#asamother

by Maria on July 8, 2016

Andrea Leadsom, the Tory leadership candidate beloved of the people who brought you financial catastrophe and geopolitical Armageddon, has hit on why it is that she, and not chilly securocrat Theresa May, should be crowned the unelected Prime Minister of the UK. It is because Leadsom is a mother and May is not.

Leadsom, who began her every flaccid intervention in the final televised referendum debate – the one where the parties suddenly realised they should wheel out some women, and, ok-fine, one non-white guy – with ‘As a mother’, did yesterday concede in her front page interview with a paper of record wherein she developed the hell out of the theme she’d road-tested on national television, that she didn’t want this to be all “Andrea has children, Theresa hasn’t”.

Bless The Times, though. They’ve unreeled all the rope the Dickensianly named candidate needs to hang herself (Leadsom invented hanging, you see. And also the Large Hadron Collider. All while acting as the Chief Investment Officer of Invesco Perpetual. OK, the assistant to him. Sorting out payroll. Same thing, really.) Interspersed with Leadsom’s damning quotes are snippets of May’s dignified sadness at her and her husband’s unwanted childlessness. And also a call, issued before Leadsom’s comments, that the campaign stay within the ‘acceptable’ limits of political debate.

I will draw an unusually capacious veil – a maternity wear issue, naturally – over what may now be imagined to comprise the acceptable limits of Britain’s national discussion.

Tonight, as the cover of tomorrow’s paper does the rounds of Twitter, Leadsom is getting her denial in early. She didn’t say any of that. Or maybe just some of it. Or maybe it was out of context. She must mean the bit where she said May might have nephews and nieces, but she, Leadsom, has children. And anyway, as Loathsome concern-trolled May, it must be ‘very sad’ for her not to have children. Sorry, Leadsom. Don’t know why that keeps happening.

(And hey, it’s not as if May is a friend to families, not to immigrant and asylum-seeking ones, anyway.)

The direct quotes have Leadsom arguing that having her own children gives her more of a stake in the future. And not just in the next one or two years, but the next ten, even. Astonished though many of us may be that someone who campaigned for Brexit was thinking even two weeks ahead, let alone beyond Christmas, let’s take the assertion on its merits.

Do parents have a bigger stake in a nation’s future?

No, they do not. They have a big stake in their own children’s future, in the vulgar-evolutionist sense of having made a big investment in same, but many of them seem to convert this single – well, on average 1.7 times – play into a strategic desire to set the rules of the game in their offspring’s favour.

Let’s look at education. Middle class parents in the UK agonise over education, intuitively accepting that it is both a positional and excludeable good. (Forgive me, economists, if I’ve mangled your terminology.) It’s not enough that your own child gets a decent education. It’s actually quite important that other people’s children don’t. Otherwise, what is the value of your child’s accent and, ahem, contacts. If you doubt the fact that everyone implicitly accepts this, think about the way people talk about why they send their children to private schools. ‘I’d never forgive myself if I didn’t’. ‘I feel awful about it but I don’t have a choice.’ ‘We just want to give her every chance we can.’

The ability to pay school fees is just one way pointy-elbowed parents stockpile social capital for their children. Who else but the agonised yet utterly self-interested middle classes will pay up to a fifty thousand pound premium on a London house within the catchment area of a highly-rated state school? (And what an idiotically unproductive way to direct that money.) Who else has the stability and white collar jobs to support five plus years of Mass-going – in south London you have to clock in and clock out of church so nobody cheats – in order to get your child into the church school? It costs money to go public, but it’s worth it.

The individual moral imperative of parents is to play the game, no matter how quare the pitch. If they don’t, they haven’t done the best for their kids. No one condemns anyone for doing the best for their own kids, even if everyone else’s kids suffer. Leadsom is not the only one keen to get the excuses and denials in early.

We all know education is broken, and in a way that magnifies advantage of those who already have it. And we probably know intellectually that education doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game. But parents are too exhausted and frazzled by the effort of gaming the system to give a stuff about changing it.

Forgive me if it seems unkind to point out the bleeding obvious; but parents like Andrea Leadsom are the problem, not the solution, in a short-term, short-range, family first- political system focused on herding an ever smaller and more carefully tended flock to a place of higher economic safety.

No one criticises a parent for doing their best for their own child. We all mutter about austerity but fail to connect the dots; lower taxes for the affluent mean less services for those who need them most. That means someone else’s child. When you lose a child’s attention and confidence at the age of seven, it is likely gone for good, however you tweak the university admission system. But we don’t connect the dots, do we? Parents are too busy and exhausted holding down jobs and raising their own children to do much more than survive, and the rest of us praise them for their apparent martyrdom.

I could just as easily talk about environmental policy – if ever anything was future focused – where it’s clear that the key involved demographic is not the parenting bulge. Or we could talk about how #asamother was trotted out in the Brexit debate to talk over the views of actual young people who had a very different view about their future. We could keep on picking policy areas and defamiliarising them till the cows come home, because this stuff is so blindingly obvious it’s basically invisible. Having children does not give you a bigger stake in the future, just a narrower one.

So tell me this. Is it harassed parents who populate the local committees that do everything from beautifying public areas to keeping hospitals open? Is it parents who go canvassing door to door for whatever side or party they believe in? Is it the parents of schoolchildren who volunteer through the night to run winter shelters for the homeless? Or spend countless hours defending human rights, even though they know they will always lose? Of course not. And that’s just the wholly unremarkable tally my household contributes; my household of two people who apparently have less at stake in the future.

I don’t expect to see harassed parents doing any of this. They have an opt-out from directly supporting whole swathes of the civic society they draw on. And life, hopefully, is long. People contribute in different ways at different points. I don’t feel bad about any of this. I just wonder at the notion that those of us without children somehow have less stake.

I think we have more stake, or maybe just the same amount, but we don’t focus it laser-like on the carriers of our own genome. We’re not locked into some prisoner’s dilemma of non-cooperation with all others of our kind.

Who else looks at your children with perfectly impotent affection on the Tube, in the park, even – at a pinch – when they sit down beside us at the start of a long haul plane trip? Who has bat-like powers of noticing for the toddler peeling away from the group or the school outing’s dawdler at a road-crossing? Not the person with eyes only for their own child. No. The person who can tell a tired cry from a hungry one but is barred from offering any comfort.

And do you really think that becoming a parent gifts you more or better or higher compassion for your fellow man? Answer me this; who feels more, or at least the same amount of horror and visceral pain at the mistreatment of a child; the person who has one, or the person who has traded their health and well-being for the mere promise of one, and lost, and yet lives in a world where slapping, shouting, neglect and abuse are common?

Unchosen childlessness doesn’t get better with time. It goes underground. You find other ways to help, other ways to count, and you brace yourself for every new pain. You will always be apart. First you don’t have children. Then you don’t have grand-children. You’re the stub on the family tree. You’re a full member of only a purely abstract tribe.

Of course it is loathsome to suggest a person is better qualified to lead a country if they have children who (they hope) will survive them. But it’s not a remarkable view. We reflexively value parents more than non-parents, and we communicate this to the non-parents in dozens of different ways. That’s crummy, but it’s life.

But consider this. Enlightened disinterest is something we should treasure and cultivate when it comes to the totality of the nation’s children; caring for all of them, not just the ones we’re related to. We all have pretty much the same amount of love to give; some of us just have to spread it more widely.

{ 214 comments }

1

Maria 07.08.16 at 11:50 pm

A reminder, should anyone be tempted to flout it, of Crooked Timber’s comment policy: http://crookedtimber.org/notes-for-trolls-sockpuppets-and-other-pests/

2

J-D 07.09.16 at 12:18 am

As a parent, I thank you for expressing this.

3

ZM 07.09.16 at 12:35 am

That is pretty awful Maria :-( We actually had something a bit similar here, not exactly the same, where Julia Gillard’s childlessness became an issue, although in her case I think she chose not to have children and was called “deliberately barren” by a male politican who also didn’t have children. She actually presided over good education policy for every child in the country though, and education was one of her key focus areas.

From the UK do you think what Leadsom was saying could be a really really bad way of bringing up climate change? It doesn’t seem like May has spoken publicly on climate policy, but Leadsom worked in energy policy. Are their any indications of what will happen with UK climate policy with Brexit and the change of Conservative leader?

The Guardian has this about Leadsom : “Andrea Leadsom, the Tory leadership candidate and campaigner to leave the EU, vowed on Tuesday to continue with the UK’s commitments to tackle climate change and decarbonise the energy supply.

She said that reducing greenhouse gases was a duty to future generations, and pledged to continue with the UK’s carbon budgets to set a limit on emissions.

Her promises, ahead of the first round of the Tory leadership vote among the party’s MPs, were significant. Many in the Brexit camp have disparaged climate change commitments and made abandoning the EU’s plans on emissions a key plank of their platform.”

4

harry b 07.09.16 at 1:07 am

Thanks Maria, this is great, as ever.

I don’t know how old Leadsom’s children are but one thing you don’t mention is that parents of non-adult children are particularly ill-suited to leading the country because leading the country is (these days, unless, maybe the country is Andorra??) pretty much incompatible with raising a child. Just to be clear this has nothing to do with being a mother — fathers too. A central reason I decided when young not to be a politician was that I wanted to have kids (if I was lucky enough to have the chance, which I thought unlikely, as, it now turns out, did a number of my friends!) and wanted to actually raise them if I did.

But… “No one condemns anyone for doing the best for their own kids, even if everyone else’s kids suffer”: I have co-written a whole book doing just that!

5

js. 07.09.16 at 1:25 am

This is an excellent piece. One point re the last few paragraphs: Just as it shouldn’t matter re caring for the future whether one has children or not, it shouldn’t matter whether one’s childlessness is chosen or unchosen. I didn’t think you were meaning to deny this, but given the focus towards the end of the piece, it seemed worth noting.

6

ZM 07.09.16 at 1:48 am

harry b,

“I don’t know how old Leadsom’s children are but one thing you don’t mention is that parents of non-adult children are particularly ill-suited to leading the country because leading the country is (these days, unless, maybe the country is Andorra??) pretty much incompatible with raising a child”

Our Labour leader Bill Shorten has young children. He and his wife seem to manage. Also the Labor leader in the Senate, Penny Wong, has young children too, and manages well. And the deputy Labor leader Tania Plibersek has a young child. All have supportive partners who I presume take on a lot of parenting responsibilities. Other politicians don’t have children, or have adult children. I think as long as any young children are being well cared for it doesn’t matter if politicians have children, or if they don’t have children.

I think Maria’s point is that whether a MP has children or not it doesn’t qualify them as any better at being an MP and making policy.

And that this sort of thinking is very hurtful to people who don’t have children to make these sorts of arguments, since it equates parenthood with being more moral or caring more. Women are most affected by this sort of binary thinking that categorises us by whether we have children or not, extrapolating from the fact of being a parent or not, into other categories like caring about the future. There is no good reasoning behind it, you would have to look at the actual person. Some people with children don’t care much about the future.

7

ZM 07.09.16 at 1:50 am

But probably most people do care about the future, whether they have children or not.

8

Solar Hero 07.09.16 at 3:03 am

So UK has two Trumps?

9

Chris Mealy 07.09.16 at 4:43 am

It’s not enough that your own child gets a decent education. It’s actually quite important that other people’s children don’t.

This seems so obvious but somehow it had never occurred to me before.

10

Omega Centauri 07.09.16 at 4:48 am

A lot of bogus arguments get trotted out opportunistically in nearly every political contest. My wife tried this one on me a couple days back “Hillary Clinton isn’t qualified to be president because she didn’t serve in the military”. I’ve heard this one before, and its rarely been wielded against men (a lot of male US politicians haven’t had military careers either). A kind of backdoor way to (mostly) exclude women from consideration.

11

Omega Centauri 07.09.16 at 4:53 am

” It’s actually quite important that other people’s children don’t.”
I actually don’t think very many go that far. I always figured education of the next generation was a positive sum gain, and the diffuse benefits from helping someone not of kin, outweigh the chance of my own kin being out competed. Most don’t think about it in those terms, but I think few actually try to hold back the potential competition.

12

ZM 07.09.16 at 5:14 am

Also, I think you’d be a fantastic foster parent if you ever consider going down that path Maria :-)

13

Maria 07.09.16 at 7:45 am

ZM I’d be far too grumpy…. ;-)

14

Mario 07.09.16 at 10:48 am

I just wonder at the notion that those of us without children somehow have less stake.

All that I, as a parent (and former non-parent, obviously), can tell you about this is that becoming a parent is very transformative. Since you do not have children, you really cannot know what it feels like. I know I didn’t before I had mine, and I have heard that same remark untold times from other parents. I don’t know if you are still trying, but if so, I wish you the best of luck with that. I really, really do.

So tell me this. Is it harassed parents who populate the local committees that do everything from beautifying public areas to keeping hospitals open?

What you describe about your engagement in political activism and charity is all fine and good and very commendable, but if you look closely, you will see that there is another side of the coin: by virtue of having the leisure and flexibility associated with not having the responsibility for the well-being of children, it is the childless that, disproportionately, run western societies and make the careers. And in terms of policy, it shows. Please note that I don’t mean this as a critique of you personally.

And when you and I die of old age, my children will hopefully still roam the planet and perhaps have children of their own. Forgive me, but I have a very concrete set of stakes in that future that childless adults, objectively, simply don’t have. If you had children, you would understand.

15

Ronan(rf) 07.09.16 at 11:54 am

Andrea leadsom is an utterly peculiar person. But a lot of the analysis I’m seeing about this around the internet seems to be assuming that this is a specifically conservative or small town attitude, and while it’s certainly a rhetorical position that’s noticeably contemporary right in its aggressive stupidity, the General sentiment isn’t.
Andrea leadsom has spent her adult life not in “small towns or villages” but in third level education, the financial sector and politics. Her attitude is much more understandable in those contexts.
The bachelors and spinsters I half remember growing up, either within my family or in the community in general, were generally unremarked upon as this seemed a normal enough life choice. They had plenty to occupy their time and took on caring positions (such as looking after elderly family, which often wasn’t an overly gendered Role) which their married with children or emigrated siblings didn’t have the time for. Obviously childlessness (chosen or otherwise) is different in the eyes of the religious right than singlehood and its historically assumed (incorrectly) chastity,but the point stands. The attitudes of small towns (if such things could be said to exist) and small c conservatives were often more subtle and open to diversity than the ideological posturing of the ideological chattering classes.*

*this was also true historically ,afaict, that people who didn’t grow up in low marrying areas found the phenomenon dysfunctional, almost pathological; even, perhaps particularly, progressives (see the book “saints, scholars and schizophrenics”) Whereas the people from those areas often saw it as not particularly noteworthy. I’ve often had this argument with friends who *choose* to be single, by noting that a lot of people did the same historically. But this , they claim, was obviously different , because they were either brainwashed by Catholicism (implausible) gay (true, but only part of it) put into those positions by societal pressure (maybe, but overstated). Just as likely, it seems to me, that they were making the decisions for many of the same reasons my friends are, careers (being comfortable after inheriting the family farm) independence (preferring their own company) no suitable partners (the recurrent question where have all the good men/women gone)

Sorry, this drifted off topic.

“but if you look closely, you will see that there is another side of the coin: by virtue of having the leisure and flexibility associated with not having the responsibility for the well-being of children, it is the childless that, disproportionately, run western societies and make the careers. And in terms of policy, it shows. Please note that I don’t mean this as a critique of you personally.”

I would like to see some evidence for this, or at least an argument why. You seem to be just assuming it’s true, and the entirety of your position rests on the claim.

16

Ronan(rf) 07.09.16 at 12:16 pm

“I would like to see some evidence for this….”

Ie, who has power and so “runs western societies”, and then how many of them are childless, and finally whats the argument that “childlessness”, rather than many other factors, is the important aspect driving their decisions.
If you looked at it in a purely vulgar manner to begin with (how many US president, brit pms etc, were childless) I would imagine you’ll find most weren’t (possibly even when compared to similar demographics in the population you’ll find they disproportionately we’re more likely to have children. Though that’s a guess)

17

Lynne 07.09.16 at 12:17 pm

Harry, I thought of your book, too.

Maria, I was a bit puzzled by your argument until I realized that “the childless haven’t got as much stake in the future” seems to be code for “the childless don’t care as much about bettering the world/society”, which latter is clearly untrue.

