetics and part the influence of early childhood experience. In adulthood, these skills are hard to change. Using panel data, we find that a person’s noncognitive skills are highly correlated over time. More research, however, should be devoted to whether traumatic events can alter a person’s abilities, either in the short run or even permanently.

By what channel do noncognitive abilities influence financial choices? An answer would suggest how to incorporate noncognitive abilities in economic models, and would provide insight for policymakers on if, and how, noncongitive abilities could be improved. We find evidence that character skills influence the productivity of effort, and the cost of effort of financial decision making. For example, a more conscientious person is better at gathering and processing information on different investment opportunities, and at making an informed decision. A more emotionally stable person can calmly decide how to invest pension wealth.

Opportunities to Improve Households’ Financial Health

Two types of policies might enhance household financial wellbeing. Since in adulthood character skills are harder to change, policies for adults should be geared towards limiting the negative effect of existing low abilities. For example, people could be provided with stimuli to save sufficiently for retirement, or advice on how to invest their pension.

Also targeting young children to design educational programs that develop noncognitive abilities would be highly cost-effective. Recent research shows the return on investment in education from birth to age five is 13% (Garcia et al. 2016). High-quality education should not only foster cognitive skills, such as the ability to acquire and retain knowledge (Heckman et al. 2013, Cunha et al. 2010). Character – perseverance, motivation, self-esteem, emotional stability, and conscientiousness – is important too, as this research has shown. Improved noncognitive abilities will greatly influence financial wellbeing, income, education, and health throughout the life of an individual.

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  1. jerry

    “Policymakers try to improve the financial well-being and resilience of households”

    You know you’re in for some balanced, objective information when the paper starts with a line like that. Are you sure about that, guys? Are you sure it isn’t exactly the opposite – that policymakers are continuously undermining the financial well-being of households?

    And then goes on to admit that there really is no way to define the terms that they surveyed people on, and are now making sweeping conclusions based off of.

    Yikes, wouldn’t want to have my name on that one.

    1. Disturbed Voter

      Bourgeois values and virtue signaling? I am shocked I tell you! Most studies are designed to come to the preconceived conclusions that the people paying for the studies want to hear.

      Some people are rich who don’t deserve to be, and some deserve it. Other people are poor who don’t deserve to be, and some deserve it. How will a policy change human nature and 5000 years of recorded history? Seems to be over-reach to me, and coming from the wrong profession. Addiction counselors might help, including helping those addicted to consumerism and financialism. Pastors/priests/imams might help.

      Just say no to comparing yourself materially to other people. The rich fear to lose even part of what they already have. The poor fear that they will never get more than what little they have now. Just say no to fear, and say yes to the 10 commandments or the 7 cardinal virtues.

      1. Si

        This is one of the most balanced and rational comments I have read. I am not kidding when I say I felt a kind of peace reading it.


    2. perpetualWAR

      I stopped reading that bunch of crap after that line too. Almost threw my monitor across the room.

      What is this doing on NC???

      1. Yves Smith Post author

        Did you bother reading my intro? It’s useful to be able to debunk this sort of thing. This attitude is pervasive. And the odds favor this study will be picked up by the MSM.

        1. clarky90

          IMO, Parise (an economist) is following a well-worn “playbook”.

          (1) Identify the group targeted for liquidation. (Roma, Jew, kulak, Aborigine, American Indian, American Deplorables….)

          (2) Recruit insider scientists/intellectuals to to “discover” that the targeted group is sub-normal cognitively (unworthy of Life).

          (3) Have a Noble Cause that requires Tough Action by Determined Leaders (Collectivization, Racial Purity, Bringing Christian Values, Saving the Planet….)

          (4) Proceed, as Stalin would say, to “break the eggs to make the omelette”. (Democide). This is the “unpleasant cleansing” that, however disturbing, must be done for the “greater good”.


          It is happening, as I speak, in the beautiful little town that I grew up in, on the banks of the Ohio River, in Southern Ohio. (drugs and hopelessness)

          Seventy-five years ago, it happened to my Jewish forebears in Belarus.

          Three hundred years ago my Minqua (Iroquois) forbears were destroyed by this murderous rationalization.

          This sort of article is not an exchange of ideas, but rather a crafted assault on a vulnerable group of humanity (in this case, the Poor)

          Thank you Yves for bringing this to our attention!

          1. clarky90

            This last century, Scientists, Intellectuals, Academics, and Religious Leaders have been viewed as Powerful Military Assets, or Military Threats by totalitarian regimes.

            They have been used to progress the goals of regimes. (The Nazi Doctors of Auschwitz)

            Or, if they question the regime, they are the first to be rounded up, jailed or murdered.

            The Khmer Rouge immediately murdered anybody who wore glasses or had soft hands.(Intellectuals).

            When the Soviet Union invaded Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia in 1940, the first thing the NKVD did was round up local Scientists, Intellectuals, Academics, Religious Leaders and Cultural Leaders and deport them to the Gulags or, more likely, kill them.

            The Nazis behaved in exactly the same way with the Cultural leadership of Poland, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia…..

            This is how totalitarian regimes operate and how they view the “brainiacs” of this World. Brainiacs are merely military assets to be deployed brutally against the enemy. Or, if the Brainiacs are perceived to be “Assets of the Enemy”, they are targeted for destruction- First, Foremost and on the double!

            I believe that we have a naive view of “experts”; imagining benign, tweed coated/skirted, helpful, good-hearted, “Good Will Hunting” types. Thanks Hollywood!

        2. Harry

          This stuff upsets me too much to really be a useful exercise. After I read it I want to stop strangers in the street and rant at them.

          This – “they are poor because they are bred that way” stuff – deserves the kind of “debunking” that I am too old to hand out.

    3. PKMKII

      Are you sure it isn’t exactly the opposite – that policymakers are continuously undermining the financial well-being of households?

      Savings for resiliency work against constant consumption, which TPTB values above all else.

      1. Art Eclectic

        Resilience would make them less easy to fleece. That would be a negative outcome for rent-seeking businesses that write our legislation.

    4. Steeeve

      Need to improve character skills = “person of low breeding.” The kind of savages who probably let their kids run around naked. Also: provide advise on how to invest their pension? What pension? At best maybe how to afford to contribute to a 401k and still pay your bills, but that’s already a top 10 or 20% concern.

