Morality, not poverty

June 27th, 2012 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

The Daily Mail reports:

Children commit crime because they lack morals and not just because of the environment they live in, according to a new study.

Cambridge University studied around 700 young people in Peterborough for over a decade and discovered that most adolescent crime is not just youthful opportunism.

In fact, while it is agreed that urban environments trigger some young people to commit crime, it is their morality which is the biggest factor.

Other teenagers remain highly resistant to committing crime – regardless of the circumstances.

Many of us know people whose background would be one, where a life of crime might be expected. But they chose not to.

The Peterborough Adolescent and Young Adult Development Study was carried out by Cambridge’s Institute of Criminology.

And it found that rather than crime being widespread among teenagers, a tiny band of delinquents have each committed a staggering 278 crimes by the age of 16, say researchers.

The thugs, who make up less than 4 per cent of the teenage population, are responsible for nearly half of youth offending, they found.

The ones who have a dozen convictions by their 21st birthday.

The researchers found that 60 per cent of the 16,000 offences were committed by a ‘crime-prone’ 16 per cent of those studied, including the hard-core of 3.8 per cent.

They committed an average of 86 crimes each between the ages of 12 and 16.

This group admitted having the weakest morals, being impulsive and short-sighted, and having no self-control.

The 16 per cent most ‘crime-averse’, who were judged to have the strongest values, accounted for only 0.5 per cent of the crimes reported.

A lack of moral compass, rather than the opportunity to commit crime or social background, was revealed to be the most important factor in youths breaking the law.

The research, which is the most comprehensive study of youth crime in Europe, found that teenagers who avoided crime did so not because they feared the consequences or lacked the chance, but because they saw it as wrong. Professor Per-Olof Wikstrom, who led the Cambridge study, said: ‘’Many young people are ‘crime-averse’ and simply don’t perceive crime as a possible course of action – it doesn’t matter what the situation is.

The idea that opportunity makes the thief – that young people will inevitably commit crime in certain environments – runs counter to our findings.

‘Rather, only the “crime-prone” become vulnerable to said opportunities when taking part in environments with a moral context that encourages or at least does not discourage crime.’

But of course no article complete without someone banning society:

But Camila Batmanghelidjh, the founder of Kids Company, a charity that works with disadvantaged children, cautioned against branding some young people as amoral.

She said it was ‘a given that it’s a good thing to teach right from wrong’, but added: ‘Society is lecturing children and young people about how well behaved they should be but it’s not behaving in a way that warrants respect.’

Yes, the problem is society is not behaving in a way that amoral young thugs respect!

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51 Responses to “Morality, not poverty”

  1. RRM (9,435 comments) says:

    Trouble is that any time you mention morality, those who believe the Christian sky fairy is the only true source of morality go nuts and have a field day.

    So stand by for a christian invasion in 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1… :-(

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  2. Pete George (22,782 comments) says:

    0…the money god will fix it. Give thugs a good regular income and they will become more affluent thugs.

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  3. JeffW (320 comments) says:

    Of the 4% thug population, I wonder what the proportion of parents on benefits is.

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  4. F E Smith (3,301 comments) says:

    A good article and from what I have seen it is correct in what it says.

    Jeff, sadly a large number.

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  5. Pete George (22,782 comments) says:

    Benefits create thugs? Or thugs can’t get or don’t want jobs?

    Those who have been thugs and done time will presumably find it harder to get employment.

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  6. Andrei (2,499 comments) says:

    Give thugs a good regular income and they will become more affluent thugs

    No Pete George, those from good backgrounds with no morals become Members of Parliament and pass laws so they can steal from us legally.

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  7. lyndon (330 comments) says:

    Considering 1) it’s the Daily Mail and 2) people committing crimes have moral issues almost by definition, you might want to be careful about the interpretation here.

    But the stats-y bit seems perfectly credible to me. Now: without comment on whether society is to blame – it’s still society that has to do something about it if we want the situation to improve.

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  8. Longknives (4,416 comments) says:

    I’m going to say a couple of ‘dirty words’- Corporal punishment.

    Bring Back the Biff!!

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  9. East Wellington Superhero (1,151 comments) says:

    @RRM

    You’re an arse. You use bully words to frame the debate the way you want it.

    If you think that Christians think they’ve got a monopoly on morality then you really do reveal your ignorance and prejudice.

    There is a deeper question here though. Does an objective morality exist?

    And if so, from where does it spring?

    And if not, then what do we make of the article above.

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  10. Redbaiter (7,560 comments) says:

    When amoral governments take over the role of parents, what would one expect?

    Socialism.

    You voted for it.

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  11. Pete George (22,782 comments) says:

    If you think that Christians think they’ve got a monopoly on morality

    Not all do, but there have been strong claims of that here by a few.

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  12. F E Smith (3,301 comments) says:

    PG,

    2, not 1. But long term benefit dependency, especially multi-generational dependency, has extremely deleterious effects on the family structure of the beneficiaries that can, and often does, lead to criminal behaviours among the youth. Giving money to them doesn’t work because the are not committing crime because they are poor.

    A lot of crims can get jobs easily enough if they want one. Keeping the job in the face of their dysfunctionality is more of a problem.

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  13. Weihana (4,496 comments) says:

    DPF,

    Yes, the problem is society is not behaving in a way that amoral young thugs respect!

    Often society does behave in a way that doesn’t deserve respect. But of course that has little to do with people who lack basic morals. A convenient excuse when the fact is these criminals are not really attacking “society” they are attacking individuals who are not responsible for society’s ills whatever they may be.

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  14. tvb (4,199 comments) says:

    Morals are crucial. Kids are in a lawless environment. Housing has a limited effect on this. The state cannot provide for this.

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  15. Weihana (4,496 comments) says:

    EWS,

    There is a deeper question here though. Does an objective morality exist?

    And if so, from where does it spring?

    Can someone act however they feel and always expect the outcome they want? If yes then objective morality doesn’t exist, if no then it does.

    Objective morality exists because not all types of behaviour have the same tendency to produce desired outcomes. The Universe works according to definite rules and other people have a specific nature about them which dictates how they will react to the behaviour of others. Morality is about understanding how the world works and how other people work in order to function in a social group to achieve whatever it is we want to achieve in life.

    If we behave badly the universe doesn’t care, it sheds no tears. But likely we will cry when the chickens come home to roost.

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  16. hmmokrightitis (1,507 comments) says:

    “Often society does behave”

    Im sorry, but WTF – society does not behave, people do. And we all behave differently. Labeling us all as society makes for a meaningless statement and argument.

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  17. slijmbal (1,210 comments) says:

    I would break it down a bit further – a reasonable % age of the major crimebreakers are out and out sociopaths and the rest are ‘amoral’ as per the study’s definition. The former actually seemed to get caught less often in my experience (maybe psychopaths are smarter?) but the latter seem to run out of steam in their 40s and try and have a life. It definitely ran in families and from my observations the family was the biggest predictor.

    Not sure I agree on the finding on the avoidance of crime would be because of fear of consequences. The average Scouser crim definitely avoids doing crime that will get caught unless p*****d or high.

    I also would like to know whether they are stating their measure on morals in a way that allows the questioned to basically say ‘It’s not my fault – I’ve got poor impulse control’, which is a common way to avoid blame. It reads a bit like that but it’s been translated by the Daily Mail and I’m too lazy to look it up until later.

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  18. kowtow (7,591 comments) says:

    Does RRM stand for Really Ridiculous Moron?

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  19. Weihana (4,496 comments) says:

    Redbaiter (310) Says:
    June 27th, 2012 at 2:33 pm

    When amoral governments take over the role of parents, what would one expect?

    Socialism.

    You voted for it.

    Crime doesn’t exist under capitalism? :)

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  20. Scott Chris (5,875 comments) says:

    Any article or study that bangs on about morality in broad terms is basically full of shit. (as is this one)

    A child’s marginal propensity to conform to the prevailing sub-culture is, on the other hand heavily influenced by his environment.

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  21. East Wellington Superhero (1,151 comments) says:

    @ Pete

    “Not all do, but there have been strong claims of that here by a few.”

    Not more than the modern atheist high-priests that wish to take for themselves more control over society than the church ever wanted.

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  22. Weihana (4,496 comments) says:

    hmmokrightitis (538) Says:
    June 27th, 2012 at 2:46 pm

    “Often society does behave”

    Im sorry, but WTF – society does not behave, people do. And we all behave differently. Labeling us all as society makes for a meaningless statement and argument.

