Is it more dangerous to know all, nothing, or just enough to think you know?

One of my favorite philosophical questions is which is more powerful, the truth, or what one wrongfully believes to be the truth?

With that question in our noggins, classmates, colleagues, friends, please lend me your ears (well eyes) for a friendly, non-credit, journey to discover how any and all can engage in a combination of basic political history, political science, and statistics in the legislative area.  Also for the actual intelligent people like my Dad with his high school diploma or my maternal Grandpa who never went to school and who I regard as the smartest individual I ever knew to this day of sometimes hobnobbing with these Johns Hopkins and Ivy league professors and alumni, the never outdated good ole stuff you learn out in the berry field, on the river or lake, in the woods, or just doing common sense work around your place.

Combining all of these disciplines and types of knowledge, we’re going to construct a non-partisan legislative analysis.  Now many don’t want a non-partisan analysis because they think everything has to be exactly the way they want things to be.  My problem is that I live in the world and not in some little convenient box where everything is controlled and have discovered that while I can fantasize about everything going as planned and being perfect, in reality that just ain’t gonna happen so why sit and whine and moan accomplishing nothing when you can just get the unpleasant finished and whine and moan at the same time.  Yep, honest multi-tasking or as Grandpa would say this field needs to be plowed, do it any way you want, but just do it right because you won’t have time to redo it.

First is some academician citation because that’s one of things that separate people in my field from those who are popular and get a lot of people they don’t know giving them heaps of money for just saying what those people want to hear whether it’s true or not.

OK, I know y’all don’t want to read a political science journal article, and good golly Miss Molly, I ain’t gonna make it a requirement for anyone to continue this journey with me because I’m just a country boy.

Now I know that the rich pundits who you don’t know will look at the citation and say Global Warming….hogwash, and be done in time to cash those checks for their opinions.  But this here is little old me so I ain’t worrying about Global Warming or even climate change which is my preferred terminology for the subject (just sayin’ there).

Seriously all I need y’all to do start out on our journey together is to take a gander at these 4 sentences from that article.

“Politicians’ incentives are asymmetrical; encouraging people to stay misinformed and politically active is often easier and produces larger pay-offs compared to encouraging them to obtain correct factual knowledge or persuading the disengaged to use their existing knowledge in the public arena.

In contrast, being informed and engaged requires, by definition, psychic and cognitive energy. But it can also involve gratification, reward and even enjoyment. So political actors are likely to obtain good results by cultivating their partisan activists; this engagement is essential and takes a good deal of time and energy, but it is not especially difficult.”

Those sentences are academic speak for sayings such as:

  • “Thar Be Profit in Ignorance,”
  • “Tell People What they want to hear, and they will eat from your hand,”
  • “Just drown it in butter, and it will taste better,” and others.

See this really ain’t hard when you put things into your own words.

OK, we’re nearing the bend, so I want y’all to picture the most negative image of what you think a person receiving welfare might look like. It ain’t a real person. We all know some people who have had a run of bad luck, and those people are often the folks who when things are different will give others the shirts off their backs just because that’s who they are.

Just picture the worst in your mind.  I mean draw the laziest, crooked est, egg suckin, kick yo dog, low-life, smellin worse than a wet chicken swimming in a septic tank, fetch me my rifle and a shovel, lower than a snake’s belly type of  “they can’t be human” scum that you can.

Here can we just agree that this scum (remember we ain’t talkin’ ‘bout no actual person we know even though we all have kinfolk or at times ourselves at least stunk like a wet chicken sprayed by a skunk) is possibly using some type of illegal drugs because it would take a heck of a lot to get that nasty without chemical assistance? Well we can hope that they had help getting that wretched.

Now at the bend in our journey, we’re gonna test this scum, well him or her, for drugs because we shouldn’t be paying for trash.

Now I think we can all agree here as well that none of us wants to pay for trash.  I’m not talkin’ ‘bout paying someone to haul it away. I’m talkin’ ‘bout delivery to our door. (Flashback time to Mr. Rollie when he was on the Parish Council and made a delivery to the Waste Management offices of the product they claimed at the time to have picked up….ah part of the good ole days of politicking I enjoyed…it wasn’t mudslinging but garbage tossing).

Rounding the bend so back to reality….

