Do People NEED To Have Children?

by Harry on December 2, 2003

Laura at Apartment 11D has a nice post on the non-voluntariness of having children. Of course, in some non-trivial sense having children is a choice. but it is not a choice like the choice of what career to have, or what breakfast cereal to have. She says:

I don’t think it is a choice to have kids or not for most people (though not everybody). Making babies is what we do. Having kids was not a choice for me or my husband. When and how many, yes. But there was no question that we needed kids in our lives. Just as one’s sexuality can’t be chosen, having kids isn’t a choice either. Being a parent is part of who I am.

I think this is about right. Of course, some people have no interest in, or need for, having children; and among that group some are better off without and some are better off with them. But a good majority of people experience the desire to have children as a need—the experience of raising children is something without which they could not fully flourish.

But then I’m not so sure about the following:

Having kids is an incredible sacrifice, and not only in the sleep department. My friends without kids may put in an extra couple of hours on a Friday night, but we work all weekend to feed the kids and keep them safe. It’s also a huge expense. Couples who work full time without the expense of childcare or diapers are much better off than we are. They have houses, while we live in a dumpy apartment. They take vacations and only pay for two plane seats. They have two full time salaries with benefits. Children are the leading predictor of poverty.

Again, she’s absolutely right that having children is a predictor of poverty (in rich societies; not in poor societies, especially agararian ones, where having children is an investment strategy). And Ann Crittenden argues that the financial sacrifice is massive—hundreds of thousands of dollars for middle class Americans, and that’s just in forgone income; it doesn’t include expenditure on the kids.

But is it an-all-things considered sacrifice? Not if the parent needs to have the child in order to have a fully flourishing life, as Laura says she does (and I feel the same way). To be charitable, perhaps, this is what people are thinking when they say having children is a choice. Laura, again rightly, says that children are a public good; but they are a public good that we produce for private reasons, which is why non-parents do not feel obliged to compensate us at all.

We need to separate two things here. 1) What is a sensible family policy from the point of view of non-parents? 2) What are parents owed? My guess is that parents aren’t owed that much, at least in terms of financial compensation, given that they are getting a good (being a parent) which non-parents either cannot get or have rejected as something that would not be good for them. But in rich societies, where we risk a serious undersupply of children it might be very good family policy to give parents a lot, so as to a) encourage child-rearing and b) enable people to do it better (so that we get a superior product).

(I am bracketing the gender inequality issues on which I have posted before; I believe, but shan’t argue, that we should try to mitigate if not eradicate the unequal prospects between men and women that is the predictable consequence of the gendered division of child-rearing labour).

{ 78 comments }

1

Dorothea Salo 12.02.03 at 3:13 pm

*looks around*

*fails to see serious undersupply of children*

*wonders WTF?*

2

Mrs Tilton 12.02.03 at 3:22 pm

Harry wonders:

What are parents owed?

Where I live (Germany), one thing on the table is whether they’re owed a break on pension contributions. Or rather: should the childless pay more? The idea is that the childless reap the full pension benefit without adding to the next generation of worker bees who fund their benefits.

As a parent, of course, I’m all in favour of Soaking The Non-reproductive.

3

Obvious 12.02.03 at 3:39 pm

Let’s see, people who were stupid enough to forget a condom, what do they deserve? A boot to the head, but the baby is probably punishment enough.

4

Chris Bertram 12.02.03 at 3:46 pm

Two separate questions:

(1) What do people who share (perhaps within a workplace) a relation of _community_ owe to one another – including to parents?

(2) What should be paid to parents in virtue of the positive externalities of their parenting? (Addresses undersupply of children issue).

On (1) I’m inclined to say that good colleagues do pick up the slack for one another, look out for one another, cover for those who are sick etc. And though the benefits may flow unequally, only a moron would think of parents as deliberate free-riders.

On (2) though, I’m a lot less sure. The benefits parents provide for others are unasked for and it is hard to make a respectable case that people should _generally_ be required to compensate others for such benefits. (See Nozick’s ASU at p. 90ff for his critique of the Hart-Rawls “principle of fairness” on this. I’d love to see a convincing rebuttal of Nozick on this topic btw.)

5

Chris Clarke 12.02.03 at 3:48 pm

I’d love to see this serious undersupply of children. But I don’t. All around me, I see families clamoring for 2000 square foot houses and two ton SUVs, and suburban developments and freeways eat up the open space. Meanwhile, once those “rare” children are born, they’re ignored by their parents, wedged into underfunded classrooms and left to their own devices after school hours.

Things that are in short supply are generally valued. If there were an undersupply of children, they’d be given much more attention. As it is, our species is overwhelming the planet through sheer reproductive brute force. “Undersupply?” I wish.

6

Chris Bertram 12.02.03 at 3:54 pm

Chris Clarke:

(1) There is an undersupply of children in the sense that the birthrate in many industrialized countries has fallen below the replacement rate, thereby stacking up problems for the future (such as pensions crises etc). Of course, since there’s an oversupply elsewhere it is always open to you to argue that immigration is the solution to this localized undersupply problem.

(2) Even if you doubt there is an undersupply, you might want to ask whether subsidies to parents would be justified if that condition held – just to get clear on the principles you think we ought to espouse.

7

dsquared 12.02.03 at 3:56 pm

I’d love to see this serious undersupply of children. But I don’t

A google search for “pensions demographic time bomb” ought to help you out.

I also disagree with Chris that “benefits parents provide for others are unasked for”. When you save money for retirement, surely you are implicitly willing that someone be around in future to produce the surplus that you intend to consume. So only people who planned to work for their entire lives (or who were stockpiling dried food for their retirement) could seriously claim that they hadn’t at least implicitly made plans on the basis that other people would have children.

8

Ophelia Benson 12.02.03 at 4:26 pm

Blimey. There were a couple of articles in the Guardian recently about the fashion for people with children to strike martyr poses and verbally attack people without children. I thought the articles might be exaggerating just a little – not a lot – for effect, when I read them, but now I don’t think so.

People have children because they want or need to, period, they don’t do it for the public good. And if people without children are relying on other people to have children for them, so people with children benefit from people who don’t have children. (Consider taxes that pay for schools that those people never use, for example, thus making the money go farther for people who do use them.) The note of self-pity and resentment directed at non-parents by parents seems very…odd, to me. Well, worse than odd, but I’m being tactful.

9

reuben 12.02.03 at 4:42 pm

I don’t want to have children, but I seem to be much more pro-immigration than the average Brit. Does this let me off the hook re the demographic time bomb issue? After all, it’s not your kids I plan to mooch off, it’s the kids of all the foreigners I want to let into the country.