  2. Ulysses

    “Conscientious people are better planners and organisers, and this may mean they build up a savings buffer so they are less financially fragile.”

    The hourly wage necessary, to rent a 2-bedroom apartment in New York State (an amount lower than in NYC alone) is $25.67. http://www.citylab.com/housing/2015/05/mapping-the-hourly-wage-needed-to-rent-a-2-bedroom-apartment-in-every-us-state/394142/

    Do you think, even with the generous tippers who inhabit the Upper East Side, that the people working for Dean & DeLuca at 1150 Madison are making that kind of money?!?? Of course not!!

    Low wages, not imprudence, is why the vast majority of Americans cannot “build up a savings buffer.”

    1. HarrisonBergeron

      I couldn’t agree more. With a graduate degree (business) and a high level of economic knowledge, I have found it nearly impossible to build a savings buffer. Yesterday I interviewed for a job where the salary net of taxes would have only been enough to repay my student loans in 10 years. Yes, you read that right a sales job that would top out at maybe $40k gross with a $28k salary in Chicago.

    2. different clue

      How does one build up savings when one makes so little money that every meager penny is already pre-overcommitted to purchasing the bare survival-necessities of existence? And every meager second/minute/hour of the day is already pre-overcommitted to making those few meager pennies?

    3. LD

      Yes, and this study could easily control for income. My guess is that they’ve done it but don’t include it in the write-up because the relationships lose significance.

  3. FedUpPleb

    The Global Ascendancy is at present, seeking some ideological, theocratic, or meritocratic philosophy which justifies their rule and ultimately the ending of the ability of democracies to challenge them. To date, the philosophies of neoliberalism, and marketism have proved sufficient. But in an time od electoral revolt, a stronger position is needed.

    It is not that this article has been designed for such a purpose, per se. It is that there is a general intellectual consensus among the Ascendancy class that they are being challenged by the voting “D’eplorables”, and as in any class warfare they will consciously and unconsciously seek means to defend and assert their supremacy. The common air of contempt for “rural” — now even “suburban” — populations, and the decrying of “populism”, are manifestations of this. But this will morph into an ideology opposed to the democratic veto sooner rather than later. Such an ideology requires at least some intellectual foundation. You will see more such essays to discover one over the coming years

    1. casino implosion

      This is your captain speaking. The fed up plebs in steerage cannot be allowed to storm the bridge and get their hands on the controls of Spaceship Earth. For the safety of all passengers and the very fate of the earth itself,citizens with less than a masters degree from a recognized institution will be relieved of their vote by the sergeant at arms and confined to the cargo hold until further notice.

      1. Disturbed Voter

        Thank goodness I already have my masters degree ;-) So any of you Deplorables out there, please contact me so I can sneer in your general direction and give you ineffective advice on how to be wonderful, just like me ;-)

        1. Richard Creswell

          I got my MS in 1976.All I learned was how to live on $ 1800/year. Have been minimum wage half my working life. Was not a ” bright young person” according to the caucus chair.

      2. Tigerlily

        A while ago Yascha Mounk had a great piece in Slate called The Week Democracy Died.

        The gist of it that Western elites are quickly coming to the realization that while we can liberalism, and we can have democracy, we can’t necessarily have both at the same time – and given the choice they are becoming increasingly comfortable with the idea that it is preferable to jettison democracy in order to save the neoliberal project.

  4. Carla

    Pick upper middle class parents. That’s all one has to do to and the rest seems to fall into place in this land of “opportunity.”

    1. Disturbed Voter

      I picked good parents, but there was a lot of difficulty in the voyage so far, like my parents not being able to remain upper middle class. But I persevered in spite of that, and with a devalued college education, managed to make it into the lower middle class. Net downward mobility has kept me humble.

  5. Moneta

    The marshmallow test is a farce because no one can measure the degree of love for marshmallows. I only like them in rice crispy squares or roasted in a campfire. So if I were one of those kids tested, I would have had no problem waiting and it would not have been because I had such great will power.

    1. justanotherprogressive

      The marshmallow test is a farce period! I shake my head every time I hear someone referring to it as a somehow valid indicator of anything.
      As someone who grew up dirt poor (welfare class) there are two things that I knew as a child:
      1) People will promise you anything – that doesn’t mean they will keep their promises.
      2) If there is something good out there that you can get, you’d better get it quicky because it may not be there long…..

      The marshmallow test isn’t a test of will power, it isn’t a test of anything but the cognitive dissonance of the class system…..
      Thank you Yves for pointing that out!

    2. kareninca

      Thank you!! I have been waiting for years for someone to make that point about the study. I despised marshmallows as a child. I would have handed the nasty thing to another kid.

      I have wondered if there might be some independent quality that causes children to both dislike marshmallows and have lots of self-restraint. That would really screw up the test results.

  6. allan

    Can’t comment on the validity of the study in the post,
    but will point out that it’s hard for kids to “develop noncognitive abilities” when they have PTSD,
    whether from military warfare, gang warfare or class warfare:

    Study: Much trauma in southwest Rochester kids

    Two years ago, the Boys and Girls Club on Genesee Street became a byword for violence in the city of Rochester when seven people were shot, three fatally, in a drive-by shooting right outside its doors.

    The shocking eruption of gunfire surely had a searing impact on the scores of children and teenagers who witnessed it. Unfortunately, it was only the most prominent of many sources of trauma for young people for whom the club is a safe haven.

    A new survey by University of Rochester Medical Center student researchers illustrates the extent of that trauma and establishes a path forward in addressing it. …

    The results from the Genesee Street children surveyed, with a median age of 8, were sobering. More than 40 percent reported having a household member incarcerated, or having parents or guardians who were separated or divorced. One in four had been subjected to physical abuse, and one in five reported substance abuse in the home.

    Overall, 77 percent of the Boys and Girls Club children had at least one ACE [adverse childhood experiences], and 48 percent had two or more. The researchers suspect that data underestimates the problem, as some of the young children may have misunderstood some of the survey questions or been afraid to answer truthfully about problems in their homes. …

    File under America is Already Great.

  7. CD

    The above article considers the idea that to hold down a job and save money in our society, ie, be free of financial distress, requires certain psychological habits or traits.

