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Ask the Author: Questions for Karelis

Summary:
Charles Karelis, author of The Persistence of Poverty, is happy to answer your questions.  Please write them in the comments, and he’ll respond in a regular post. To get things started, here are a few questions from me. 1. Your theory seems to imply that when people temporarily have many personal problems, they will start doing painful things with long-run benefits.  Example: If you’re already (temporarily) miserable, why not go on a diet and start exercising, so when your problems end, you’re thin and fit?  But as far as I know, almost no one does this.  Please comment. 2. Children notoriously engage in much short-sighted behavior – not doing their homework, staying up too late, fighting with siblings, stealing candy, etc.  The standard explanation is that kids

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Ask the Author: Questions for Karelis

Charles Karelis, author of The Persistence of Poverty, is happy to answer your questions.  Please write them in the comments, and he’ll respond in a regular post.

To get things started, here are a few questions from me.

1. Your theory seems to imply that when people temporarily have many personal problems, they will start doing painful things with long-run benefits.  Example: If you’re already (temporarily) miserable, why not go on a diet and start exercising, so when your problems end, you’re thin and fit?  But as far as I know, almost no one does this.  Please comment.

2. Children notoriously engage in much short-sighted behavior – not doing their homework, staying up too late, fighting with siblings, stealing candy, etc.  The standard explanation is that kids have poor impulse control.  Do you think the logic of increasing marginal utility combined with pleasers/relievers provides a better explanation?  Why or why not?

3. If you were a life coach for the poor – able to dispense advice but not material help – would you really tell them to “stay the course”?  If not, why not?

4. You say that single parenthood is not a “global and perennial” feature of poverty.  I suggested that we generalize this to, “not refraining from having children you are not ready to support.”  I add: “In First World countries, this usually takes the form of single motherhood; in the less-developed world and in earlier times, this instead simply took the form of having too many children too early in life.”  Would you accept my amendment?

Bryan Caplan
Bryan Caplan is Professor of Economics at George Mason University and Senior Scholar at the Mercatus Center. He has published in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, the American Economic Review, the Economic Journal, the Journal of Law and Economics, and Intelligence, and has appeared on 20/20, FoxNews, and C-SPAN. Bryan Caplan blogs on EconLog.

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