I do feel I have a different stake in the future now that I have children, but I have always cared deeply about my society/world.

18

Lynne 07.09.16 at 12:22 pm

Harry: “parents of non-adult children are particularly ill-suited to leading the country because leading the country is … pretty much incompatible with raising a child.”

Our prime minister, Justin Trudeau, was raised while his father, Pierre Elliot Trudeau, was prime minister, and Justin has three young children himself. Recently he took flak because the public was paying for two nannies for these children, and he has begun to pay for one of them himself. I would say that part of your statement is true—leading the country is incompatible with raising a child. But that means we need to change it to make it compatible. Justin seems to be quite involved with his children, and I think the job definitely should pay for as much child care as he needs. It shouldn’t all devolve on his wife, especially since she is called upon to do various public things simply because her husband is prime minister.

19

Ronan(rf) 07.09.16 at 12:23 pm

“All that I, as a parent (and former non-parent, obviously), can tell you about this is that becoming a parent is very transformative. Since you do not have children, you really cannot know what it feels like.”

(Last thing). But this is obviously trivially true. There are a lot of important things that I haven’t experienced and so cannot fully understand”what it feels like” (whatever that means). Bringing up a child is one of those things. I don’t think it’s literally incomprehensible though. We still have the ability to empathise with, imagine and try to understand contexts that we ourselves have no direct experience of.
Is your argument that no body can possibly understand anything, on any level that they haven’t directly experienced ? This seems debatable, to say the least.

20

Maria 07.09.16 at 12:23 pm

harry b @4, ah, of course you have! It has been on my reading list and deserves a nudge up to the top.

js @5, I wholeheartedly agree. I tried to shoe-horn something about the chosen/unchosen aspects of this in, but didn’t manage. But I did try and read the thing through to check if it was dismissive of people who chose that path, and I hope it is not.

ZM on environmental policy; Leadsome has gone from not believing climate change is ‘real’ to accepting the official Tory line on it, which is basically doing as little as can be gotten away with. I wouldn’t hold my breath.

Solar, we have one Trump and one Palin.

Omega, surely the military service question was a huge one up for male US politicians to and including Clinton I?

Ronan, yes, fascinating. I share your observations from my upbringing in small town Ireland. Old ways can be wise ways.

21

Lynne 07.09.16 at 12:30 pm

Last comment! (at least for now ;) )

My maternal grandfather was one of five children, three boys and two girls. Of the five, only two married and had children. One sister was a spinster (her fiance died in the war) and two brothers were bachelors. Sometimes our idea of what the norm was a couple of generations ago is just wrong.

22

Frank Wilhoit 07.09.16 at 12:36 pm

…and you thought YOUR politics could be better than this…!

Andrea Leadsom: Ian McKellen in drag? It would be irresponsible not to speculate.

23

novakant 07.09.16 at 12:47 pm

I’m not sure if the best reaction to Leadsom’s reactionary test balloon is to declare that parents are selfish, social-darwinist drones or not fit to take on responsible jobs.

24

novakant 07.09.16 at 12:53 pm

and as much as I despise Leadsom and her little England politics, let’s not forget that Theresa May has actually caused immense harm to thousands of people:

http://www.independent.co.uk/student/news/theresa-may-wrongly-deported-48000-students-after-bbc-panorama-exposes-toeic-scam-a6958286.html

https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2015/mar/03/yarls-wood-may-state-sanctioned-abuse-women

25

Lynne 07.09.16 at 1:49 pm

Thinking further about this, it must be highly annoying for childless people to hear the state of parenthood equated with a kind (or many kinds) of virtue.

26

Peter K. 07.09.16 at 1:53 pm

As an American I agree with this post and always find it interesting how things are similar in the UK and how are there are differences.

Like with marriage and religion, I sort of look at it from anthropological point of view. These are conventions that were historically useful for the tribe. Christianity commands that women produce as many children as possible. Be fruitful and multiply.

Those like Leadsom and certain cultural conservatives in the US and UK, don’t see these things as historically developed, but as God-given and the natural order of things. People are *supposed* to get married and have children. God said so.

In my personal experience I’ve seen the whole spectrum. Good people who are parents, not parents, married or single. (Now in the U.S. there are more single people than married.) Selfish people who are parents, not parents, married or single. Given how many “conventional” people are Republicans who go on about “Family Values” it does seem to me that these people are selfish *on behalf* of themselves and their children, who they see as extensions of themselves at the expense of the wider society. (I keep seeing a TV ad about “Values.com” which tells you to “think about the future” and makes me think at first that it’s an ad for an environmental group until the end where they let you know it’s about “morality.”)

But with politicians, yes the do still seem to pander to “small town values” in order to get votes. During the Flint Michigan debate in the primary, I remember very well how Hillary described that she prayed every day after being asked about it by a holy roller from the audience. This was in obvious contrast to the socialist Jew standing next to her.

But the fact that a proud socialist Jew did so well especially among the young, shows how the country is changing. Gay marriage. Pot legalization. They are losing the culture wars and now rally around a authoritarian leader who mainly expresses bigotry and xenophobia. And Trump’s family values? Multiple divorces and a weird obsession with his daughter’s looks.

I just saw a comedy special where the comedian talked about how he and husband adopted a black kid from Compton, the inner city of LA. That’s great that society is becoming more accepting of gay parents. I think if these cultural conservatives were really serious about blaming poor blacks and improving society, they’d adopt poor black kids. Some do. But many just want little extensions of themselves on whose behalf they can be selfish and cutthroat in a dog-eat-dog world.

I think of Tywin Lannister on Game of Thrones, who says children are there to serve the family name, period. End of story. (Again one thinks of House Trump). And then there’s Capitalism and the cash nexus, ripping cultural conventions asunder all in service to the mighty dollar.

27

Ronan(rf) 07.09.16 at 2:23 pm

“Thinking further about this, it must be highly annoying for childless people to hear the state of parenthood equated with a kind (or many kinds) of virtue.”

I do think there are many virtues attached to it, (If that’s the correct way for me to put it), and that parenthood is much undervalued, though oversentimentalised, in our societies. I’d also happily accept that If I don’t have children, and I’m pretty ambivalent about it, that there are important experiences that I will never have that will change the way I view politics, society, the future, my values etc.*
But then again it seems to me that this true of a lot of things in life. Is having children such an exception ? Perhaps it is, though I’d guess in a more limited way than often implied .

* I don’t know if I agree with the idea of “transformative experiences.” Certainly, I’d assume, some experiences can change you in subtle though quite profound ways. But my position is closer to what I remember as my mother’s, that you know a person by age 5 (I don’t know if there’s any scientific truth to this claim, but it sounds plausible)

28

Bartholomew 07.09.16 at 3:05 pm

29

Faustusnotes 07.09.16 at 3:09 pm

Mario, what do you say to parents who abuse their children or neglect them? Were they “transformed” by being parents in a way the childless can’t understand? What do their attitudes towards their children and their children’s future say about how people with children are shaping the future? What about all those cops and bbc and nhs staff with children who stood by and watched while jimmy savile abused hundreds ? What about all those captains of industry, happily endowed with children, who paid corporate shills to delay action on global warming so that all the worlds children could have their future ruined?

This argument is risible on its face: almost all adults have children, so the full gamut of human good and evil is run by people with children. It’s a meaningless qualification to judge the worth of ones actions or their impact on the future. This is apparent even in the treatment of leadsom. Her cv and work history is pored over and judged – was she a good manager or a bad one, were he work skills good or bad? But when she presents her motherhood as a transformative qualification for high office, no one asks “but was she a good mother?” Because trust me, bad parents are very common. And when you say that it is a transformative experience, I can ask you from my own experience as a child – did it transform you for better, or for worse?

30

Goto Marquez 07.09.16 at 4:41 pm

IIRC there was a U.S. Candidate who kept remarking on the fact she was a grandmother , maybe this is a thing.

31

Suzanne 07.09.16 at 7:00 pm

There was an article in The New York Times on the political ascension of May. It’s pretty normal to mention in a piece of this kind the politician’s marital status and number, if any of children. In this case the writer felt the need to dig up a quote from May on the subject. I don’t notice that in the case of childless male politicians (a generally smallish number, in my anecdotal impression, contra Mario), that the men have to field questions on why they don’t have kids, as May has had to do:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/9762078/My-constant-sense-of-loss-at-not-having-children-by-Theresa-May.html

The childlessness, or childfreeness as some used to say, of Carly Fiorina got mentioned in the Republican primary, as it was in her days in Silicon Valley, where ill-natured gossip (“she hasn’t got any children and that’s why she’s a shark”) also circulated. During primary season Fiorina coped with it with regular references to “her” dead child, stepdaughter who died untimely. Fiorina got on well with her stepdaughters, but she did not raise them, and the girl’s mother was understandably not thrilled.

@15: Historically, unmarried children, specifically unmarried women, have generally been saddled with the care of the elderly. It has less to do with time than convenience and the low status of such women, “left on the shelf.”

@18: If Trudeau can pay for his nannies, he should, although I take your point. I believe he said on the campaign trail that rich families like his didn’t need that kind of help from the state, so it doesn’t look great for him to be signing up for it now.

In the U.S. I don’t think any president of means, not that there’s any other kind these days, would have tried such a thing. The Kennedys had very young children and a nanny. They paid for her out of their own pocket and I doubt they ever considered putting her on the public payroll.

Adding to what js. #5. The reason for having no children really is nobody’s business, and the fact is that whatever female politicians without children may say for public consumption, it is possible that some don’t regard their childlessness as a horrible lack they’ll never get over. Which is not to dismiss or be insensitive to those women who do feel that way, especially since, beyond the feelings of the individual, the culture encourages it – the sentiment, unspoken or otherwise, that a woman without children is somehow less of a woman is still very much around.

32

harry b 07.09.16 at 7:22 pm

I think my thought was that children are a tremendous distraction, and that ignoring them and their interests requires a tremendous amount of self-discipline that, itself, is draining. So, if you are trying to run a (moderate sized) country, its going to be very difficult, unless someone else raises the children (spouse, nanny, grandparent, whatever). A small issue.

Caring about other people who will survive your death is what gives you a stake in the future. Everyone but hermits and sociopaths. Parents have no special claim.

I notice that she is being given an appropriately hard time in the press about this, btw, and is having to clarify or dissemble depending on your attitude toward her…

33

alfredlordbleep 07.09.16 at 7:25 pm

Omega, surely the military service question was a huge one up for male US politicians to and including Clinton I?

Not including Bill Clinton who was happily attacked for being a Rhodes scholar in Merry, Olde England instead of fighting. . .

34

Mario 07.09.16 at 7:27 pm

Re. transformation: having children transforms you into a parent. That may sound trivial, but it isn’t. What is trivially true is that not having children is an advantage for things like careers, political or not, and you see that play out all the time. It’s an advantage financially, and not only in this particular respect. Children cost time, money, and all sorts of career opportunities. That’s more marked since the traditional household (woman at home, man at work) has gone out of favor, which, overall, I think is very good, but ends up keeping parents in general back on many things.

Re. evidence about the fact that the childless tend to run things – it’s everywhere, including the post from Maria. I don’t think that this is necessary bad, but it is simply true that it happens.

I didn’t mean to say that having children is a virtue (but while there are crap parents to be sure, most try to be the best parents they can). All sorts of people have children. I was answering specifically to the point about stakes in the future, and from my point of view, that parents have higher stakes in the future seems trivially true. It may be less obvious, but most parents have different ideas about what the future means than people without children. For me it’s more about the world in which my kids, which I love and who I know quite well, will live, than it is some abstract thing about “people in general”. Is that more narrow minded? Technically, yes, but it is simply ignorant to suggest that it should be otherwise. Only people without kids can think something like that.

I’m not going to endorse miss Leadsom, btw. I think she played that card as an identity thing. For me that would indeed weight as an advantage, all else being equal.

35

harry b 07.09.16 at 8:05 pm

Its not true that the childless tend to run things. Men who have, and live with, their children are, on average, more successful in all careers than men who do not have, or do not live with, their children. Women without children tend to be more successful in careers than women with children. How it would work out if men with children spent as much time raising them as women with children, we don’t know.

36

Ronan(rf) 07.09.16 at 8:08 pm

“What is trivially true is that not having children is an advantage for things like careers, political or not, and you see that play out all the time.”

I agree that it would be a problem if having children was a disadvantage for advancing to powerful positions, and parents were systematically underrepresented in the most influential political or business positions. I just don’t see any evidence it’s true. (Certainly not historically, maybe it’s becoming that way/will in the future)
Are those with children disadvantaged in careers ? Well in a lot of ways not really (maternity/paternity leave, more leeway in schedules that the childless don’t get). Is there an implicit bias in promotions towards the childless? Again, Maybe. I’m not sure if it’s true.

“Children cost time, money, and all sorts of career opportunities.”

So do a lot of other things, sickness, non children obligations, General apathy, an underwater mortgage etc.

“For me it’s more about the world in which my kids, which I love and who I know quite well, will live, than it is some abstract thing about “people in general”

I guess I agree to some extent, but it’s not exactly a purely “abstract” idea of “people in general.” Unless a person lives in a cave they’ll have nieces, nephews, friends/neighbours children….does having your own flesh and blood still in the game make it more real? Again, I guess it’s plausible, although I’m not sure there’s a meaningful moral or practical distinction between not wanting to destroy the world for the next generation because you don’t want your kids to suffer, or because you don’t want people to suffer in the abstract.

37

Ronan(rf) 07.09.16 at 8:37 pm

“Is there an implicit bias in promotions towards the childless?”

To clarify this, my understanding is there’s a bias against women, but it’s less a bias towards the childless and more a bias towards men ? The bias against women with children (that they will have to take on child related obligations and so won’t be commited to the job) even works against women without children, the assumption being they will take on those obligations at some stage in the future ? So it would be wrong to call this a bias towards the childless, afaict, rather than sexism.

38

js. 07.09.16 at 9:10 pm

Along with others on here, I absolutely don’t get where Mario is getting this “the childless run things” business. He thinks the evidence is everywhere. But let’s just say I’m kind of dumb and just not seeing it. Can Mario point to some actual data or even examples?

39

Mario 07.09.16 at 10:11 pm

@js: for example: adults without children in the german bundestag, 30%. In the general population: 20%. Also: note that I wrote that they tend to run things, not that they exclusively run things.

I don’t have a statistic, but there are an awful lot of professors without children.

Maria writes:

I could just as easily talk about environmental policy – if ever anything was future focused – where it’s clear that the key involved demographic is not the parenting bulge.
[…]
Is it harassed parents who populate the local committees that do everything from beautifying public areas to keeping hospitals open? Is it parents who go canvassing door to door for whatever side or party they believe in? Is it the parents of schoolchildren who volunteer through the night to run winter shelters for the homeless? Or spend countless hours defending human rights, even though they know they will always lose? Of course not.

So maybe if you want numbers, you should ask her :-). Although I would add that, similarly, it’s not that the parents are working against environmental policy or whatnot. We are just too fucking busy either way.

Political participation is quite problematic for parents, because meetings tend to be late, and the childless have a tactical advantage: they can stay till very late. That the LBGTF* crowd now is everywhere in the political spectrum is probably due to that to some extent. They just can sit out everybody else, because that’s a demographic that tends to be childless.

40

js. 07.09.16 at 10:24 pm

@Mario — To state the rather obvious, people who populate local committees do not in any obvious sense “run things” (or tend to, etc.) Similarly, the fact that the childless are slightly overrepresented in the Bundestag is hardly evidence for your claim — one could with at least as much fairness characterize that as the fact that the vast majority of Bundestag members (70%) have children.

41

Omega Centauri 07.09.16 at 10:51 pm

Isn’t there a bit of an implicit bias in retaining parents when the chips are down? Don’t playoff X, because he/she has small children that rely on him/her, is sometimes a consideration when it comes time to reduce staff.

42

Suzanne 07.09.16 at 11:02 pm

@30: Yes, Hillary Clinton often talks about being a grandmother, by way of “humanizing” herself in a way that she is often called upon by her critics to do.

It can be one of those damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t things. When the Clintons first appeared on the national scene, they kept Chelsea so far out of the public eye that many people did not realize they had a child. It got to the point where this impression was actually hurting Bill politically, so they reluctantly relaxed the rules.

43

Faustusnotes 07.10.16 at 12:54 am

Mario, most us climate change denier politicians have children, whose future they are actively destroying. Have you seen the post-brexit reports about children who are furious with their parents for destroying their future? Not much thought of their children’s future in that vote. As for the idea that parents mostly try their best – have you never met anyone who was a used or neglected?

The reality of the world is that it is full of arseholes, many people are dickheads. Today I read of a 46 year old man who beat a 70 year old viciously for asking him to stop pissing on a house. That is the quintessential dickhead right there, beati a pensioner for asking him to piss somewhere else. Clearly that dickhead, like every dickhead, had parents. So did they do a good job? Did they try their best? I think they failed.

Given the prevalence of arseholes in the world, we are confronted with two possibilities: either a large proportion of parents are bad parents, and being a parent is not by itself a qualification for anything, least of all a capacity to care for the future; or how you raise your children has little effect on who they finally become, in which case being a parent is irrelevant to your qualifications for anything.

I see no evidence that parenting is a special skill or makes you a better person, and anyone who wants to claim it as a positive aspect of their personality or a qualification should have their parenting achievements rigorously evaluated.

44

RNB 07.10.16 at 12:56 am

I agree emphatically that one need not have children to be socially connected and responsible about the present and the future.

But I think this discussion risks being unfair to middle class parents with whom I hang out. Each of us is aware of the privileges that we have and each of us thinks that means our privileged children have a responsibility to make a social contribution as adults. Each of us raises our children to be competent, skilled, diligent and socially responsible. Yes, we do this because we hope that our children will have a good life but not to live in a world as depicted in the movie “Elysium”. And let me tell you: this is not cheap but we are paid the same as our childless colleagues.

My wife and I make good money but we have little left at the end of the month. You could say that the music lessons are all about accumulating cultural capital, but that is cynical. It’s part of making the world a more beautiful place and giving us higher order pleasures that do not entail the destruction of the planet through the production and consumption of an immense accumulation of commodities.

And our childless colleagues will also have social security benefits because we are raising our children to be productive and competent and to meet the challenges of the 21st century. There will have to be highly skilled people capable of meeting complex social, technical and economic challenges if the social system is going to remain dynamic enough for social security to remain solvent.

45

bad Jim 07.10.16 at 2:11 am

Golda Meir: two children
Margaret Thatcher: two
Indira Gandhi: two
Angela Merkel: none
Benazir Bhutto: three
Dilma Rousseff: one

46

Faustusnotes 07.10.16 at 2:14 am

Regarding the claims about how having children is a contribution to social security etc: if that’s actually a reason anyone has children (I know rnb you’re just making a point about a benefit of having children for society, not saying that’s why you do it): please have five. Because if you have less than three your contribution is minimal.

Oma broader level, in societies facing the demographic crunch (Japan, s Korea, China, Italy, Germany for example), no total fertility rate below 3 will do anything to significantly “fix” this “problem”. Any tfr that approaches this level will be a disaster for women’s rights.

Rnb do you think there is any sense in which middle class “responsible” parenting of the modern era is anything except a lifestyle choice? In the place, time and class I grew up children were seen as a burden and having children an onerous social responsibility, especially by the men. It was certainly a cause of great poverty, and a long term catastrophe for the lives of the mothers. When I see modern middle class parenting it doesn’t resemble anything I grew up with…

47

RNB 07.10.16 at 2:56 am

Contribution to ss indirectly via our children is less minimal than those who do not have children and will free ride ungratefully of those of us who are raising our children right

48

Ed 07.10.16 at 3:10 am

Minor correction on one of the arguments above that the childless get saddled with the care of the elderly because they are low status. We just dealt with the long end-of-life illness of a parent at the same time we were raising a small child, who turned three at the end of the process. In terms of time and stress, caring for someone at the end of their life and caring for someone at the beginning of their life turned out to be pretty equivalent. There are entirely practical reasons for the childless in the families to wind up caring for the elderly members.

49

Ed 07.10.16 at 3:10 am

This short piece in The Spectator sums the subject up pretty well:

http://blogs.spectator.co.uk/2016/07/pride-procreation-dull-pagan-stuff-christians-steer-clear/

50

js. 07.10.16 at 3:27 am

RNB @47 — Oh, c’mon. It’s not free riding. That’s not how Social Security works, even in concept, let alone the actual mechanics, and you know it.

51

Faustusnotes 07.10.16 at 3:46 am

Then have five children if you think that contribution is important rnb. Don’t stop at two, that’s selfish.

As further evidence of leadsom’s suitability to judge the needs of future generations “as a mother”, today we discover she has connections to the American legislative exchange council, who have funded her to attend their events. These conservative Christians, no doubt loaded down with the children their faith requires them to (force their wives to) bear, are famous for pushing legislation to prevent action on climate change or gun control. Hey are directly responsible for the rapidly fragmenting environment everyone’s children face, and their legislative “achievements” have made events like sandy hook possible. Yet I am to believe that leadsom is better able to think of the future generations because she has her own children!

To back this up, despite these associations with climate change denialists she was appointed energy secretary by a man with children, who is famous for having left one in a pub and is widely suspected to have face-fucked a dead pig. Truly, having children makes our politicians much more responsible, and these people are fetter qualified to lead the country than childless May.

52

js. 07.10.16 at 4:19 am

Thinking further about this, it must be highly annoying for childless people to hear the state of parenthood equated with a kind (or many kinds) of virtue.

To be honest—as someone who is and in almost all certainty will be childless purely by choice—I’m happy to accept that there’s *some* sort of virtue to parenthood. I mean, it sounds so hard, there’s got to be a bit of virtue there! Honestly. What’s really annoying is the idea that if you don’t have children you miss some amazing, “transformative” experience, the implication that you’re missing out on some essential joy of human life if you haven’t held a thing created of your own sperm and egg. It’s a bunch of nonsense that gets trotted out with amazing regularity. It’s a bit tiresome. I get that having a child is joyous, it’s just not essential.

53

js. 07.10.16 at 4:23 am

Just to be clear, I was holding a 3-week old in my arms last week, and it was beautiful and amazing and all of those things. Truly! I’m not arguing against having kids (obviously, I’d hope). I just think it should be perfectly OK if some people, like me e.g., don’t give a fuck about progeny (the term’s chosen carefully).

54

bad Jim 07.10.16 at 5:55 am

Datum: I’m an unmarried childless male who was my mother’s primary caregiver, a role assumed in insensible steps, a decade’s continuum between partnership and dependency. It’s left me feeling damaged. Poor me.

Parents, for all their travails (which certainly exceed mine) get to nurture tiny cranky creatures into the future, while care for the elderly inevitably terminates with their disappearance into the past. There is a certain lack of symmetry in the trend.

Philoprogenitive, however, is a word that well describes my baby boomer family. On average my three siblings produced three kids each: cousins lined up in sleeping bags in front of the television like enchiladas in a baking pan. The third generation has spawned seven, so far. I’m the rich uncle, I provide down payments, loan guarantees, a spare room, stipends, used cars.

My late mother, the lousy cook and indifferent housekeeper, was the political activist. She got involved with the town’s environmentalist and anti-development movement and wound up on the city council after a successful recall campaign, won an election, took a turn as mayor, the first woman to do so, and lost the next time around.

The issues she championed nevertheless prevailed. They’ve become mainstream, part of the conventional wisdom. She was just part of a movement, a soldier, so when she fell there was someone else to pick up and keep going.

She was a divisive figure, and for a long time I’d hear people tell me how. Our beloved long-serving city manager retired a few years ago and disparaged her in some of his closing remarks, thirty years after she’d left office. (Riding through town, whenever my mother saw a man in a suit she’d say “There’s the city manager.”) I last saw him in the radiology waiting room; having his knees replaced. He recognized her; she didn’t notice him.

55

Meredith 07.10.16 at 6:43 am

The parable of the prodigal son long puzzled me, since the good stay-at-home-son seemed to me so justified in his resentment. Then I had a second child and I understood the parable. I also realized how limited my imagination had been, that I had needed to slog through actual personal experience on this one to see the light. Thank god that people (including me a lot of the time, I hope) do imagine beyond themselves.

Maybe that’s harder now that we tend to think in more nucleated and atomized ways. Not long ago families named their children after their parents and siblings in ways that dizzy anyone doing genealogical research. (In fact, they would use the same name for a second or third child when the previous one(s) had died). Some of the many children in a family (usually women but men, too) never married, in order (or by default) to take care not just of aging parents but also of nieces and nephews, of whoever in the larger family might need them. I doubt that folks then questioned the commitment of these unmarried aunts and uncles, great aunts and great uncles, to the future.

And don’t many of us (I know I do) have beloved alter-mothers and alter-fathers (whether or not they had biological children of their own)? What would we have done without them?

Strange place we have come to.

56

J-D 07.10.16 at 6:47 am

I am one of four siblings. Two of us are parents, two of us childless. Parents as a class are not more virtuous than the childless; nor is it true that, as a class, we care more about the future. I have found parenthood both demanding and rewarding, but my personal experience proves nothing about anybody else. If my daughter remains childless, that will be a choice on her part and not a failing; also not a failure or a loss on my part.

If everybody decided not to have any more children, what would happen? The human race would become extinct, and the experience of its last remnants would be impoverished; but that’s what’s going to happen anyway, there’s no escaping that future.

57

J-D 07.10.16 at 6:49 am

Mario 07.09.16 at 10:11 pm
I don’t have a statistic, but there are an awful lot of professors without children.

An awful lot? That sounds suspiciously precise. Perhaps you should vague it up a little.

58

Ronan(rf) 07.10.16 at 8:20 am

@47, how are the childless “free riding” considering they’re paying taxes to subsidise things they won’t use (schools, chidcare etc) in the future ? Who pays more into/gets most out of that deal ? It’s a genuine question. if the taxes of the childless didn’t subsidise the development of others children and instead went into private pension funds, health insurance etc would that not resolve the nonsensical dillema you’ve raised ?
I obviously have no problem helping to pay for such things even if I don’t have children who will use them, but your argument that the childless(as a generality) get out more than they put in seems wrong.

59

J-D 07.10.16 at 10:18 am

Mario 07.09.16 at 7:27 pm
I’m not going to endorse miss Leadsom, btw. I think she played that card as an identity thing. For me that would indeed weight as an advantage, all else being equal.

Of what possible interest or relevance could that be–what possible point could there be in the comment–when all else never is going to be equal? It’s like saying that you’d assign a male candidate over a female candidate to the job of reaching something down from the top shelf all else being equal. How is all else going to be equal when you can see which candidate is taller? Nobody is ever going to be in the position of trying to decide which of two candidates to support for a position of political leadership and having no information on which to decide except that one has children and the other doesn’t.

60

Lynne 07.10.16 at 12:06 pm

js @ 52, 53

I didn’t for a moment think you were anti-children. :) About virtue, there can be virtue in any way of life. What makes me suspicious of virtue attaching to parenthood is that sometimes it sounds like the act of procreating itself is said to make people better. Maybe that happens to some parents, but it isn’t the norm, as far as I can tell. Most of us are average parents, doing our best, loving our kids but making mistakes. You know, being human.

I always wanted children, but I had my kids in my late thirties, when I’d already accepted that I probably wouldn’t. So I had lots of adult years before being a parent, and now my kids are fledged I’m still here. The experience of raising children was transformative for me, and unique in my experience. I prize it, and I prize my kids (obviously) but honestly, my life could have gone differently and I hope still would have been rich and rewarding.

61

LH 07.10.16 at 12:45 pm

Re: Mario’s notions about the significance of this ‘transformative experience,’ I recall this piece from CT a couple years back: http://crookedtimber.org/2013/02/27/what-you-cant-expect-when-youre-expecting/. The fetishization of the transformative nature of parenthood as a good in itself is worse than dubious. As often happens when people speak from experience, experience itself becomes exalted as the vouchesafe for Truth (capitalized to reflect the ontological status being claimed for it by those who take this position). But in my ‘experience’ very often parents (rightly or wrongly I’ll leave open) are concerned with their own children’s present and future, even if it’s at the expense of the future of mere people in general. To claim that this is as it should be makes the one of the most basic errors of thinking, conflating the is and the ought.

62

Lynne 07.10.16 at 1:13 pm

@ 62, That piece makes the point that if having a child is a transformative experience, you can’t know ahead of time what it is like, so the decision whether to have a child isn’t strictly a rational decision. I would add two things. One: it’s hard to understate how big a change this is in society, that having a child is mostly now a decision, and not a given. Mostly this is a change for the good, but it also means people expect themselves and other parents to be very good parents. I think the expectations are often unrealistic. No one knows how to be a parent until they are one. Most parents are unprepared, children don’t come with manuals, etc.

Two: when someone goes about making the decision, making mental lists of “pro” and “con”, the “con” list will probably be longer. It is easier to foresee the work and mess and exhaustion of having children, and itemize examples of those, than it is to list the pluses. The pluses are hard to explain, impossible to quantify, and actually can’t be known until you have had the child. Not only that, until you have had the particular child(ren) you have. It is, as the authors say, a leap of faith.

63

harry b 07.10.16 at 1:33 pm

I’d add to Lynne’s comment that “it’s hard to understate how big a change this is in society, that having a child is mostly now a decision, and not a given” another thought, that the fact that you can’t know ahead of time what being a parent is like is also a big change. 60 years ago when you became a parent you had already been surrounded most of your life by numerous examples of parents raising children, and had a pretty good idea of what it was like. As people have come to have ever fewer children, closer together in age, and the child-rearing years have become a smaller proportion of each parent’s life, it has become much more difficult to observe at close hand what being a parent is life. And, of course, that experience is very different from what it was when children were all over the place.

On free-riding — I disagree with js (for once!): I think RNB’s characterization of the structure of social security is pretty accurate: it is a transfer from the working age population to the non-working-age population. Even without social security, we all plan for our old age (if we do plan) on the assumption that other people in our generation will be having and raising children, and most of them will be doing it adequately well. (I’d take issue with other comments RNB makes, but I’ll leave that to the side). BUT, as Maria’s post points out, free-riding is pervasive: parents free-ride on non-parents (and parents who are not actually raising their children) who staff the committees that Maria refers to (and produce culture for us to consume and…). And more generally, the world is full of people doing things I need to have done that I have no interest (for whatever reason) in doing, and I am grateful to those people — and this is true of all of us.

64

Lynne 07.10.16 at 1:43 pm

And, uh, obviously I meant “It is hard to OVERstate….”

65

LH 07.10.16 at 2:02 pm

@63, yes I understood the point of that piece. I was contrasting its understanding of transformative experience (not its main point, but a piece of the argument made there) to Mario’s view of transformative experience.

66

Lynne 07.10.16 at 2:40 pm

LH, I’m sure you did! Sorry if I implied otherwise, I was just tearing after my own thoughts.

67

bianca steele 07.10.16 at 3:08 pm

I was thinking about this last night, and as someone who had a child later (over forty) I know there is definitely a way in which being a parent (a mother) gives you an excuse, for lack of a better word, that really nothing else does. At the same time, for many people, that is going to last only about twenty years. And here in the outer suburbs of Boston, volunteering and such seems still to be include plenty of women still raising children (though probably the locations and times are different).

Also, the attitude toward children and childbearing, especially among the older generation (who did choose to become parents themselves) must surely change it does become an option, for more people. Faced with no grandchildren and with adult children who are taking the “wrong” side in a process of cultural change, the burdensome aspects might be less emphasized.

68

bianca steele 07.10.16 at 3:21 pm

Also, I’m uncomfortable with extending the idea of free-riding too far. As Harry points out, we need people who do things we don’t. That someone else needs my contributions to society, whether or not they know it, doesn’t mean they’re free-riding. If that were so, the whole “job creators” meme would actually be valid. People who deliberately take from a community while not contributing in any way or while not truly belonging to it are free-riding in a different way.

69

RNB 07.10.16 at 3:37 pm

Ronan writes @58: “how are the childless “free riding” considering they’re paying taxes to subsidise things they won’t use (schools, chidcare etc) in the future ? Who pays more into/gets most out of that deal ? It’s a genuine question. if the taxes of the childless didn’t subsidise the development of others children and instead went into private pension funds, health insurance etc would that not resolve the nonsensical dillema you’ve raised ?
I obviously have no problem helping to pay for such things even if I don’t have children who will use them, but your argument that the childless(as a generality) get out more than they put in seems wrong.”