10

dsquared 12.02.03 at 4:47 pm

Not really. Immigration is a temporary solution at best, unless you can think of some way of paying the immigrants’ pensions …

11

harry 12.02.03 at 4:51 pm

Ophelia, I hope that wasn’t directed at me! Or the others here (I have a suspicion that Daniel is a non-parent, but until he discloses more about himself it’s just a guess). I guess you are putting things less diplomatically than I would, but I too was trying to indicate that parents do not have much of a claim on others (though their children might, which is what justifies the taxation). I agree btw w/ Daniel’s point about planning one’s life on the assumption that others will have children, though it hadn’t occurred to me.
But I have to disagree with you about schools: non-parents typically do use tax-funded schools, usually for at least 13 years of their own life; and those who succeed in those 13 years get another 4 or so at a massively subsidised rate (typically subsidized very heavily by the taxpayer and somewhat heavily by their parents). Parents (in rich countries) don’t normally get a financial return on their or society’s investment in their children; the financial return on schooling goes to the children schooled and, through them, into the general fund (for everyone); so when doing the accounting it is wrong to consider parents as the consumers of schooling.

And immigration is also an unreliable long-term solution because the source will dry up as developing countries get richer and therefore both less fertile and more attractive to live in. (I realise that won’t happen any time soon, but it seems obnoxious to rely on a strategy the success of which depends on other countries being poor). (Daniel, as usual, I’m asking you to correct me if I’m wrong about this).

12

dsquared 12.02.03 at 4:59 pm

Cards on the table; parent of a lovely two-year old, thanks.

I’ve never understood the argument that parents are the consumers of education rather than children, I must say and think Harry has it exactly right. Note also that non-parents benefit from the willingness of parents to pay for education, through the effect on property prices of proximity to good schools.

Immigrants are much more of a temporary quick fix than people think; even if we assume that they are given permanent citizenship, many of them tend to actually retire back to their country of origin, living off financial claims built up on the country that they used to work in. Clearly, that’s exacerbating the problem, unless we are prepared to assume ever-increasing immigration, which really does have a flavour of the Ponzi scheme to it.

(A more economically valid version of the argument which I seem to remember advocating on d2d was that what we need is emigration of retired people; low-birth countries should ship their oldsters off to high-birth countries to spend their last years).

13

Chris Bertram 12.02.03 at 5:19 pm

dsquared: _I also disagree with Chris that “benefits parents provide for others are unasked for”. When you save money for retirement, surely you are implicitly willing that someone be around in future to produce the surplus that you intend to consume._

Many of my actions are predicated on assumptions about what other people will do, but it would be a more than a bit of a stretch to claim that I’m therefore and thereby _willing them to do those things_ and should give them my support in terms of time, effort or money.

Trivial example: if I choose to drive across London during the cup final on the assumption that lots of people will be glued to the tv and traffic will be lighter, I thereby knowingly benefit from their actions. But I’m neither asking them to benefit me in that way, nor am I willing them, and if things don’t turn out as I expected I have no cause for complaint.

Full disclosure: I want to be wrong about this one, but I just don’t see how the argument works.

14

dsquared 12.02.03 at 5:32 pm

But this is much more like an implicit contract. If you buy a 30 year gilt, you are doing something that cannot possibly be rational to do unless you expect that the UK will have a tax base in 2033. If the UK is going to have a tax base in 2033, then it will be made up of people who are either unborn or children now. If the UK ends up not having a tax base in 2033 and therefore not paying you your money back, then you would have cause for complaint. By buying a 30 year gilt, therefore, you are (implicitly) willing that children be born, raised and turned into economically productive units over the course of the next thirty years.

15

Jason McCullough 12.02.03 at 5:37 pm

Shouldn’t the bond market kind of notice when the birth rate drops through the floor, and you end up having to invest more money to get a given level of retirement income?

16

dsquared 12.02.03 at 5:40 pm

Perhaps, but at the long end, nonergodicity comes into play; who the hell really knows what will happen in 30 years? The bond market tends to sensibly assume that things will get sorted out eventually, both for Humean (things always have in the past) and Kantian (it is impossible to go about your daily business on any other assumption) reasons.

17

tjvm 12.02.03 at 5:51 pm

“Note also that non-parents benefit from the willingness of parents to pay for education, through the effect on property prices of proximity to good schools.”

Are you sure about that? I don’t know what nation you have in mind, but in the U.S., “proximity to good schools” usually means that you’re in a good public school district. That’s why the proximity is important; you need to live in the right area to send your kids to the schools in question. But public schools aren’t paid for by parents – they’re paid for by all the taxpayers in the relevant area, including non-parents.

It’s true that parents fund private schools, but it’s my impression (admittedly not based on first-hand experience) that private schools, especially the prestigious ones, draw students from a large area, and thus there is no particular advantage to living near one (aside, I suppose, from having a short drive to school, something non-parents don’t care about).

18

dsquared 12.02.03 at 5:55 pm

tjvm: But parents are prepared to pay a premium to live in a good public school district rather than a bad one, a benefit that accrues to all property-owners in the district rather than just to parents.

19

dsquared 12.02.03 at 6:01 pm

Chris: Or to put it in a legalistic framework, the implicit willing of the means falls under the good common law principle that if I contract with you that you will carry out some action, the contract implicitly obliges me not to act so as to frustrate your ability to fulfill your obligation.

If I hire you to prune my hedge, but then forbid you to use the pruning shears that were visible on my porch when we made the contract, a court would generally refuse to grant my action against you for breach of contract.

20

Invisible Adjunct 12.02.03 at 6:50 pm

“People have children because they want or need to, period, they don’t do it for the public good.”

I don’t think individual motives are all that relevant. Whether or not they intend to do it for the public good, they do contribute to the public good. The same might be said of many other endeavours in which private motives and preferences end by contributing to the good of the public. For example, someone might join the armed forces in order to get a college education, out of lack of other employment options, in order to satisfy a desire for travel and a sense of adventure, and so on: do these private motives cancel out the public contribution?

In terms of individuals, well, no, some people don’t need (and some don’t want) to have children. But speaking more broadly, say of the species, well, yes, people do need to have children in order to ensure the continuation of the species. Somewhat more narrowly, nations/societies/cultures need to reproduce themselves in order to, well, reproduce themselves into the future. There is indeed an undersupply of children in many western industrialized nations. Immigration is one response, but I think it’s worth noting that people are not fungible commodities to be traded on a global market.

21

Ophelia Benson 12.02.03 at 7:04 pm

Harry, no, it wasn’t aimed at you, I was reacting to the tone of some other posts. A note of indignation at free riders.

And sure, you’re right about schools, but that’s sort of the point. One can find all sorts of benefits and harms from everything everyone does, and it’s pretty tricky figuring out the profit and loss for everybody of everything.

This business about parents doing everyone a favor by driving up property values for instance – that’s such a parochial, rich-person’s way of looking at it! A typical way of looking at it in the US, it seems to me, and less so in the UK and Europe where public housing and rental housing is not quite so marginalized as it is here. Hello? Driving up property values is not a benefit to people who can’t afford to (or don’t want to) buy real estate; on the contrary, it’s a harm.

So, people having children benefit and harm others, and people not having children do the same. I think it’s inane to claim that people without children exclusively harm parents, and parents exclusively benefit non-parents. And not only inane but – well, a number of unpleasant adjectives I’ll keep to myself.

22

Ophelia Benson 12.02.03 at 7:14 pm

“I don’t think individual motives are all that relevant. Whether or not they intend to do it for the public good, they do contribute to the public good.”

No, I don’t either, until other people bring them up, and use them to reproach people who live their lives differently. See, silly me, I thought that was one of the many benefits of second-wave feminism, that after all that compulsory Togetherness of the ’50s, it was decided that no, actually people weren’t required either to marry or have children. Not even women. So all this reproachfulness and coerciveness directed at people who don’t have children is something I find pretty retrograde and disgusting. As I say, I thought the Guardian was exaggerating, but I no longer do.

And the stuff about the public good is surely debatable. Surely it depends, for one thing. I can think of children whose existence is not self-evidently a public good. And surely it’s a mixture, for another thing. A public good in some ways, a public harm in others. Surely it’s not just straighforwardly the case that more children are automatically and always a public good. If that were true, then surely it would follow that there’s no such thing as too many – we should want five, ten, twenty billion children a year, and so should Nigeria and Bangladesh and China and India. But it’s not quite that simple, is it.

23

Invisible Adjunct 12.02.03 at 7:32 pm

“And the stuff about the public good is surely debatable.”

Agreed. It surely is debatable. And debating the issue was what I thought we were doing. Why take it so personally? I’m really at a loss to account for the snarkiness of your reply. I’m not “reproaching people who live their lives differently,” nor am I suggesting (god forbid) that women should be required to marry and have children. What I am suggesting is that there are potentially serious problems when fertility rates decline below replacement rates.

24

Armature 12.02.03 at 7:33 pm

When you save money for retirement, surely you are implicitly willing that someone be around in future to produce the surplus that you intend to consume.

This is fine as far as it goes, but it does not in itself make the case that children generate positive externalities that are worth compensating the parents for.

Suppose I buy a plane ticket with the expectation that I’ll be able to take a cab from my destination airport to downtown. Does that mean that the cab company is generating a positive externality for which they should be compensated? Should my tax dollars be used to subsidize the cab company? Only if this incentive is necessary to ensure the existence of adequate cab service; otherwise, my fare should be incentive enough.

I could easily turn dsquared’s argument around. Parents are implicitly relying on the frugal, saving-for-retirement ways of the childless to provide (part of) the market for their children’s labor. Therefore, parents should subsidize the childless. After all, the childless could instead choose to empty their bank accounts, burn the money, and commit suicide.

25

Dakota Loomis 12.02.03 at 7:50 pm

Another angle to look at this issue from is the quality versus quanity debate. Specifically, having a declining birth rate might not be such a bad thing if all the children born to bridge the gap turned out to be unproductive drains on society.

Encouraging social programs that increase a child’s health, safety, and education are policies that benefit the entire society. Focusing energy on quality and not quantity makes better sense for parents and for society as a whole.

Productivity gains could make up the shortfall declining populations impose AND could do so while improving children and parents quality of life (and even childless adults).

26

Ophelia Benson 12.02.03 at 7:54 pm

Sorry; sorry about tone. I suppose it was chiefly this post of dsquared’s –

“I also disagree with Chris that “benefits parents provide for others are unasked for”. When you save money for retirement, surely you are implicitly willing that someone be around in future to produce the surplus that you intend to consume. So only people who planned to work for their entire lives (or who were stockpiling dried food for their retirement) could seriously claim that they hadn’t at least implicitly made plans on the basis that other people would have children.”

But I’ve taken my meds now, that always helps with the paranoia.

27

JHB 12.02.03 at 8:01 pm

Betting on a practice is not willing the practice. Retirement funding involves bets, not willing that there be workers. Moreover, it really makes little difference when the surplus arises so long as it is there at the right time. As long as the subject of subsidy is involved, you need to factor in employment benefits, which are prety heavily slanted in favor of parents.

28

tjvm 12.02.03 at 8:05 pm

dsquared:

“But parents are prepared to pay a premium to live in a good public school district rather than a bad one, a benefit that accrues to all property-owners in the district rather than just to parents.”

Ok, but it seems to me that this premium is not a windfall. The premium results from good schools, which result from additional tax dollars spent on those schools (since we’re assuming that good schools are something you must be willing to “pay for”) by everyone, including non-parents. So a non-parent selling his house in a “good school premium” area has, for some time, been paying additional tax dollars for something (improved schools) that he doesn’t need or use. This is a good deal only if the premium exceeds the extra money spent to make the schools good.

It also seems to me that there’s another problem. If a home seller receives a premium for being near good schools, that probably means he paid a similar premium when he bought the home, unless the schools have improved dramatically while he lived there. (While parents may be the driving force behind the premium, presumably all home buyers in a given area will have to pay it.) Thus in many cases I would expect it to be a wash, or possibly worse, when you consider that the person had to tie up additional capital in his home.

I would think that long-term homeowners would be most affected by the first issue, since the premium will have to be large to offset all the additional taxes they’ve paid over the years. Short-term homebuyers would be most affected by the second issue, since school quality probably hasn’t changed a lot, and they’re just getting back the premium they paid a few years ago.

29

Chris Clarke 12.02.03 at 8:15 pm

Cards on the table myself: I love kids and cannot tolerate the thought of burdening the world with more of them, nor of raising my own to face the likely hideously uncomfortable world they’ll inherit in the last half of this century.

I’m also in favor of far greater spending on K-12 and higher education and other public benefits than we now enjoy where I live, and if my taxes go up to pay for it, so be it.

