The Dim-Post

July 8, 2010

Resbonsibilitie (I can’t spellcheck my post titles)

Filed under: science — danylmc @ 10:42 am

The idea that all of our problems can be solved if everyone takes ‘responsibility’ for themselves is a common trope amongst the intellectual featherweights that dominate our public discourse. Here’s professional National Party shill Richard Long on youth drinking and alcohol reform:

At some stage it has to be acknowledged that there are parental responsibilities in this as well as community responsibilities.

We know parenting difficult teenagers can be a nightmare, but that is where the responsibility falls, although the law could be fashioned to give parents more legal and moral support and more direct access to police and social services.

Schools could be directed to play a bigger role, warning pupils of the consequences of alcohol misuse, and in urging peers to intervene in cases of dangerous excess by friends.

Social groups and sports groups could also help. All this is likely to be more useful than trying to legislate the problem out of existence with broad brush measures which unfairly penalise a wider majority who use alcohol responsibly for the pleasure and social intercourse it delivers.

All of our social policy debates (child abuse, drinking, obesity etc) seem to run into the same objections from our punditocracy:

New Zealand is facing [serious problem]

‘Something’ must be done to solve this terrible problem!

What about [legislative solution]?

No, that might inconvenience me slightly. It has to be something that has no impact on me.

What about [economic solution]?

No, that will cost me some money. It can cost ‘other people’ (trans. Maori, young people, Pacific Islanders) money but not me.

What about [policy solution]?

No, the nanny state . . .

Yeah, yeah. What do you suggest we do then?

(Long pause). People need to take responsibility for themselves.

A couple of months ago the PM commissioned Sir Peter Gluckman to look into the underlying causes behind youth related social problems. In the introduction to his task force study Gluckman wrote:

Puberty in boys starts somewhere between 8 and 11
years of age and generally takes 4 to 5 years to complete; puberty in girls starts a little earlier and is
completed generally between 11 and 14 years of age. Historically, the age of sexual maturation has
fallen dramatically from about 16 to 17 years of age 200 years ago to between 11½ and 12½ years on
average now. This 5″year fall in the age of puberty is matched by a similar, but less well documented,
decline in the rate of maturation of boys.

The increased rate of sexual maturation has its origins in better maternal and child health and nutrition,
and is a sign of a physically healthy population. It has, however, created an ever”widening gap between
the biological transition to adolescence and other aspects of an individual’s development. Consider, for
example, that many children are well into puberty before they leave primary school and have
completed it before they enter secondary school.

If  Gluckman’s hypothesis is true it sheds an interesting light on a lot of youth focused trends – like the latest abortion statistics:

The number of children having abortions has almost doubled over the past 20 years.

The latest statistics have prompted calls for parents to be informed if their daughter is considering an abortion, but health professionals say the move would be “disastrous”.

Last year, 79 girls aged from 11 to 14 had abortions. Of those, 68 were 14-year-olds and 13 aged 11 to 13.

The latest figure is nearly twice the 43 girls under 14 who had abortions in 1991. While the figures have generally been rising, the peak was in 2005, when 105 girls aged 14 and under had an abortion.

If I were a sub at Stuff I’d have led with the angle: Could pre-natal vitamins cause rise in teen abortions? The traditional explanation for statistics like a rise in youth abortions is that our society is sick (lack of parental responsibility!) but it  may be because different generations are physiologically different to each other. If only parents would take responsibility and prevent their children from entering puberty so early!

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24 Comments »

  1. I’m always impressed when people say “Where are the parents?” as if asserting that the people who are currently not helping, should, will solve the problem.

    Comment by lyndon — July 8, 2010 @ 10:49 am

  2. If as Gluckman is correct, then that would mean there are potentially a lot of children out there who are biologically able to conceive, but will not yet have received any sex education. They will also be unable to access (and may not even know about) contraception. They’ll still be taken to the doctor by their parents at that age. Which would be another explanation for why the number of children having abortions has increased (from a v small base it’s worth acknowledging).

    I think there’s more than one reason (and thus more than one solution) to most problems. And I wish we would start talking about the whys rather than the hows. It’s much easier to restrict access to X than to think about why people are behaving in an unhealthy manner in regard to X, and then look at a policy solution that addresses that.

    Comment by Julie — July 8, 2010 @ 11:04 am

  3. P.D. Gluckman, practitioner and high priest of statistics. Bow, all ye worshippers of the number God!

    Comment by Steve Earl — July 8, 2010 @ 12:11 pm

  4. “If only parents would take responsibility and prevent their children from entering puberty so early!”

