Are Children Public Goods?

by Kimberly on March 30, 2005

Critics often assert that parental leave, public child care, and other family support programs force society to pay for people’s private choices. If parents do not want to bear this burden, they should not have children in the first place, rather than foisting the costs onto everyone else. Nancy Folbre, an economist at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, counters these claims by arguing that children are like public goods. While parents bear most of the costs of raising children, to the extent that children grow into productive, tax-paying citizens, they create positive externalities that benefit the rest of society. People who contribute little time or money to the raising of children essentially free-ride on the parental labor of others. As she wrote in the American Prospect a few years ago:

“[Children] grow up to be taxpayers, workers, and citizens. The claims we collectively enforce on their income will help finance our national debt and fund Social Security and Medicare. Even if all the intergenerational transfers in our tax system were eliminated, leaving all us baby boomers to rely on our own bank accounts in old age, we would need to hire the younger generation to debug our computers and help us into our wheelchairs.”

To those who say having children is a private choice, much like deciding to get a pet, I’ve heard Folbre trenchantly respond, “Yes, but will your golden retriever pay for your Social Security?”

Should we be scared of Uncle Sam ?

by John Quiggin on March 30, 2005

This poll showing that 57 per cent of Australians thought US foreign policy to be as great a threat as that of Islamic fundamentalism provokes a variety of thoughts. I happened to read the poll results on the same day as this NYT story about Maher Arar, whose ‘extraordinary rendition’ has been covered in detail at Obsidian Wings.

There are various ways of assessing threats, and most Australians rightly regard terrorism as an overstated danger. But, as far as terrorism is concerned, there can be few instances more horrible and terrifying than the kidnappings and televised beheadings we’ve seen in Iraq. There are, however, equally awful things going on that are not televised, and that are carried out by the United States government.

An unknown number of people have been kidnapped, then shipped to torture chambers in unknown locations. We’ve found out about this from cases like that of Maher Arar, who was eventually released after his captors gave up on the idea that he was a terrorist, but it’s likely that in most cases, the victim simply disappears and is never seen again. Arar was in transit through the US when he was grabbed, but there have been similar kidnappings in Italy, Sweden and Macedonia and of course, countries like Iraq and Pakistan are free-fire zones.

As with quite a few of the worst policies of the Bush administration, the practice of extraordinary rendition apparently began under Clinton, but has been greatly expanded by Bush[1].

As far as I’ve seen so far, all of the victims in this cases have been Muslims. If that comforts you, perhaps you ought to read Martin Niemoller

As long as extraordinary renditions and similar practices continue, Australians are right to regard at least some aspects of US foreign policy as a threat comparable to that of Al Qaeda.

An update In comments, Katherine observes, correctly I think, that arguments about moral equivalence are counterproductive. As she says ‘“Are we better or worse than Zarqawi and Bin Laden” is the debate people like James Inhofe and George W. Bush want us to have. ” So, I shouldn’t have said “equally awful” above. But what is being done is awful, and such things are contributing greatly to the fear of US foreign policy I referred to.

fn1. Supporters of the Clinton Administration might usefully think about this the next time they are tempted to take a small step on the slippery slope of curtailing civil liberties. Supporters of the current Administration might want to give some thought to the likelihood that the practices they are now defending or assiduously ignoring will sooner or later be directed by Hilary Clinton, who might well choose to use them against the vast right-wing conspiracy linked, at its extremities, to Oklahoma City (the apparent starting point of extraordinary rendition) and to terrorist attacks on abortion clinics.


by Chris Bertram on March 30, 2005

I know that FrontPageMag (and everything Horowitz-related) is bonkers. But I wasn’t really prepared to see I face I know staring out at me. Today they have “a piece attacking Brendan O’Leary”: , political scientist at UPenn, formerly of the LSE. I’ve know Brendan since we were undergraduates together in the late 70s. For most of the time I’ve known him he has been gently chiding me from the right for my “infantile leftism”. He’s been an advisor to top Labour politicians on Northern Ireland, always on the side of moderation. Now Brendan is a “leftist” and a “terror apologist”. Well, as I said, I knew that Horowitz was crazy, but it is helpful to have a marker against which to judge just how crazy.

Update: One small thought – Brendan’s reputation in the UK is such that he could sue FrontPageMag for libel in London. He’d stand every chance of success and some serious damages.

2nd update: the full text of the remarks that FrontPageMage characterize as “terror apology” are “online”: for all to inspect.

On being super-rich

by Chris Bertram on March 30, 2005

I don’t feel rich. In fact, I know a lot of people who are richer than I am. Many of them live in my street; some of them work in my department. But when I take “the GlobalRichList test”: I come out well into the the top 1 per cent of earners in the world. That’s right, well over 99 per cent of the world’s population earn less than I do. Matthew Yglesias “wrote the other day”: about income distribution in the US and the psychological mechanisms that mean that people misperceive their own place in that distribution:

bq. This extreme inequality at the top does a lot to explain, I think, why you see a lot of people who make more than 85-90 percent of the population refusing to think of themselves as rich. Once you enter into the Rich Zone, you start coming into contact with people who are way, way, way, way richer than you are. If you run into somebody who has twice — to say nothing of 10 or 100 — times your earnings, it’s hard to think of yourself as rich. After all, you’re closer to making $0 and being out on the streets than you are to making what he makes.

And this is all the more true for the global distribution of income, where our place in the local distribution makes us radically misperceive our position in relation to the vast majority of humanity (my ex ante guess would have put me in the top 5 or 10 per cent — but the top 1 per cent!). My guess is that most active bloggers and journalists (in the developed world) are in that top 1 per cent also. One effect of this is that the blogosphere casually trades in assumptions about what is normal, where those assumptions are just a projection of what is normal for that top 1 per cent.

Animal rights

by Chris Bertram on March 30, 2005

My colleague Alison Hills has “an op-ed piece on animal rights in today’s Guardian”:,3604,1447866,00.html following the recent publication of her book “Do Animals Have Rights?”: