Political Animals: How Our Stone-Age Brain Gets in the Way of Smart Politics by Rick Shenkman discusses cognitive science, psychology and evolutionary psychology.
Evolutionary psychologists argue, according to Shenkman (p. 116), that “our biases are not ‘design flaws,’ they are ‘design features.’” The book’s conclusion (p. 247) is that citizens, with Pleistocene brains, have to work at reforming themselves to have a democracy that works.
Shenkman analyzes what he calls (p. 109) “some of the most common cognitive biases identified by social scientists.” They are: availability bias, perseverance bias, source confusion, projection bias, self-serving bias, superiority bias, planning fallacy and optimism bias.
This is an interesting, “big picture,” work. Sadly, in one respect, I would argue that the author suffered from some of the biases that he described.
Shenkman made overly broad statements on Social Security disability and put too much faith in an April, 2013, National Public Radio (NPR) series (pp. 210-211).
“While the welfare rolls were going down [after 1996 laws], the number of people on Social Security disability was going up.” [p. 210]
“It appears plausible that after they left the welfare rolls, a lot of them simple moved onto the disability rolls.” [p. 210]
“It makes no sense for people who cannot find a job to go on disability if they are not really disabled.” [p. 211]
“According to NPR, the criteria by which people are designated disabled are arbitrary.” [p. 211]
Not only did Shenkman fail to provide independent evidence for his conclusions, innuendos and generalizations, he failed to note the objections to the NPR series and failed to include citations of organizations and individuals taking issue with the NPR series—see below.
The NPR series was criticized by many, including the National Organization of Social Security Claimants’ Representatives (NOSSCR) and by eight former commissioners of Social Security, who said that “the series failed to tell the whole story and perpetuated dangerous myths.”
Additionally, Shenkman did not make clear that there are two Social Security disability programs. One disability program is part of Social Security insurance; retirement and survivors' benefits are other parts--these three programs are based on workers’ contributions (FICA—the Federal Insurance Contributions Act). The other program, a needs-based program that provides for disabled children and others who have not worked under FICA (or who have not worked recently or long enough under FICA), is Supplemental Security Income.
So on the one hand Social Security disability is a contributory insurance system and the Supplemental Security Income disability program is a welfare disability program.
Shenkman also did not describe the backlog of pending Social Security disability cases, the sequential evaluation process, the out-of-date vocational methodology used by Social Security, the reliance on state disability determination services to make medical determinations, and so many more factors that impact the ability to get approved.