    So if you are anxious, you’re likely to be less capable of job and savings, ie, are less emotionally stable. And if you can’t persist in your job, work towards its goals, ie have low conscientiousness, you’ll also be less capable of job and savings.

    But aren’t being anxious and uncertain inherent in being in the working class, or lower? In other words, the variables here aren’t disentangled, they’re inter-correlated.

    So, yes, this is a well-meant study that needs to go back to the drawing board. It wouldn’t pass peer review.

    By the way, the Big Five Personality traits have been well studied and are accepted. They are considered to be valid. So the problem isn’t here. The big problems in the study I’ve sketched above.

  8. JohnnyGL

    In one paragraph, Mark Blyth summed up this whole line of ridiculous, tough-love, ‘people just need a nudge’ mode of thinking that has come out of behavioral economics.

    “You make that move and you basically take the bottom 30% of the income distribution and say we don’t care what happens to you. You are now something to be policed. You are something to have your behaviour changed. We’re going to nudge you into better behavior, as the Americans like to say. It’s a very paternal, very patronizing relationship. This is no longer the warm embrace of social democracy, arm-in-arm in solidarity with the working classes. They are there to be policed and excluded in their housing estates so that you so that you feel safe in your neighborhood. So that you can have your private schools. There they have their public schools which you don’t really want to pay taxes for any more.”


    When the behavioral economists first came out and smashed the idea of the human being as a solitary rational actor, I was a big fan. However, pieces like the above are often used to justify some mild policy tinkering which, at best, will only soften up the hard edges of neo-liberal economics.

  9. McWatt

    The traps are out there. Everywhere they are visible and everyday someone is setting a new trap for the unwary.
    Who are the unwary? They are the trusting, regardless of economic status. One of my tenants signed up for a predatory auto loan and didn’t realize it. Missed a payment and the interest skyrocketed. My super wealthy
    world renowned multi-doctorate brother-in-law just got taken in the India IRS scam.

    We have read many times on this fantastic web site of the opioid addiction running rampant through our country. This morning, on the TV, there was an ad for a medicine to cure the constipation of opioid use. On national TV, an ad, for opioid constipation relief medicine. It is unbelievable.

    These traps are set for us. No one is looking out for us. These predators want to take advantage of us. If you are nice and trusting, they will.

    1. IHateBanks

      But notice in the commercial, the colonically challenged opiod user is a fit, white, male handling blueprints at a construction site. He isn’t doing manual labor. He and his wife probably have the twin clawfoot bathtubs overlooking their winery, for when he uses his little blue pill to make the lower front side of his torso function.

      I don’t see him as a typical opioid user, but the DOES likely have health insurance, thus the commercial.

    2. JohnnySacks

      And he cracks jokes about it! Ha ha! I’m not ‘holding it in. Aren’t I the funny guy while on my very probable path of addiction self destruction. But we’ll cover that in a follow up commercial for an addiction treatment provider.

  10. From Cold Mountain

    To me, this study is not laying blame on people, but rather shows how capitalism treats people indiscriminately and harshly based on a genetic role of the dice.

    What is gross is that they are saying that those of us that are emotionally unstable* should change to fit into a capitalist system instead of having the capitalist system change for us. This study is f*cking promoting brainwashing! We should all learn to be conscientious as the rentiers take our last dime! Disgusting!

    *To me, emotionally unstable really means calling out bullshit and unfairness when you see it. And I wear my emotional instability with a badge of honor. It was passed down to me from my constantly striking coal mining grandparents on one side and my Bowery living grandparents on the other.

    1. jrs

      “To me, this study is not laying blame on people, but rather shows how capitalism treats people indiscriminately and harshly based on a genetic role of the dice.”

      yea no kidding

    2. furiouscalves

      Yes. This article is an extension of the centuries old blacklist for those of us with a noncognitive abilities deficit.

      If anything, it smells like the fear of the creditors realizing that the debtors just might be gaining leverage. Its just some more psychometric carpet bombing aimed at the other side of the transaction.

      Decades of their earned wages progressively & insidiously stolen and ending up transformed over time into a debt they somehow now owe their lords. That lending to the victims of wage theft juiced things up nicely with incredible scale and a manageable push back. So they kept on lending…and with an ever loosening credit standard.

      Debtors relationship with debt has been transformed into a contract that really has lost its force and meaning. When the creditors care so little about the quality and ability of the debtor to pay, debtors learn to tell them to pound sand. Makes sense, prudent. Just like the creditor would do if in their position.

      Isn’t it poor self control to lend to a deadbeat? Lack the diligence to make sure the other party is legitimate? Continue to lend into a imploding market? Does that mean creditors lack conscientiousness, stress resistance, non-impulsiveness, & grit too?

      You, Me, Same. With Canadian housing & Chinese WM products, creditors rights will only continue to collapse.

      1. McKillop

        Do we need a reminder that ‘when you owe a few thousand dollars, you have a problem; when finance companies are owed trillions, they have a problem’?
        Ans the problem is many “youse”.

    3. cripes

      Cold Mountain:

      Have you been to the Bowery lately?

      The Sunshine Hotel with $8 a night flops in chicken wire cubicles is long gone.

  11. paul

    Policy should be directed towards developing the lifelong fortitude to manage your own misery.

    After all, it’s just going to get worse.

    The global mega-fauna must continue to roam and graze as they wish.

    Do you really need those fancy qualifications to come up with this guff?

  12. paul

    There’s a good list of links showing how the blue tories are helping people to manage with less

    A sample:

    Food bank use across UK at record high, reveals report

    Laggan’s Zielsdorf family to be deported next month

    Almost 600 Suicides Could Be Related To DWP Work Assessments

    50,000 disabled people ‘have adapted vehicles removed’

    In-work poverty hits record high as the housing crisis fuels insecurity

    Grieving mum found hanged near Bedroom Tax eviction letter

    UK public sector net debt hits highest on record at £1.65tn

    The rogue bank, the failing company and the Tory Party donations

    Government welfare cuts to drive another one million children into poverty

    Landlord Tory MP says law requiring homes be fit for human habitation is an unnecessary burden

    1. perpetualWAR

      At least the British MSM is covering their slide. Our MSM keeps saying “everything’s fine.”