Still. The looming Pension Time Bomb issue is not an indication that there’s an undersupply of children, and it’s not a reason to add yet another incentive to have children in a world that simply cannot afford to provide for the people that are already here.

Rather, the pension issue is a relatively minor symptom of an economy that is predicated on constant growth. That economy will end sometime in the next century. We can do it the really hard way and come up with a phaseable alternative in our lifetimes, or we can do it the impossible way and leave it for our grandchildren to solve.

Note: when I call the pension thing a “relatively minor” symptom of the greater economic problem, I don’t mean to belittle the suffering a pension collapse will cause. I’m seeing the results in my own family right now, and it’s hellish. It’s just that other effects of our positive feedback loop economic system will be much worse.

30

st 12.02.03 at 8:16 pm

“Do we need Children”

More importantly, we all need grandchildren.

31

Ophelia Benson 12.02.03 at 8:18 pm

Okay, then can we have grandchildren and skip the children part? Let’s do that – so much simpler.

32

CdM 12.02.03 at 8:19 pm

armature has it basically right, I think. The fundamental question is whether there are externalities from young generations to old generations or vice versa. Older generations bestow substantial externalities on younger generations by, among other things, building up the capital stock. (And, yes, there is a precise sense in which, in an overlapping generations model, this can be viewed as an externality.) They also impose various negative externalities, but — at least historically — it is pretty clear that the net externality has been positive. I very rarely find myself in disagreement with dsquared, but I think he is guilty of too much partial equilibrium analysis in this case

33

jam 12.02.03 at 8:24 pm

Of course it’s a choice. The difference between choosing to have a child and choosing to be blonde is that the one is irrevocable. The decision that the past me made binds me now. And it is reasonable for those who have not (yet?) made such a decision to respect the situation that those who have have put themselves into.

But Society doesn’t owe them anything. The “demographic time bomb” may or may not explode. If we sustain productivity growth rates in the future anywhere close to comparable to the latest US numbers, then more children would simply lead to higher unemployment. Prediction is a very difficult art, particularly when it concerns the future; one can’t base moral obligations on it.

34

Tracy 12.02.03 at 8:37 pm

Isn’t the call for more children to pay for pension schemes rather environmentally irresponsible? After all, those additional children will need yet more children in the future, and we get back into a population explosion.

Now I know Julian Simmon’s point that every baby not only comes with a mouth, but also a brain and two hands, but presumably at some point, at least until we can colonise other planets, humanity growing has to stop. In which case we will face the same problems with the pension system that we face now, just bigger. Surely the morally correct thing to do is face up to it now?

I don’t think we should be taxing parents for having children, but the case that they bring net benefits, considering not only the pension system but the environmental impact, does not strike me as proven.

A couple of other points – on house prices, if a house costs more to buy, that means it costs the buyer of the house as much as it benefits the seller, there is no net benefit to society. The only way this could be a net benefit to non-parents is if non-parents are skewed towards being sellers – an event that obviously cannot last forever since eventually all the sellers will have sold their houses and turned into buyers.

And, yes, I don’t think of parents as deliberate free-riders. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t annoying having to pick up the work all the time, just as someone standing on your foot accidentally still hurts. I once was the only childless person in a team of four (and knowledge work, so there was no point in hiring a temp), and it got frustrating, because unless I ever got really sick, my contributions of time weren’t going to be repaid. And of course, getting really sick would have significant costs to me.

35

Andrew Boucher 12.02.03 at 8:42 pm

“But in rich societies, where we risk a serious undersupply of children it might be very good family policy to give parents a lot, so as to a) encourage child-rearing and b) enable people to do it better (so that we get a superior product).”
Of course this is what the French are doing, by giving plentiful family leave to parents. It actually seems to work, as France has one of the highest reproduction rates in Europe (though still less than replacement?).

But I think you want to be careful here, because I can see this argument popping up down the road: we gave you family leave, so your kids “belong” to all of us (i.e. it’s ok, when they have grown up and are working, to tax them to poverty in order to support all us oldsters, because that was after all the idea).

36

David W. 12.02.03 at 8:45 pm

In the U.S., there is some support for parents by way of the tax code (Earned Income Tax Credit, income tax deductions for dependent children) and public services (chiefly public schools), but the overwhelming sentiment here is that parents should bear the financial burden of their children.

37

david 12.02.03 at 8:50 pm

One way to look at what’s owed to parents is to acknowledge we were all children once. So Tracy no doubt has a beef, because parents may get out of work that non-parents do. But the rage at parents in the spate of non-parents-are-the-new-trend articles over the last few years (I’ve been hearing a lot more of that than what Ophelia was talking about) never acknowledges that non-parents were children too, and have very likely already benefitted from any number of policies that favor children in society.

38

James 12.02.03 at 9:13 pm

D-squared,

1. On good schools raising local property prices, don’t they also lower property prices in worse areas?

39

Rana 12.02.03 at 9:17 pm

A couple of small thoughts (first, the standard disclaimer: I would like some children of my own someday, so these remarks should not be taken as anti-child or anti-parent):

1) Why can’t would-be parents in wealthy countries (the ones experiencing the reduction in replacement population) adopt from ones with an overabundance of children? Perhaps this would be considered immigration, but it seems qualitatively different from the migration of adults.

2) There is a crisis point heading our way in that a widespread culture of consumption and perpetual growth has led to a global economy built on a decreasing stock of resources. Having children to shore up pension plans in such an economy would be like putting on a bandage while poking holes in oneself: fixing a symptom but not the underlying problem.

3) What do we do with parents in wealthy countries who wish to have more than 2 biological children? I have no answers here, but the issues implied in (1) and (2) suggest that the question needs to be asked.

40

Ophelia Benson 12.02.03 at 9:25 pm

“But the rage at parents in the spate of non-parents-are-the-new-trend articles over the last few years (I’ve been hearing a lot more of that than what Ophelia was talking about)”

Yeah, I’ve heard some of that too, now that you mention it. Confirmation bias strikes again. (Though I’d call it irritation or exasperation rather than rage, but that too could be mere confirmation bias.)

41

Walt Pohl 12.02.03 at 9:27 pm

All this talk about how people in rich countries aren’t having enough children is crazy talk. There are too many people in the world. Somebody’s going to have to bear the burden of reversing the demographic trend. Why not us? Maybe we won’t have the same standard of living in retirement as the baby boomers, but it’s not like we’re going to be eating out of dumpsters.