Last year the state of Mississippi passed a law which started as House Bill 49.  It’s got a long title, but in a walnut shell it says that anyone who receives TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) or the welfare as some call it, would first have to fill out this written form and if the answers on that form brought about any suspicions then that person would have to pass a drug screening to get any money.  That might sound reasonable.

This academician citation thing again, so if you want, you can read the law at the link below.

You can read about the actual requirements and benefits of TANF at the link below.

Now it doesn’t matter for my purposes if you paused to read the law and program info or not ‘cause we done gone ‘round the bend and are almost finished our trek.

Let’s clear some brush so everyone can see just where we are heading.

A company called SASSI provides the paperwork questionnaire.  You can read about them at the link below.

If an actual drug test is deemed necessary, a company called MedScreens does that.  You can read about them at the link below.

Shucks, classroom technology glitch, and I cannot access my source for the actual number of applicants filling out the questionnaire and those who then had drug screens.

Over a 5 month period, there were approximately 3700 applicants and of those about 50 had actual drug screens, so we ain’t talking overwhelming numbers here.

Sorry I have that academician versus money making pundit thing again without having a source to cite, so here’s a 9 July 2015 CRS report prepared by Gene Falk, “The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) Block Grant: Responses to Frequently Asked Questions,” which shows my numbers are in the ballpark although I suspect most of y’all think my numbers are low.

Now back walking following the brush clearing and my little misstep.

The cost of the questionnaires from SASSI isn’t outrageous as these things tend to be.  According to my old grad school days neighbor, the paper screening cost is $2 for each applicant. (I was going to use a factor of $10 for this journey, but heck I’d rather spend $2 than $10 for the same thing).

The cost of the actual drug testing is $48 for each applicant which is a heck of a lot cheaper than my insurance listed for the last time someone drew blood from me, or I took a leak into a cup so again I’ll take the lower amount instead of source since the lower the cost makes it harder to debate what happens when we finish.

From all of these questionnaires and the 50 or so drug tests performed, 2 people tested positively for drugs and had assistance denied. (A number of outlets provide those numbers, so I’ll let you pick from your preferred news source for a citation).

Since we’re almost to the finish, and I asked you to find your own citation, let’s have you push yourself just a bit.  Please take a peek at this NIH survey of drug use and health.

Actually the numbers on the NIH survey were higher than I thought.  Are that many people doing illicit drugs?  Sheesh!

Anywho, let’s think positive and squeeze those numbers far more than one would do with statistics. Heck, because those survey high numbers are so disheartening, let’s put them into the vice and see if we can break that vice. (Higher numbers actually support my suspicion of what will find at tend which is why I’m making them smaller to see if that will still separate fact from fiction).

So let’s do some figurin’ using our fingers and toes with our brains.  Imagine if MS only had 100 applicants and from that pool 2 tested positive then that would be 2 percent. That percentage is already an outlier from the percentages of the NIH survey, so 2 out of 3800 really ain’t necessary to calculate.

Now even with 2 percent, would the cost of testing be a wise investment?

Again let’s use round numbers for simplicity, and it’s fun use a good vice again since I’m hoping to come across an old vice in a yard sale.  Have y’all have looked at vices at Lowes, Home Depot, or local tool shops?  I declare those things ain’t built to the same standards of the vices we had when I was a kid. Today for a vice with a similar heft of one of Grandpa’s baby 5 inch vices from a machine shop, people like us ain’t got that type of money. Gracious, one could bargain for a bateau with trolling motor, battery, and trailer for the same amount as a heavy solid vice; probably pick up a fancy store bought paddle; and still have money to buy a 6 pack and a couple cans of Spam or them little Vienna sausages.

Back from nostalgia and my whining to our journey:

We have 3,000 applicants at $2 each for the questionnaire which comes to $6,000.  Of those 3,000 let’s make 20 have an actual drug test, and let’s even discount the drug test (special introductory offer) to $25 each which comes to $500 for the lot just stay with round numbers.

Simply, we done spent $6,500 of taxpayer money to save how much?

Well let’s say that the 2 people disqualified had households of 8 people each (I have no clue as to what the maximum number of additional people is allowed in MS for claims and pulled 8 from the air since it is likely larger than reality, but below you’ll see how funds are granted).

With 8 people each that amounts to $290 going to each applicant or $580 total.

The allocation is broken down in the following manner:

  • $110 for the applicant
  • $36 for the second person
  • $24 for each additional person

We just spent $6,500 to save $580 and lost $5,900 plus a $20 because we think that our welfare image is accurate and wanted this testing conducted.

