Saturday, 15 March 2014

Sociopathy in the workplace and family

There is a superb article about prosperity and the market by Hanauer and Beinhocker in Democracy Journal:

In summary, it addresses the following problem.  Given that  markets are not perfectly efficient, and people are not perfectly rational, and money is a poor measure of prosperity, how do you measure prosperity, and how do you increase  it?  They suggest solutions are the markers for prosperity, not financial wealth.  So Western society is prosperous because it has medical solutions, transport solutions etc etc.

All very nice, and I basked in a glow of intellectual satisfaction as I read it.

Then in the comments section, I saw the following by a chap called George Wells:
The article fails to consider the effect of sociopaths and their behavior. The sociopaths have convinced us that corporations, and by implication, all business has a singular purpose: to make the capitalist more wealthy. Anything, and everything that stands in the way of pure profit is wrong even if it means delivering harmful products or not producing beneficial ones because they are not sufficiently profitable.
Why is it that humans reward sociopathic behavior? That, to me, is the real question.

Yeah, George!  You hit the nail on the head.
(If you think his judgement is too harsh, go read Ben Goldacre.)

I think the challenge for us chattering classes in the behavioural science arena is to solve the problem of sociopathy in the workplace and the family.

Friday, 14 March 2014

The Case for Making Criminals Literate

The total cost of crime against individuals and households in England and Wales is something like £36 billion per annum.

Assume 40% of the prison population have a serious literacy problem.   (Most studies show it higher, but we are being conservative here.)

Assume that you can make half the illiterates in prison literate at a cost of, say, £1000 per head.

There are 88,000 prisoners currently in England and Wales.

So making half of the illiterates literate would cost 88,000 * 40% * ½ * £1000.
That’s around £18 million.

Let’s assume that making half the illiterates in prison literate keeps 1% of them out of prison and reduces the cost of crime by 1%.  That’s a saving of £36 billion * 1% = £360m.
So by spending £18 million on making them literate, we save £360 million.
Not too shabby, is it?

There’s two assumptions here you might want to challenge.

Firstly, can you make half the illiterates in prison literate?  Yes, our program ReadingWise English will certainly work on at least 50% of the inmates.  Last year we did a research trial on English schoolchildren with reading difficulties, which showed that the older the child and the worse the difficulty, the higher the degree of improvement.  We have extensive experience with making adults literate in other countries (80,000 at the last count) so we know we can do it.

Secondly, can it be done for £1000?  Well, actually, it can be done for far less.  The program can be done on a computer or tablet WITHOUT INTERNET and needs to be supervised by a lay person with 2 hours training from someone certified by my company. 
So let’s say it takes 80 hours to make a criminal literate, and there are 10 prisoners in the class.  One supervisor in 50 weeks can handle 25 * 10 = 250 prisoners a year.  But let’s assume a 50% failure rate.  Then one supervisor can make 125 prisoners a year literate.

Let’s assume the lay person is paid £40k per year and equipment for the class costs £10k per year.  That’s a total of £50,000 per year.

So the cost is £50,000 / 125 prisoners = £400 per prisoner.  So why did I assume £1000 per prisoner?  Because I’d like to be paid £600 per prisoner into my own pocket on a results-only basis!