Ronan, jeez, you just don’t get it. Your taxes for public education just cover some of the costs in the investments you need made in the next generations so that there is social security for you, so that there is a workforce to take care of you as you age, so that you can cash out strong when you liquidate assets for your retirement, so that people will be working and innovating and creating to keep society dynamic in what hopefully will be a long and healthy retirement

You are making some forced contribution to the generation growing up on whom you will depend; the state thankfully prevents complete free riding on your part.

As childless person who is paid at the same rate as your colleagues who are parents, you are free-riding on the work that they (or we) are doing to put the next generation in place.

70

RNB 07.10.16 at 3:44 pm

@64 interested in your criticisms of what I have said, harry b.

71

Ronan(rf) 07.10.16 at 3:57 pm

Okay , but explain this to me like I’m an idiot. I choose not to have children but I recognise that society needs to encourage child rearing to some degree so that the human race can continue to prosper and I can be secure in my dotage. Therefore I say, take x amount of cash from me and give it to the child bearing, and give parents y opportunities to lower their tax contributions, to help them rear their children to be healthy and prosperous, so they can support me in my old age.
You have the same concerns about security in retirement , and decide to have children in part because of this concern. How when we both come to retirement am I free riding but you’re not? (1) why are my contributions not relevant? (2) how are you not also free riding off your children’s ss contributions?

72

novakant 07.10.16 at 4:13 pm

But in my ‘experience’ very often parents (rightly or wrongly I’ll leave open) are concerned with their own children’s present and future, even if it’s at the expense of the future of mere people in general.

How is that unique to parents, though?

73

Lupita 07.10.16 at 4:41 pm

@ Ronan(rf)

Okay , but explain this to me like I’m an idiot.

Virgencita de Guadalupe intercedo ante ti para que me des fortaleza y paciencia para explicar a estos enajenados primermundistas neoliberales lo que es la gracia y la vida que diosito santo en su gran sabiduria y bondad a tenido a bien otorgarnos para vivirla cumpliendo su voluntad y no para acumular bienes materiales y explotar a nuestros semejantes amen gracias virgencita.

Ok. Our species, or any other species for that matter, do not need understanding, social recognition, or dotage security in order to reproduce. We just do. It’s life. Children are not private property meant to be valued for their hypothetical future contributions, like an investment account or a pension fund. They just are. Think of it this way: you are not free. You may have that impression because we are all the product of our time and place and you are a firstworlder living in neoliberal times, where everything, including life and children, are monetized in order to gauge their value, which only leads to despair, and because you can move your bishop this way or that in a diagonal line. But you live on a chess board with 64 squares, half white and half black. You are not free to go and live on a blank chessboard.

74

Ronan(rf) 07.10.16 at 4:47 pm

I’m only going by the terms of debate as set by rnb, which was the desire to have children is set by how much you think you can squeeze out of them during their productive years.

75

Lupita 07.10.16 at 4:49 pm

Poor RNB.

76

Rich Puchalsky 07.10.16 at 4:51 pm

77

LH 07.10.16 at 4:57 pm

@73, It’s not unique in terms of the sorts of aims most people have for their own future, but if we’re talking about our stake in a future from which we are absent, it’s a question of whether one’s concern for me and mine might override more global concerns. Is it a parent’s duty (or felt duty) to put the best interests of their child first, regardless of the larger social good (e.g. to shore up my progeny at the possible expense of the conditions of the larger future in which they will live?) If so, while their stake may in some sense be more concrete, it is certainly not necessarily advantageous for an agenda concerned with all future humans. I think at times there’s an implicit igmfy that is allowed to operate under the description of care for the future, but is really aimed at what is best for a much more narrow spectrum of future inhabitants.

78

RNB 07.10.16 at 5:19 pm

@74 I really hope the Virgin answers your prayer given the floral language in which you have written it.

@72 Ronan, the tax break parents get would have to be a lot bigger than it is now.

And in fact this may be an issue that unites the conservative National Review (http://www.nationalreview.com/article/301108/empty-playground-and-welfare-state-ramesh-ponnuru) and the Neera Tanden fan club (http://www.demos.org/blog/3/9/15/real-parent-penalty).

Google allowed me to see that many have raised the free riding problem in this context in the past.

79

RNB 07.10.16 at 5:23 pm

Off to spend the day outdoors with the family after buying new eyewear for the older one.

80

Mario 07.10.16 at 5:25 pm

I don’t think being childless is necessarily freeriding.

However, it is a different thing to choose childlessnes in a society full of parents, than in a society where lack of children is already a problem. In many countries, unless you are the like of, say, Edward Snowden, it will be hard to compensate for the problems that choosing childlessnes creates. Becoming well-published in $obscure_topic just won’t do by a long shot.

@js,

What’s really annoying is the idea that if you don’t have children you miss some amazing, “transformative” experience, the implication that you’re missing out on some essential joy of human life if you haven’t held a thing created of your own sperm and egg. It’s a bunch of nonsense that gets trotted out with amazing regularity.

How do you know it’s nonsense? You can’t know! (And yes, I think that if you don’t have children you’re missing out on some essential joy of life. That does not mean that I pitty you, despise you, or anything.).

81

Ronan(rf) 07.10.16 at 5:53 pm

79, I would imagine, and afaik it’s empirically more accurate, that the reasons most people support (or don’t support) things like public schools, state run healthcare, subsidized childcare etc are more driven by concerns of fairness or right and wrong , than cold eyed calculations about their future security or personal self interest (though self interest also plays a part).
So I can accept that bringing up children is difficult and costly, and that I should contribute something to lessen that burden on other people because (1) it’s the right thing to do (2) I value the society I live in (3) I want to maintain societal stability for purely self interested reasons (4) I think it’s more effective/fairer/politically feasible than paying the childless less than parents for the same job.
I don’t think that’s meaningfully free riding , at least not to any significantly greater extent than having children with one eye on your pension pot, or deciding to have 1 child instead of 2, 2 instead of 3 , for financial or convenience reasons. It is a decision made under specific conditions where I accept that I have certain obligations because I’ve removed myself from specific responsibilities.
The fact that we have a system of redistribution and investment that, in a lot of ways, favours those with children , should be evidence enough that this reality is widely understood. If you, rnb, want to argue the childless should contribute more, then that’s fine. But that’s a different argument than breathless exhortations about ungrateful free riders.

82

Ronan(rf) 07.10.16 at 6:11 pm

..though have a good day with your family. I’m off to relax and watch the European cup. One of the perks of childlessness.

83

Lupita 07.10.16 at 6:54 pm

@ Ronan(rf)

Lucky you. You get to not have to explain what offside is.

84

novakant 07.10.16 at 9:04 pm

I think at times there’s an implicit igmfy that is allowed to operate under the description of care for the future, but is really aimed at what is best for a much more narrow spectrum of future inhabitants.

Of course some parents are like that – but even they could never do as much harm as is regularly done in the name of the “national interest” and “national security”, which is the same phenomenon on a much larger scale.

85

JimV 07.10.16 at 9:25 pm

Back in the 1990’s there was an issue of “Scientific American” focusing on population growth. It estimated that the maximum human population the Earth’s resources could sustain, on one bowl of rice a day each, was 10-12 billion. (After all cattle, sheep, etc. were killed so as not to compete with us for agricultural land use). Technology developments may have increased that number a bit since then, but climate change will reduce it, if it hasn’t already. There were about billion humans in 1900, after about 100,000 years (give or take) as a species. Now there are about 7 billion, and growing. There are too many people having too many children. I love my nephews and nieces but I’m not having any children myself (not that anyone has asked me too, lately). I also don’t and will never own a car. I’m sure all you nice people (sincerely) have good justifications for your choices (and that most of them are better than most of mine), but sometimes I wonder if you have ever looked at the numbers (re population and climate).

86

novakant 07.10.16 at 9:39 pm

Well, it is a personal decision – and that’s that.

But even considering this: the fertility rate in Europe is well below replacement, so we can have all the children we want and still have plenty of space for refugees and immigrants.

87

Gareth Wilson 07.10.16 at 10:13 pm

“It estimated that the maximum human population the Earth’s resources could sustain, on one bowl of rice a day each, was 10-12 billion.”

That’s total nonsense. Think about all the grain-fed cattle in the world, eating more or less human food and weighing several times more than a human being. The US alone could support billions on a vegan diet.

88

J-D 07.10.16 at 10:30 pm

Are nested blockquotes supposed to work? Only one way to find out, I suppose. If it doesn’t work, this comment is going to look strange.

Mario 07.10.16 at 5:25 pm
@js,

What’s really annoying is the idea that if you don’t have children you miss some amazing, “transformative” experience, the implication that you’re missing out on some essential joy of human life if you haven’t held a thing created of your own sperm and egg. It’s a bunch of nonsense that gets trotted out with amazing regularity.

How do you know it’s nonsense? You can’t know! (And yes, I think that if you don’t have children you’re missing out on some essential joy of life. That does not mean that I pitty you, despise you, or anything.).

It is nonsense. Do you want to know how I know? From experience.

89

J-D 07.10.16 at 10:33 pm

RNB 07.10.16 at 5:19 pm
@74 I really hope the Virgin answers your prayer given the floral language in which you have written it.

No such luck, I’m afraid. The fact that the invocation was visible here for all of us to read was an immediate demonstration that it hadn’t worked.

90

Faustusnotes 07.10.16 at 10:44 pm

I’ll say it again for the record: getting the birth rate to “replacement” levels doesn’t “fix” the “problem” of unsustainable population structures. It halts it where it is, 15 years from now. If this is your concern, you need to get breeding: to drag the dependency ratio of a society back to 2015 levels in 2030 will need an increase in tfr to above 2.5. If you think this is important you need to get a policy that forces all women to have at least 2.5 children. More likely 3.

If you aren’t comfortable with the assault on women’s rights that entails, you need to find an alternative frame for your social security concerns. And maybe you could start by not calling unintentionally childless people free riders (it’s nice that this is rnb’s response to the op, don’t you think?)

91

Suzanne 07.10.16 at 11:23 pm

It might also be nice to avoid calling intentionally childless people free riders, no? We are all in this together, I would hope……

92

Lupita 07.10.16 at 11:48 pm

If you think this is important you need to get a policy that forces all women to have at least 2.5 children.

No need to be sexist. You can sign a free trade agreement with Mexico and get 12 million new workers, which would make you non-racist. Or start a war someplace which would make you a humanitarian.

93

Faustusnotes 07.11.16 at 12:44 am

I’m all for that lupita, but the reality is that if all the countries facing this “problem” tried to use migration to fix it, they’d suck the main migration sources dry and simply dump the dependency “problem” on those countries. Neither migration nor birth will “fix” this “problem” – only learning to accept that human society is aging and having less children will work.

Suzanne I’m intentionally childless and I agree. I just found in this instance the free rider claim to be particularly callous given the contents of the op.

94

ZM 07.11.16 at 12:50 am

Mario,

“However, it is a different thing to choose childlessnes in a society full of parents, than in a society where lack of children is already a problem.”

But at the policy level the government solves this problem with immigration since globally the population is growing and people not having children isn’t a problem at all globally.

95

ZM 07.11.16 at 1:03 am

Gareth Wilson,

“That’s total nonsense. Think about all the grain-fed cattle in the world, eating more or less human food and weighing several times more than a human being. The US alone could support billions on a vegan diet.”

Cattle are a really big source of greenhouse gas emissions as well. Moving to a diet with more plant based foods and less animal products is better for a growing population and also for climate change.

https://youtu.be/kUEvMEHWjfw

96

J-D 07.11.16 at 1:11 am

Lupita 07.10.16 at 4:41 pm

But you live on a chess board with 64 squares, half white and half black. You are not free to go and live on a blank chessboard.

What makes you think it’s a chessboard? Why not a board for backgammon, cribbage, go, mancala, pachisi, senet, la loteria, nine men’s morris, Scrabble, or Settlers of Catan?

97

js. 07.11.16 at 3:40 am

Lynne @ 61 — I think I see better what you mean about parenthood and virtue. And yes, I’m inclined to agree.

——

harry b:

[SS] is a transfer from the working age population to the non-working-age population

I guess you could see it that way. But I don’t see that one needs to see it that way or that one should. The conceptual premise of SS is (roughly): you pay in, you get out. It’s a “transfer” from your working self to your future, retired self. Now in practice that’s a bit mad. But in practice, I think it makes most sense to think of SS as a mechanism of distributive justice: I and everyone else (who’s working, mostly) pays a certain tax, and against that a certain class of people derive a social benefit. But even the “against that” is kind of fungible, SS is basically just a general fund, and the state essentially pays out certain obligations out of its tax revenue. It’s just not obvious to me that I have to think about my FICA deductions in particular as a generational transfer.

But in a way I think we’re just disagreeing about the meaning of “free riding”. Because when you say this:

the world is full of people doing things I need to have done that I have no interest (for whatever reason) in doing, and I am grateful to those people

I want to say: Yes, absolutely! But that’s not free riding. That’s more like, to stretch the metaphor, the state subsidising public transport so that bus fare is affordable.

98

RNB 07.11.16 at 4:14 am

@98 We are a social and intergenerational species. I would say that those who think their lives depend on neither the generations before them and nor the generations after them live in “a specious present”, to use William James’ notion in a different context.

Whose taxes will pay your social security when you receive it, js? Out of whose income will the stocks you liquidate for retirement be paid? Whose labor will make the firms whose stock who own valuable? Who will produce the goods that you will use your retirement money to pay for? Who will staff the centers that take care of you in your dotage? Who may make your retirement comfortable with new conveniences, medicines and treatments?

99

RNB 07.11.16 at 4:21 am

I think people are wrong that middle class parents who spend extra money for tutoring in, say, math or even send their children to private schools just do this to give their kids relative position in the rat race that is life. No, the public school system is sometimes not sufficient in many places for children to develop the skills that they will need to tackle the most pressing and difficult problems. The public schools are often rightly focused on improving skills from the bottom up.

Middle class parents often stretch themselves to their maximum so that their children will have the skills to see the world from many different perspectives, communicate well, follow and contribute to science and technology, conduct data analyses, speak foreign languages competently and keep alive humanity’s cultural heritage in the arts. Their children are not the only ones who will benefit from these parents’ sacrifices. Yes, I speak proudly in defense of my tribe!

100

RNB 07.11.16 at 4:28 am

Are we hating on adults who spend their discretionary income on their children’s education and cultural development rather than on another luxury car, second or third homes, lavish vacations, fat retirement accounts, crazy wardrobes, Michelin dining or whatever?

101

Daniel 07.11.16 at 5:06 am

@88
>>The US alone could support billions on a vegan diet.

You really want billions residing in this country? God help the flora and fauna because with people thinking like you do they will have no hope, and don’t leave aside how miserable human existence will be with billions residing in this country.

102

Meredith 07.11.16 at 6:04 am

Like Maria, I felt from a young age a desire to make children from my own body. But what is that desire, really? It is so strangely personal/private/unique in its origins, yet of course socially created and, finally, radically diffuse. Each of us negotiates the resulting paths and entanglements in different ways, but I think if we are honest, that desire to procreate, to reproduce, is a shared desire, not so personal/private/unique as we’d thought. There are many paths to procreation, to reproduction, and the best parents, teachers, ADULTS give birth to many/all children. (Thoughts from a recent first-time grandmother, who is struck by the prefixes re- and pro that appeared as she wrote.)

103

Ragweed 07.11.16 at 6:16 am

There are many good thoughts in this discussion, and I think Harry B particularly has some clarity on several of the issues.

I did want to respond to a couple of points:

Peter K at 26: ” I think if these cultural conservatives were really serious about blaming poor blacks and improving society, they’d adopt poor black kids. Some do. “

Sadly there is a phenomena in the US of fundamentalist parents in the US adopting Black or Native American kids with the explicit idea that they can overcome the “cultural failings” of these communities and raise them with strict Christian values. Often there are significant differences between how they treat adopted kids of color vs white kids, or their (white) biological children, with racial hierarchy firmly in place.

With Native American children, this has historically, and to an extent currently, been even a point of government policy – deliberate efforts to remove Native children from their families and have them raised by white families (or boarding schools) in order to assimilate them into white culture. In the US this has been a major point of struggle for tribal sovereignty and the legal battles are ongoing.

@86 (and responses) “Now there are about 7 billion, and growing. There are too many people having too many children.”