Now your pundits will argue, and argue correctly I will say, that my little journey with y’all just ain’t fair because I put all the money into one plate when in reality it’s in multiple plates.

They are right, but using that common sense training I mentioned at the beginning, in my book money I spend is spent and money I save is saved. When I stash money into a corner the amount doesn’t multiply and increase fast enough to keep up with the amount of devaluation with the interest rates available to me for that amount of investment. The type of people I know are not going to earn enough interest to be able to survive off that interest.  You need a barn stacked to the rafters with money to get enough in interest to fill something the size of a 2 hole privy.

Now maybe I don’t know the right place to invest is an argument some will give, but the money the pundits like to show with that plate observation isn’t earning any interest at all as it sits on that plate because by statute one is prevented from using that money for any other expense or investment.

Obviously some folks will argue that the most important thing is that the 2 cheats got caught, and you can’t put a price tag on that.

I’ll agree with that in theory, but the boy out on the river part of me thinks that if I paid for the entire sack of crawfish when it comes boil time do I anticipate feeling full or happy, happy, if I only 2 in that sack can be eaten?

I’d probably be like that critter up in that tree with John that time out coon hunting with Mr. Jerry Clower when he was a boy.  Context is important.

So as we look back upon this brief journey of basic political history, political science, and statistics to construct a legislative analysis what have we discovered?

  • Please refer back to the 4 sentences quoted from the political science journal entry.

NOW accept the disheartening common sense reality, in that most are incapable or unwilling to discover anything different from what they thought at the beginning of the journey.

From the academic perspective and journal entry:

“Thus to move a person who is misinformed but engaged into the realm of informed engagement takes a great deal of effort. She must be induced to forsake her group, recognize and renounce false beliefs, learn new facts, come to a new understanding of appropriate policy choices, develop new group ties and partisan loyalties, and then overcome the usual inertia of political inactivity in order to take action. Forging all of the links in this chain is hard, and any one of them is easily broken. As a result, political actors and parties seldom believe it is worthwhile to invest the resources needed to forge the new chain. In contrast, the party that benefits from engaging the misinformed has a strong incentive to keep them loyal, misinformed, and attached, and to reward them for their mistaken policy views or votes.”

In the Louisianaboy speak of the Hungarian Settlement, we are often too busy doing other things to take the time to embark even upon such a brief journey. Working in education, my experience is that many people today will not even finish reading this piece, so how can you expect anyone to read all of say 191 pages of the Iran negotiations.  That’s just sad in my opinion.

Isn’t it odd how we tend to accept that we cannot perform open heart surgery, but will cause $1000s of damage because we thought we knew enough to repair that electrical, plumbing, or mechanical problem?  I guess it shouldn’t be a surprise when some believe that anyone can teach, talk about history, solve governmental and world problems. I’ve heard one reason for that assessment more than Carter has liver pills.  It’s usually presented in some manner of heck, we know what we know and others agree with us and if y’all disagree then y’all have a problem.  That’s a softer version of my Mama said, my Daddy said, or I read it on the internet so it’s got to be the Gospel truth. Others simply know it all because they ain’t never done that type of work.

If any remain, thanks for walking this journey with me and participating in this noncredit course.  No grades or even lagniappe points are being assigned; no certificates or trophies have been earned or offered.  I haven’t earned 2 bits or even a penny flattened upon the railroad tracks, but unlike what you would have received from some unknown pundit or group operating as an echo chamber, I’m not taking your money to make myself rich or to build your ego.

I’ll say nice things about you behind your back to others, and I’ll say any negative I might think directly to your face.

If I want or need, I ask and really it is up to you whether you can or even care to help. I’ll disagree and fight you with everything I got, take a break to sit down and break bread with you, and return to the fight after we eat. If I knock you down, I’ll offer a hand to help you up, and I’d appreciate the same even if it only results in getting knocked flat again. Afterwards we can agree, disagree, or agree to disagree; that really doesn’t matter in my book because we’ll just move since friendship is more than a singular issue; respect and admiration are difficult to earn, and just as difficult to cast aside.

True Dat for the Who Dats!

For anyone who thinks that I am making callous and bad taste judgments about individuals receiving TANF, SNAP, or other means of assistance, please read a few of my other pieces related to the subject before condemning.