Thursday 4 June 2015

The Coefficients Of Despair: MSD's Plan To Rescue The Poor From Themselves.

Pre-Crime-Fighting: The Ministry for Social Development's interest in Preventive Risk Modelling, as a technique for identifying and rescuing vulnerable children before they grow up to become a burden on society, is strikingly reminiscent of the plot of the science-fiction movie Minority Report. Accusations of racial profiling are inevitable.
HOW LONG WILL IT BE, I wonder, before the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) is accused of racial profiling? Given the statistical techniques currently being developed by the Ministry to identify “vulnerable” clients, such an accusation is practically inevitable.
In collaboration with the University of Auckland, the MSD is perfecting a technique for filtering out all but the worst offenders when it comes to deficient education, poor health, inadequate housing, a history of family violence and/or criminal offending. A filtering process relying upon such variables, however, cannot fail to generate a strong racial bias. In terms of the raw numbers, Pakeha will probably still predominate, but Maori and Pasifika will, almost certainly, find themselves significantly over-represented.
The MSD’s problem is that they cannot avoid using such controversial techniques for identifying vulnerable clients. Downside political risks notwithstanding, they are fundamental to the National Government’s new approach to managing New Zealand’s welfare system. Expressed in its simplest terms, this new approach is about identifying the individuals and families most likely to become a long-term drain of the state’s resources – and making sure that they don’t.
Serious criminal offending, for example, imposes colossal costs upon the state. A person convicted of murder, manslaughter, rape, child abuse, aggravated robbery and/or serious assault can expect to serve anything from 5 to 20 years in prison – at a minimum cost to the taxpayer of $100,000 per year. And that figure does not include the cost of repairing and rehabilitating the victims of criminal offending. The enormous expense of hospitalisation. The loss of productivity associated with the victims’ pain and suffering. All these social costs could be dramatically reduced if the people most likely to impose them could be rescued, early, from themselves.
One of the solutions, according to the MSD, may be found in the statistical technique known as “predictive risk modelling”. According to the Ministry’s own website, a ground-breaking piece of research undertaken by a project team, led by Professor Rhema Vaithianathan of the University of Auckland, has “developed a predictive risk model for children in a cohort who had contact with the benefit system before age two. These children accounted for 83% of all children for whom findings of substantiated maltreatment were recorded by age 5.”
The Ministry further reported that “predictive risk modelling had a fair, approaching good, power in predicting which of the young children having contact with the benefit system would be the subject of substantiated maltreatment by age five. This is similar to the predictive strength of mammograms for detecting breast cancer in the general population.”
Given the well-attested link between childhood abuse and serious criminal offending in later life, the possibilities arising out of Professor Vaithianathan’s and her team’s research are obvious. If predictive risk modelling (PRM) could identify with relative precision which children, in which families, were most likely to suffer abuse, appropriate “wrap-around” intervention by the MSD, the Police, Child Youth and Family, the Department of Corrections and the Department of Courts could ensure that the predicted abuse (and everything likely to flow from it in the future) never happened.
The popular culture reference you’re looking for here is the film Minority Report. Based on the novella by science-fiction writer Philip K. Dick, the movie is set in a futuristic Washington DC, where a special “precrime” squad of police officers use “psychic technology” to arrest and convict murderers before they commit their crime.
Now, it would be quite unfair to suggest that PRM is in any way analogous to “psychic technology”, but it’s undeniable that the former’s widespread use in our social welfare system would give rise to just as many ethical questions as Philip K. Dick’s pre-crime-fighters.
In the section of the University of Auckland study relating to PRMs ethical ramifications, the Project Team drew the MSD’s attention to the dangers of the data arising from its application being misinterpreted:
“It must be acknowledged that some of the data and predictor variables used by the proposed model are highly likely to be misinterpreted by at least some audiences. The decision not to report coefficients in this report, for instance, was based in part upon the belief that the insignificant contribution those factors make to the power of the tool was outweighed by the likelihood of crude and misleading interpretations of that information given existing social prejudices and stereotypes.”
Which brings us back to our original question concerning racial profiling. It would be most surprising if the unwillingness of the Auckland academics to identify all the coefficients used in their predictive algorithms was not, at least in part, related to race as a predictive factor in the maltreatment of children. It would, however, be equally surprising if the prospect of Maori and Pasifika families being targeted for special “precrime” intervention on behalf of their infant offspring was not met with loud, sustained, and entirely justifiable protest.
There is something profoundly disturbing in the very notion that science possesses the power to predict who will – and who will not – inflict harm upon their fellow human-beings. That, somehow, a computer programme can winnow out from tens-of-thousands, the one family in which violence will be done to a child.
Because, even if we could be sure that the child identified through PRM was bound, in every case, to suffer abuse if some form of welfare intervention did not take place, there is another, deeper, question that must be confronted. If individual cases of abuse could be predicted and prevented, what incentive would there be to address the systemic causes of human tragedy?
If Maori and Pasifika appear more often than they should among the perpetrators of child abuse it is only because they appear more often than they should among all the other “coefficients” of dysfunction: illiteracy; the diseases of poverty and overcrowding; the psychological deterioration caused by long periods of unemployment; the mental disintegration associated with drug addiction. These pathologies are the symptoms of class as well as racial oppression. Capitalism and colonialism are “coefficients” too.
Let us leave the final word to another artefact of pop-culture. Perhaps the most surprising of all Elvis Presley’s hits is his extraordinary rendition of Scott Davis’s song, In The Ghetto. To those seeking to transform our social welfare system into something resembling science-fiction, I would strongly recommend Elvis’s poignant retelling of the story of a boy whose fate was sealed at birth: not by the choices he or his mamma made, but by the system that left them with so few:
And as her young man dies
On a cold and grey Chicago morning,
Another little baby child is born
In the Ghetto.
Video courtesy of YouTube
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Wednesday, 3 June 2015.