    That’s why I’m feeding my 2-year-old daughter an all-sugar-and-fat diet. It’s the only responsible course of action I can think of in these modern times …

    Comment by Andrew Geddis — July 8, 2010 @ 12:43 pm

  5. I love the idea that schools, parents, sports groups or “the community” can do anything to stop teenagers drinking. Whatever he’s smoking, I want some!

    Comment by gazzaj — July 8, 2010 @ 12:56 pm

  6. I love the idea that schools, parents, sports groups or “the community” can do anything to stop teenagers drinking.

    Just so long as we all understand that it is not the responsibilty of the government that Long is a full-time paid communications consultant for.

    Comment by danylmc — July 8, 2010 @ 1:17 pm

  7. Has anyone considered that we might just start breeding younger?
    There are possible physiological issues with very young women having babies but if that were overcome then it would make sense to breed early and then complete your education while the grandparents (who, obviously, are also young) help look after the sprogs.
    Then it would be not so much a problem as a solution.
    (I know there’s still an ‘if’ in there).

    Comment by Roger Parkinson — July 8, 2010 @ 1:38 pm

  8. It is highly unlikely any of the law commissions recommendations will actually teach people to drink responsibly. They may reduce levels of harm due to increased difficulties of access and increased non-reporting of problem drinking in 18 and 19 years olds because it is illegal but not an actual change in behaviour.

    Dealing with parental responsibility is important. Not because we should be fobbing it off and saying the government liable to do anything but because we need to be giving parents more support for dealing with their children and drinking along with actually having some form of penalty for parents who supply minors alcohol irresponsibly in the hopes they might actually stop doing it.

    Comment by Rob — July 8, 2010 @ 2:02 pm

  9. “I love the idea that schools, parents, sports groups or “the community” can do anything to stop teenagers drinking.”

    I was under the impression that it is a “cultural issue” which would include the actions and direction of schools, parents and the community.

    Comment by cj_nza — July 8, 2010 @ 2:20 pm

  10. The idea that all of our problems can be solved if everyone takes ‘responsibility’ for themselves is a common trope amongst the intellectual featherweights that dominate our public discourse.

    And the idea that we can stop alcohol abuse (for example) by passing a law or raising a tax that makes everyone else but the alcoholic drink a little less is a common trope amongst the intellectual featherweights that dominate our public discourse.

    Comment by ZenTiger — July 8, 2010 @ 2:38 pm

  11. And the idea that we can stop alcohol abuse (for example) by passing a law or raising a tax that makes everyone else but the alcoholic drink a little less is a common trope amongst the intellectual featherweights that dominate our public discourse.

    http://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/arh26-1/22-34.htm

    Comment by danylmc — July 8, 2010 @ 2:57 pm

  12. Danyl,

    Speak in a language we can understand, Mr Scientist …

    Comment by Andrew Geddis — July 8, 2010 @ 3:30 pm

  13. Lets bring back 6 o’clock closing.

    That’ll fix the problem.

    JC

    Comment by JC — July 8, 2010 @ 6:09 pm

  14. Dear Danyl,

    If you put your smug academic superiority complex aside for just one minute, tell us what is your solution? After all you drip acid at others for speaking bollox instead of providing solutions…

    Love
    Me

    Comment by har — July 8, 2010 @ 9:33 pm

  15. Exactly, Danyl. Collectivist arguments. Taking that argument to the extreme, prohibition for everyone will reduce excess amongst a few.

    Hand in hand with “taking responsibility” is a will to allow the consequences to be felt. The recent case of a person being jailed after 35 “caught whilst driving disqualified, and 20 convictions for drink driving underscore that society isn’t serious about ensuring such people “take responsibility” for their actions (at least anytime soon). Apparently, putting the price of wine up by another $2 is going to make a difference to that guy? Probably just add robbery to his list of convictions.

    Comment by ZenTiger — July 8, 2010 @ 9:37 pm

  16. The Pareto Principle is a useful guide.
    It runs along the lines of “80% of whatever in a population is caused by 20% of the population”.

    That is the governments problem. Most of the 20% will be sub 25.

    Slightly off topic, the judge (if reported correctly) who commented that an alcohol damaged 20 something
    who has been regularly drinking alcohol since the age of four represents our binge drinking culture needs to to be removed from the bench. No judgement shown there. I have yet to be “shocked” by the 7.00pm tv presenters with shots of drunken four year olds staggering around the sand pit.

    Comment by peterlepaysan — July 8, 2010 @ 10:22 pm

  17. Exactly, Danyl. Collectivist arguments.

    Yes, collectivist science, conducted by collectivist scienticians.

    Oh dear. Extremely unspurprising, however. Those on the right just wave away any scientific evidence they don’t like.

