As you ought to know, lead is a very dangerous chemical. Children exposed to it—mostly due to lead paint—have lower IQs, greater learning disabilities, and more behavioral problems. As Kevin Drum reported in February in Mother Jones, America’s Real Criminal Element: Lead. The reason that people are pretty certain about this link is that crime just kind of shot up in the 1960s and then shot down in the 1990s. And we know it wasn’t because of more enforcement (Giuliani’s famous crackdown on the squeegee men) or economics or drugs or any of the more esoteric explanations like legal abortions.
The main thing about this is not that the lead explanation is certainly right. The fact is, like any scientific explanation, it can be shown to be wrong. But there are a lot of data supporting it and it is currently a highly regarded theory. What’s more, even if lead has nothing to do with crime, getting it out of our lives (especially the lives of children) is a very important goal. We don’t need more stupid and ill-behaved people. So what is the government doing?
As a whole, the Congress and President Obama decided to cut funding for lead remediation. Because of Sequestration, we have cut funding for this extremely important program by 5% from $120 million this year to $114 million. But that is apparently not good enough for the House Republicans. Yesterday, they passed a budget that cut funding down to $50 million. Regardless of what you think of all this, you must understand how shortsighted these cuts are. They will be overwhelmed simply by lost economic productivity in the future because of our stupider workforce.
This morning, Ed Kilgore made a great point about this. Republicans are very big on fighting crime. Here they are gutting what is likely a good crime fighting bill in the name of reducing the federal budget by less than 0.002%. It’s crazy. He concludes that it is just the Republicans’ “stubborn lack of interest in any crime-fighting strategy that doesn’t involve guns and prisons.” There is certainly much to that. So much of the Republican policy platform comes down to a contest of who has the biggest dick. Educating poor kids will help reduce crime, but it isn’t macho so they aren’t interested. Ditto with lead remediation.
But the problem is bigger than this. I know that I have a bad attitude toward conservatives generally—or at least what passes as a conservative today. But when I think of lead in paint, I remember a PSA from my childhood that showed a small black child sucking on the lead paint covered wood around a window. It had something to do with programs for removing lead from living areas. To me, the image has endured as heartbreaking. I suspect that the current House minority has the same image in their minds. But instead of “heartbreaking” they think “undeserving.”
Kevin Drum goes even further, “Of course, lead removal programs mostly benefit poor people and non-whites, and the Republican Party has made it extra clear lately that they don’t care about either group. I guess the only real surprise here is that they didn’t cut the program to zero.” But I don’t think that’s quite it. I don’t think they are actively trying to cause brain damage in poor children. They just don’t care. Besides: they can zero it out later.