"Mental Health," Moral Character, and Poverty
By Bryan Caplan
Every once in a while, I am asked by somebody what I would do to eliminate poverty in America. The first thing that pops into my head is the topic of mental health.
A while back I blogged on a Showtime documentary where they gave a homeless man $100k, then filmed the effect on his life. As you’d expect, he quickly frittered it away on liquor and fair-weather girlfriends, then fled from the camera crew.
I guess many people would call this guy “mentally ill.” But I consider this a smokescreen for the reality: The man was extremely lazy and impulsive, and didn’t want to change. The apologists for his behavior call him “mentally ill”; I say he has a weak moral character.
The upshot: When someone asks me what I would do to eliminate poverty in America, the first thing that pops into my head is the need for industry, thrift, and prudence.
P.S. Whether or not you share my Szaszian skepticism about mental illness, Gov. Schweitzer’s alleged claim that 50% of prisoners are in jail “because of a mental illness” is either (a) absurd, or (b) has such a low standard for what counts as “mental illness” that the number is meaningless. Of course, if he had just counted Substance Abuse as a mental illness, he could have gotten the number up to 93%, but then the semantic trickery involved would have been too obvious.