Perhaps, but world fertility rates are declining and close to replacement levels (only Africa is significantly above replacement). The problem with population growth right now is that young cohorts are larger than older cohorts. As the billion-or-so people over 65 die off, they will be replaced by an age 1-15 cohort of around 2 billion. It will stabilize around 10 billion, more or less.

104

J-D 07.11.16 at 6:23 am

RNB 07.11.16 at 4:28 am

Are we hating on adults who spend their discretionary income on their children’s education and cultural development rather than on another luxury car, second or third homes, lavish vacations, fat retirement accounts, crazy wardrobes, Michelin dining or whatever?

No. Why do you ask?

105

bruce wilder 07.11.16 at 6:34 am

[World population] will stabilize around 10 billion, more or less.

“stabilize” ?!??

Clearly, some people just can not pay attention in class.

106

Guy Harris 07.11.16 at 6:37 am

@Mario

In many countries, unless you are the like of, say, Edward Snowden, it will be hard to compensate for the problems that choosing childlessnes creates.

And what compensates for the resource consumption of the children that choosing to have children creates? Those who advocate multiplication should at least do division. At some point, continued population growth is unsustainable; whether we are at that point depends on what the per-person consumption level is, and maybe there’s a consumption level at which we can support a population of 7 billion, but that level won’t support, for example, 70 billion.

How do you know it’s nonsense? You can’t know! (And yes, I think that if you don’t have children you’re missing out on some essential joy of life.).

But, of course, you cannot know that those who don’t have children are missing out on some essential joy of life, as you are not them.

107

ZM 07.11.16 at 6:42 am

RNB,

“Whose taxes will pay your social security when you receive it, js? Out of whose income will the stocks you liquidate for retirement be paid? Whose labor will make the firms whose stock who own valuable? Who will produce the goods that you will use your retirement money to pay for? Who will staff the centers that take care of you in your dotage? Who may make your retirement comfortable with new conveniences, medicines and treatments?”

But this why we have the fantastic Hillary Clinton who you are such a loyal supporter of RNB!

Like she says, it takes a village to raise a child, and a caring economy to look after the retired —

“Hillary Clinton believes that every American deserves to retire with dignity and security and that no American should face poverty because he or she is disabled, or when a loved one dies. As a nation, we have an obligation to each other to preserve and expand programs such as Social Security and Medicare, so that these lifelines endure for generations to come.

Clinton has a record of protecting America’s seniors and is committed to securing their future. As Senator of New York, she fought tirelessly against President Bush’s plan to privatize Social Security. Clinton championed bills to reduce the price of prescription drugs for seniors. She also passed legislation to provide respite care for caregivers of elderly and disabled Americans and advocated for recruiting and retaining high quality nurses in our hospitals.

Today, Hillary is putting forth her plan to support seniors by expanding Social Security, defending Medicare, investing in the caring economy and ending Alzheimer’s.”

https://www.hillaryclinton.com/briefing/factsheets/2016/05/13/hillary-clinton-a-champion-for-americas-seniors/

108

ZM 07.11.16 at 6:46 am

RNB,

“Are we hating on adults who spend their discretionary income on their children’s education and cultural development”

I think you have missed the point of the OP, the point is we shouldn’t be hating on adults based on the sole fact of whether or not they have children.

109

etv13 07.11.16 at 8:03 am

We must have read different posts, ZM. The one I read expressed a fair amount of hostility toward middle class parents.

110

ZM 07.11.16 at 8:31 am

etv13,

Well I imagine that reading your newspaper in the morning and coming upon an article about one female politician saying that another female politician is less qualified for a leadership role in Parliament due to the second female politician not having had children would be the sort of thing that makes many people a bit cross.

111

J-D 07.11.16 at 8:47 am

etv13 07.11.16 at 8:03 am
We must have read different posts, ZM. The one I read expressed a fair amount of hostility toward middle class parents.

A fair amount, yes, but not an unfair amount; not unreserved, unqualified, undiluted hatred, but a complex mixture of feelings and thoughts; angry expostulations about things that parents sometimes do and say, but anger explained and counterbalanced, anger constructively deployed — or at least the attempt is being made.

112

casmilus 07.11.16 at 9:12 am

This isn’t the first time the “as a …” formation has caused trouble. I went to an event about attitudes within Anglo-Jewry and several panelists said they couldn’t stand the kind of canting statement that starts “As a Jew…”

113

etv13 07.11.16 at 9:19 am

,ZM, you said the point of the OP was that we shouldn’t be hating on people based on whether they have children or not. Now you say that reading Leadsom’s comments might make anyone a bit cross. I don’t disagree with that, but I do think you are moving the goal posts.

J-D: I don’t think the post is unfair toward Leadsom or to the general idea of arguments introduced with “as a mother,” which I find pretty off-putting. I do think the post is unfair to middle class parents generally, though my own views are colored by the fact that (a) I’m an American, and our politics, our school systems, and even our notions of what “middle class” means are different from (hey, even our views of what preposition follows “different” are different) those of people in the UK.

114

ZM 07.11.16 at 9:54 am

etv13,

I think the point of the OP is that whether people have children or not by itself doesn’t make people any better or worse for leadership positions in politics, or make them care any more or any less about the future, which was Leadsom’s point. I said the same thing in a previous comment to harry b @6

I think Maria was a bit hurt or cross at the time after reading about this, and she made a joke about being grumpy @13

I don’t see any shifting of the goal posts I’m afraid

115

casmilus 07.11.16 at 10:28 am

I think the form of this discussion reflects the wider state of western politics.

It’s not enough for a leader to have good policies or good judgement. They have to have an *emotional* connection to the governed, which involves empathy. So they emphasise parenting as a shared experience, and conceal how it differs between classes. Blair and other New Labour figures got a lot of stick for sending their children to elite schools; David Cameron felt obliged to send his to at least a state primary school, even though (allegedly) Samantha wasn’t so keen. Ditto the whole rigmarole of both Blair and Cameron pretending to have a childhood fascination with football teams (but they can’t remember the details right).

Myself, I’d just like someone who could do the job, which is why May will always be more impressive than Leadsom. Incidentally, I had leukaemia a few years ago, and I’m completely sterile due to the radio- and chemotherapy needed to cure it, so I’ll never have children. If I had not had that treatment I would have died and not had children either. It’s a transformative experience to be able to think about the future and really not be sure if you’ll still be alive in 6 months. If you’ve never had a potentially terminal illness you just won’t understand. The peculiar awareness that one’s own form is just going to melt back into the world and the rest will carry on without it. It’s quite exhilarating.

116

novakant 07.11.16 at 10:58 am

So now Leadsom apologized and is going to quit – I won’t miss her but May is awful.

The Mail, Sun, Torygraph and Times are crowning her the new “Iron Lady”, presumably based on her history of deporting innocent and vulnerable people and threatening the 3 million remaining EU citizens in the UK with deportation as well – good times.

117

William Burns 07.11.16 at 11:20 am

After everyone in front of her and every conceivable rival has obligingly bumped themselves off in the space of a fortnight, my conclusion is that Theresa May is a woman I would not want to cross.

118

ZM 07.11.16 at 12:19 pm

According to Darwin’s disciple childless women are also responsible for biodiversity and strong soldiers ;-)

“A robust cat population, [Darwin] argued, would mean that local mouse numbers would be low and that, in turn, would mean there would high numbers of bumble bees – because mice destroy bee combs and nests. And as bees pollinate clover, Darwin argued that this cascade of oscillating species numbers would result in there being more clover in fields in areas where there are lots of feline pets. Cats mean clover, in short.

It was an idea that took the fancy of Darwin’s chief disciple, the biologist Thomas Huxley who extended this cat-clover cascade in 1892 to include old maids. They kept cats, Huxley argued, and those pets would ensure neighbouring fields would be low in mice, high in bees and rich in clover.

And that in turn would have powerful consequences for the British Empire, Huxley added. Cattle graze on clover and cattle means beef. Thus old maids would provide the perfect setting for ensuring plenty of clover and therefore healthy cattle and good roast beef to feed our troops and thus ensure the prosperity of the British Empire. Old maids mean military might, in short.”

119

ZM 07.11.16 at 12:19 pm

120

Jim Buck 07.11.16 at 12:21 pm

If you’ve never had a potentially terminal illness you just won’t understand. The peculiar awareness that one’s own form is just going to melt back into the world and the rest will carry on without it. It’s quite exhilarating.

“As in what ways?
From inexistence to existence he came to many and was
as one received: existence with existence he was with any
as any with any:from existence to nonexistence gone he
would be by all as none perceived.” ( Ulysses p 778)

121

Maria 07.11.16 at 12:22 pm

@William Burns 117, I wouldn’t worry unduly. Any second now, she’s going to fly away on the back of a dragon.

122

reason 07.11.16 at 3:27 pm

ZM
” Old maids mean military might, in short.”
It works the other way around as well (reverse causation) as military might => foreign wars => lack of potential partners for said old maids.

123

Walt 07.11.16 at 5:26 pm

As a parent, I authorize the childless to tell anyone that that tells them they are free-riders to go fuck themselves. Your only duty is not to leave the world worse for the next generation, whether or not you have children.

124

Ragweed 07.11.16 at 7:19 pm

“[World population] will stabilize around 10 billion, more or less.

“stabilize” ?!??

Clearly, some people just can not pay attention in class.”

OK – I should clarify that with “barring global warming-induced famine or other catastrophic events (eg. nuclear war)”. There is wide debate about earths ability to support that population, though, as alluded to up-thread, a lot of that depends on global diet “choices”. There would be a lot more food to go around if 1st world countries didn’t convert so much to meat and fuel (and global finance trying to turn it all into money). I think there are credible estimates that we can feed 10 billion if we don’t try to do it on an American diet.

But my point is that the demographics are stabilizing – we are no longer in a world of exponential population growth. Birth rates are replacement or below in most of the world, and trending downward in those places that are above replacement. We are not headed toward 70 billion, and the danger is not the out-of-control population explosion feared in the 60s and 70s, but rather what sort of consumption patterns will this global population have.

125

RNB 07.11.16 at 8:02 pm

It seems that Crooked Timber had this discussion more than ten years ago.
http://crookedtimber.org/2005/03/30/are-children-public-goods/
Who is Kimberly?

Walt, what would you say to those who say that adults who are childless or have only one child, or whose children fall through the cracks due to their negligence, may be free riding off responsible parents who are raising two or three children? Rhetorical question.

Of course the debt of the childless can be more than compensated for by work that they do from which harried parents benefit as the OP makes clear (and tax penalties on the childless also compensate to some extent for the free riding), but in some cases it will not be so compensated. And then we do have the free riding problem as a matter of fact.

126

Tabasco 07.11.16 at 8:41 pm

Leadsom can now go back to her fabulously successful career in investment banking, where no one cares whether you have children.

127

William Berry 07.11.16 at 8:44 pm

@RNB:

“As-a-father”[TM] of four (and gf of 11 and ggf of one!), I am thinking that you should seriously stow the “free rider ” crap. It is an ugly meme with ugly roots .

Just as you were with the Hillary (for whom I will cheerfully cast my vote) stuff, you are well into dog-gnawing-bone territory here.

Just stop, please. Whatever you are trying to prove— well, it isn’t working.

128

RNB 07.11.16 at 8:50 pm

Forget about me. I came to the point in discussion with Ronan and Faustusnotes here, but a quick google search will show you that this has been a long-standing debate. Read quote from Nancy Folbre from the old Crooked Timber exchange that I just linked to or the link I gave above to Matt Bruening who I understand has been one of the most incisive supporters of Sanders.

129

SamChevre 07.11.16 at 8:52 pm

Who’s Kimberly? See here

130

Ronan(rf) 07.11.16 at 9:03 pm

129, your argument has completely changed, from the childless are ungrateful free riders to (the pretty much uncontroversial) some childless might free ride.

131

roger gathmann 07.11.16 at 9:18 pm

This is I think true: “Forgive me if it seems unkind to point out the bleeding obvious; but parents like Andrea Leadsom are the problem, not the solution, in a short-term, short-range, family first- political system focused on herding an ever smaller and more carefully tended flock to a place of higher economic safety.”

But in the context of the conservative party in the UK, I can’t imagine that Teresa May would make this defense. Because that political system is precisely the one that she wants to tighten, put in place, and fortify against any change.

132

js. 07.11.16 at 11:17 pm

RNB — You seem to think that it’s news that “the childless are free riders” is a thing and has been a thing for a while. But I’m going to guess that most people here are aware that this is a thing and are pushing back precisely because they’re already aware of the arguments, which—let’s say—can quickly take on some unpleasant overtones.

——

On another note, I’m going to qualify a bit of @98. I don’t really need or want to argue that SS is not a generational transfer. What I will hold on to is that even if it is (and in some sense, sure, one can conceive of it that way), the childless are not free riding vis-a-vis Social Security. This is actually a fairly obvious point.

133

RNB 07.11.16 at 11:47 pm

@98 @133 Someone is freeriding, js. If it’s not the childless, then it’s Mr Moneybags who is so lucky to find due to the thankless, unpaid labor of parents a fresh productive workforce to exploit. One way to relieve this would be to tax Mr. Moneybags (corporations) to finance tax credits for parents and/or to provide childcare which is difficult for young parents to pay for, given where they are usually in their earnings’ life cycle. But this means that the childless will not directly benefit from the tax credit or the government programs. Should they tolerate this putative “unfairness”? Yes, I think it would be a way for them to pay for the investments on which they will themselves depend and on which otherwise they would free-ride.

Now for the reasons given in the OP it’s a good thing that not all adults have children even on the assumption that they would be good parents. It frees them up to provide altruistically other public goods which otherwise may be under-provided by harried parents. The OP is eloquent and correct on this. So some childless adults may well more than compensate for the free riding on other adults’ parental activity, and parents could be free-riding on their childless colleagues. Mario has expressed some skepticism that this would be generally true above.

Now what I am saying may have unpleasant overtones, and I welcome your spelling out what those may be (homophobic disdain for childless gays and lesbians?) and my revising my views if I come to understand and agree with what you are implying. But I don’t think that being childless condemns one to being a net free rider. Nor is an irresponsible parent exempt from freeriding either.

I shall say that there is some unpleasant sacrifices for many in the so-called middle class involved in raising children to be able to tackle difficult social, technical and economic problems in the future. And I think that in this CT discussion and the previous one there is a lot of pooh-poohing of responsible parenting.

134

RNB 07.12.16 at 12:00 am

I do think that people are aware that this is a thing and has been a thing for a while
http://www.latimes.com/world/asia/la-fg-japan-population-snap-story.html

135

alexh 07.12.16 at 12:12 am

> (js.:) This is actually a fairly obvious point.

Then it should be easy to explain a bit more; can you? “Free riding” is a needlessly perjorative term, but it seems fairly easy to argue why parents are doing more to support SS than non-parents (n.b. I’m the latter.)

Future SS beneficiaries rely on a successor working population willing and able to share some of their productivity with the retired. The current generation can help that end by (a) ensuring a “large enough”, educated, successor generation, and (b) providing capital investments (including education) and technology (e.g. R&D) that allows the next generation to provide enough surplus.

Doing either (a) or (b) (in the case of b, this can be incredibly indirect, e.g. you save at a bank that invests in a company that invents something that…) surely gives you _some_
moral claim(*) on the next generation. So if you don’t help (a) then your moral claim, which might still be valid, is left on fewer legs.

If you don’t do (a) or (b) your remaining moral claim to the future is (c) “when I was your age, I did thus for my predecessors, so why won’t you in your stead?” This is a very societally fragile argument – better supplant it with a healthy dose of the first two.

(*) By design, the U.S. version of social security doesn’t provide any substantial monetary claim on future productivity, so moral claims are all that remain.

136

roger gathmann 07.12.16 at 12:17 am

In the thirties, Q.D. Leavis attacked Virginia Woolf on the grounds that she – Leavis – had kids, and Woolf didn’t, meaning she was snobbish, disconnected and had to be written out of the story of the serious novel. This kind of attack is perennial. Leavis’s essay on Woolf was called Caterpillars of the Commonwealth. You know, as in parasites. It is interesting to trace the rhetoric of this argument as it has developed, historically.

137

LFC 07.12.16 at 12:18 am

Ragweed @125
We are not headed toward 70 billion, and the danger is not the out-of-control population explosion feared in the 60s and 70s, but rather what sort of consumption patterns will this global population have.

