Oh, Rick Santorum, You Are an Idiot

Last night while I was driving, I had NPR on and was listening to the coverage of the RNC, which basically consisted of live audio of the speeches.

And I kept doing that thing where I wave my hands around helplessly and mouth, “What?  WHAT?”  (It’s a good thing I didn’t crash into anything.)

I just kept thinking, “Dear me, I really want some of these politicians to take a first-order logic class.”  I mean, I don’t mind listening to people I disagree with.  A lot of times, I like hearing people I disagree with talk—they cause me to question my own assumptions and think, which is always good.  But . . . the RNC speeches!  They made no sense!  I just . . . ![1]

I think I need to spork some of Rick Santorum’s[2] speech.  Because it begs it.

Oh!  And speaking of first-order logic, let’s make this a mathematical sporking!

Santorum says:

Graduate from high school, work hard, and get married before you have children and the chance you will ever be in poverty is just 2 percent.

I would really like to know where his numbers come from.  Still, these aren’t very surprising correlations, and I’m not even saying they’re wrong.  They just don’t say very much.  Let’s do some math, shall we?

First, we have a (mathematical) conjunction (an AND) between “graduating from high school,” “working hard,” and “getting married before children.”  In order to be in Santorum’s golden crowd, you must do all three of these things—and “working hard” is not well-defined.  We could arbitrarily choose the number 2 percent, say we wanted to be able to state this statistic and have it be true, and then adjust the bar for what we consider “hard work” until our selected population exactly fit the description of a 2 percent chance of poverty.  So this statistic, unless we know where it comes from and can check the source, is already entirely meaningless.

Next notice that within this conjunction, we have an AND between “working hard” and “graduating from high school.”  I think that within a small margin of error, “working hard” is a proper subset of “graduating from high school.”[3]  (Shut up, my little sister who dropped out of high school to go to an Ivy.)  Which means that adding a “graduating from high school” condition is meaningless.  Also, notice that “getting married before having children” is the conditional statement, “IF children, THEN was married first,” which technically includes all same-sex marriages (ha!) and all people who remain single their entire lives and have no children (false hypothesis means conditional statement is true).  The only people this excludes, therefore, are single parents who have never been married, which I would suspect is skewed towards teen mothers.  Since a dependent child costs a hell of a lot and young, single people have difficulty finding financial stability, it makes sense that cutting out all teen mothers would make it easier to set Santorum’s “work hard” bar at a reasonable place where he can still claim the 2 percent figure.  (It doesn’t matter if we cut out financially stable single parents here who might have been married in the past—those people might not be about to fall into poverty either, but it doesn’t matter; he’s making a statement about a certain subset of the population, not saying anything either way about the people outside that subset.)

His “2 percent” statement doesn’t actually make a case either way about traditional marriage and family being helpful.  Instead, it only makes a statement about how having a dependent child on one income might be detrimental to your financial health (which, duh), and a statement in favor of “working hard” enough to meet Santorum’s mystical bar and stay out from under that dreaded poverty threshold.

Still, note to self: Recommend to any young unmarried women I know that if they get pregnant before tying the knot, the advisable thing to do to avoid poverty is to get an abortion.  And then work hard.

Here’s where he goes directly after that:

Yet if you don’t do these three things you’re 38 times more likely to end up in poverty!

Hmm.  Interesting.

According to Wikipedia (with a book citation), 58.5 percent of Americans will experience poverty some time in their lives (defined in the article as “[spending] at least one year below the poverty line at some point between ages 25 and 75″).  Given that the poverty threshold is defined according to yearly income, we can’t actually sample more finely than a year, so Santorum’s statement—worded in the first half as, “the chance you will EVER be in poverty”—must mean, “the chance you will spend at least one year below the poverty threshold at some point in your life.”

We partition the American population into “people who do Santorum’s Three Things” and “people who don’t.”  According to Santorum, if you’re in “people who don’t,” you have a

2\times 38=76

percent chance of spending time below the poverty threshold.

We know that our two sets partition the American population—an American must be in either one set or the other, and there is no overlap.  Let’s define:

X = \text{American population}

A = \text{Americans who do Santorum's Three Things}

X-A = \text{Americans who don't}

We know the rates of poverty in America (cited above) and the rates of going into poverty if you do or don’t do Santorum’s Three Things (according to him), which gives us:

.585X = \text{American population that dips below the poverty line}

.02A = \text{Americans who do Santorum's Three Things who dip below the poverty line}

.76(X-A) =\text{Americans who don't do the Three Things who dip below the poverty line}

And since A and X-A partition the space, the populations that end up in poverty in both of these sets should add up to the total Americans who end up in poverty at some point:

.02A + .76(X-A) = .585X

.02A + .76X - .76A = .585X

.175X = .74A

.236X = A

Ooo, look!  We’ve managed to find what percentage of X, the American population, equals A, Sanorum’s group!  It’s 23.6 percent of Americans.  Well, 20 percent if we do sig figs, since Santorum only gave us one.

