Home > Uncategorized > What Mitt Romney Doesn’t Get About Responsibility – Bloomberg

What Mitt Romney Doesn’t Get About Responsibility – Bloomberg

September 20, 2012 Leave a comment Go to comments

In their book “Poor Economics,” the poverty researchers Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo try to explain why the poor around the world so often make decisions that befuddle the rich.

Getting By

Their answer, in part, is this: The poor use up an enormous amount of their mental energy just getting by. They’re not dumber or lazier or more interested in being dependent on the government. They’re just cognitively exhausted:

“Our real advantage comes from the many things that we take as given. We live in houses where clean water gets piped in — we do not need to remember to add Chlorin to the water supply every morning. The sewage goes away on its own — we do not actually know how. We can (mostly) trust our doctors to do the best they can and can trust the public health system to figure out what we should and should not do. … And perhaps most important, most of us do not have to worry where our next meal will come from. In other words, we rarely need to draw upon our limited endowment of self-control and decisiveness, while the poor are constantly being required to do so.”

Banerjee and Duflo’s argument has been increasingly confirmed by the nascent science of “decision fatigue.” Study after study shows that the more we need to worry about in a day, the harder we have to work to make good decisions.

As economist Jed Friedman wrote in an online post for the World Bank, “The repeated trade-offs confronting the poor in daily decision making — i.e. ‘should I purchase a bit more food or a bit more fertilizer?’ — occupy cognitive resources that would instead lay fallow for the wealthy when confronted with the same decision. The rich can afford both a bit more food and a bit more fertilizer, no decision is necessary.”

The point here isn’t that Romney is unfamiliar with cutting-edge work in cognitive psychology. It’s that he misses even the intuitive message of this work, the part most of us know without reading any studies: It’s really, really hard to be poor. That’s because the poorer you are, the more personal responsibility you have to take.

Romney, apparently, thinks it’s folks like him who’ve really had it hard. “I have inherited nothing,” the son of a former auto executive and governor told the room of donors. “Everything Ann and I have, we earned the old-fashioned way.” This is a man blind to his own privilege.

Which is his right. But that sentiment informs his policy platform — which calls for sharply cutting social services for the poor to pay for huge tax cuts for the rich — and it suggests he’s trying to make policy with a worldview that’s completely backward.

via What Mitt Romney Doesn’t Get About Responsibility – Bloomberg.

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