Yes, and (relatedly, if that’s a word) how resources, wealth/income, employment opportunities, and life chances in general will be distributed among the global pop.

138

LFC 07.12.16 at 12:56 am

Hesitant to get into the SocSec debate, but istm this is not a case of free riding: X, when working, paid into the fund on which retirees drew, and X is entitled when no longer working and at some appropriate age to take from the fund he/she paid into. Yes it falls on a successor working generation to keep the fund solvent, but as alexh acknowledges there are all kinds of ways to contribute to the next generation’s productivity (for lack of a better word) without having children oneself.

And to RNB: presumably the psychic rewards of parenthood (which I assume exist to some degree if not in every case, though missing them myself is not one of my particular regrets [I have others]) offer some compensation for the strain, hassle and time commitment of parenting in the mode that relatively affluent parents apparently feel they have to these days. So, presumably, it’s not as if you or anyone else are joylessly ferrying their kids to music, language, sports, computer or whatever sessions solely in order to help keep the Social Security fund in reasonable shape in the future.

139

LFC 07.12.16 at 1:00 am

p.s. “the strain, hassle and time commitment of parenting in the mode…”
and of course also the expense, as you have been at some pains to emphasize

140

RNB 07.12.16 at 7:05 am

LFC, this may be dying down, but I and many others (from Nancy Folbre to Ramesh Ponnuru to Matt Bruenig) see a problem in people enjoying the tremendous benefits of there being in their retirement a skilled work force their share of the costs of which they did not have to pay because the parents who did the work were willing to cover the free riders’ share as they love their children and took great joy in their happiness and development and felt a social obligation to raise their children as good citizens who could make a solid contribution to society.

As I said, the debt the childless or parents of a single child can be canceled through some combination of tax policy and altruistic action (and by the way my casual empiricism tells me that those who can afford the fanciest private schools have only one child to educate), but putting money in a retirement fund that is invested won’t do it. All that investment would do is put in place structures that would be inert without what Marx once called the flame of living labor.

The actual political response to the social ontological claim that individual existence depends on society and that society is (as I would emphasize) an ongoing intergenerational affair, is to deny in libertarian fashion that there is any society at all and thus free oneself of the burdens of raising the next generation on which one will in fact depend.

The libertarian thus lives in what I am calling here the specious present, denying that their existence depends on the rearing of the next generation.

141

faustusnotes 07.12.16 at 7:30 am

RNB, parents get lots of tax breaks and it’s not clear where most taxes come from or go to. Bear in mind that it takes 21 years to raise an adult, and we all contribute to that process through taxes that pay for healthcare, schooling and the management of children – it’s not something that only the parents do.

Also it’s worth bearing in mind that as the proportion of families with one child increases, the dynamic of elderly people with no carer will force a shift away from current, inefficient modes of care (where one child, usually a daughter, cares for two parents) to efficient group care models. In the future it’s possible that there will be no strong relationship between the number of children a society has and the number caring for the elderly. It’s going to be necessary to revolutionize how we care for the elderly, which will mean first adn foremost productivity gains. Your model of children caring for the elderly assumes a heavy burden of elderly care when a different model of social organizations would lead to a much lower burden of care and if anything a liberation of society from its current silly structures.

Taking Japan as an example, at a TFR of 2.6 it would have approximately 2 million children a year. At a TFR of 1.3 it has approximately 1 million (this is the current number). At 50 students per class room in Japan, 1 million less children is 20,000 less teachers that Japan has to support. Under traditional caring structures, approximately half of the children at TFR of 2.6 (the eldest sons, though in practice this is their wives) would be expected to care for their elderly parents, putting a burden of care on 1 million people. If instead those elderly people all move into care homes where they are cared for in groups of 4, we free up 1/2 of the cohort, giving us a balance of 520 million people free to work. In practice of course most caring is done part time, but even if we assume that the private care arrangements of yesteryear only use 1/10 of a person’s time, we still free up 50,000 full-time-equivalents (FTEs) of the cohort to work, giving a balance of 70000 new free workers.

Your assumption that we need the same number of children now as we did 30 years ago, to care for our future elderly, assumes some extremely regressive and inefficient modes of elderly care. As I have said repeatedly here, your prescription for making our societies “sustainable” is also a highly regressive model of reproductive rights. Rather than blaming the childless for the future problems society faces, why not look to new ways of adapting to aging, and new modes of caring? If we respond to the challenges properly we can free up a huge proportion of society at the beginning and the end of our lives.

142

Walt 07.12.16 at 7:32 am

There’s a gigantic gap between “libertarian” and “childless”. If you want to call childless libertarians free-riders, then fine. If you want to call someone who votes for tax cuts for education because they don’t have children a free-rider, then fine. But there’s nothing intrinsic to childlessness that compels you to do these things.

143

Daniel 07.12.16 at 8:34 am

144

hix 07.12.16 at 1:57 pm

This topic makes me rather happy im living in a society where not having children is very normal. Those society wide utilitarian arguments for breading leave a rather bad memory to the period before 1945. Not only am i not buying them at all, they also cant possibly be used to enforce that very private decission upon me.

[Just imagining a society where id possibly wouldnt be forced to bread, but had to fill some kind of health opt out form, get a doctors inspection to confirm etc, kind of like the college health extension bureaucracy just another step meaner…….]

145

Lupita 07.12.16 at 2:20 pm

Your model of children caring for the elderly assumes a heavy burden of elderly care when a different model of social organizations would lead to a much lower burden of care and if anything a liberation of society from its current silly structures.

First, there is no society. Now, there is no family. Next, there is no life. Way to go, neoliberals!

146

Eszter 07.12.16 at 2:28 pm

Just yesterday I heard someone making a case for a person being a good person, a worthy person, a person who couldn’t have possibly done anything wrong, simply because she was “the mother of three”. It’s a curious leap, to say the least.

147

RNB 07.12.16 at 2:52 pm

@142 Interesting calculations, Faustusnotes.

We do need to check first what the living arrangements of the retired and aged population is in Japan now. What % live with children, alone, or in homes?

Now in Japan let’s say the very aged population (85 to 100 yrs of age) is set to increase from 3 or so percent to 13 pc of the population, and the retired part of the population to sharply increase in general due in part radical longevity advances.

We would then require the productive workforce which is a declining percentage of the population to to support an increasing percentage of the population that is retired. This support includes not only the care labor on which you are focused but also economic support in many forms, e.g. resources for the payment of pensions and production of goods and services that the retired will consume.

If you have halve the productive population due to collapsing fertility and limit immigration, you will end up with an intolerable rate of exploitation on the living to support the increasing percentage of the population that is retired.

Now perhaps mechanization and AI comes to the rescue here and these allow a productive population declining in absolute numbers and as a percentage of the population to produce the requisite money value and quantity of goods to support society as a whole , but remember with people living longer the % of the population that is retired is bound to rise even with fertility at the replacement rate.

So my guess is that technology and immigration can only solve some of the problem when fertility rates fall to the point where the productive population will fall sharply in absolute terms and as a percentage of the population.

Of course there is a voluminous literature here.

148

RNB 07.12.16 at 3:10 pm

@142 I am certainly not suggesting regression in regards to reproductive rights. In fact making it easier for people to have children with larger tax credits and subsidized early childhood eduction would provide people more freedom to have children if they so wish. Perhaps you are thinking that natalism will create child-bearing norms that will create informal social penalties on the childless or those who have only one child, but as I have suggested and the OP has made clear, there are many ways to cancel the debt from free riding on other adults doing the work of rearing the future workforce on which all will depend.

149

RNB 07.12.16 at 3:13 pm

@148 Would be interested in how the parent of 3 used that fact in a moral dispute. Did the parent claim a general immunity to moral criticism? That’s ridiculous. Did that person have different moral expectations justified in part by parenthood? Maybe also ridiculous. But not enough to go on here.

150

faustusnotes 07.12.16 at 3:21 pm

The living arrangements have historically been that the eldest son (in practice, his wife) cares for the aging parents. This is obviously untenable when many families have only one child (since one family, usually the woman’s, loses their carer). Alternative arrangements are being put in place and they massively increase the efficiency with which the near- and just-retired are employed, as well as the quality of life of those people.

As for taxes and other transfers – Japan has a very low women’s participation rate, which can be increased easily, a low consumption tax, and a health insurance system that can be tinkered with. It has options.

Two options that do not make any difference to the future dependency ratio are increasing births and increasing immigration. You will note that Britain just exited from the Euro on the basis of an immigration figure of probably 200,000 per year. Any policy that would just halt Japan’s dependency ratio requires 800,000 a year. Which brings us to two very important questions: 1) if Britain can’t handle 200,000, why does anyone think Japan can (or should) handle 800,000? And 2) given that Britain took 15 years to enter a shared economic zone, and has a language common to the whole globe in order to hit its immigration numbers, why do people insist that Japan, with a language not shared anywhere else on earth and no shared economic zone, will be able to casually increase its immigration figures to double that?

(Related questions: Where will these migrants come from, and what will happen when China, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore join the battle for young workers in the Pacific?)

This problem is shared by Japan, the UK, Germany, Italy, South Korea, China, Taiwan, Thailand, Singapore … because this “problem” is the inevitable consequence of investing in health. It is not a “problem”, but the natural consequence of investing in health. There is no stopping it or avoiding it, although some countries think they have because they have achieved a temporary halt in the millenia-long trend towards lower birth rates. The whole trend of human civilization is towards women having less children, and anyone who stands in the way of that is both a fool and a scoundrel. Our job as rational adults is to find a way to manage this wonderful achievement of human society, not to try and reverse it.

I don’t think that dismissing those of us who ride this millenia-long wave as free-riders is a particularly forward-thinking approach.

151

faustusnotes 07.12.16 at 3:26 pm

RNB @150, you’re talking about doubling the TFR of some of these countries. Many people talk about “replacement” being a TFR of 1.8 or 2.2, but this is only possible in countries that have just recently dipped below the 1.8 level. There is a thing called demographic momentum and it is a punishing thing: once you get below that replacement level for long you really have to crank up the baby-production to reverse the effects. In practice this means that you need TFRs over 2.5. The difference between 2.5 and 1.8 may not seem like much but it is huge and you are not going to get there with child birth “incentives” because no modern woman wants that many children. Look at the vicious maths of this: for every woman who has 1 child, another woman needs to have 4. How many women under the age of 80 do you know who had 4 children? Do you think that realistically women with 4 children can hold down working class jobs? Your natalist ideas are a myth, or more realistically: you won’t get there without ripping back 50 years of women’s gains in health, labour and education.

There is no escaping the trap of development. We need to find a new way, and I’m sorry to tell you that your noble contribution of children is not going to be part of it.

152

RNB 07.12.16 at 3:26 pm

@152 Off to work but the traditional ways of taking care of the elderly have long been changing in Japan, from what I understand. Hope others take up the discussion today.

153

Moby Hick 07.12.16 at 3:51 pm

I would, but daycare arrangements fell through.

154

RNB 07.12.16 at 6:31 pm

@141 I had referred to Marx on the flame of living labor to call attention to the fact that without rearing a future labor force the capital that this generation bequeaths to the next one would be inert.

A little Marxology, Marx describes in Capital, I, ch. 7 (living) labor as the living ferment combined with lifeless means of production. In the Grundrisse (living) labor is described as the form giving fire. And I don’t think it’s been pointed out before Marx’s language in the Grundrisse seems derived from Empedocles, that rich doctor from present day Sicily.Empedocles after all singled out fire of the four elements because it seemed more of an action and it can be used to change the three states of matter of or combinations of them into the things we see, or to change one state into another–ice to water, water to steam. Without fire, he reasoned, the world of things must rely on accidental collisions and linkages to change.For Marx labor is the form giving fire.

155

Faustusnotes 07.12.16 at 9:48 pm

Yes rnb, traditional caring arrangements are changing under the pressure of urbanization and declining birth rates. The entire informal care sector needs to be shaken up, and that’s my point – if we introduce proper efficiencies into these informal care sectors that have traditionally been handled by voluntary work by women, we don’t need to fear aging. The same thing happened with schooling in the 19th century, with a huge and lasting benefit for all of society. Now it needs to happen at the end of life too.

156

Mario 07.12.16 at 10:00 pm

@faustusnotes: Let’s answer some hard questions with harder questions :-)

Do you think that realistically women with 4 children can hold down working class jobs?

It would be a pity if they couldn’t, right?

Your natalist ideas are a myth, or more realistically: you won’t get there without ripping back 50 years of women’s gains in health, labour and education.

How, then, can a society where women’s rights are taken seriously expect to survive on the long run? This is a serious question.

While I can understand the point that having four children probably is distracting if you are trying to have e.g. a university career, I simply do not see why giving birth to four children, and raising them, is less worthwhile, or less respectable, or less anything, actually, than writing a few books and being celebrated among certain circles that, for whatever reason, currently get to define what is celebrable.

Or, to put it differently, consider this narrative. “I’m so happy I didn’t have four children, which would be adults by now, instead spending my time becoming an expert in Java EE technologies for XML storage in , working in a team of 135 other experts”. Why is it that that something like that sounds even slightly plausible?

Also, I take issue with your assumption that a family with four children automatically reverts to mistreating their mother.

157

Rich Puchalsky 07.12.16 at 10:00 pm

Lupita: “First, there is no society. Now, there is no family. Next, there is no life. Way to go, neoliberals!”

Faustusnotes: “The entire informal care sector needs to be shaken up, and that’s my point – if we introduce proper efficiencies into these informal care sectors”

There’s no way for me to say what I think of this whole thread without getting banned by Maria, so … enjoy the link of my comment above with pictures of Los Angeles murals depicting the Virgin of Guadalupe. L.A. still has influence from the Mexican muralism tradition.

158

Matt 07.12.16 at 11:23 pm

How, then, can a society where women’s rights are taken seriously expect to survive on the long run? This is a serious question.

How can a society where the fertility rate always stays above replacement expect to survive in the long run? This is also a serious question.

The history of world population before the Industrial Revolution — from what incomplete evidence remains — seems to be one of boom and bust and only slow century-to-century aggregate changes. “The boom goes on forever” is not any more realistic an outlook or plan than “the bust goes on forever.”

159

J-D 07.13.16 at 12:16 pm

How, then, can a society where women’s rights are taken seriously expect to survive on the long run? This is a serious question.

In the long run, we are all dead. That’s a serious answer. It’s not just true of each of us individually. Eventually — in the long run — every group will become extinct, and so will the entire human species. That’s a trap there’s no way out of, a fate that we’re stuck with.

I don’t expect that proper treatment of women as well as men will the thing that (by collapsing the birth rate) brings about the end of humanity. But since I know that sooner or later something certainly will be (the thing that brings about the end of humanity), I would be prepared (if the choice lay with me) to accept the risk. If treating people decently means that we die out, then maybe we’ll just have to die out. You weren’t planning on living forever, were you?

160

RNB 07.13.16 at 5:26 pm

Faustusnotes,
If we have a shortage of care labor for the elderly due to declining fertility presently, I hope that the rationalizations for which you are calling don’t look like this.

Health Care and Profits, a Poor Mix
Eduardo Porter
New York Times
ECONOMIC SCENE JAN. 8, 2013

Thirty years ago, Bonnie Svarstad and Chester Bond of the School of Pharmacy at the University of Wisconsin-Madison discovered an interesting pattern in the use of sedatives at nursing homes in the south of the state.

Patients entering church-affiliated nonprofit homes were prescribed drugs roughly as often as those entering profit-making “proprietary” institutions. But patients in proprietary homes received, on average, more than four times the dose of patients at nonprofits.

Writing about his colleagues’ research in his 1988 book “The Nonprofit Economy,” the economist Burton Weisbrod provided a straightforward explanation: “differences in the pursuit of profit.” Sedatives are cheap, Mr. Weisbrod noted. “Less expensive than, say, giving special attention to more active patients who need to be kept busy.”

161

Faustusnotes 07.13.16 at 10:51 pm

Mario, I’m not making normative statements, I’m simply observing the way the world works. If you want to reverse the “problem” of aging you need to make women have more children, and right now that’s not what women want to do. So there has to be an element of coercion. I’m not saying the family will treat the mother badly, but that society has to treat women badly to reverse their wish to have just one child. Can you describe the social arrangements in which women choose to have four children, in societies where they are currently choosing to have 1.5?

Rich, what’s wrong with my statement about shaking up informal care? You don’t want women liberated from the responsibility for unpaid care of their husband’s parents?