A O said...

The latest cost cutting/saving initiative in an era of shrinking tax revenues. Of course, this will be dressed up in a flowery self-help message (or added to the tried and true Health and Safety regimen) but as mentioned – money - is the key driver here. ‘Racial profiling’ as potent as this term may seem will easily lose out against the many economic benefits (or flowery points) the Govt will tout.

Anonymous said...

"If individual cases of abuse could be predicted and prevented, what incentive would there be to address the systemic causes of human tragedy?"

What an intriguing question! Even to ask it reveals an orientation against focus on individual conduct (never mind moral agency) in favour of focus on humanity as collective. I find disquieting the implication that it may be preferable to choose not to take action to prevent abuse of individuals in order to provide justification for action aimed at systemic change.

You then comment that Maori and Pasifika are "only" over-represented among abusers because they are over-represented in illiteracy, poverty, overcrowding, unemployment and drug addiction. The point of targeted assistance seems to be focusing efforts on creating alternative choices for the most vulnerable but the underlying assumption of your conclusion is that such efforts are pointless because Maori and Pasifika individuals have no real ability to chose to avoid the "co-efficients" of dysfunction. I hope that you are wrong.

Guerilla Surgeon said...


Dave_1924 said...

Hmmm... so when we have groups concerned about raising people out of poverty and to a better life, the race card is often played: Government is not doing enough for Maori is a popular refrain from many including the Maori Party

But here we have a possible tool aiming at improve life outcomes of the most vulnerable, children, and we have the race card played as a way of saying don't use it. Or have I misread your piece Chris?

Frankly we should be targeting the people who abuse childern and making sure they locked away were they can do no harm again.

And while we have them locked away we should invest heavily in addressing their issues be they literacy, drug dependency etc. And while they are locked away we should really try damn hard to identified the irredeemable amongst them and never let them loose on society again.... Blessie Gotincgos family know the cost if you don't...

