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10/30/2005

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Tim Slade

My impression is that young adults in Europe, particularly in France, are often unemployed -- this would imply rather a lower opportunity cost to child bearing.

N.E.Hatfield

I think the question that really needs to be asked is, "Why is daycare needed in the first place?" Because as has been pointed out, "Women who don't work, don't need daycare". This particuliar question and observation points to undelying cause of it all. That is, in the modern economic order two incomes are required to maintain a given lifestyle. Such that, most home owners today require the dual income in order to meet the mortgage obligations and other financial obligations required in modern life.

So what happens when the child is born? Does the family economic unit default on its financial obligations in order to raise it's children? I think not. So child care outside of the basic family unit becomes a necessity. The question now becomes is this a public concern or should it be turned over to the private sector. I believe an argument can be made for either-or. The solution lies in the national character, and the cultural-political-economic nature of the country where the issue arises. There isn't "one size fits all" plan for all.

Jon Faulds

As a consumer of childcare services (in Canada) I'm startled by the casual assertion that government's should not provide daycare services because government is "an inefficient service provider compared to private firms". There is an unfortunate correlation here between private daycare providers and children being lost or forgotten inside when the centre closes for the night. Except in the most expensive of centres, the staff qualifications are lower and the facilities are less well-equipped. If these are the hall marks of efficiency, they are not the indicia of good child care.

Michelle

On Economic Efficiency...

Because one salary is usually inadequate, women all too often need to work. Considering that childcare is a most difficult job, I think that many women find some release in working outside the home. The home often being cramped and discouraging. Some women willingly become stay at home mothers, but this often means that they're hiring nannies and getting pedicures every week while meeting friends for lunch dates.

What really should be addressed is how much work children are. Only relatively recently has there been a 'cult of the child.' Flabergastingly by modern standards, many geniuses of the past were barely tended. Many geniuses, sadly, had horrendous childhoods. Martin Luther for example.

I know that this is wrapped up in the nature/nurture debate but from a personal perspective, I know that I'm thankful that my mother was never a stay at home parent.

Bill

I am always interested when someone says that government is an inefficient provider of services. I think it is more often a question of which level of government is a more efficient provider of services. For example, I do not consider the Defense Department to be an efficient provider of services, nor do I consider their procurement system to be efficient either. Yet, in the name of Homeland or National Security or Disaster Management we are embarking on a policy of centralizing disaster response in the hands of the federal government--so that very expensive Humvee's, very expensive personnel carriers and the like will be purchased to provide disaster assistance.

I think it would be far better to invest locally in local government infrastructure and use communications equipment to create a network response of local equipment and resources. Ambulances, fire stations, and local infrastructure should be enhanced--not inefficiently procured very expensive equipment for the military. That way, the local resources can be dual used, and used extensively, and not like very expensive military equipment, sit in some armory unused.

How does this relate to child care? Well, communities need libararies, schools and other infrastructure. They too can be used for child care or other purposes. If you want to go to a voucher system for childcare services, I suppose you could let private companies rent public spaces, rather than have them build buildings for childcare that have only one use. But, for me, I would think it is more efficient to have public service locations (such as libraries, schools, public clinics, community police or park facilities) be dual use, and if they are, they will be far more efficient than single use facilities in the private sector.

Gretchen

Mightn't the subsidization be meant (in part) to encourage women who work (as a subset of all women) to have children by removing the primary disincentives?

An article by Maureen Dowd in the NYT recently discusses the relatively low birthrates of college-educated women and women with higher-powered careers. Obviously a lot of factors are in play here -- women with higher-powered careers who marry are (on average) married to men with higher-powered careers, and demanding careers are generally associated with higher earnings; thus such a family unit has the financial wherewithal to hire outside help without subsidization. But there are family units in which both parents have careers that would be hampered by taking a few years off mid-career and/or who make a decision to have fewer children than they otherwise might because the cost of daycare will eat up (or exceed) the earnings of one parent?

Just throwing in a thought.

I Think Alito Rocks!

