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Department of "Huh?"

Tom Maguire reads Orlando Patterson in the New York Times, and Tom's head explodes:

JustOneMinute: It's Hard Out Here For A Black Man (Cont.): [Patterson writes:] SEVERAL recent studies have garnered wide attention for reconfirming the tragic disconnection of millions of black youths from the American mainstream. But they also highlighted another crisis: the failure of social scientists to adequately explain the problem.... The main cause for this shortcoming is a deep-seated dogma that has prevailed in social science and policy circles since the mid-1960's: the rejection of any explanation that invokes a group's cultural attributes — its distinctive attitudes, values and predispositions, and the resulting behavior of its members — and the relentless preference for relying on structural factors like low incomes, joblessness, poor schools and bad housing...

Why have academics been so allergic to cultural explanations? Until the recent rise of behavioral economics, most economists have simply not taken non-market forces seriously. But what about the sociologists and other social scientists who ought to have known better?....

Tom says:

I'm a bit surprised by his theme - I would have thought that problems with inner-city culture have been discussed for decades. Just for example, what have people meant by "babies raising babies", or by worrying about absent fathers?

What Tom doesn't understand is that Orlando Patterson has been frozen in a block of ice inside the Museum of Comparative Zoology for thirty years, and has no knowledge of the state-of-play of intellectual debates over poverty in America.

What remains a mystery is why Orlando Patterson is so interested in trashing:

The Urban Institute: Reconnecting Disadvantaged Young Men (Book)Author(s): Harry Holzer, Peter Edelman, Paul Offner. By several recent counts, the United States is home to 2 to 3 million youth age 16 through 24 who are out of school and out of work Much has been written on disadvantaged youth, and government policy has gone through many incarnations, yet questions remain unanswered. Why are so many young people "disconnected," and what can public policy do about it? And why has disconnection become more common for young men--particularly African-American men and low-income men--than for young women? In Reconnecting Disadvantaged Young Men, Edelman, Holzer, and Offner offer analysis and policy prescriptions to solve this growing crisis. They carefully examine field programs and research studies and recommend specific strategies to enhance education, training, and employment opportunities for disadvantaged youth; to improve the incentives of less-skilled young workers to accept employment; and to address the severe barriers and disincentives faced by some youth, such as ex-offenders and noncustodial fathers. The result is a clear guidebook for policymakers, and an important distillation for anyone interested in the plight of today's disconnected youth. With a foreword by Hugh Price, former President and CEO, National Urban League

In fact, what remains a mystery is why Orlando Patterson himself seems to have no research strategy in mind at all other than to trash everybody else's research strategy:

A Poverty of the Mind - New York Times: we need a new, multidisciplinary approach toward understanding what makes young black men behave so self-destructively. Collecting transcripts of their views and rationalizations is a useful first step, but won't help nearly as much as the recent rash of scholars with tape-recorders seem to think. Getting the facts straight is important, but for decades we have been overwhelmed with statistics on black youths, and running more statistical regressions is beginning to approach the point of diminishing returns to knowledge.


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