      1. Ivy

        The American Lügenpresse is quite selective in what it deigns to print or air. Thank heavens for independent journalists.

  13. Susan the other

    These guys researched the wrong subjects. They should apply their precious variables to the banksters; the warmongers; the monopolists; the polluters; the pushers of all ilk, the frauds and the fatuous. Then at least we’d all have a good laugh. It would make a great comedy schtick.

    1. cripes


      A-fooking-min to that.

      And drug testing, and means testing and equal treatment by the criminal justice system.

  14. DH

    I have always wondered how successful the big producers, such as Wall Street traders, would be if they were subjected to random stop-and-frisk of them in their cars and coming out of the bars at night like they would be regularly subjected to if they lived in poor neighborhoods. It is likely that a lot of DWI and drug charges would be filed, similar to what we see in the inner city, with attending legal issues impacting their productivity. Assuming they then faced the court system with court-provided counsel instead of highly-paid Harvard Law grads, I wonder how many of them would be back at work the next day?

    My spouse teaches in an inner city school and its pretty much only the immigrant kids who have intact families providing them with support at home – most of the American (black, white, and hispanic) kids in her classes have parents in jail, domestic abuse protective orders, etc. They are frequently raised by their grandparents or other relatives. Playing outside at recess and lunch at school is very important because many of the kids live in neighborhoods where it is unsafe to play outside. Being poor is very effective at teaching kids how to be poor.

  15. justanotherprogressive

    Gianpaolo Parise is just another one of those Ivy Tower types who has never been poor and hasn’t even the imagination to understand what poor is so his article is…..well, to be kind, toilet paper. I’m sure it appeals to all those other people who have never been poor also because the poor make such an inviting target (after all, it IS harder for them to fight back!). But two things really stuck out for me….

    1. “Character skills are part genetics and part the influence of early childhood experience. In adulthood, these skills are hard to change. ”
    Bullcocky. According to him, I should still be on welfare. I know many, many people who grew up in poverty, or were suddenly made poor because of a number of reasons, like a major employer leaving town or medical issues…..none of them due to “genetics” or “early childhood experiences”….and if they had enough opportunities, they managed to escape their poverty….and that had nothing to do with “genetics” or “early childhood experiences” either.

    2. “Also targeting young children to design educational programs that develop noncognitive abilities would be highly cost-effective.” HUH? So instead of giving them opportunities to escape their poverty, you want to “develop noncognitive abilities”? Is that to make them more satisfied with their poverty, the old “people should know their place” thinking?

    Oh, and this little gem also stood out: “People with less-developed character skills not only have lower incomes and make worse financial choices, but also tend to be in worse health”. Their worse health isn’t based on the high stress lives they lead or the lack of adequate healthcare – it is based on “less-developed character skills”? Could have fooled me!

    BTW another thing that gripes me (since I am unloading) – the people who shame poor people because they bring their children to McDonalds every once in a while…..don’t these people think that maybe they are doing that just to feel normal for a few minutes? They can’t take them to the restaurants these poor shamers go to, they can’t even take them to the Olive Garden or Outback but they can at least feel as though they too are enjoying some of this country’s culture, if only for a little while. Is that really too much for the poor shamers to bear?

    1. Disturbed Voter

      It is vitally important for the upper class to prove, that success is genetic, so that they can safely build an inherited aristocracy that we thought we had escaped in the 18th century. Eventually our leaders will have no practical skill at statecraft at all, just be incredibly entitled in-bred idiots.

      1. From Cold Mountain

        Success IN CAPITALISM has a lot to do with genetics. That is not to say there is something wrong with people who do not have the genetics to put up with capitalism. It is only capitalism that thinks that.

          1. H. Alexander Ivey

            The genetics of ‘upper class parents’. The meritocracy is marrying itself.

            The only trouble is getting your parents to stay upper class! Who knew that Lamark was right after all!! (Larmark argued that if an organism changes during life in order to adapt to its environment, those changes are passed on to its offspring. So, once you fall out of the upper class, your genetics change and you can’t go back home, angel. hahaha – sometimes I just can’t stop myself. hahaha)

          2. From Cold Mountain

            There are several polymorphisms that control the rate of catecholamine metabolism and function (receptors and transporters). Brunner syndrome is a good example of a single gene change, but it takes a whole pathway to make serotonin, dopamine, etc. And Brunners Syndrome is a good example of a polymorphisms that could cause diet to more influence behavior since MAO uses a form of riboflavin as a cofactor.

            I know it is hard to accept that genetics can play a role (not a complete one) in our behavior. But if you are still having a hard time how would you explain schizophrenia or even my long family history Apsergers, anxiety, depression and suicide? Is is all just social issues? I will tell you it s not, because I saw my genetics and I am an outlier to say the least.

            But if you are saying genetics are not the issues than what is it that makes me “fail” under capitalism, my will power?

            And also, did you know that the average height of managers is taller than the average populations? Again, mostly genetics.

            1. justanotherprogressive

              Well, then, forget all that giving people opportunities to help them get out of poverty then, huh, because, after all, it’s “genetics” and there is nothing you can do about “genetics”, is there? Yea, isn’t that a great way to let everyone off the hook…….
              But what it also does is imply that the poor have inferior genes……remember that eugenics thing? We all know where that led.

              BTW, how does your “genetics” argument address people like me who grew up in abject poverty and still managed to pull down six figure salaries in their lives? There are a lot of us out there……..
              How does your “genetics” argument address people who were making a good living, and then because they lost jobs or got sick, ended up in poverty?
              Is there some magical thing that changes our genetics during our lifetimes?

              Sorry, the poor DO NOT have inferior genes, they have inferior opportunities. Poverty isn’t a disease and there is no future CRISPR technique that will fix it. You are just going to have to get rid of poverty in the same old way it has always been got rid of – by giving people the opportunities they need to have a decent life…..

              1. From Cold Mountain

                You are making a lot of knee jerk assumptions about what I am writing which is going to make it difficult to have a conversation.

                I did not say the genes were inferior, I am saying they are different and might not mesh well with a capitalist socio-economic structure. Maybe they would fit better in an anarchist society, for example.