    Apparently, putting the price of wine up by another $2 is going to make a difference to that guy? Probably just add robbery to his list of convictions.

    Idiot.

    The consumption of youth is highly price sensitive. That study, and others, demonstrate the relationship clearly.

    Now, increasing the price of alcohol is also going to affect the poor, particularly those on benefits such as pensioners, so I suggest we increase taxes but give out alcohol vouchers/rebates to the poor.

    Comment by George Darroch — July 8, 2010 @ 10:28 pm

  18. The most realistic way to reduce alcohol harm would be to essentially replace it with some other, less harmful drug. Plenty of people at some point in their lives just want to get wasted and will do so regardless of consequences. At the moment, they usually do so with alcohol because it is relatively easy to get hold of, isn’t illegal, is considered normal by nearly everyone and makes people feel confident. Find something which makes people feel good for a while without making them act like idiots and which doesn’t destroy their mental and physical health if they get carried away. Then make it a lot easier to get hold of than alcohol.

    (Incidentally, this isn’t a ‘legalise cannabis’ argument, although that would help. Unfortunately it can have some nasty consequences for heavy users and the unlucky, so it would be better to try for something else.)

    Obviously this is no easier than widespread cultural change, but it’s probably more realistic. I suspect that even if the perfect drug was developed tomorrow, legalisation would have to wait until Jim Anderton finally dies, though.

    Comment by Helenalex — July 9, 2010 @ 12:02 am

  19. People are very willing to believe in strict controls for tobacco, another harmful but legal drug. I don’t see why the same policy arguments don’t apply. Or would ZT and Berend and co like to see tobacco excise reduced and sale restrictions relaxed?

    I am interested that we don’t seem to want to talk about why we have so many people in this society who want to drink so much. It’s like the Rat Park research never happened. We don’t want to consider what’s wrong with the rat park that is New Zealand, or take the discussion beyond the the first level of pricing and sale regulation and punishment for bad behaviour doesn’t seem to happen. People who really want to solve problems should keep asking why, why, why. But we don’t.

    Comment by Stephen J — July 9, 2010 @ 7:40 am

  20. You miss my point. The argument Danyl makes about lack of personal responsibility ignores the point that there is no real enforcement of this, so it’s not surprising the concept seems weak. Although, when it comes to enforcement, suddenly taxes for all seem to be the solution, rather than very specific targeting.

    I don’t actually disagree price signals have an effect, but it just becomes a matter of arguing about the degree. Age limits from 16 to 25, opening hours from 6pm to 5am, 10% tax to 500% tax blah blah blah. Enjoy the conversation guys, I’m sure you can all settle on the right percentage points.

    Comment by ZenTiger — July 9, 2010 @ 9:54 am

  21. Sorry, my comment was addressed to George at 17.

    Stephen J – yes, I agree. Arguing about degrees of taxation and regulation is a distraction to root causes.

    Comment by ZenTiger — July 9, 2010 @ 9:56 am

  22. Ummm – DimPost, your suggestion that rising youth abortion rates may be linked to earlier onset of puberty ignores that Gluckman showed such a drop in puberty onset over 200 years, while your youth abortion rise occured over the last 20 years.

    You need to track Gluckman’s data for a sudden shift to earlier puberty in the last 20 years for it to be even correlated to the youth abortion rise. And as I’m sure you know, correlated don’t mean caused by….

    Comment by bob — July 10, 2010 @ 5:14 am

  23. Perhaps it’s just me, but since traffic enforcement has become a priority for the police, I’ve noticed that open-road driver behaviour has improved. I’ve always driven small, older cars, so I was always being over-taken by folk in late model or otherwise more powerful cars. i don’t see this happen much anymore, in spite of the increase in traffic on the road. And this has not been achieved by all of us paying for the sins of the few, but by speeders being held “personally responsible” for their behaviour.*

    So I’m with Zen @ 15 & 20. Come down hard on the feckers who are ruining it for the rest of us.

    * I am perfectly willing for speed to be used as a lazy proxy for safe driving. I know many Libertarians aren’t. I think they feel that all is good in that my estate (and it’s insurer) can sue the estate (and insurer) of a speeding driver who causes my death and his.

    (Of course, I may be wrong and that the real improvement is down to wide-spread use of cruise control!)

    Comment by Clunking Fist — July 12, 2010 @ 8:36 pm

  24. NZ drivers are still pretty crap but at least improved in where they were 10 years ago on the open road. I recall they/us were like a bad episode of Dukes of Hazard in SH1 et al but without the underlying driving skills of Bo and Luke.

    Comment by davy crockett — July 12, 2010 @ 8:49 pm


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