42

Maynard Handley 12.02.03 at 9:40 pm

Hmm, we “Just as one’s sexuality can’t be chosen, having kids isn’t a choice either. Being a parent is part of who I am.” So finally we have an argument from sociobiology that is embraced by the left. Compare and contrast with “screwing as many other women as possible is what I, as a man, am biologically programmed to do” or “nesting and taking care of others is an innate part of the female character that should be encouraged, not denied”.

43

Brett Bellmore 12.02.03 at 9:51 pm

“1) Why can’t would-be parents in wealthy countries (the ones experiencing the reduction in replacement population) adopt from ones with an overabundance of children?”

Because evolution frowns on things like that. Seriously. The desire to raise the children of somebody completely unrelated to you, instead of your own, is pretty strongly selected against. It’s functionally indistigushable from sterility.

“2) There is a crisis point heading our way in that a widespread culture of consumption and perpetual growth has led to a global economy built on a decreasing stock of resources.”

Read any Julian Simon lately? ;)

“3) What do we do with parents in wealthy countries who wish to have more than 2 biological children?”

Demand that they support them themselves? And otherwise mind your own business?

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Casey 12.02.03 at 9:53 pm

Though most of the discussion has not been about choice, I’ll bring it up. Intuitively, I think that having children is a choice. Choice is a difficult concept to clarify, though. In my own case, I know that I would like to be a father, but for various reasons, I will do my best to avoid it. Isn’t the fact that I am denying my urge a sort of proof that there is some choice involved?
Also, about the “undersupply” notion: surely, there would be difficutlies arising from a low birth-rate, but the benefits far outweigh these difficulties. The fact of the matter is that there are too many people in this world.

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dsquared 12.02.03 at 9:58 pm

OK, replies to some comments:

1. When I say “externality”, I’m making a quite precise economic claim. I’m making the claim that the benefit from a society’s-eye view of there being children is greater than the sum of private benefits (net of private costs) to parents. And therefore, that without some subsidy to having children, parents would tend to underprovide children. I’m not sure that everyone on this thread who’s using the word “externality” is using it in the same sense.

2. It does “make a difference when the subsidy arrives”. If you plan to retire in 2033 on the basis of a portfolio of Treasury bonds, you need there to be a tax base sufficient to make the interest and principal payments for the years between 2033 and your death. Generalising, if you plan to consume without producing in some future year, other people will have to produce more than they consume in that year (unless you are actually storing consumption goods instead of financial claims; hence the crack about dried food).

3. On the housing issue; there is a genuine gain from trade here. If parents have a taste for school-preferred housing and non-parents don’t care, then exchange between the two will leave both parties better off. It’s certainly possible to get perverse distributional outcomes, but the gain has to be there.

4. The overlapping generations model doesn’t have externalities in it, not in any version I’m aware of. Old people exchange capital for labour in order to consume more than they produce; all of this takes place on the basis of exchange and all costs and benefits are internal in the intergenerational exchange. The externality is intragenerational; between old people who choose to forgo consumption/accumulation in the first period in order to produce children, and those who don’t and who have more capital in the second period as a result. I don’t understand or accept armature or cdm’s points, and I think that the charge of “partial equilibrium analysis” is bizarre.

5. I also don’t think you have to be Julian Simon to reject the neoMalthusian argument that we obviously already have too many people. It’s certainly and massively not the case from the point of view of food production.

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Chris Clarke 12.02.03 at 10:02 pm

Brett: “Because evolution frowns on things like that. Seriously. The desire to raise the children of somebody completely unrelated to you, instead of your own, is pretty strongly selected against. It’s functionally indistigushable from sterility.”

This misunderstanding of how selective pressure operates in favor of family-building is a prevalent one, but it’s still a misunderstanding, and a serious one at that.

I have a 17-month-old nephew. He is completely unrelated to me in any genetic sense: he’s the child of my sister-in-law and her husband. By the above argument, I should be unwilling to do s much as suffer inconvenience on his behalf. as it happens, I’d risk my life for him. (Cute little guy, too.)

Of course, by that argument, no father would ever have any innate impetus to work for ANY child, as – up until a few years ago – we men had no real way to determine whether our mate’s kids had any of our genes at all.

It may be that I’m wrong, that some people really cannot feel any love for children not genetically descended from them. Well, there’s more than one kind of sterility. If given a choice, I’ll opt for reproductive sterility over emotional sterility.

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Ophelia Benson 12.02.03 at 10:29 pm

“3. On the housing issue; there is a genuine gain from trade here. If parents have a taste for school-preferred housing and non-parents don’t care, then exchange between the two will leave both parties better off. It’s certainly possible to get perverse distributional outcomes, but the gain has to be there.”

No it won’t – not in the case of renters. Why are renters always invisible in discussions of property values? Another kind of confirmation bias?

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T, Gracchus 12.02.03 at 11:45 pm

Re dsquared’s response point 2:
All that is required is that there be goods available for purchase and that you have resources to make the purchase. It is false, and pretty plainly false, that there must be a surplus production at the time you consume.
Whether society should alter it subsidies of parenthood should not turn on this sort of argument.

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cdm 12.03.03 at 12:09 am

I was conflating two criticisms, and that may have led to confusion. Let me address the partial equilibrium question first. Suppose we have two districts that are identical in terms of their quality of schools. Households with children and without children live in each (choosing where to live based on their preferences of other non-school aspects of the two districts).

Thought experiment 1. Suppose that there is an exogenous shift in the relative quality of schooling in the two regions. (For example, good teachers move from one school to the other for some exogenous reason.) Parents with children will want to move from the bad district to the good district. House prices will rise in the good district and fall in the bad district. Those in the good district (parents and childless alike) enjoy a capital gain; those in the bad district suffer a capital loss. To a first approximation, it seems to me that these cancel out. (It is true that there are gains from trade in the move to the new equilibrium, as parents move to the good district and the childless move to the bad district, but there is no externality.)

Thought experiment 2. Suppose instead that one district increases property taxes and uses the revenue to improve schools in the district. In this case all the residents of the district have paid for higher quality schools. This will again cause migration and changes in house prices in both districts. (The changes in prices will not be the same as in the previous case because the average quality of schooling has risen.) Parents and childless in the good district again enjoy a capital gain, but as previous posters have pointed out, they have in effect paid for it in this case.

Am I missing something?

My point about OG models I will leave for a later post, because it is more technical. I want to figure out how to try to say it more cleanly and clearly, and I don’t have time to do so at this moment.

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Ophelia Benson 12.03.03 at 12:27 am

“Am I missing something?”