No perfect answers - no perfect solutions. But at least try it before condemning it ...

Anonymous said...

We never really signed off from the accord with the people made by the 1935 Labour government. Not in our minds or rhetoric. Its always "the government should" or " the government isn't. Always we look to the government for our security, safety, services.

You have to ask why we do when the answer is so painfully obvious. It is because we know that only the government as our collective agent can deliver. We know instinctively that markets and the profit motive wont help us.

So we keep calling for a government hand up which becomes less and less likely. The question we must ask is when does our faith in and allegiance to a regime that fails us end?

Anonymous said...

Your argument is quite broken Chris.

You state that:

1. Maori are not over represented in the child abuse statistics because they are Maori.
2. Rather, Maori are over representeed in child abuse statistics because they are over represented in drug use, unemployment, etc.

So, the obvious question is WHY are they over represented in drug use, unemployment, etc?

You are using the magician's well worn old trick of mis-direction to divert attention away from the fact that Maoris are over represented in child abuse, by blaming it on other factors.

But Maori are over represented in THOSE factors also, meaning that race IS the common element here.

Not all Maoris have these issues and therefore not all Maoris should be tarred with this brush.
However, you are INCREDIBLY DISHONEST to pretend that race is not a useful predictor of child abuse and other social ills.

Worse still, your stance risks the possibility that race will be dropped from the mode, making it less useful in identifying needs for interventiion.

greywarbler said...

This is what constant surveillance from police as you go about your life feels like.

Galeandra said...

Anonymous in his /her many guises seems to misunderstand the implications of your argument, Chris, including Racist at 13.33 who asserts "Maori are over represented in THOSE factors also, meaning that race IS the common element here."

I hope what s/he meant to say was that "those members of the community who are descendants of the people who endured colonisation and all the evils attendant upon the deracination and culture destruction it set in train....are over represented...." I think the references to "class and race oppression" by Chris in the post were wilfully ignored, but I won't shriek in block letters about incredible dishonesty. It must give comfort to the many Anonymice who visit here that they are able to sheet home factors such as illiteracy, family violence, crime, drunkenness & drug addiction, and incarceration rates to the singular matter of ones racial / ethnic group. Being able to blame absolves them of all guilt.

They failed to read the text well enough to discern the point that race isn't the common element; racial history potentially is. Chris's point as I understand it is that profiling individuals and families to prevent the scourge of child abuse, for example, allows the community to continue comfortably along without redressing the wider economic, educational and social injustices that still persist. Unfortunately NZ still has a great number of Anonymice who think that inter-generational poverty doesn't exit in Godzone. How cosy to be able to blame victims for their own misfortunes.

It is chilling to teach a class of low-decile fourteen-year-olds, as I have done, and to see the day-to-day affects of poverty visited upon children whose parents are typically unskilled, often unemployed, and in some cases in prison.
These students began schooling developmentally behind their more fortunate classmates, had few role models within their near or extended family to highlight the long term value of education, and frequently moved from school to school so that learning was constantly disrupted and frequently incoherent.

Of course there were children who rose to the challenges and went on to success but the inertia of poverty claimed far too many of them. There are ways to address these issues besides profiling and providing 'wrap around care' for the at-risk. Creating a society where all are allowed to work, have dignity through a living wage and access to high quality well-funded health and education would be a good start.

greywarbler said...

Suggestion box - Chris could it be that all people not wanting to name themselves have to choose a pseudonym? Having multiple anonymouses (mice) makes it difficult to follow someone's reasoning. And I like to follow the comments of someone who has the ability to think through the subject of the discussion, pick it apart, look for the nub, present anecdotes, imagine consequences etc. Galeandra above talks to the views of one of the anony-mice and it would be valuable to be able to identify exactly the respondent. And that person would still be anonymous behind their moniker, but it would enable us to follow the progress of their thoughts, and really appreciate the quality and tendencies of that mind.

pat said...

anon @ 13.33....which came first? the chicken or the egg?....your argument that Maori are over represented in the stated statistics does not take account of the underlying cause...what of the comparable statistics for those not Maori but dealing with the same root causes or do you maintain that those non Maori represented within these statistics are some form of aberration? you also fail to recognise that mental health issues can and do present in different ways (and are often not captured in statistics) within different socio-economic groups....or is that OK?

jh said...