Since we said that Americans who end up in poverty at some point are about 60 percent of the population, and Santorum’s 20 percent is almost entirely in the other 40 percent (he says 98 percent of his group is), we can break down America into:

20 percent: People who do Santorum’s Three Things

20 percent: People who fail to do at least one of Santorum’s Three Things but still escape poverty

60 percent: People who fail to do at least one of Santorum’s Three Things and do end up in poverty at some point

Again, I’m going to consider “working hard” to be a proper subset of “graduating from high school,” so this means that 20 percent of Americans either don’t work hard, have a kid before getting married, or both, and still never go below the poverty line.  That seems quite high to me, actually. It kind of disturbs me to think that 1 in 5 Americans can be reasonably successful without ever “working hard,” so I’m going to say that the vast majority of that 20 percent of people are unmarried people with children who are still financially stable because they do work hard.

After crunching some numbers in this study, it looks like about 40 percent of American parents have their first child without being married (wow, that’s much higher than I thought it would be).  Oddly, I couldn’t find a well-cited statistic for the percentage of Americans who become parents—this was the best source I could find, and the links are broken, but the numbers match the other, uncited numbers I found to within five percentage points.  Averaging men and women, it looks like approximately 85 percent of Americans become parents at some point.  Forty percent of 85 percent is 34 percent, which means 34 percent of Americans become parents without ever being married.

Which means, if we we assume that the 20 percent of Americans who aren’t in Santorum’s group but still escape poverty are hard workers that have allowed them to overcome the income disparity of having a child, that almost sixty percent of all people who have children unmarried never experience poverty.

Sixty percent.  That’s a better rate than America as a whole—remember that 58.5 percent statistic?  Yeah.  Apparently, a random American only has a 40 percent chance of escaping poverty, but an unmarried parent has a 60 percent chance of doing it!

Hmm, what’s the lesson here, Santorum?  Clearly we should all have children before marrying so as to make our chances of escaping poverty better!

What, you say that doesn’t seem right?  Well, the only assumption I’ve made here, really, is that the vast majority of our 20 percent of people who escape poverty without doing all of Santorum’s Three Things still “work hard.”  The only other conclusion is that some nontrivial percentage of them don’t work hard, and still succeed.  Which is either a problem with the American system Santorum is trying so hard to be patriotic about, or evidence that whatever Santorum’s “work hard” bar is, it’s set way too high.[4]

Next!

The fact is that marriage is disappearing in places where government dependency is highest.

Guess what?  The fact is that pirates have been disappearing at a time when global warming is rising.  Coincidence?  I think not!

(Honestly, I wish he were posting this on Slashdot.  All together, now: Correlation does not imply causation!)

Ahem.

Poverty is higher in inner cities, and thus more people are on welfare.  People in cities also tend to get married later and less for a myriad of complicated cultural reasons, not the least of which is that the type of people who want to get married later or not at all are not generally the same type of people who want to live in small-town America, so they flock to cities.  Nothing says that these are the same people in those cities as the ones who are on welfare.

Geez.  That one was almost insulting.

Next!

And finally, I cradled the little, broken hands of the disabled.

BWAH?!

Okay, I know this was supposed to be a mathematical sporking, but I forgot how much my head exploded when I heard that line.

I know a lot of disabled people, with disabilities that range from mild to severe, from mental to physical.  Some of them feel fragile sometimes because of their disabilities, some do not.  They all, however, have lives that are not about “ennobling” able people (which is where Santorum’s speech goes next), and for fuck’s sake,  I don’t know a single one of them that would appreciate being referred to as having “little, broken hands.”  Especially not in such a goddamn condescending tone.

Fuck you, Rick Santorum.

In fact, I’m going to cut this short because I’m not having fun poking at your silly little speech anymore.

 

EDIT: I found the study Santorum’s math is referring to here.  He did have a citation.  And it seems that he used “working hard” as shorthand for “having a full-time job.” The reason my math shows his statement going all wonky is the following:

Santorum got wrong [...] the characterization of the findings as showing ‘the chance you will ever be in poverty.’  The study only measured poverty in one year, Haskins explains, not over the course of a lifetime.