162

RNB 07.14.16 at 12:35 am

Faustusnotes,
If we have a shortage of care labor for the elderly due to declining fertility presently, I hope that the rationalizations for which you are calling don’t look like this.

Health Care and Profits, a Poor Mix
Eduardo Porter
New York Times
ECONOMIC SCENE JAN. 8, 2013

Thirty years ago, Bonnie Svarstad and Chester Bond of the School of Pharmacy at the University of Wisconsin-Madison discovered an interesting pattern in the use of sedatives at nursing homes in the south of the state.

Patients entering church-affiliated nonprofit homes were prescribed drugs roughly as often as those entering profit-making “proprietary” institutions. But patients in proprietary homes received, on average, more than four times the dose of patients at nonprofits.

Writing about his colleagues’ research in his 1988 book “The Nonprofit Economy,” the economist Burton Weisbrod provided a straightforward explanation: “differences in the pursuit of profit.” Sedatives are cheap, Mr. Weisbrod noted. “Less expensive than, say, giving special attention to more active patients who need to be kept busy.”

163

js. 07.14.16 at 1:24 am

Seeing if this works.

164

js. 07.14.16 at 1:27 am

Holy shit, I can post again! For some reason, CT was refusing to accept my comments over the last two days—they just wouldn’t post. If this continues to work, my response to alexh from two days ago will be in the next box.

165

js. 07.14.16 at 1:28 am

[Two days late!]

alexh @136 — I don’t think “free riding” is pejorative so much as a specific term with a specific meaning. Roughly: (1a) enjoying the benefits of some social arrangement/practice/institution (1b) where there is a reasonable expectation of more-or-less well defined contribution by the members enjoying said benefits, (2) but without making the (reasonably defined) contribution. When you are talking about people who’ve paid the FICA tax for at least a decade (which I believe is what you need to qualify for benefits), it seems bizarre to me to speak about free riders. (Compare: you ride the bus, you pay the bus fare, but you don’t yourself get down to pour the macadam on which the bus will ride. Are you a free rider? Quite obviously not.)

The question you’re asking about whether parents “do more” is anyway a different question than the one about free riding. Do parents as a class do more for SS than the childless? I don’t know—it would depend on a lot of things, but in some sense possibly. But this is a line of argument I’d want to back away from extremely fast and extremely far because it leads to categories and distinctions (e.g. between the “deserving poor” and the “underserving poor”, and other such) that I want absolutely nothing to have to do with.

166

RNB 07.14.16 at 2:08 am

checking too. last messages have not gone through.

167

RNB 07.14.16 at 2:13 am

look forward to alexh continuing discussion on ss with js which no matter how much he has earned or entitled to through his payment of taxes today js will still not receive unless someone who is also paying taxes today is also rearing the next generation now.

I would note in reply to faustus notes that if we have a shortage of care labor for the elderly due to declining fertility presently, the efficiencies for which fn is calling could look something like this

Eduardo Porter
Health Care and Profits, a Poor Mix

Thirty years ago, Bonnie Svarstad and Chester Bond of the School of Pharmacy at the University of Wisconsin-Madison discovered an interesting pattern in the use of sedatives at nursing homes in the south of the state.

Patients entering church-affiliated nonprofit homes were prescribed drugs roughly as often as those entering profit-making “proprietary” institutions. But patients in proprietary homes received, on average, more than four times the dose of patients at nonprofits.

Writing about his colleagues’ research in his 1988 book “The Nonprofit Economy,” the economist Burton Weisbrod provided a straightforward explanation: “differences in the pursuit of profit.” Sedatives are cheap, Mr. Weisbrod noted. “Less expensive than, say, giving special attention to more active patients who need to be kept busy.”

168

RNB 07.14.16 at 2:16 am

oh well message did not go through because I copied what I had written earlier and been put on moderation. perhaps one day it will appear. basic point is that efficiencies in elderly care have been achieved by heavily sedating the elderly and that we should expect this kind of thing if there is huge shortage of care labor in the future due in part to declining fertility today.
second point was that parents are also paying taxes today and are entitled to social security. But no one will receive social security unless someone is rearing the next generation of workers; people who even have a moral claim to it will not receive it without someone doing the work of rearing the next generation, and these people also pay social security taxes.

169

Rich Puchalsky 07.14.16 at 2:17 am

Most commonly if the site is blocking all of your messages without them showing up as needing moderation then it has blocked your IP address for some mysterious reason. If you reset the IP address that your device is using that will usually do it.

170

ZM 07.14.16 at 3:43 am

My comments haven’t been going through either.

RNB “basic point is that efficiencies in elderly care have been achieved by heavily sedating the elderly and that we should expect this kind of thing if there is huge shortage of care labor in the future due in part to declining fertility today.”

With better health a lot of elderly people don’t need as much care these days. My mum has made it clear she doesn’t want to go into a nursing home, I think a lot of people don’t really want to live in nursing homes unless it becomes absolutely necessary to have round the clock nursing.

There was a good article in the newspaper about a week ago by the journalist Wendy Squires saying she and some of her friends planned to pool their money and buy a property to share together in their retirement. It sounded quite fun : “I have made a deal with some of my nearest, dearest and silliest to see out our withering, dithering years together. We are planning on a Best Exotic Marigold Hotel experience, only on a large property, hopefully near water, bought with our pooled assets.”

“second point was that parents are also paying taxes today and are entitled to social security. But no one will receive social security unless someone is rearing the next generation of workers; people who even have a moral claim to it will not receive it without someone doing the work of rearing the next generation, and these people also pay social security taxes.”

But social security isn’t a savings account. The idea is that everyone in the jurisdictions lives in a commonwealth and at times people may need government income support. I have a disability and can’t work at the moment, and I don’t have children either, what you are saying is a bit hurtful and offensive. I will be able to work again since the disability I have is a fluctuating disability, but some people might never be able to work in their lives. One of my cousins have a child with cerebral palsy, she might be able to do some work when she is older, but maybe she never will. It doesn’t make her a “free rider”.

171

RNB 07.14.16 at 4:55 am

From each according to one’s ability, to each according to one’s need. That is a moral ideal. Free riding is a technical term (see js above). Assume that marginal productivity theory is true in a technical sense (it’s not because the quantity of capital can’t be determined without already knowing the rate of profit that has been putatively determined by the marginal product of an already known quantity of capital); at any rate, it does not follow on the assumption that marginal productivity theory is true that each factor (or its owner) deserves or should receive a reward commensurate with its marginal product.

Assume that someone is free-riding in a technical sense; it does not follow that this person should contribute to the production of the public good or be deprived of it. In many cases that normative conclusion would indeed be reasonable if the person did not find another way to cancel the debt (and the OP makes it clear that there are many ways to do this). But not all. And certainly not in the case of those suffering a disability.

Next point: we are in the midst of radical advances in longevity. Many people will not be healthy enough for independent living into their advanced years. On sedating the elderly there was a great article by Eduardo Porter on health care and profits not mixing in the New York Times.

172

RNB 07.14.16 at 5:01 am

173

ZM 07.14.16 at 5:39 am

Where I live there are a lot of services to help the elderly live independently for as long as possible, like Meals On Wheels, and the Shire council have staff to help the elderly with shopping and cleaning and those sorts of things.

A town in my region is hoping to become the home to Australia’s first dementia village, “The proposed facility would include accommodation for about 150 residents, as well as shops, cafes and parkland, designed to be both safe and stimulating from people living with dementia.

“This is actually letting them live a higher quality of life and letting their families see them living this quality of life,” he said, also explaining the village would reduce the need for sedation and physical restraint of dementia patients.

Early plans for the village have been modeled from Hogewey, a similar facility in the Netherlands visited by members of the Heathcote steering committee in July last year.

Alzheimers Australia Vic chief executive officer Maree McCabe welcomed plans for the dementia village, and hoped the government would get behind the project.

She said the environment in which people living with dementia received care influenced their health, with social engagement capable of reducing the severity of dementia symptoms.

“Healthy diet and exercise are also really important, and if people can feel free to walk around the community safely, it is a massive benefit,” Ms McCabe said.

“It doesn’t work to have people live in environments that don’t support them.”

The groundbreaking healthcare facility would not only be a boon for patient health, but also provide Heathcote residents with an opportunity for training and employment, Mr Douglass said.

“We’ve got a population of people we can train, put into meaningful work and it really will address unemployment,” he said.

“Almost overnight it would give us a vibrant economy not dependent on wineries, people passing through or the mines.””

http://www.bendigoadvertiser.com.au/story/3925738/dementia-village-a-game-changer-for-heathcote/

174

ZM 07.14.16 at 5:49 am

And there are ways to make places better at promoting independence in people with disabilities as well, for example the City of Sydney has a really good way finding strategy which includes signage in braille.

http://www.cityofsydney.nsw.gov.au/vision/towards-2030/transport-and-access/liveable-green-network/wayfinding-signage

With more independence there is less need for either caring by family members or being institutionalised.

175

faustusnotes 07.14.16 at 6:05 am

RNB I’m glad your comment didn’t get through because the idea that the only way we can achieve efficiencies in elderly care is by sedating the elderly is ridiculous. You seem to be arguing that the only viable model of care for the elderly is one in which we have two elderly for every carer – or are you saying you prefer a model where people care for their own parents? Can you not conceive of any rearrangement of elderly care arrangements that would be more efficient and better for human rights than that we have now, and that would simultaneously free up adult labour and improve the condition of those being cared for?

176

RNB 07.14.16 at 6:33 am

Missing point, fs. If fertility collapses and there is neither the monetary resources to finance a robust social security system nor the personnel to take care of the elderly well–remember Chris B’s cynical reaction to Brexit of letting older voters expel those on whom their comfortable retirement depends–then the elderly will be taken care of cheaply. What this may mean, we can see from what happens when old age homes are privatized. To cut costs, care workers are replaced by sedatives to make the population manageable cheaply. Or those who are working will be taxed so heavily that they will have to work additional hours at the expense of their lives and health. If fertility collapses, not only are many future retirees free riding on working parents; the present generation may well be imposing obscene levels of exploitation on the next generation.

177

faustusnotes 07.14.16 at 7:14 am

RNB, you seem to think that caring for the elderly will consume the entire workforce. I’ve provided calculations showing the possibility that a transition from informal caring to well-managed caring can lead to a lower burden of work than we currently experience, freeing up more workers to do other things. You don’t seem to want to engage with any direct calculations, preferring instead broad statements about privatization of elderly care homes.

Fertility is collapsing throughout the developed world, and will continue to do so. Of course no one here is advocating no one have children or that we should move to a zero children society, but having children has become a lifestyle choice for a large part of the developed world, and like all lifestyle choices people making it want to do it as well as possible, and are choosing to do it less to ensure they do it well. There is literally no alternative to this scenario, but you don’t seem to be willing to consider anything except dire consequences from it …

178

RNB 07.14.16 at 7:37 am

There is an alternative: subsidize child-rearing. Even if it does not lead to an increase in child-rearing–and how could it not help?– at least it will reduce the burdens on parents, especially those early in the life cycle of earnings who cannot afford early childhood education. Plus, I see no reason not to challenge corrosive cultural talk about how parents who have two kids or more are nothing but first-class narcissists wanting to secure immortal glory through the relative victories that their children achieve, and who are in fact even more narcissistic than those who decide not to raise the next generation on whom we will all depend. It’s time to change the culture and policy as well, or Japan.

ps your numbers do not show that a society that is aging in the way Japan is will not put intolerable burdens on those who are working.

179

Maria 07.14.16 at 7:57 am

Re. Comments not getting through; sorry, folks. That’s odd. I’ll check if any are caught in the filter.

180

faustusnotes 07.14.16 at 8:00 am

I don’t believe subsidizing child-rearing will make much difference to the aging problem, though there are solid reasons to do this (all the ones you describe). Did you know that Japan already has a baby bonus and has had generous maternity leave rules (way better than Australia, the US and UK) for years now? Yet it makes no difference, the fertility rate continues to decline. You can make it easier for women to have children and they will still choose not to, because that is the direction our societies have been heading in since we came down from the trees.

I also don’t think that subsidizing child-rearing and putting in place proper protections for working mothers will necessarily enable women to have 3 or 4 children and maintain their careers or have anything resembling economic parity with men. I just can’t see most women being able to juggle four children and a career. Sure, it’s possible that we could construct a society where men’s careers will be equally at risk, but I don’t see that happening because it will still be the woman who takes time out of work for the birth, and even if it did, it’s not an improvement. If you want equity and you want child-rearing to be a wonderful and transformative experience, don’t force people to have 3 or 4 children. And if you want to fix aging society by increasing fertility, you should answer honestly the question of what part of society is going to be forced to bear the 3 or 4 children.

I don’t see parents as first-class narcissists but when I hear the kind of tosh that Leadsom was spouting – particularly coming from someone who denies global warming and is affiliated with an organization like ALEC – it makes me very angry. I also don’t like to hear the “it’s transformative” guff, or that stuff about how parents are less selfish, when I have to weigh that against my experience of the parents I knew when I was a child. I’m sorry, but parenting is an institution with a long history of abuse, and if you want to sing its positive qualities then you need to find a way to handle those negatives in your narrative.

181

Maria 07.14.16 at 8:03 am

Just released a bunch of comments from moderation. Not sure why they were in there. We’ll investigate. Sorry if this has snarled up the flow.

182

RNB 07.14.16 at 8:06 am

Subsidized child care can raise the birth rate; so can undermining patriarchy.
http://www.economist.com/news/international/21659763-people-rich-countries-can-be-coaxed-having-more-children-lazy-husbands-and
The response to abusive, patriarchal parenting is not to eliminate parenting on which this generation in fact depends. Nobody has proposed forcing anyone to have kids.

183

ZM 07.14.16 at 8:37 am

RNB,

“at least it will reduce the burdens on parents, especially those early in the life cycle of earnings who cannot afford early childhood education. “

In Australia we have subsidised or free early childhood education in kindergarten http://www.education.vic.gov.au/childhood/parents/kindergarten/Pages/fees.aspx#link13 Parents also get family tax benefits and other subsidies.

“ps your numbers do not show that a society that is aging in the way Japan is will not put intolerable burdens on those who are working.”

The newspaper article I quoted above says less than 10% of people over 65 live in a household with one of their children (6.9%). My grandfather lived at home until his late 80s and my uncle and his family visited often since they lived in the next suburb and they helped with shopping sometimes and things like that. My uncle and aunt both worked at the time.

Japan recognises it has an ageing population. In terms of urban planning policy, which I am most familiar with, it is moving away from policy focusing on economic growth to policy focussing on the quality of space and sustainability. There is urban planning policy to make spaces more inclusive for older people.

I think with the environmental problems we have now an ageing and shrinking population is not a bad thing, but countries will need to work out adequate policy. Some of Japan’s policy is to encourage more women into the workforce and encourage companies to give promotions to women as well as providing maternity leave, and also to import more manufactured goods rather than manufacturing as much in Japan. But another policy they could have would be to encourage reductions in consumption.

184

Walt 07.14.16 at 9:19 am

Okay, this Cambridge Capital Controversy nonsense has to stop. Marginal productivity theory does not require a rate of profit to determine the quantity of capital or anything like that. Marginal productivity theory might be wrong (and I think probably is wrong), but not because of anything Joan Robinson said.

185

Faustusnotes 07.14.16 at 3:10 pm

Rnb, ask around. How many women do you know who want 3 or 4 children? If they don’t, how is the state going to make them?

I gave you a concrete example of a country that has good hold care and maternity leave arrangements and financial incentives for childbirth but has declining fertility rates. Why are you wasting my time with the economist, of all things?

186

bianca steele 07.14.16 at 3:14 pm

I actually know several women who have three or more children. Some have nannies, some stopped working at some point. I know a woman with five children who still works, though not full-time hours (she’s the head coach for a high school sports team). They are all fairly affluent people.

187

Lynne 07.14.16 at 3:22 pm

@187, 188 Of the four families whose yards border ours, one has two children while three have three children. (Oddly, all these children except one are girls). My niece is expecting twins this summer, who will be her fifth and sixth children. A good friend has four children.

I have been assuming all these families are in the minority (and I do believe they probably are, given some comments some of the parents have made). I have heard a number of people cite the expense as the reason they are limiting their families to two children, though.