So Dr Greg Clydesdales politically incorrect


Dr Greg Clydesdale (PhD)

was correct?

jh said...

race isn't the common element; racial history potentially is
It isn't events that effect us it is how we choose to react to them. I.e you have to respond to what is rather than some (unobtainable) utopian (for you) state such as the tino rangitiratanga alluded to by Catherine Delahunty types.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

“You do not take a person who, for years, has been hobbled by chains and liberate him, bring him up to the starting line of a race and then say, ‘you are free to compete with all the others,’ and still justly believe that you have been completely fair.”

Lyndon Johnson, 1965.

jh said...

The worst start you could give someone is tell them that they are really a displaced person, all the land you stand on was stolen etc. Marxism appears to have played a roll in perpetuating this meme.
We are all displaced people having evolved in an environment totally dissimilar to today’s (we are all native at heart).
The best advice you can have is that no one is going to give you a hand, nothing is guaranteed etc
That starts a young person in the right frame of mind.

jh said...

The issue of race (as a scientifically valid concept) isn't settled (as far as I can see). It is a grey issue. Sub Saharan Africans lack Neanderthal DNA but Neanderthal DNA is associated with mathematical ability. Race is still used in medicine to target populations. Whatever your view it doesn't follow that mistreatment of other (alleged) races need result.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"The worst start you could give someone is tell them that they are really a displaced person, all the land you stand on was stolen etc. Marxism appears to have played a roll in perpetuating this meme.
We are all displaced people having evolved in an environment totally dissimilar to today’s (we are all native at heart).
The best advice you can have is that no one is going to give you a hand, nothing is guaranteed etc
That starts a young person in the right frame of mind. "

Easy enough to say to someone who hasn't had their economic base stolen. Otherwise PURE bullshit.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"If the first words out of your mouth are to cry ‘political correctness!’, … chances are very, very high that you are in fact part of the problem." N.K. Jemisin :-)

Charles E said...

Race is more mythical than real, as the scientific evidence is that it is almost entirely physical. And whatever that is, is very small compared to culture. This truth seems to be missed entirely by many people still. It is culture that people are referring to when they talk about the dire consequences of poverty. We should know this since we know poverty is not just material. Money is not enough usually. Poverty becomes a culture and that makes it very hard to change. And it must be culture when you talk about Maori today because most Maori are actually racially, majority Pakeha.
Therefore if someone is profiled Maori, surely we are talking culture here, or should be. They are brought up in a predominantly Maori culture, otherwise on what basis are they called Maori? So when that is also a poverty ridden culture, is it a mistake to reference the Maori element of their culture? I would say yes, mostly but you could argue that Maori or other Polynesian cultures are more prone to produce people who struggle to be fully functional in our overwhelmingly Pakeha culture... in our Western culture?
I think Polynesian cultures have features or customs that significantly increase the chances of 'disfunction' in our developed Western nation. So the answer (no not total assimilation or cultural annihilation) is to encourage cultural evolution so peoples of the relatively failing cultures do better in advanced societies. Therefore the State promotion of Maori & other Polynesian cultures comes into question. Should cultures be encouraged to own their own issues rather than receive support from tax payers who not only are not of that culture but thereby suffer the consequences of that promotion? The argument for that promotion to date is that people are better off if their culture is appreciated. Does that work? I think not.
So my thesis is that Maori culture needs modernisation and that would be better done by themselves, not by the government. Our government should butt out of cultural matters entirely. If they did it would also reduce bigotry I expect, as many non Maori deeply resent the governmental promotion of a culture they not only are not part of but feel has many negative aspects that contribute to problems in our society.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