Yes. The fact that not everyone who lives in a given neighborhood – not everyone who lives anywhere at all – necessarily owns the house she lives in. People don’t “enjoy a capital gain” if they don’t own the property whose value rises. They enjoy a higher rent, instead. What am *I* missing? Why is this not part of the discussion? Is the whole thing taking place on some other planet where every single person without exception owns a house? If so what is the relevance of such a discussion to life here on earth?

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cdm 12.03.03 at 1:25 am

ophelia:

You are absolutely right that, here on earth, people rent as well as own, and the precise implications are different. In the story I was telling, if we had renters and landlords, then renters in the good district would see their rent go up, landlords would see their income go up, renters in the bad district would see their rent fall, and so on. I was trying to find a simple setup in which to examine dsquared’s claim that (if I understand him correctly) parents’ demand for good schools generates an uncompensated benefit for non-parents. My story was already complicated enough, since it had four different sorts of people in it; I don’t think the basic point changes when there is rental housing.

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Keith M Ellis 12.03.03 at 6:05 am

Maynard, if you’re trying to score partisan political points, you’ll have to do better than that (but don’t, thanks). The left, like the right, has been perfectly willing to argue from nature when convenient and there are lots of examples of this.

But I agree (with you? or someone) that such arguments are notoriously weak. Whether procreation is a “choice” or a “need” should not, by itself, determine its moral status. It will, however, have a strong bearing on any public policy arguments as a matter of practicality.

For the record, I see far more (often vicious) anti-procreation sentiment in fora such as this; I’m surprised there isn’t more of it here. (There was a time when one only encountered the term “breeders” used disparagingly in certain gay circles; now it is used frequently by the straight anti-procreation crowd.) On the other hand, there’s no denying that the greater cultural context is quite pro-procreation and so one understands why some would rebel against this pervasive sentiment.

I just wish that child-raising, in the US at least, weren’t so hideously narcissistic.

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Greg Hunter 12.03.03 at 6:09 am

The pyramid scheme argument for having children seems odd to me, but is a theme that is repeated in The Economist ad nauseam. The world is comprised of much more than people and it is complex enough that we probably should not drive every thing else to extinction, just so we can maintain an ample lifestyle in retirement. Are there any economists that can propose a system not based on the pyramid scheme? Could a quality-based system evolve, which includes a calculation for maintaining a diversity of life as well as life style choices? Does your legacy involve leaving a world of only people eating only corn and soybeans?

And why would you worry anyway? With the advent of the global economy and the might of the British and American Armies, your retirement is secure. We will have the children of other countries produce the goods we need and ship them to our countries for use, while increasing corporate profit and shareholder value. The poor and uneducated people that do not invest in the markets in your home countries will provide the service labor for the corporate shareholders in society.

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James 12.03.03 at 10:06 am

T grrachus

“All that is required is that there be goods available for purchase and that you have resources to make the purchase”

That’s the same as saying some people produce more than they consume — they are producing goods, but giving some up in return for your money. You are producing nothing.

I don’t buy the house prices argument though. It can’t work just because some people have different preferences than others as to what makes a good location for a house — otherwise surely you could argue that gardens should be subsidised because those who like gardening push up house prices of houses with gardens, which non-gardeners don’t care about?

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Tom West 12.03.03 at 11:16 am

With respect to the pension situation being “rescued” by immigrants: Given the societies that much of the immigration comes from, surely the question that the immigrants who are now expected to support the elderly of their new country will be asking of themselves is: Why on earth should I bother to support someone who wasn’t even willing to support themselves (by having children)?

Remember in the less developed world, children *are* your pension. Failure to have children is as stupid (or unfortunate) as failure to save for retirement. And it’s certainly not everybody else’s responsibility to make up for that carelessness. (Not to mention that failure to have children is often seen as a form of betraying your people/country/culture in general – Just look at the laws in many European countries 60 years ago.)

Of course, we can assume an effort to educate differently. But attitudes change slowly (especially since new immigrants are likely to be burdening themselves with children while being shocked at how hostile (relatively) the new home is to raising them). Not only that, but they also have their *real* responsibility (in their eyes), providing for the parents who raised them, either here or abroad.

Just how much burden (and for how long) can we expect the immigrant population to shoulder?

In answer, presumably lots if they are a small minority, and not much if they have enough votes to make a difference.

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Childmaker 12.03.03 at 11:55 am

People do not need to have children; nor do they not need to have children. It doesn’t matter–no one gets out alive. The choice is a choice that one makes and that opthers ought not comment on. If you want them, have them; if you do not–then don’t….go your way and mind your own business…yep: I know: but this or that is my business. Not really. Your “business” will not matter in 50 years, one way or the other.

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Invisible Adjunct 12.03.03 at 2:27 pm

“Just how much burden (and for how long) can we expect the immigrant population to shoulder?”

If the population experts are to be believed, probably not much longer. The Population Surprise reports on the latest estimates. In brief, “44 percent of the world’s people live in countries where the fertility rate has already fallen below the replacement rate, and fertility is falling fast almost everywhere else” and “the evidence now indicates that within fifty years or so world population will peak at about eight billion before starting a fairly rapid decline.”

I’ve definitely seen some rancorous exchanges between the childed and the childless or childfree (though not in this thread). But it’s worth noting that from a demographic perspective, many of us are actually part of the same demographic trend. Demographers define “replacement rate” as 2.1 children per woman (which obviously does not make sense as applied to individuals, we’re talking populations here). If you have only one or two children, you’re part of the same demographic transition: modernization means declining fertility, and we now know that the rates won’t level off at about 2.5 children per woman (which is what the experts assumed in the 1970s), but will actually drop well below replacement.

“I just wish that child-raising, in the US at least, weren’t so hideously narcissistic.”

Agreed. But this is the flip side of the same coin: as Zizka has argued in other blog threads, childraising is a communitarian activity that has been thoroughly privatized — which is one reason why so many western women are simply refusing to do it: the burden and costs fall too heavily on the individual (most often the mother), and many women will no longer accept the terms of this bargain.

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david 12.03.03 at 3:14 pm

I agree with IA and Zizka on the privatization of child care. I see high-income people in particular anxious to have their kids “succeed” in deeply depressing formulas for success, something no doubt tied to pressures to provide commercial goods to kids so that they can go to Yale (David Brooks is big, and ugly, on this). It may be that, as the conceptualization of family shrinks, the idea of success has shifted towards creating little go-getters who succeed in the “market.” The narcissism of the parents and the children both feed on the narcissism of the child-rearing.