                I did not say “all people who are poor have different genetics”. And I did not say one cannot over come their genetics. I am saying that capitalism does not give a sh1t about you or your genetics. It is not me who sees my genes as inferior, capitalism sees them as inferior. Capitalism does not care if you get cancer from a rare gene defect, nor does it care if it gives get cancer. directly You are an externality. Capitalism CREATES poverty so people like you can make “six figure incomes”. Why do I need, or want, to have opportunities in a system that I disagree with 100%? Why do you want to stuff me in your capitalist box?

                By the way, you are not a progressive, you are a neo-liberal, justanotherneoliberal.

                1. justanotherprogressive

                  I’m sorry if I misread your statements. But you were the one that brought genetics into this argument……

                  BTW, Aspergers runs in my family too (may be the reason we are apparently talking past each other?) and I will agree that it is genetic, but I’ve never considered it a handicap, even though it means we are less “social”. My family, even from its less than stellar roots, has produced some great PhD’s, researchers, business owners, interesting people who do their own thing, etc., as I am sure your family has….

                  1. From Cold Mountain

                    The study brought up genetics, not me.

                    My family produced a lot of people who have no qualifications but does not seem to understand authority.

                    And you are not talking past me, I knew exactly what you said.

              2. jrs

                maybe opportunities are not the be all and end all but there is just a certain thereshold (of poverty) that we shouldn’t let anyone fall below whether or not they “make good use of opportunities”. I suspect that might be what is being argued. Though what policy this means I don’t know, but it does explain some of the use of disability insurance etc. (it’s not all physical problems).

                “BTW, how does your “genetics” argument address people like me who grew up in abject poverty and still managed to pull down six figure salaries in their lives? ”

                Actually you could have certain genetic positives working for you. Extroversion is generally positively viewed compared to introversion but some jobs allow introversion and ok success, level of energy may be genetic (but maybe influenced by diet, health problems etc. as well), good looks are always a positive even if genetics is not the only influence. Not having psychological problems of a severe or minor sort has a genetic component but it’s not all genetic. I would say being a white male is a genetic advantage but might get in trouble for that one :)

                “Sorry, the poor DO NOT have inferior genes, they have inferior opportunities.”

                doubt that is even what was being argued (except maybe in the original article). Opportunities can mean anything to anyone so it’s hard to even pin down. It is used to mean help that doesn’t help enough in the current system. Cold Mountain is probably arguing for a small enough percentage of the population that it won’t be seen in overall trends and maybe should not be the focus, but that does not mean it’s inaccurate. And like I said probably over-represented in the population on disability etc..

                1. From Cold Mountain

                  Agree with all you said but the last part; “Cold Mountain is probably arguing for a small enough percentage of the population that it won’t be seen in overall trends and maybe should not be the focus”

                  Being with the homeless population for a short while will show you that they are on the bottom of a sliding scale of mental difference that capitalism has no need for. 25% of the homeless are seriously mentally ill while 45% have some form of mental illness, while only 6% of the general population have any form of mental illness. I would say 45% is a large percent.

                  1. juliania

                    Okay, but take that ‘general population’ and give it a year of homelessness – see what your statistics are then.

                    Nah, give it seventeen years, just off the top of my head of course.

                    Aristotle did say some people (mostly barbarians) are born slaves. Slightly different category, but same attitude.

  16. HollyGuild

    This kind of “research” is part of why I think academia/”The Scientific Method” is completely bankrupt but I won’t start on that here…

    Economics “researchers” have figured out that behavioural economics is the way of the future. That means they need to publish in this lucrative field as soon as possible to keep their reputations up. But they don’t know anything about sociology or psychology! What to do?! The answer is somehow, always, a terribly-designed survey and some platitudes they got from reading the intro to a second year social psych textbook. Somehow the results always confirm their previous opinions. Send it off for publication, slap it on your C.V., move on to the next project. If it gets written up in a clickbait article, even better, that shit gets you funding even if it’s completely inaccurate and overblown. If it *really* takes off, you can give talks for money and write a book!

    Okay, I’ll stop…

  17. Will Nadauld

    You recently linked to a site that laid out how the apa is having a hard time replicating nearly all its studies on behavior and personality. Grant money and stature in the psych related fields are all dominated by big pharma. You recently linked to another site that had statistics showing a 75% increase in adolecent behavioral problems that are being adressed handily by psychiatriasts writing scripts off label for kids as young as three years old. The psych field has bastardized itself to the point of lunacy. I was diagnosed bipolar at 21 and have lived by my wits and physical skills for 19 years off meds. I have learned to enjoy my ups and not experience my downs. I enjoy my delusions as they create a space for me separate from the deluded masses. One thing I did learn quickly was to build as much savings as possible and to trust others to watch close for any spending binges. I have watched as nearly all my family climbed into white collar positions. They have security provided this bastardized economy hangs together and allows them to enjoy their toys and widgets, but I have learned to survive anything they can throw at me. I find the poor to be much more resilient and thought provoking than the comfortable well off. The poor will at least listen to my ramblings. My ex wifes people have a harder time realizing the dissonance in their own lives and will not discuss anything uncomfortable. The point is, poverty isn’t all bad if you have the right mind set. The problem happens when you teach your kids reality and the school and system et al is gearing them for fantasy future. see ancient druid for this line of thought and try to teach a privately schooled sales rep about the danger of an emp, or even the truth about the great recession. Thanks yves and lambert, you have been central to my ability to learn and teach for 9 years.

  18. knowbuddhau

    >>>One big problem is that the authors used a questionnaire to assess personality traits. I’ve know some therapists, and one with serious academic chops stressed that just about no survey instruments are “well validated”. Translation: most are bunk.

    Thank you, thank you, thank you. I always cringe when I see economists dabbling in psychology. It’s the blind reading the blind.

    It’s the Bogus Pipeline, only in reverse. The BP was a line of research in which subjects were told the experimenters had a method of detecting their true thoughts. Of course we didn’t. But it did make a measurable change in the data that made fodder for stats. Some call it science, but I dunno.

    In the reverse case, people take psychological measures to be as valid as physical measures of, say, height or weight etc. But when you look at the data, they’re self-reports.

    Leave it to an economist to confuse psychology with physics.

    I’m ever so obliged to learn that, way back in ’95, inadequate self-discipline on my part was the reason a promised extension to my graduate program in research psychology was arbitrarily denied. Somehow, I should’ve worked harder.