    True society isn’t homogenous, but we do have a system of governance that is the result of coordinated action between large groups of people. I think I made it quite clear though in my post that any unfairness on the part of “society” does not justify attacks on individuals who are not responsible for such unfairness and certainly amoral criminal behaviour has little relevance and it merely serves as a convenient excuse.

    But still there is such a thing as “society” and it is not a meaningless concept.

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  23. East Wellington Superhero (1,151 comments) says:

    @ Weihana

    “The Universe works according to definite rules”

    Good to hear you say that. Many folk breathlessly assert that it does not.

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  24. Scott Chris (5,875 comments) says:

    The Universe works according to definite rules

    Yeah maybe. Problem is we don’t know what all those rules are yet.

    Understandable I guess that most people want to simplify everything. Especially conservatives.

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  25. Weihana (4,496 comments) says:

    Scott Chris,

    I agree with your point about oversimplifying things, but for the vast majority of people we know enough to know how to behave. We do not have to be expert physicists to understand the nature of our fellow human beings and what types of behaviour are tolerable.

    Unfortunately I suspect for some of these children they likely suffer from a lack of empathy which limits their ability to learn right from wrong. On the other hand, such a lack of empathy may assist them if they wish to enter the business world. :)

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  26. Scott Chris (5,875 comments) says:

    likely suffer from a lack of empathy which limits their ability to learn right from wrong

    Speaking of simplifying things…. :mrgreen:

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  27. Andrei (2,499 comments) says:

    but for the vast majority of people we know enough to know how to behave

    Really?

    We live in a society that countenances the mass murder of infants, and you think our society is moral?

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  28. UpandComer (506 comments) says:

    This is just common sense. If it was the opposite, no kids of any means would ever commit crime. Organised crime, often made up of smart individuals, would not exist, and every poorer neighbourhood everywhere would be infested with crime.

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  29. kowtow (7,591 comments) says:

    I any of you really are genuinely intreested in the background of this stuff look up the english police blog inspector gadget.

    http://inspectorgadget.wordpress.com/

    any posts about the swamp estates and the lowlife that live on them will be instructional

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  30. Weihana (4,496 comments) says:

    Scott Chris,

    Yeah but it’s okay when you use ambiguous terms like “some” and “likely”. :)

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  31. Muzza M (290 comments) says:

    Bring back CMT, and in this day and age, make it compulsary for both male and females.

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  32. Scott (1,703 comments) says:

    “A lack of moral compass, rather than the opportunity to commit crime or social background, was revealed to be the most important factor in youths breaking the law.”

    Very good post DPF. Most of us on the right would agree. So some suggestions for instilling a moral compass-
    - be a parent, not the child’s friend. They have friends already.
    - get married and stay married
    - behave reasonably responsibly
    - take your children to Sunday school. And go to church yourself. Like it or not the church does give a moral compass.
    - bring back corporal punishment.

    If we did all those things I predict that youth crime rates would plummet. Indeed when the above measures were widely practised in NZ our overall crime rate was a fraction of what it is now.

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  33. chiz (1,119 comments) says:

    Scott:Like it or not the church does give a moral compass.

    Belief in heaven encourages crime.

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  34. Rex Widerstrom (5,254 comments) says:

    This group admitted having the weakest morals, being impulsive and short-sighted, and having no self-control.

    So the sample self-described? Unless some psychological testing accompanied that part of the report’s conclusions. it’s nonsense. As is conflating “morals” (a term with as many definitions as there are people) with measurable psychological traits such as impulsiveness and lack of self control.

    If you ask an anti-social “thug” (nice bit of balanced reporting from the Mail there) whether they have poor morals, hate society etc, they’re going to adopt a sneer and answer in the affirmative. It tells us absolutely nothing about why they behave as they do, only about why they think they behave as they do.

    Psychological profiling of violent offenders has shown them, broadly speaking, to be impulsive, to lack self control and to be somewhere on the scale of narcissist to sociopath.

    “Morals”, on the other hand, has no agreed standard of measure, so characterising offenders as lacking “morality” is unscientific and is worthless as a tool.

