Battlepanda: Are Children Public Goods?


Always trying to figure things out with the minimum of bullshit and the maximum of belligerence.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Are Children Public Goods?

I'm a bit late to this party, but heck, this problem isn't going away any time soon. So here's my two bits:

Back in the olden days, having kids is a no brainer. Setting aside the fact that the relative dearth in contraception makes it hard to stop them coming, being fruitful and multiplying is such a economically satisfying choice. They start helping around the house as soon as they can walk around, and soon you'll have strong hands to help till the land. They're like a source of union-free labor and your 401(k) all in one package.

Nowadays, the decision to have a kid is to take on an economically onerous burden. Apart from the first part, which is hopefully fun and free in any day and age, we're talking about sinking capital year after year into an 'investment' that will likely never break even. Not only that, the standards of what it takes to be a good parent have balloned. Not only are you not allowed to work your kid in the salt mines, you've got to buy them lamaze toys and drive them to soccer practice and pay for 'talent' summer camps and music lessons...

In a nutshell, nobody have kids for economic reasons anymore. Yet, heroically, people keep choosing to have children and raise them for to the best of their capacity while we, as a society, enjoy the free ride of getting our labor force born and raised gratis.

Bitch, phd.
is really outraged that we're even having this discussion, that we're reducing human beings to numbers. But the thing is, nobody is suggesting that we make couples do an econometric calculation of their acturial likelihood to come out ahead in the childrearing game before they have the kid. The point is, they don't. They won't. They will almost always base their decision on non-economic factors. But should we take advantage of that?

Imagine saying to a soldier, "you should be defending your country out of patriotism and selfless sacrifice, not filthy lucre. Therefore we're cutting your pay to subsistence levels to reflect that." Or to a doctor, "because the human life is priceless, your job is too important and noble to be calculated in dollars and cents. We only want doctors who'll do surgery for that nice, warm, fuzzy feeling you get when you know you've helped a fellow human being."

But every single day we say to parents: "If you don't get enough rewards from how emotionally satisfying it is to raise children, you really shouldn't. If you ever worry about how bringing up that adorable little bundle will affect your financial future, you don't deserve one. The value of children to society is way too precious to be calculate in dollars and cents, therefore you won't be recieving any compensation for your efforts."