Short Drum: Exposure to environmental lead, from paint and tetraethyl lead, the once popular now-banned no-knock additive in automobile gasoline causes mild brain damage (reduced IQ and impulse control) that can be linked to rising and falling crime rates. Banning lead in gasoline was a great first step but for $20 billion a year we could remediate the residual lead dust accumulated near inner-city highways and blighted areas.
Short Yours Truly: The lead is probably only slightly more toxic than the racial politics this topic introduces. Which Democratic hero wants to propse we spend $20 billion a year on the inner cities because, through no fault of their own, the poor black inhabitants are brain-damaged? I don't even want to think about how we relate that spectre of brain damage to welfare work requirements, or to affirmative action.
Short Bailey: Average measured IQ has been rising throughout the century; diagnoses of ADD have been going up even as lead has been going down. So probably other factors are still important:
Drum is right that exposure to lead increases the chances that a person will suffer the sorts of neurological damage that lowers their intelligence and lower intelligence is well-known to correlate with increased criminality. Reducing such exposures has no doubt contributed to our happily falling crime rates. But it is likely that other factors including more policing, more incarceration, less crack, increased concealed carry, and other such efforts to control crime have contributed as well.
I just can't see the path to a sensible discussion about this. Republicans are not looking for new spending programs, and certainly not at spending programs targeting the inner city Democrats. Nor are they likely to declare a notable chunk of Democratic voters to be brain-damaged, regardless of medical science.
Barack Obama is not going to stand up and tell the nation that blacks who grew up in Chicago, like Michelle, are brain-damaged but he is in the clear because he is from Hawaii.
I don't think any other Demcrats are going to make the case for cash by arguing that one of the pillars of their party has been inadvertently poisoned and brain-damaged.
But I can easily see the Jeremiah Wrights of the world, who were comfortable blaming AIDS on whitey trying to keep the black man down, blaming this on whitey too. That is unlikely to be helpful.
WE NEED A PLAN! Lest you think that lead was just discovered last weekend, perhaps there is reassurance in the news that the Center for Disease Control has been tracking this for years, as have the states.
I am still trying to figure out what the data might mean. In New York State, for example, New York City screens roughly 30%-45% of children, with 0.1% to 1.3% showing elevated levels (that is pretty good relative to the state-wide numbers). In what looks like the Syracuse-Cortlandt area I see the same level of testing but 1.4% to 2.4% show elevated lead. One wonders - are they randomly testing kids or targeting at-risk kids? A bit to the east (Utica?) shows elevated levels in 3.8% to 5.5% of children, but only 24%-31% were screened.
For some seemingly good news, this chart tells me that from 1997 to 2008, New York State tested roughly 200,000 kids per year. About 6.5% had elevated lead levels in 1997; that was down to 1% by 2008.
I expect the random v. targeted question will be easily resolved once I figure out where to look. But help is welcome!