    And years later, I suppose it was somehow unconscientious of me to go to work on the last day of August, 2006, painting houses on NAS Whidbey for good money, only to find that work wasn’t there. No crew, no one to explain what happened to my good job. Just some leftover paint in an otherwise empty Conex.

    Turns out the general contractor, instead of building 400 more houses for Navy families, just kept the money.

    It was literally shocking, in that it induced shock: the sinking feeling, the sensation of being kicked in the gut, the cold sweat, the absolute confusion. This was not my reality, and yet it was.

    I’m the kind of guy who shows up at work on his day off because going to work is just what you do. But somehow I f*cked up, is that it?

    Suppose I f*cked up, too, when, in my second year of being, by all accounts, a great vacation rental caretaker, the Arizona-residing owner suddenly needed knee surgery, but Group Health wouldn’t cover her out of state, so she had to displace me to get it.

    Yeah, self-discipline, that’s my problem.

  19. PKMKII

    Classic “cart before the horse” thinking. Reminds me of when the Dubya administration sunk a cool billion into promoting marriages. Argument being, places with more marriages have higher net worth, so get more people married and net worths will go up for them! Then, as with this now, it’s the other way around. Economic stability promotes pro-social behaviors, not vice versa.

  20. Reify99

    We are getting closer to an employment test, (or other 1 page questionnaire to adjudge your suitability for anything) that decides,
    Based on correlations, (Hmph,– algorithmic black box calculations that never see the light of day), whether you get the job, the loan, the partner.
    This will work as long as it keeps the 10% comfortable, while unconsciously excluding the deplorables, all in an NPR kind of way. “All things Considered”

  21. makryu

    I’m sorry, but arguing self-report measures are all bunk and leaving it at that reveals a great degree of ignorance about how validation of psychological instruments work. Sure, Psychology is very far from Physics, and the reliance on self-reports alone to make decisions about any single person is just bad practice, as any decent psychologist will argue. All Social Sciences can be viewed as a farce if you apply to them inadequate Hard Science standards. On the other hand, many psychological instruments are helpful as detection tools when you work with large populations that you can’t interview individually, and their usefulness in research works in a similar way.

    With that out of the way, most certainly economists are hijacking and making bad use of psychological concepts in general, starting with the nonsensical “noncognitive” label, as if cognition was synonymous of “logic” or “reason”(hint: it encompasses both of these but also much more). Evaluating personal traits on several levels is useful because it highlights the fact that differences between people start from the womb, and can’t be simply attributed to right wing favorites laziness or moral corruption. What use people make of this information is up to them (and there are definitely bad uses for it, as with any piece of knowledge), but I think it can carry an unburdening effect. Poverty as a moral flaw is still the dominant belief and it hinders solidarity and empathy generally, which could possibly lessen the negative impact of poverty in the first place.

    Lastly, about the fact that middle class thinking dominates the study of delayed gratification and its impact, I totally agree that different social conditions lead to a lesser value of this skill and that it certainly influences how developed it becomes. However, I don’t see how this idea contradicts the notion that it is important for economic success or makes it any less desirable as at trait. By comparison, we can argue that in many real life settings around the world firearm proficiency from a young age could potentially improve survival rates or standards of living in a limited environment. But the notion of armed preteens it isn’t a part of most people’s ideal world, so no one’s going to rush into arguing we should applaud children for how effective at killing they are. Likewise, a world where people are unable to delay gratification effectively would obviously be undesirable (in fact, all the idiotic social network hunger for likes is a taste of what a disaster it could be), so acting as if it isn’t important isn’t going to improve the lives of people in poverty in the slightest.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Wowsers. Match for that straw? Or just a reading comprehension deficiency?

      Please reread what I wrote. It was that virtually NO psychological instruments (as in written tests) are “well validated”. This is much broader and far more damning than the issue of self reporting or not, which was not a focus of my criticism.

      I’ve done survey research professionally. Anyone who has ever done it will be strictly instructed to read the questions precisely as written. That is because poll results are incredibly sensitive to how questions are phrased and ordered. Saying “What do you think of the job Trump is doing?” versus “What do you think of the job Trump is doing as President?” will typically lead to a 10 point difference in outcomes because the addition of “as President” confers status and reminds people of the difficulty of the job.

      The validity of a written questionnaire is properly validated only by checking its results against other methods. In this case, the results of these pop surveys would need to be compared to actual psychological evaluations. That simply has not been done for the overwhelming majority of psych-looking tests.

      As to your comment about “middle class skills” you completely miss the argument made by Cathy O’Neil, that if you are poor, your life is dominated by struggling to keep your head above water. All these supposed middle class virtues like “planning” and saving are possible only if you ALREADY have a surplus of time and money and are not struggling for survival. The fact that you can’t see that is astonishing. And the idea that having the luxury of planning or not planning is some sort of immutable character attribute is prejudice. There’s no evidence that this for many people does not change with circumstance.

    1. tony

      According to Jordan Peterson, the whole concept was a scam. Angela Duckworth came up with a test that approximately measured conscientiousness, a trait that is associated in success. She called it ‘grit’ and got a whole lot of funding and fame, when everyone got interested in developing the trait.

      Of course, that trait is very hard or impossible to develop in people, and everyone knew that about conscientiousness, so it was no good money and fame.

  22. lyle

    Actually Hillbilly Eulogy hits this on the head. The author admits that until he joined the Marines he was headed in the direction suggested by the piece, but the Marines by taking him apart and putting him back together differently show him he could handle things. He comments that for enlisted folks the Marines assume they know nothing and have to be taught/shown everything. So at least in this case the Marine method appears to work. I suspect if you could have gone back and surveyed men serving in WWII between the military and combat itself, the same effect took hold. Actually a military style experience was also part of the CCC before the war. So it appears that in at least some cases it is possible to change this, all be it thru drastic means.
    (note that the author finally made it thru Yale law).

    1. Tigerlily

      I suspect if you could have gone back and surveyed men serving in WWII between the military and combat itself, the same effect took hold.

      The majority of those who served in World War II never saw combat.

      Anyway it seems to me you’re generalizing from an extremely small sample size – as in literally one individual. The fact this worked for the author of Hillbilly Eulogy -or at least that he claims it did- doesn’t mean it’s generally applicable.

