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Friday, 7 December 2012

Welfare and Prison Systems Reward Wrong Behaviours

I confess that I watch The X Factor.

For some time a few years ago the groups were doing badly in the competition. As a consequence the number of applications from groups to enter the contest fell so low, that new groups had to be formed by the judges putting together individual contestants in order to have enough entries for the group category.

In the last few years X Factor groups have performed remarkably well, with some of them becoming household names and selling who knows how many records even internationally.

Now the judges have no more problems in finding sufficient numbers of groups applying to the X Factor.

This is the illustration of one of the simplest and most universal principles governing all animal behaviour, human and non-human alike: a desired result, called "reward" in psychology's learning theory jargon, encourages the rewarded behaviour, while an undesired result, called "punishment" in psychology terminology, discourages, deters from the punished behaviour.

Yet this simple, commonsensical thing that everybody understands and knows (which governs, for example, the education, socialization and acculturation of children) is not applied in some of the most important areas of our society and our authorities' policies.

The most blatant example of a perverse system of incentives rewarding the wrong behaviour is the welfare state. Everybody knows that, with welfare the way is run now, many people are actively encouraged by paradoxical, corrupting, deleterious government policies (which, to its credit, the current UK government is trying to reform) to stay away from work often all their lives and for generations, to have more children out of wedlock and without a father, and generally to scrounge from taxpayers as much as they can.

People who work hard are "rewarded" by high taxation.

Similarly, with the noble purpose of preventing them from re-offending, prison inmates are offered free training, life skills programs, drug and alcohol rehabilitation programs, substance-abuse counselling, job placement and housing when they are released. In these circumstances, you can say that crime certainly pays. Lots of people who want these desirables know that all they have to do to get them is to break the law and be considered at risk of re-offending.

This is what ideology, in particular socialist ideology, does to people, in power and non: they abandon the tools of reason and empiricism, logic and observation of evidence, to follow instead the diktats of their pet superstition.

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