Arnold Kling  

Dorothea Dix

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The more I read (or Kindle) Daniel Walker Howe's What Hath God Wrought, the more antecedents I see to modern liberal reformers. For example, he describes Dorothea Dix, who is summed up well in her Wikipedia entry.

Dorothea Lynde Dix (April 4, 1802 – July 17, 1887) was an American activist on behalf of the indigent insane who, through a vigorous program of lobbying state legislatures and the United States Congress, created the first generation of American mental asylums.

Howe reports that her activism came from observing the conditions of the indigent insane in prisons, where they were often chained and beaten.

So, in the 1840's, when the Reformers took up the cause of the indigent insane, it was to put them in asylums. Over a century later, Reformers took up the cause of those in asylums, arguing against their confinement. A generation after that, Reformers took up their cause once again, now on behalf of the homeless.

I should note that some researchers have observed a large proportion of mental illness in prisons. So perhaps we have come full circle.

The mentally ill pose a really challenging problem. The libertarian approach would be for government to leave them alone as long as they are not committing crimes. Certainly, you don't permit anyone to chain them or beat them. Certainly, you admire and encourage anyone who tries to help them. But the notion that the next policy reform is going to cure the problem is, one might say, deranged.

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CATEGORIES: Political Economy

COMMENTS (9 to date)
spencer writes:

It was not reformers who took up the cause a century later.

It was Ronald Reagan who cut off federal funding for caring for them and tossed them out in the street.

spencer writes:

It was not reformers who took up their cause a generation ago.

It was Ronald Reagan who cut off federal funding and tossed them out in the street.

Doesn't reality ever matter to you?

manuelg writes:

There seems to be a societal demand to beat, or otherwise abuse, the insane.

Family members should be able to rent out their insane relatives to those who wish to partake.

Two-by-fours with protruding nail points... are right out. We just need some very minimal regulation as to the largest diameter tree branch the insane can be beaten, or abused, with.

The mentally ill are being clobbered overly sadistically, and this is a tragedy. But the notion that the next policy reform is going to cure the problem is, one might say, deranged.

Julianna writes:

It may help that statement that Dorothea Dix Hospital, or "Dix Hill" as North Carolinians call it, has been closed down within the last few years.

Serious mental health patients were switched to an already overcrowded to a hospital on the coast (roughly the same distance as from you to Rhode Island).

Dix Hill and its surrounding parks are located on prime real estate (which were worth dirt in the 1800s). It is speculated that Dix Hill is being torn down and sold off for the money the land is now worth.

Ak Mike writes:

Spencer - your statement is false on a number of levels.

First, mental hospitals have been historically state public hospitals, funded by states, not the federal government. So Reagan's ability to throw out mental patients was small.

Second, deinstitutionalization goes back to the 1950's and 1960's, in large part as a reaction to new medications treating psychosis. Also important was, e.g., the ACLU's Mental Health Project, which began in 1968 with legal attacks on the process of involuntary commitment to mental hospitals. Kling is to a great extent right about this, Spencer, you are wrong.

Third, federal spending can occur only through laws originating in the house of representatives. During every second of Reagan's two terms, that house was controlled by Democrats. Responsibility for whatever impact federal spending changes may have made on institutionalization during the 1980's (which was not much) belongs to the house of representatives.

MouseJunior writes:

mike - You do remember that Reagan was governor of California before he was president, right?

The deinstitutionalization here happened on his watch, 1966-1974. They dumped all the people who were institutionalized out on the streets, and never bothered to fund the local support services that were supposed to be put into place to help them function on the outside.

Ak Mike writes:

Mouse - remember that Spencer referred to Reagan's cutting off federal funds, and was therefore referring to his role as president, not governor of California.

And the emptying of mental hospitals was in full swing in Pennsylvania where I was in the late 1960's, in Illinois where I spent time in the early 1970's, and I believe in nearly every other state. As governor, Reagan was just participating in a national movement and had no special significance.

Snark writes:

All the anger and vitriol directed at Reagan reminds me of that time when many believed he was the anti-christ. Prior to Reagan, it was Nixon. After Reagan, it was Bush I. Today, however, we’re told that Bush II holds that distinction. Are they related other than by party, or is simply it that all republicans bear the mark of the beast?

Check out the dip in the graph shown in this paper:

And now consider how in many places in the U.S., people convicted of misdemeanors, such as drunk driving, were offered the choice of serving in Vietnam rather than prison.

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