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Jeremy Osner` 12.03.03 at 3:50 pm

So what can happen over the next two centuries, as world population levels off and begins to decline? Am I correct in thinking this is unprecedented in human history?

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David Yaseen 12.03.03 at 4:16 pm

If the children currently produced have the capability of disowning any obligation to the elderly, our practical interest in subsidizing them and their parents evaporates. I can easily envision a situation (in the U.S., at least) in which severely straitened budgetary conditions prompt future generations of working people to eschew taxing themselves into penury in order to fund retirees’ expected level of income.

At least in the U.S., resentment at perceived privileges of parents is arising in an environment in which the majority believes Social Security payouts will fall drastically short of their needs and post-retirement health care will be unaffordable. People don’t believe they will realize any future benefit from their current costs, and I can’t blame them.

There is a communitarian principle subtending general subsidy of child-rearing that is absent in the rest of society’s economic arrangements (at least/especially in the U.S.), including provision for retirees. Unless and until that imbalance is specifically and explicitly redressed, it’s entirely rational for the childless to resent footing even part of the bill for the (current) benefit of parents.

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harry 12.03.03 at 5:37 pm

David — the politics of social security are much mroe complicated than this. It’s not old versus young exactly. A lot of the political pressure for maintenance of social security/state pension payments comes from the adult children of aging parents who don’t want to bear the entire costs of their parents aging (as well as that of their children’s growing). The childless, having refrained from the enormous individual expenditure involved in raising children (and so having been able to save much more), benefit as well from the political pressure wielded by other people’s children to maintain the level of state pension payments. I’m sympathetic to Ophelia’s comment about free-riding being pervasive, but its worth having a look at it exactly where it occurs.

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Ophelia Benson 12.03.03 at 6:34 pm

Sure, it is worth having a look at exactly where ‘free-riding’ (not an expression I’m awfully keen on, really) occurs, as long as one doesn’t search only under the streetlight.

Consider, for instance, the fact that people without children who get health insurance through their jobs or through the NHS subsidise health insurance for people who do have children. That runs into substantial sums.

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Chris Clarke 12.03.03 at 6:48 pm

Chris Bertram asks me: (2) Even if you doubt there is an undersupply, you might want to ask whether subsidies to parents would be justified if that condition held – just to get clear on the principles you think we ought to espouse.

I’m sorry I missed this question sixty or so comments upstream, Chris.

Personally, I don’t have any problem at all with subsidies to children, especially of the public schools / school lunches / immunizations and other health care / library cards and recreation centers type. I advocate such subsidies even in the absence of an undersupply, if you’ll pardon the double negative.

But if there were to be an undersupply – ignoring for the moment just what, exactly, that would look like – there are a few places I’d turn before paying people to have kids. Transparent cost-cutting in old folks’ benefits, for one, such as putting price caps on Big Pharma’s products, or general efficiencies in government spending along the lines of the massive subsidies to the military and its contractors would – if those funds were reallocated – go a long way to ameliorate any pension undersupply without needing to encourage people to procreate a larger new generation of laborers. How’s that for a run-on sentence?

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Thomas 12.03.03 at 7:30 pm

David–What are the perceived privileges of parents that you talk about? Free public school education for kids? What are the current costs giving rise to all this resentment?

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Ophelia Benson 12.03.03 at 7:43 pm

I forgot, I meant to answer Jeremy’s question –

“So what can happen over the next two centuries, as world population levels off and begins to decline? Am I correct in thinking this is unprecedented in human history?”

If you mean population decline, no. The Black Death chopped population in Asia and Europe and it took a looong time to recover – two centuries? I’m not sure, but a long time.

And then the population plunge in the Americas in the 15th century and after must have created a considerable hole too, no? Population was rising in other parts of the world at the time, but I don’t think it was rising fast enough to offset the plunge in the Western hemisphere.

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Verbal 12.03.03 at 9:59 pm

Other people’s children may well finance my social security payments, because I live in a country that has chosen a Pay-As-You-Go (PAYG) scheme for its pension plans.

However, it’s more and more apparent that the PAYG scheme is not going to sustain itself unless we have more children and/or die younger. That is, we’re going to have go to a fully-funded scheme, and possibly a means-tested scheme, if we’re going to have anything at all.

Now, maybe I should have a lot more kids to support the Social Security Administration when I’m older. But it’s not my fault that leaders of my parents’ and grandparents’ generation failed to anticipate demographic changes and choose a funded retirement scheme.

Now, I am willing to pay school taxes, and so forth, because I want to live in a society which raises healthy, intelligent individuals. That is, I support schools, and benefits for people with children, for the same reasons I support welfare, and homeless outreach, and public-health initiatives.

But my support for those things is not based on some sort of cross-generational obligation, nor on a financial plan: it’s much cheaper to save money and use it for retirement than to have children and hope they pay enough in payroll taxes that your government will be able to give you a secure retirement.

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Verbal 12.03.03 at 10:00 pm

Other people’s children may well finance my social security payments, because I live in a country that has chosen a Pay-As-You-Go (PAYG) scheme for its pension plans.

However, it’s more and more apparent that the PAYG scheme is not going to sustain itself unless we have more children and/or die younger. That is, we’re going to have go to a fully-funded scheme, and possibly a means-tested scheme, if we’re going to have anything at all.

Now, maybe I should have a lot more kids to support the Social Security Administration when I’m older. But it’s not my fault that leaders of my parents’ and grandparents’ generation failed to anticipate demographic changes and choose a funded retirement scheme.

Now, I am willing to pay school taxes, and so forth, because I want to live in a society which raises healthy, intelligent individuals. That is, I support schools, and benefits for people with children, for the same reasons I support welfare, and homeless outreach, and public-health initiatives.

But my support for those things is not based on some sort of cross-generational obligation, nor on a financial plan: it’s much cheaper to save money and use it for retirement than to have children and hope they pay enough in payroll taxes that your government will be able to give you a secure retirement.

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Matthew 12.03.03 at 10:24 pm

Verbal

If there aren’t enough children then funded/private pension plans/savings suffer just as much as state PAYG pensions.

Read the first few pages of this

http://wbln0018.worldbank.org/…/307dcdf30f915c4b8525696200583bf2/ $FILE/Reforming%20Pensions.pdf

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David Yaseen 12.03.03 at 10:36 pm

Many childless people feel society’s not playing fair by them. “Sure, I’ll help raise your kids if you’ll commit them to keeping me off the streets when I’m old.” Problem is, there’s no such animal. The law says I have to work more hours, pay higher rates of federal and state tax, school property tax, higher health insurance rates, etc., all for the well-being of children I don’t have.