It does seem to me that if society wants the next generation to be educated, day care and university should not be as expensive as they are. Our (my husband’s and my) retirement looks less rosy than it would have if we hadn’t paid so much toward university, and one of our sons still has a hefty student debt.

188

Mario 07.14.16 at 7:02 pm

I’m not saying the family will treat the mother badly, but that society has to treat women badly to reverse their wish to have just one child.

I think you are mistaken.

At the moment, women that want to have children feel like they have to first do this, and that, and that thing too, and have this, etc. and time passes and passes. This is very much our society manipulating them to be a certain way and not another. It happens to men, too, but men can’t give birth to children. I would say society is mistreating women by convincing them that their biographies have to be like that of men if they want to be allowed to feel any self worth.

Can you describe the social arrangements in which women choose to have four children, in societies where they are currently choosing to have 1.5?

A lot of women in these societies are already wanting to have more than “1.5”, and quite a few actually do have four or more. I know some, and they aren’t exactly a pile of stay-at-home misery (because having children, just so you know, is very rewarding, fulfilling and fun, even counting in the times they shower you in vomit).

A lot of women just wait too long, and then it’s too late to have more than one or two children. It would be a step forward to convince them to have their first child earlier, because then maybe more would follow.

Show more respect to motherhood and stop pretending it’s a disaster, I would say. It’s the 21st century, and mothers don’t have to disappear behind household chores any longer for it to work out well.

189

RNB 07.14.16 at 7:27 pm

@186 Paul Samuelson conceded defeat to Joan Robinson whom you Walt are accusing of spewing nonsense. Jonathan Schlefer’s The Assumptions Economists Make is good on this. The zombie theory of marginal productivity theory is not always taken up in even critical accounts of economic ideas.

190

RNB 07.14.16 at 7:31 pm

@187 To avoid looming demographic problems it seems that Japan will have to rethink the role of the state in assisting with childhood responsibilities and rethink its gender norms, and/or allow itself to become a multicultural society by accepting more immigrants. See Sawako Shirahase in Japan: The Precarious Future, ed. Frank Baldwin.

191

Ronan(rf) 07.14.16 at 7:35 pm

If your theory is true, (ie that women are manipulated into low birth rates, spend too much time trying to build a career, too eager to take on traditionally male roles etc) then how do you explain declining fertility in countries where this is not as relevant?

https://mobile.twitter.com/MaxCRoser/status/752607141840711680/photo/1.

Surely the other story, that as female literacy increase fertility decreases, is more plausible.
I mean, I agree with you that parenting should be valued more highly by our societies, but you’re really just generalizing from your preferences here (although it is CT, so I guess that’s not unusual)

192

Ronan(rf) 07.14.16 at 7:36 pm

Above to mario

193

Walt 07.14.16 at 7:59 pm

Samuelson conceded defeat on a specific point 50 years ago. At which point everyone like you stopped paying attention to anything happening in mainstream economics, because nobody today would think of it the antique way that people thought of it back then.

The (correct) point is that you can’t necessarily aggregate different capital goods into a single good. That’s basically always true — you can’t necessarily aggregate different kinds of labor either. Under marginal productivity theory, you just don’t aggregate. You treat each separate input as a separate input, and then each input earns its marginal product. This is how it’s taught in every microeconomics textbook. Oddly, the problems in the specific procedure of computing the rate of profit (which is now known as the internal rate of return) are now taught in business schools as the reason to use net present value instead.

Honestly, having worked for a living I find it less plausible that I get paid my marginal product than the manufacturers of some piece of equipment ever did. It’s considerably harder to evaluate my contribution versus that of a machine’s.

194

RNB 07.14.16 at 8:07 pm

Walt: “Under marginal productivity theory, you just don’t aggregate. You treat each separate input as a separate input, and then each input earns its marginal product. This is how it’s taught in every microeconomics textbook.”
I agree that neoclassical economics did solve the aggregation problem this way, and the Cambridge Capital Critique was not a knockout blow to technical neoclassical economics but only to certain parables as Samuelson called them that still circulate. I am halfway through Fishman and Sullivan’s Inner Life of Markets. It gets Marx really wrong. It talks about the limits of General Equilibrium Theory, the problems of information and signaling, and the problems of auction design. Will finish it. But does not seem to be so good on causes of recessions or the nature of work. So I am going to keep studying this Marx stuff while checking in the neoclassical economics profession.

195

RNB 07.14.16 at 8:10 pm

Also as a living being who must eat and perhaps support a family it’s harder to hold out for a wage commensurate with one’s “marginal product” than it is for an owner of a machine. Bargaining POWER and all that stuff left out of neoclassical economics.

196

RNB 07.14.16 at 8:12 pm

Ok will stop derailing thread with econ talk. got talking about this because I wanted to disentangle a technical description of free riding (as provided by js) from the normative use to which it is often badly put. We can disentangle a technical analysis of marginal products from a normative commitment to making sure factors are paid marginal products.

197

js. 07.14.16 at 8:29 pm

The thing I love about the Cambridge Capital Controversy is that it’s so alliterative! Still, it would be more than a little weird if anything at issue here turned on it.

198

js. 07.14.16 at 8:41 pm

I hadn’t seen RNB’s @198 when I posted my last. But RNB, what you’re calling my “technical description” has a normative aspect built into it. There are other “normative” uses, I suppose, but they seem to me like misuses (of “free riding”). Either way, my (bog standard) description of free riding is explictly general enough to avoid any commitments about mechanisms of compensation, etc. So I’m not sure why you think you could get any mileage out of it one way or another re marginal product, capital aggregation, etc. (E.g., there’s no reason my description wouldn’t apply in a non-market society with nothing like capital in its technical sense, etc.)

Anyway, this would quickly get extremely off-topic if it hasn’t already, so might not pursue this further.

199

bob mcmanus 07.14.16 at 8:48 pm

So I am going to keep studying this Marx stuff while checking in the neoclassical economics profession.

About 1/3 through Anwar Shaikh’s Capitalism 2016 and it seems very good and comprehensive, if technical and academic. Both micro and macro, Shaikh would probably call himself classical, but usually chooses Marx over Smith and Ricardo (or Sraffa). As a serious Marxian he concentrates on profits, and while recognizing labour struggle, might say that any high wage economy is not stable in the medium term. Waves at Kondratieff. Anyway, recommended.

200

RNB 07.14.16 at 9:03 pm

Yes, your def of free riding had a normative component. I should not have lazily latched on to your definition and should have made some effort on my own.

My usage is not in the first instance normative. We simply have some kind of good from which many people will benefit but for the cost of which some beneficiaries did not contribute or contribute equally in some sense. This means the costs of those goods will fall heavily on those who do not exclusively benefit from the good.

This heavy bearing of costs could lead to the under-provision of the good the overall social benefits of which are clearly greater than their costs. I take these to be primarily empirical claims though there are some normative difficulties here.

At any rate, it does not follow from this that only those who have paid should have a right to the good or that one has to pay an equal share as others to enjoy the good. Whether we want to deem this situation unfair or what we want to do about it are normative questions.

It could be argued that since the parents are so happy raising their kids we perhaps should not be worried about whether they are unfairly paying the money and time costs for the future generation from which others who did not carry this money cost will benefit. One could suggest that since parents are the kinds of people (or suckers?) who derive immense psychic benefits from parenting they are actually getting rewards commensurate with their costs, and those who enjoy the benefits of a future workforce need not help make those parents whole in any way.

I think this is a huge underestimation of the sacrifices of parenting from which society as a whole benefits; moreover, it risks the under(re)production of the future generation on which in fact society depends.

201

RNB 07.14.16 at 9:05 pm

@201 Great. Got a copy of the Shaikh right behind me.

202

TM 07.14.16 at 9:25 pm

Angela Merkel has no children. Is anybody aware of this being held against her?

203

Mario 07.14.16 at 9:33 pm

Ronan(rf) @193:

1) Our western culture plays a larger role than superficially visible due to tv and cinema. It’s coca-cola, walt-disney (and harry potter, etc) from pole to pole.

2) Everywhere in the world women are and were getting way too bad a deal from being mothers. As soon as they got a say in the matter, however tenuous, they used it. It’s time to give them a better deal.

(The situation in Iran is interesting. TFR of 2 according to the graph you posted, and lots and lots of female engineers.)

The women I know that have three or more children seem quite happy and reasonably content with their deals. They certainly aren’t illiterate. They aren’t rich either (by western standards, of course). And that’s the context of what I have been saying, not Saudi Arabia.

(Incidentally, the graph you posted makes the idea of solving the problem through immigration sound pretty depredatory)

you’re really just generalizing from your preferences here.

Oh no. It’s you who is doing that! Just try to explain what you think is the mechanism by which literacy makes women want fewer children, and watch your preferences have a parade.

It doesn’t matter. The children of those that have them will inherit the planet. It would still be a good planet even if it got 10 degrees warmer and was covered with octogenarians. The childless nonriders (it’s a better term than freeriders, I think) will be drugged and dumped into robotic antidecubitus devices if they turn out to be too much of a burden at old age – and that’s if they are lucky.

204

js. 07.14.16 at 9:54 pm

@Mario — It’s well attested that rising literacy rates for women are correlated with lowering birth rates. Sen did some really important work on this in 80’s/90’s, if I remember correctly. In any case, I think it’s available widely, tho I haven’t had occasion to check recently. The point applies to developing countries mostly, which tend to start from lower literacy rates. Still, it’s not as it’s not known.

205

Ronan(rf) 07.14.16 at 9:58 pm

“The explanatory variable that has been most clearly identified by demographers is not the per capita GDP, but the literacy level of women. The correlation coefficient linking the rate of fertility to the level of female literacy is always very high..”

A Convergence of Civilizations: The Transformation of Muslim Societies Around the World by Emmanuel Todd, Youssef Courbage

Most of the women (and men) I know with 3plus kids also seem reasonably happy and literate. So what? I am not assuming they are personally illiterate or unhappy or misguided, I’m saying the evidence supports an argument that runs from greater female choice (literacy, independence etc) to having less children, not from brainwashing to lower fertility.
Beyond that, I don’t know why you think I disagree with your larger point, that there’s a lot of value to parenting. As much, even, as spending your evenings coding or writing research articles (or whatever your comparison was)

206

LFC 07.14.16 at 10:11 pm

bob mcmanus @201

Waves at Kondratieff

props for injecting a bit of humor into the thread

207

Faustusnotes 07.14.16 at 10:30 pm

These women with 3 or 4 children who are happy (did I say they wouldn’t be? The have obviously made a choice so they should be) – are they train drivers, cleaners, factory shift workers? Or are they academics and professionals?

My point was (obviously) not that women can’t be happy with 3 or 4 children but that forcing hem to have 3 or 4 children (which is necessary in a natalist policy) will make them happy and interfere with their ability to work. I am surprised that this idea is controversial to anyone. As the idea that women are being “tricked” by society into having children later… Hmmm.

Rnb are you suggesting the Japanese state should back out of offering childcare (which seems much more available here than overseas) or maternity leave in order to encourage higher fertility…?

208

Guy Harris 07.15.16 at 1:39 am

Mario@205:

It would still be a good planet even if it got 10 degrees warmer

Good for some life forms, but probably not for homo sapiens.

209

Peter T 07.15.16 at 2:07 am

There’s no way “free-riding”, however described, is not a normative position. It rests on the normative proposition that people should be rewarded in proportion to their contribution. This is not a proposition with which most would agree – and that’s before the issues of how “contribution” is to be measured or rewards allocated.

Declining birth rates is a standard human response to perceived declining resource opportunities. In the European middle ages, for instance, ages of marriage and celibacy rates changed with access to agricultural land. Anyway, as faustus notes, we have to go through the transition one way or another pretty soon, so the only choice is to manage it sensibly.

210

ZM 07.15.16 at 2:29 am

I think that “free riding” is not the sort of language you use for technical terms. It really sounds like rhetorical term expressing normative criticism not a technical term to me.

In economics it seems to be used as a term for a problem of collective action —

“In many contexts, all of the individual members of a group can benefit from the efforts of each member and all can benefit substantially from collective action. For example, if each of us pollutes less by paying a bit extra for our cars, we all benefit from the reduction of harmful gases in the air we breathe and even in the reduced harm to the ozone layer that protects us against exposure to carcinogenic ultraviolet radiation (although those with fair skin benefit far more from the latter than do those with dark skin).

If all of us or some subgroup of us prefer the state of affairs in which we each pay this bit over the state of affairs in which we do not, then the provision of cleaner air is a collective good for us. (If it costs more than it is worth to us, then its provision is not a collective good for us.)

Unfortunately, my polluting less does not matter enough for anyone—especially me—to notice. Therefore, I may not contribute my share toward not fouling the atmosphere. I may be a free rider (or freerider) on the beneficial actions of others. This is a compelling instance of the logic of collective action, an instance of such grave import that we pass laws to regulate the behavior of individuals to force them to pollute less.”
http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/free-rider/

If you look at population as a factor in a collection action problem you have to define what the problem is.

The basic facts appear to be :

1. The human population is really high now at over 7 billion people. Population predictions expect the human population to rise to about 10 billion and then stabilise.

2. This is really a very high population already with a lot of environmental impacts.

3. But the environmental impacts of this high human population can be reduced with decreasing consumption, better waste management, better water management, programs to improve biodiversity, reducing greenhouse gas emissions etc

4. Welfare state economics appear to have been based on a growing population providing more taxation revenue to the State

5. Population growth is declining or reversing in much of the world

—————————————————————

So what are the collective action problems from this set of basic facts?

A. Decreasing environmental impacts of a global human population that looks set to increase to 10 billion people

B. Developing national and global economies that facilitate decreased environmental impacts while the global population grows to 10 billion

C. Developing national and global economies that facilitate human welfare while birth rates decline and environmental problems are remedied

—————————————————————

Both parents and non-parents can contribute to these collective action problems. Their contributions may not be the same, but they can be broadly equitable

211

js. 07.15.16 at 2:35 am

There’s no way “free-riding”, however described, is not a normative position. It rests on the normative proposition that people should be rewarded in proportion to their contribution.

Peter T, the first sentence I totally agree with. But the second is wrong. On a natural reading, “from each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs” is not a proportional principle in your sense, but you can raise free riding problems with respect to it. (I have an almost inexplicably deep fascination with the free riding problem, even though I think it’s basically not a problem, i.e. even where it exists one rarely needs to worry about it much.)

212

Peter T 07.15.16 at 4:35 am

js

Fair point, noting that “from each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs” is also normative. Basically, there’s no distributional scheme which is not normative, which is why this is essentially a political rather than a technical issue.

213

alexh 07.15.16 at 10:14 pm

(js) (Your comment was moderated for a couple of days, and if the thread ever cared about a SS debate (which it never did) it surely doesn’t now. Won’t let that stop me :-))

You say: ‘When you are talking about people who’ve paid the FICA tax for at least a decade (which I believe is what you need to qualify for benefits), it seems bizarre to me to speak about free riders. (Compare: you ride the bus, you pay the bus fare, but you don’t yourself get down to pour the macadam on which the bus will ride. Are you a free rider? Quite obviously not.)’

I think this is a horribly inapplicable analogy. I wrote a response trying to explain why, but then realized that maybe you and I disagree at a deeper level than my (deleted) response could hope to attempt.
So if I could try to cut to the heart of things. I don’t see any nontrivial economic OR moral reasons why paying “FICA” in 2016 is any different (as regards our successors’ willingness to support us) than “I paid federal and state income taxes in 2016”. Do you? IMO, In either case I’m paying for current consumption (and perhaps some amount of investment), which is scarcely dependent on how some government accountant labels my fungible contribution to its operations.

214

J-D 07.15.16 at 10:20 pm

Mario 07.14.16 at 7:02 pm
Can you describe the social arrangements in which women choose to have four children, in societies where they are currently choosing to have 1.5?

A lot of women in these societies are already wanting to have more than “1.5”, and quite a few actually do have four or more. I know some, and they aren’t exactly a pile of stay-at-home misery (because having children, just so you know, is very rewarding, fulfilling and fun, even counting in the times they shower you in vomit).

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-07-16/motherhood-regret-scratching-beneath-the-surface/7588594

Ann Landers, for decades one of the most popular American syndicated newspaper advice columnists, asked her readers in 1975: “If you had to do it over again, would you have children?”

Seventy per cent of her 10,000 respondents answered ‘No’.

Comments on this entry are closed.