      Most people who have served in the military never graduate from Yale law.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          No, you are misreading the stats, but in fairness, they are presented in a way that looks intended to mislead.

          “Non combat job” does not mean that everyone in a “combat” job actually saw a combat. There were lots of people in roles like logistics (which involves LOTS of personnel) who were part of the war effort and near the front lines but would not normally be part of the fighting. For instance, I know someone who drove trucks for the Army. He was caught in the Battle of the Bulge because that was an encirclement. But generally speaking, guys like that would not see combat.

        2. jrs

          joining the military to improve one’s life may work for some (won’t get into whether it’s right or not here) but it seems a high risk strategy with no guarantee of success.

          “According to the VA in 2011, veterans made up 14% of homeless adult males, and 2% of homeless adult females, and both groups were over represented within the homeless population compared to the general population.”

  23. LT

    Banksta economist. Figures.

    But this type of thinking among the elites is what puts me off the idea of a basic gauranteed income – it will have hellacious strings attached. They can’t wait to tell you how to live every f’in minute of the day.

  24. moby

    I mustered all my middle class grit to read this crap so that I could comment. However, reading was unnecessary as it was 100% predictable propaganda trash. Probably going to see more and more of this blame-the-victim crap as society gets worse and worse.

    It’s wrong in so many ways, but the obvious one to me is it calls being a penny pinching money grubber a virtue. So some stingy brown noser who kisses ass to keep his job, turns down family members who need loans, does what his betters tell him his whole life and has no class consciousness or loyalty is labeled someone with “character”

  25. KGC

    This isn’t entirely on-topic, as it relates more to overall strategy. But compare and contrast
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yaS3vaNUYgs (Sinéad O’Connor’s version of The Foggy Dew, using as video Michael Collins’s death and streategy of violence against the English aristocracy) and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yndityNBbJs (an Irish involuntary emigrant’s lament for the love and land he left behind; he died shortly afterward without ever seeing them again, and his love died unmarried, faithful to his memory).
    No, I don’t advocate violent rebellion, which has an extremely high cost that’s mostly borne by the rebels – cf. the population of Ireland before and after Cromwell, which has been estimated as a loss of ca. 1/3 of the population – but where’s the leverage to force the privilege to yield their privilege? Collins targeted the privileged, the agents of the oppressor, and, very importantly, knew how much he had to yield; when he signed the treaty with England, he reportedly said – quite truly – that he was signing his own death warrant. Can we do that? Who’s our Collins, our American forefathers, willing to risk their own lives and property? (My ancestors left Ireland long ago. Those of you who are still there may have more realistic views of, e.g., Collins. But he got rid of the English after an occupation of more than 700 years.)
    Sorry, I know this is unrealistic. Even if we tried Collins’s tactics, we’d lose against the militarized police and their supporting courts. But if so, what do we do? Do you really think they won’t manipulate the ballot box?
    More apologies. Too emotional. I’m too old to be hopeful, but I still care.

  26. crittermom

    “More research, however, should be devoted to whether traumatic events can alter a person’s abilities, either in the short run or even permanently.”
    Maybe they could start by examining how 8 million of us (so far) had our homes stolen–aided and abetted by ‘our’ govt–causing us to be desperate, as home prices and rents have continued to skyrocket? http://www.denverpost.com/2017/05/04/metro-denvers-average-home-sale-price-april-2017/ (IIRC from previous articles I’ve read, I believe home prices in CO have roughly increased 10% each year since mine was stolen in 2011, as the minimum wage has remained @ $7.25).

    “Policymakers try to improve the financial wellbeing and resilience of households, especially of the most vulnerable.”
    Uh, since when? What was the last ‘regime’ that had OUR best interests at heart? Ya know, those of the working class that made this country what it is was? Reference my previous rant.

    “For example, people could be provided with stimuli to save sufficiently for retirement, or advice on how to invest their pension.” “A more emotionally stable person can calmly decide how to invest pension wealth.”
    “Pensions”? Hmm…how much has the availability of jobs (outside of govt) with pensions declined in more recent decades?
    These disillusioned writers should be forced to look at the facts in both articles and charts previously shown here on NC to see how wages for the ‘working class’ have in no way kept up with inflation, and how 40 hr week jobs with benefits have declined, forcing many to work 2-3 part-time jobs to just keep a roof over their heads.

    “The rise in unsecured borrowing over the last decade has led many households to face severe financial distress, and even bankruptcy (Carrell and Zinman 2014).”
    Reference my aforementioned first and third rants–and add in student debt.

    Thanks, Yves, for an article that truly p*sses me off enough to have helped me.
    I was seriously starting to question if I wanted to begin what I’m told could be a year or more of hell next week fighting breast cancer, just to survive in this hell I’d previously landed in.
    My will is coming back, as I now want to live to see this country once again become the land of the people, by the people, and for the people, instead of just the oligarchs and idiots like the authors of this ‘study’–who are probably putting any proceeds from such garbage toward their own student debt.

      1. different clue

        Did the payment-refusal residents of Flint set up an organized Water Bill Strike? Did they set up an escrow fund to pay their Water Bill money into instead of paying it to the Water Department? Doing that would make a visible case of genuinely striking against bad water as against just being unwilling to pay for water. It might have strengthened their hand against the city’s effort to take their houses away from them. It still might.

        Because they are going to War against their City Government, even if they don’t understand that. The City certainly understands it as War and will certainly go to War against the water-bill non-paying residents. So the residents might want to created a fortified bunker position and maybe an escrow account containing all the “water-bill” money would help create that?

  27. Peter L.

    A couple of things occurred to me while reading this:

    First, if a person has beneficial non-cognitive abilities, does this in and of itself mean that person should get a larger share of our society’s resources? I’m guessing no one would dare to argue that. Presumably, the idea is that if you are lucky enough to have these abilities they will allow you to contribute more to society and therefore make you more deserving. Yet, this seems to me not to be quite fair. No one chooses to have poor non-cognitive abilities.

    Maybe it is paradoxical that we want to reward each other for good conscious choices, yet if the good choices stem from character traits that are instilled in us by genetics and caregiver decisions, it would seem to reduce the amount of credit we assign to someone for making those choices.

    If a person has little grit, should they be rewarded more than a person with lots of grit for making the same choice?

    These discussions of non-cognitive character traits are bizarre to me.