    That wouldn’t matter, except that chacaterising offenders as this way allows us to smugly decide we’ve hit upon the cause of the problem, and then proceed to ignore the causes we can measure and about which we can do something.

    As JeffW says, a more useful indicator would have been to ask how many young offenders’ parents were on benefits, and even to see if there was any correlation between length of time on a benefit of the parent and level of recidivism in their offspring.

    And touching on Redbaiter’s point, it’d be interesting to see how many were aware of the example being set by politicians, some business people and others in positions of power, and whether that influenced the attitude of offenders in terms of respect for the law and for society.

    Likewise, the debate on corporal punishment might have been served by finding out how many young offenders were physically punished (many are, albeit the cause is often not linked to the effect) and whether they offend more, or less, than those who were not.

    All this study has done is confirm what every police officer, lawyer, judge and social worker has known for decades – that a small percentage of hard core offenders, often related to one another, are responsible for an inordinate amount of the crime in any given area. And given those who like to imagine they occupy the high moral ground a leg-up onto their high horse.

    Which is a pity, because it could have done so much more – like spark a debate as to whether small children identified as being impulsive and nacissistic ought to be subject to some sort of “reprogramming” early in life, before their personality traits manifest as ofending behaviour, and indeed whether such traits are a reliable indicator of future criminality.

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  35. Fletch (6,010 comments) says:

    It’s worth checking out Mapping America, which shows statistics for everything from addictions to education and social problems using as a basis how often people regularly attend religious services and whether they have a stable family or not – eg, ‘Ever Assaulted Someone’ – LINK.

    A lot of these seem to show that if the persons weekly attend religious services and are in a stable home, they’re less likely to commit crime, or use drugs and are more likely to have better outcomes re:education etc.

    Check out the links down the side on the left for different categories.

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  36. b1gdaddynz (279 comments) says:

    I would have thought it was screamingly obvious that if you lack morals you are more likely to commit crime; it has nothing to do with society and your socio-economic status. Otherwise how do you explain white collar criminals who embezzle money from their clients/businesses. Too many people in this country make excuses for other people but people do know right from wrong otherwise no attempt would be made to conceal the crimes.

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  37. Mark (1,360 comments) says:

    Ah so poverty is ok so long as the poverty stricken keep a stiff upper lip and watch their p’s and q’s

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  38. kowtow (7,591 comments) says:

    There is no poverty in Britain > It’s all relative. Everything is provided nowadays.

    Technical question. What ‘s the big square thing on the back of a satelite dish? A council house.

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  39. Luc Hansen (4,573 comments) says:

    The article dovetails nicely with the view DPF has previously propounded here, that some kids are “born bad.” I find that a particularly ignorant belief, but it appears to be one the Daily Mail is happy to push, and which finds a ready audience here, New Zealand’s version of right wing swamp estates and the lowlife that live on them (hat tip: kowtow).

    Of course, DPF just can’t help misrepresenting the view of the Kids Company founder, who never called for the “banning of society” – merely that society must take its share of responsibility. I suppose DPF liked the ring of his line, so truth didn’t come into it.

    And the astounding misuse of the word “amoral” cannot be ignored. Only in the opaque world of philosophy would one find an argument that humans are capable of being amoral. The correct word to use in this instance is immoral, although I would suggest even that is harsh for kids who have had their lives blighted by the circumstances of their birth and subsequent mistreatment by the adults in charge of the asylum called civilised society.

    But plainly, if the kids can admit to having the weakest morals they cannot be amoral.

    This kind of social science research is what gives the field a bad name.

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  40. Redbaiter (7,560 comments) says:

    “Crime doesn’t exist under capitalism? ”

    Sigh…

    That’s the thing about Kiwiblog, always such perspicacious debate.

    Capitalism is an economic theory and it does not advocate that the state assumes the role of parents.

    The comparison is completely clueless.

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  41. RRM (9,435 comments) says:

    Sigh…

    That’s the thing about Kiwiblog, always such perspicacious debate.

    Attendance isn’t compulsory. You can sod off and start your own blog at any time…

    Wait, that’s right, you did. And all 3 of the nutters who read it are even more miserable and negative than you are :-)

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  42. Redbaiter (7,560 comments) says:

    Nor does capitalism require an adherence to the ideas of moral relativity that are a cornerstone to the advance of socialism.

