Public Policy and the Paradigm of Assistance Versus Control

So. This article.

It’s about identifying, at a young age, children who are likely to be Drains On Society’s Resources throughout their lives, so that Targeted Interventions can be done to prevent that from happening. “Social disadvantage” is mentioned as a factor in the process of prediction, but the overall thrust of the article is that this is about something inherent to these children. Brain function and intelligence are emphasized.

The way that article tells the story, it’s a story about identifying problem people and keeping them from messing up society for the good people by using up resources.

It would be very easy for this same set of facts to tell a different story.


Please consider:

A family on welfare— which means their children get more and better food to eat and have a safer place to live, which means those children are healthier physically and mentally, and better equipped to do well in school, with all the attendant good effects on their adult lives that a happier childhood and a better education will provide—

… is nonetheless an undesirable thing according to that article. Welfare is Those 20% Of People using more than their fair share of resources and costing the government money.

But who’s going to pay for the Interventions to fix those children so that they won’t cost the government money? The government, right?

What are those Interventions going to be, if not, basically, better healthcare, better food, better education? What are welfare benefits and government-funded healthcare if not interventions paid for by the government to improve the present-day lives and future prospects of people who are living in poverty?


As written, that article is a story about saving the government money, based on the assumption that the government urgently needs to stop spending so much money on its people. It’s a story about protecting good people who produce from bad people who take. Or at best, it’s a story about pitying bad people instead of fearing them. It’s a story where spending money on social programs is a drain on society, but (spending money to) Intervene and Take Action to Fix People is good. It’s a story about taking control, to prevent bad people from doing something wrong.

It could have been a story about people who need help — who deserve help, both because helping them will help society as a whole and also because they are human beings who are struggling and they deserve not to have to struggle so hard. It could have been a story about how hard it is to thrive when you start life without a solid foundation, and what an immense positive change we can create by providing better care for all our young people. It could have been a story about how much good governments do by providing healthcare and education and all the various benefits they provide, and which of those programs are most essential, and how they could be improved.

Why did the first story get written and not the second? What makes that first story more palatable?

Pay attention to this difference of mindset, between controlling a problem and helping a person. It underlies a lot of discussions about government spending, healthcare, charity, and class and disability in general.