January 24, 2015

Economist's bogus "sloth" claim

A recent Economist article stirred some controversy by claiming casinos make Indians poor. Specifically, it claimed that tribes with per capita payments from gaming are more likely to be mired in poverty.

People in the know scoffed at this claim, since they've seen with their own eyes how gaming has helped tribes. Now here's a rebuttal to the claim.

Of Stereotypes and Slack Reporting Standards: The Economist’s Claim that Native American Gaming Leads to “Sloth”

By Shawn Fremstad & Erik StegmanAn article in this week’s The Economist is a reminder that we haven’t put the bad old days of racially distorted coverage of poverty beyond us. The article claims “cash from casinos makes Native Americans poorer.” According to the author, a particular problem is that tribes distribute part of the revenues directly to members—typically known as “per capita payments”—which encourages “sloth.” The article is accompanied by a photograph of an American Indian man in front of a slot machine, a grin on his face and his arm pumped in the air.

Given research like Gilens’ and the long history of stereotyping American Indians as lazy, The Economist should have been particularly careful to ensure that it had solid evidence to back up its claim. In lieu of such evidence, The Economist relied on a few anecdotes and a single article by a private attorney published in a student-run law review.

We took a closer look at the law review article that The Economist relied on and were not impressed. It purportedly shows that poverty was more likely to increase in certain Pacific Northwest tribes that distributed part of their gambling revenues to members than in those that did not. But there were only seven tribes (out of a total of 17 that the article focused on) that did not distribute gaming revenues directly to members. The total reported decline in poverty among these seven tribes amounted to only 364 people. The study contained no controls for any of the many factors that affect poverty rates, nor did it take into account size differences in the tribes, differences in the size and structure of the per capita payments, or other relevant factors. In short, the study is absolutely useless in terms of providing meaningful evidence to support The Economist’s claim.

Even worse, The Economist failed to mention the existence of rigorous, peer-reviewed research contradicting the article’s thesis. Unlike the single paper cited in the article, this research uses methodologies designed to isolate the causal effects of per capita payments and generally finds that they have positive effects on poverty and other indicators of children’s well-being. For example, research by William Copeland and Elizabeth Costello, both professors at Duke University, uses longitudinal data that tracks both American Indian and non-American Indian children in western North Carolina. After the introduction of a per capita payment for American Indian families, they documented “an overall improvement in the outcomes of the American Indian children while those of the non-[American] Indian children … remained mostly stable.” Strikingly, educational outcomes for American Indian children “converged to that of the non-[American] Indians,” and the arrest rate of American Indian children fell below that of non-American Indians.
Comment:  No doubt the original article was part of the right-wing agenda to demonize the poor. According to Mitt Romney and the "47%" lie, giving people "handouts" or "freebies" makes them lazy and shiftless.

Note that this doesn't apply to corporations and rich people who get billions of dollars in tax breaks and subsidies. They're good, hard-working Americans who don't waste their freebies on booze or drugs--or so they tell us.

People have been telling this lie about Indians almost since the beginning. We took their land, destroyed their cultures, gave them "firewater"...and surprise! They weren't as strong and independent as they once were. That's because we took their land and destroyed their cultures, not because they're inherently lazy.

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