    BTW RRM, when I am less busy I will revive my blog. Then you can visit every day as you used to and leave the usual inane and pointless comments.

    (Just like you do on Kiwiblog.)

    I’ll get the usual blast from seeing them directed straight into the spam bin.

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  43. edhunter (493 comments) says:

    so 4% is responsible for 50% of all youth crime, can I recommend a radical new solution all we need to do is place a small bit of lead (Pb) strategically behind the right ear of the aforementioned 4%. I’ve heard it has a 100% success rate.

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  44. Simon Arnold (98 comments) says:

    I see the Daily Mail describes this as “the most comprehensive study of youth crime in Europe” looking at 716 teenagers over five years from the age of 12 to 16. Our own Dunedin Longitudinal study is a long running research study of the lives of 1037 children born in Dunedin in 1972 and 1973, and the Christchurch Health and Development Study followed 1,265 children born in the Christchurch urban region during mid-1977 and I think is following them still. I was on the periphery of the establishment of both surveys working in the dept of education research and planning group.

    Pity then to waste too much time with this light-weight European study when we have much better local research (even if the ethnic composition isn’t representative of modern NZ – perhaps time to start another more representative study).

    Our research suggests two types of youth offender 20% who have severe behaviour problems from a very early age (~3% of the cohort), have dysfunctional upbringings and lack feelings of guilt etc. The majority on the other hand get into bad company and habits as teens but exhibit the normal feelings of guilt etc.

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  45. Samcatte12 (1 comment) says:

    As a woman lawyer appearing in court over many years in my early career I have a slightly different take on this (although I suspect FE Smith will agree). The “costumes” the wigs, gowns and suits served a purpose. They distanced the person from the role. The clothes emphasised that this was a serious situation with consequences. In the wig/gown I was “the prosecutor” or ” the defence”….. the role rather than an individual. When the dressing up was abolished was when I first started to get serious gender based abuse, I got the odd defendant calling me a bitch etc before but take away the theatre and it not only got much nastier but it followed you home, I can date our taking our name out of the phone book to months after the change . I hated the dress code when I started practising, back then women could not wear trousers if they wanted the judge “to see them” but now when I make a rare visit to court I feel rather nostalgic. Back then my crims made an effort for court day (or their mums made sure they did) we all kept a set of clothes and a tie in the office for them to borrow if need be. Looking back, I think making the effort brought home what was happening in a way that rocking up to court in whatever you threw on that morning doesn’t – and I’m just referring to counsel ! The poster who said you should dress for the occasion was right. Sparkly tight gold pants are for the disco floor, not to show off at a family tragedy.

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  46. hj (6,347 comments) says:

    Radio NZ had item about Catholism in the Philipines where families have as many as 10 children. The govt want free contraception but the head up it’s backside RC Church calls that immoral and contraception is abortion.
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p002vsn0

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  47. F E Smith (3,301 comments) says:

    Welcome along Samcatte12! Glad to have another colleague along.

    I agree entirely with your comment, although wonder if perhaps it is in the wrong thread? Either way, you make a very good point. The English and Welsh criminal bar also makes the same points in favour of retention of the wig over there. And anybody who has stood in the Royal Courts of Justice and seen the barristers go about their work will know just what a sobering sight it is. When wigs and gowns are worn, the clientele seem to take on a different attitude than when in summary jurisdiction.

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  48. Aredhel777 (278 comments) says:

    And yet people still buy into relativism, and some exceptionally foolish individuals even believe that relativism and all its implications are good for society. Hahaha.

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  49. The Scorned (719 comments) says:

    There is a deeper question here though. Does an objective morality exist?

    And if so, from where does it spring?

    The laws of the universe about us and the reality we inhabit….as well as our nature as Man. Right and wrong for human beings is objective as our nature as man is objective.

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  50. Fentex (859 comments) says:

    whenever I see a report I don’t just report it. I always look at their methodology
    The Happy Planet Index

    I look forward to your critical analysis of this reports methodology.

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  51. Michael Mckee (1,091 comments) says:

    DPF your situational morality is an example of what parliament and it’s occupants project all the time to our young people.
    There is sense in the article and your last comment whilst correct makes light of what is a serious issue.
    The leadership in this country stinks a lot of the time in their example to the weak and young in society.

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