    Second, the “Two types of policies might enhance household financial wellbeing” apparently leave out the super simple: In the United States we could provide everyone with access to high quality medical care, and financial welfare that guarantees dignity. I think that pretty much solves the problems the authors are worried about. A nice side benefit for these authors is that when you aren’t stressed out, it’s way easier to worry about instilling grit in your kids!

  28. Kalen

    While it may sound little rude thinking about relation between sociology and psychology as the same as relation between chemistry and cooking. Cooking involve chemical reactions and skilled cook may again and again obtain consistent and repeatable results what does not make it however, science.

    Hence forgive me my skepticism about psycho-economy or behavioral economy as any useful tool for substantial understanding of the society at large including its economic dimension.

  29. Katharine

    They take characteristics which they admit are hard to measure or even define. They adduce a genetic component to these so-called character skills without offering any evidence for it. They show crude correlations between the characteristics and various life circumstances (offering no data on the strength of the correlations or sample sizes), and blandly suggest ways the causation they have not demonstrated might work. I can’t speak to their emotional stability or conscientiousness, but I think less conceited individuals might not have published this drivel.

  30. Harold

    All these so-called “character” qualities are in fact cognitive skills. That is the big mistake these people make. The whole notion of “non-cognitive” skill is completely bogus. The problem is that the people who talk about these so-called “non-cognitive” skills are themselves completely deficient in them.

  31. Harold


    Emotions Are Cognitive, Not Innate
    Summary: Researchers propose emotions are cognitive states which occur as a result of conscious experiences, and not innately programmed into our brains.

    Source: NYU.

    Emotions are not innately programmed into our brains, but, in fact, are cognitive states resulting from the gathering of information, New York University Professor Joseph LeDoux and Richard Brown, a professor at the City University of New York, conclude in the latest issue of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

    “We argue that conscious experiences, regardless of their content, arise from one system in the brain,” explains LeDoux, a professor in New York University’s Center for Neural Science. “Specifically, the differences between emotional and non-emotional states are the kinds of inputs that are processed by a general cortical network of cognition, a network essential for conscious experiences.”

    As a result, LeDoux and Brown observe, “the brain mechanisms that give rise to conscious emotional feelings are not fundamentally different from those that give rise to perceptual conscious experiences.”

    Their paper–“A Higher-Order Theory of Emotional Consciousness”–addresses a notable gap in neuroscience theory. While emotions, or feelings, are the most significant events in our lives, there has been relatively little integration of theories of emotion and emerging theories of consciousness in cognitive science.

    Existing work posits that emotions are innately programmed in the brain’s subcortical circuits. As a result, emotions are often treated as different from cognitive states of consciousness, such as those related to the perception of external stimuli. In other words, emotions aren’t a response to what our brain takes in from our observations, but, rather, are intrinsic to our makeup.

  32. Pia Nielsen

    ‘Emotional stability’ is the ability to remain calm when faced with pressure and stress, and also means not becoming anxious easily, or acting impulsively. This skill is important for making carefully thought-through financial decisions. ‘Conscientiousness’ describes the tendency to be organised, practical, dependable, and self-disciplined. This skill is important for keeping household finances in check and assessing the feasibility of purchases, for example whether it a good idea to buy a car on credit.

    Yes but poor people can´t always make choices on the ground of conscientiousness or emotional stability. Often it´s a choice between the right ting to do, like have a birthday present for your child, and the necessary thing to do, buy that pair of shoe you need or medicine or whatever.
    Poor people don´t act in a rational manner all the time, nobody does. It´s just us demanding them to be more rational than the rest when in fact it´s impossible.

    Poor people also are less risk-taking than other people on the ground that they can´t afford to loose. That´s understandable. If they loose, they loose it all. I don´t think the author of that experiment know poverty at all and that is really the big problem here.

    If you really want to do something for the poor kids growing up it is far better to provide common goods like cheap transportation, cheap housing, free education, better public schools, free medical care and if you occasionally should be out of work an unemployment benefit. May be their parents then get the surplus energy to make a better life for their children.
    It is almost impossible to get out of poverty once you in it without any help. But for Christ sake do not spend the money on psychologists or psychiatrists. Don´t make a whole selection of the population diseased just because they are poor.

    1. jrs

      “But for Christ sake do not spend the money on psychologists or psychiatrists. ”

      don’t think that’s how the money is usually spent that reaches the poor for such things, more likely on teaching families how to handle problems without hitting their kids and so on …

      1. Pia Nielsen

        Well. Teaching people how to handle conflicts and their children is OK. You have to deal with the symptoms of poverty right now. Like everybody else I don´t like kids to get hurt. I just find it hypocritical to reduce the problem of social mobility to individual traits in poor people like in this article. I´m afraid these problems will persist as long as poverty exist.

  33. Harold

    Education for the whole person is what educational reformers have been talking about since Plato, Cicero, Quintilian, Renaissance Humanists, Erasmus, Montaigne, Comenius, Rousseau, Goethe, Froebel, Matthew Arnold, Grundtvig, Dewey, Kodaly … etc., etc.

    It’s not as if we have to re-invent the wheel. Start with a grounding in the literature, as Finland has done.

  34. Paul P

    This hilarious post just pops with blythe ignorance of–I can’t find the word–so I’ll say everything. No business cycle, no racial and economic discrimination, no payday lenders, no recognition of the padded paychecks of the well off.

    In defending a low income tenant in landlord/tenant court who had a Section 8 rent subsidy, a landlord’s attorney remarked that she wished she had a Section 8 subsidy. She was in the process of buying a house and was blithely unaware that that mortgage interest tax deduction is the biggest housing program in the US.

    I just finished David Dayan’s Chain of Title. The problem here seemed to be the character of the well off. Obama’s HAMP program and the National Mortgage Settlement gave a bed of nails to homeowners and a feather bed to banks, services, lawyers, and judges. It’s nice to have a helping hand from Uncle Sam. An invisible hand when extended to the well off.

    NC covered mortgage fraud so well, I’m surprised it wasn’t mentioned by others. As far as Yves seeing the importance of debunking this blythe nonsense, just laugh at it. But be careful where you do it or you might face a year in jail like the women who laughed at Jeff Sessions for his saying he had a record of treating everyone equally.

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