I don't suppose you'd like to be specific about those aspects of Maori culture that lend themselves to poverty and an inability to cope with Western culture Charles? Whole idea of talking about modernisation with regard to culture seems to me a trifle daft. The problem with your thesis is that until they had all their economic base taken away Maori were doing really, really well in our modern Western culture such as it was in the 19th century. They were entrepreneurial, they owned ships that traded at the very least with Australia, they also traded up and down New Zealand. What happened? 1865 Maori land court established simply to facilitate the transfer of land from Maori to European. Within 30 or 40 years it was pretty much gone. I sometimes wonder how we would cope in the same circumstances.

Charles E said...

Nothing stays still so successful cultures are constantly modifying GS, mostly for the better. Those that do not, decline relatively. Successful cultures provide for the full human development of their members to a large extent and in recent generations that means their young and their women in particular.
These things would be possible changes to do better:
1. Land ownership reform towards more individual title;
2. Equality between the sexes;
3. Tribal amalgamation.
4. Rejection of positive discrimination;
5. Rejection of separate treatment like special 'consultation';
5. Acceptance that the Treaty is now null and void so not only irrelevant but perhaps a barrier;
None of the above should diminish Maori culture. It should aim for and achieve the opposite.
I expect some Maori were doing vey well long ago, but there have always been some doing very well. But today most are doing very well as are most other NZers, except about double the size minority are not. It does not depend on land. Most other NZers do not own much land at all. In fact Maori collectively probably own more land per person than others, so your point is misconceived. Other sub-cultures like Chinese do well in NZ without any land, even with considerable discrimination in the past and still some now. It's their culture that helps them, clearly. Maori culture can change to help too, just as Pakeha culture can, should and does.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Maori in general were more successful in the 19th century before they're lost their land. It was their economic base. And if you think economics success in this country doesn't rely on land you're wrong. Always has, probably always will. And you're missing the point about other sub- cultures who came to this country voluntarily to make money even though they were treated badly. Maori society was basically destroyed in the 19th century. Not only did they lose their economic base, but they were decimated by diseases, and actively discriminated against.
I can't see what relevance your 5/6 points have for economic success. They just the same tired old points you guys, come up with all the time, without any proper evidence or explanation as to how it would help.
It's funny you people always bitch about Maori when they act like Maori, but when they act like capitalists, you seem to get all upset. 'They're being greedy, the lower classes aren't getting any benefit, the money is going to some plutocracy', all that sort of thing. That's what happens in a capitalist society Charles. Perhaps you should make up your mind whether you want them to be brown skinned Europeans or not.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Perhaps you could explain how your points would contribute to economic success? I'd be particularly interested in knowing how Maori woman were unequal as it were, compared to Pakeha women.

Charles E said...

GS your understanding of basic economics is poor if you think economic success depends on land. The Russians have a lot of land. Are they successful? The Chinese in Hong Kong & Singapore have almost none. And there are large areas of Maori owned land in NZ still. Read the history of the Jews in Europe perhaps. It would educate you on what a successful culture looks like too.
Land is not essential, but what property you have needs to be in individual title and it and other property title safe and secure under the rule of law, not the men (yes men) with guns or meri.
Of course if that title is stolen or not even given, as happened here in significant areas then that is hard to recover from and of course I am not saying it is not relevant. Nor discrimination, but again there is more to it than that, as other examples show.
Rejection of any special status or Treaty right is fundamental to the success of those NZers who identify as Maori in my view. All the Maori I know take that view entirely. Indeed they are very hostile to that whole bullshit frankly and want nothing to do with it. It is patronising and grievance perpetuating. It's better to be disliked in this world than be falsely fawned over, would sum it up.