Children are taken as a good in themselves that society must nurture. The principle dovetails nicely with our instinctual leanings. Childless people are, increasingly, to fend for themselves. Only in very extreme circumstances–at the emergency room and in the case of utter destitution–is the government active on their personal behalf (behalves?). On the job, preferential treatment of parents is commonplace.

I happen to think we’re better off helping ensure that kids are properly nourished and educated, and that money extended to such uses is well-spent. But I’d be a lot happier about helping foot the bill if I had the kind of social support I’d get in, say, Sweden. At a time when the future prospects for most people aren’t great, the perceived fairness of the system is going to be a bigger and bigger issue.

As long as we’re at it, we might ponder the potential benefits to society of expenditures directed at developing its aduts, without regard to their status as parents. I’m sure throwing everyone a free college course every semester would yield a net benefit…

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Zizka 12.04.03 at 12:47 am

I haven’t read the whole thread, so I’ll just say what I always say about this.

First, children are a big, big money-loser. Not only the direct cost, but also lost opportunity since parents have to spend lots of time on non-paying work and are also less flexible on the market.

Second, childraising is a communitarian rather than a rational-self-interest activity. Parents are either wasteful idiots or else they’re contributing something to society. To put it differently, to me someone who has spent his or her time and money on raising a good kid is in a different category from someone who stupidly spent the same time and energy on lottery tickets and booze.

If you are allowed to assume rational self-interest and libertarianism, many of the posts above are valid, except when they make bone-dumb errors such as taking SUV’s as evidence for their prejudices about population.

In a world of rational self-interest, there would be no children. One of the Chicago economists (Becker?) has concocted an amazing scheme whereby there’s a three-way contract between the two parents and the infant for the respective parties to provide one another with husband-services, wife-services, father-services, mother-services, and child-services. (Presumably the parents collectively negotiate for their incompetent child). Everything can be seen as a market, if you’re allowed to invent fictitious contracts and fictitious commodities.

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Chris Clarke 12.04.03 at 2:14 am

many of the posts above are valid, except when they make bone-dumb errors such as taking SUV’s as evidence for their prejudices about population.

Well, seeing as I’m the only person in the thread who mentioned SUVs, let me suggest that any bone-dumbness lies solely in the above interpretation of what I actually wrote.

Where I live, SUV ownership is very often explained away as necessary for “hauling the kids and all their stuff,” and – though less so in the wake of Keith Bradsher’s work – due to the vehicles’ tanklike structure and the safety drivers assume this conveys to the occupants of the childseat.

And non-parents buy a hell of a lot of SUVs too, and most of them never go offroad, and some SUV-driving parents actually need four wheel drive a fair amount of time, and many parents drive their kids around in relatively efficient minivans or hybrid Honda Insights. But trends are trends: the family market accounts for much of the popularity of SUVs. If saying so is bone-dumb, then Ford and Chevrolet and Toyota are spending a lot of bone-dumb money retrofitting their sedan factories to build Excursions and 4Runners.

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Armature 12.04.03 at 2:20 am

When I say ‘externality’, I?m making a quite precise economic claim. I’m making the claim that the benefit from a society’s-eye view of there being children is greater than the sum of private benefits (net of private costs) to parents.

Sure, but the mere fact that childless people makes plans based on the continued existence of children does not imply the existence of an externality.

The externality is intragenerational; between old people who choose to forgo consumption/accumulation in the first period in order to produce children, and those who don’t and who have more capital in the second period as a result.

The childbearing segment of a generation has children based on the assumption that someone will be around to provide a market for the children’s labor. This is exactly symmetric with the childless segment’s saving based on the assumption that someone will be around to provide a supply of goods to be consumed (a market for the accumulated capital). Any asymmetry you devise is an artifact of your modeling, not a genuine difference in moral obligation.

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Jason McCullough 12.04.03 at 4:41 am

“Perhaps, but at the long end, nonergodicity comes into play; who the hell really knows what will happen in 30 years? The bond market tends to sensibly assume that things will get sorted out eventually, both for Humean (things always have in the past) and Kantian (it is impossible to go about your daily business on any other assumption) reasons.”

True, but the birth rate shows up pretty clearly in GDP growth estimates. It’s apparently good at calculating much more subtle things, so why not this? Now that I think about it, is there some stat evidence out there on the birth rate and investment returns? Google isn’t producing much.

“However, it’s more and more apparent that the PAYG scheme is not going to sustain itself unless we have more children and/or die younger.”

…..or we contribute more to the system, which is always off the table for reasons I don’t understand.

Oh, and a few minutes of algebra points out that the percentage of lifetime earnings necessary to ensure retirement in exactly the same in a private or public system. The ridiculous “privitization” schemes suggested in the 1990s – and apparently Bush is going to start pushing another as his major policy initiative – all either rely on double-counting or making one generation pay a double retirement rate.

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Jason McCullough 12.04.03 at 4:44 am

“Trends are trends: the family market accounts for much of the popularity of SUVs.”

Completely off-topic now, but High and Mighty details the industry research on how people who buy SUVs are mostly narcissitic assholes trying to pretend they don’t have kids. I’m not exaggerating.

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dsquared 12.04.03 at 8:01 am

Armature, your argument here:

The childbearing segment of a generation has children based on the assumption that someone will be around to provide a market for the children’s labor.

is daft; there is clearly a form of Say’s law working here. If one has children, then one knows that there will be a population, and therefore a labour market, in future. It is not remotely symmetrical and I respectfully suggest you give up trying to make economic arguments on this point.

Jason: yeh, but come on. Show me a 30 year GDP forecast and I’ll show you a man who wasted an afternoon.

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Jason McCullough 12.04.03 at 4:46 pm

So I take it your conversion to the non-ergodic dark side is complete?

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Ophelia Benson 12.04.03 at 5:40 pm

“Second, childraising is a communitarian rather than a rational-self-interest activity. Parents are either wasteful idiots or else they’re contributing something to society.”

And those are the only two possibilities?

I’m getting really really curious (and baffled) about this stuff. Are people seriously saying that people have children primarily altruistically? As a duty? So that everyone’s pensions will be paid in the future? Really?

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dsquared 12.04.03 at 10:26 pm

Are people seriously saying that people have children primarily altruistically? As a duty? So that everyone’s pensions will be paid in the future? Really?

Try to keep up … what we’re saying is that there are internal and external benefits to having children, and that children would be underprovided if they weren’t subsidised. Since they are subsidised, the issue of altruism doesn’t arise.

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