Apparently the people who follow Santorum’s three social norms in a given year can have those statistics applied to them for that year, which is a far, far less drastic statement than Santorum was making, especially as having a full-time job one year is no guarantee of having a full-time job during any other year (unlike having a work ethic, which could potentially be seen to apply over a lifetime).  I don’t think his statement is really any stronger than, “If you have some baseline level of education (which would indicate higher income), already have a full-time job (which guarantees income period), and waited to have two incomes to have children (which meant it was far less of a financial strain), then you don’t have much of a chance of dipping below the poverty line this year. You know, the year in which you have that full-time job.”  The study is interesting because it found actual numbers, but as a piece of political rhetoric, it basically seems like a tautology.

 

  1. To be fair, I think I was listening at the absolute worst time.  For instance, I heard good things about Chris Christie’s speech.  Of course, he’s from Jersey, so I like to imagine he’s an awesome badass anyway.
  2. No, I’m not above a little google-bombing of a man who compares some of my best friends to dog-fuckers.
  3. In all seriousness, I know that this won’t always be true—there are people who work hard and still can’t graduate for reasons outside their control.  But I’m going to assume that’s not statistically significant.  If you know different, feel free to whack me with a citation in the comments.
  4. I’m still not disputing that working hard, graduating from high school, and not having a kid when you can’t afford it help you be more financially stable, by the way.  I think that’s all pretty obvious.  Just having a little fun.

6 thoughts on “Oh, Rick Santorum, You Are an Idiot

  1. InMyBook

    What did you expect from a politician who supports teaching “intelligent design” in science classes and is opposed to gay marriage? Mathematical genius is not a prerequisite for public office, though an attorney and former senator should have a grasp of correlation not implying causation. While I found your analysis fascinating and valid, it was a challenge to follow it. Perhaps presidential candidates (or former ones) should hire a snarky mathematician to analyze the speeches for inconsistencies. As far as chastising his remark on disabilities, his 8th child is disabled with a serious genetic disease. I doubt if he meant the comment as negatively as it came across. He is against gun control, which should please the gun-slinging side of you. As far as myself, I live in New Jersey and am pleased to have Chris Christie as governor. His keynote speech the other night was more about leadership than about policy, so he was fairly inoffensive (unless a person happens to be in the teacher’s union or government service in NJ). Not only has Christie shown courage and leadership, but it is a relief to have a governor in NJ who is not an embarrassment to the state.

  2. slhuang Post author

    I honestly don’t mind (too much) when politicians disagree with me, as long as they have good reasons. I mind when they are IDIOTS.

    And honestly, I don’t expect politicians to be math geniuses. I’m probably better than President Obama at theoretical math, because, duh, I’ve spent a lot of time studying it. However, I EXPECT him to be smarter and more knowledgeable than I am in a variety of other fields, like foreign policy, American law, and economics. (Presidents who aren’t smarter than I am in those issues make me HORRIBLY SAD.) And I also don’t think it’s too much to expect a basic grasp of first-order logic.

    Good to hear that about Chris Christie! Yeah, I don’t know much about him but that was kind of my impression of what I’ve heard from over here on the West Coast. I would much prefer the Republican party leadership not to be populated by a bunch of clowns. (I’m not anti-Republican. I’m anti-stupidity.)

  3. slhuang Post author

    p.s. — About Santorum’s daughter — BZZZT, sorry, no points on that one. That’s like the “But I have a black friend!” argument. He doesn’t get a pass. (And yes, I did know about “poor dear sweet Bella” — it’s hard not to know about her when he uses her to score political points the way he does.)

  4. InMyBook

    As a parent, I cannot imagine anyone using their disabled child to score points, even a politician. Truly. Rick Santorum deserves the benefit of the doubt on this one. I disagree it’s anything like the “But I have a black friend!” argument.

  5. slhuang Post author

    You say you could not imagine using a disabled child to score points, but the fact is, he does talk about her in a political manner all the time. In the speech I was posting about here, he talked about her at length and then connected his family’s love for her to disallowing abortion rights for everyone else. Whether or not you think he did it in an appropriate manner — and you may think that his words about her were in good taste; I personally don’t — the fact is, he did use her politically.

    I could not imagine speaking so publicly and so politically about any child of mine, unless that child were old enough and mature enough to give free and enthusiastic consent to me telling his or her story. Bella Santorum is four years old. I don’t know how cognitively impaired she is, but irrespective of that, she’s not old enough to understand what her father is using her for. I could never imagine violating the privacy of my child’s personal life that way.

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