Instead of vouchers, we should provide facilities with free daycare service to all. But we must mandate that immigrant labor staff these government daycare centers. Immigrant flows will be directed into legal channels if immigrants know that a guaranteed check awaits them as a daycare provider. That way, we can process and track immigration more effectively too.

Instead of subsidizing a 2nd or 3rd child, we should encourage sex and delay the tax benefits of marriage. The FDA should mandate that ecstasy be put into birth control (and all other products commonly used by women, e.g., tampons, shampoo, etc.), and no tax benefits should be given to married couples until they have their second child. We can decrease the birth rate to offset the likely increase by imposing sterilization as a condition of parole. Who wants criminal genes to propagate?

As for the amount of work children are, children should be taken away from parents at age 10 and placed in a state school where new values are imposed. That will enable us to produce super-smart students unburdened by parental corruption and free mothers of their obligation to raise kids. These Brave New World schools will not be federally-run or locally-run, bur regionally-run, with resources pooled from various states in the region (e.g., a 5-state coalition). There should be around 10 or 20 of these schools in the entire country, that house and educate children from age 10 to 18, when they may apply to college or return home to see their parents again, I suppose.

There is also the problem of needing two incomes to live. This often results in both the husband and the wife working long hours, and daycare being needed. A solution to this problem is the legalization of prostitution. Being a whore takes very little time and earns a lot of money. Instead of working long hours, a woman could simply sell her body and make much more money for her time. That way, she would have more time to spend with her children, because the hours would not be as severe, and the amount she made while not at home would more than make up for her absence (if she sought to opt-out of the federally-provided immigrant-run daycare centers and hire a nanny). Or, she could simply have sex with her customers in the house while her children are downstairs watching Teletubbie; they wouldn't know and she wouldn't have to sacrifice her precious caretaker role.

Another way we could tackle this problem is to mandate fewer working hours. One way to do this is to add more federal holidays, another is to mandate more sick days. Instead of sick days, which requires people to be sick, I would suggest drug days, which one can take to imbibe drugs and get high. Drugs would be legal only on those particular days. Chances are that use of sick days would follow drug days, as would police raids, so most children would experience a pleasant two days every month or so when both parents were home, and the drug war would be much more successful, because once drug use is pushed into the open, it becomes easier to catch those violating the laws. It is hard to set up shop for just one day a month, but worth it to set up shop if the drug trade is legal for that one day.

Another thing to do is tax divorced couples with kids and single-parent families at a higher rate as a penalty. Call it the "get married or else" penalty or the "you should have stayed married" penalty. Two parents have more time to spend with kids overall than one parent does, or do parents who live in different states after their split, for example. We might also give the kids of a divorce 50% of the marital property in cash -- that will keep the parents together. If parents buck the incentive and divorce, their kids can pay for their own daycare to replace the parental supervision they are missing (at least until the age of 10, when they are shipped off to the regionally-run super-school).

We can also condition adoption on the presence of a polygamous marriage -- at least three partners. That way, even if two spouses need to work in order to make ends meet, there is another spouse present to give care. Or, we could condition Social Security eligibility on grandparents living with their children, if they have any, and participating in the day-to-day raising of their grandchildren.

I would suggest doing all of these things at once.

Ken Zimmerman

Dr. Becker,

As I've noted in many of my comments on your other "statements," you miss the big picture almost constantly.

In the simplest terms you miss the benefit for society and focus on the benefits of/for some imaginary "competitive market." This is the case with your latest piece on childcare.

First of all Sweden and the other Scandinavian countries have a much different history than the US and much different shared beliefs. For them the childcare system you describe makes sense. For the US this system does not meet our understanding of generally what's appropriate and how responsibilities are divided. The first test is not then that one approach is wrong or right, or in your terms, more or less efficient. The two grew (per Edmund Burke) from different histories and different shared experiences and beliefs. In terms of those histories and beliefs each system is equally efficient and equally appropriate.

However, the real issues here for the US are two:
1. What type of childcare provides the greatest benefit in preserving the history and shared beliefs that are fundamental to the continuation of our way of life,
2. And on the flip side what type of childcare is most effective in identifying and resolving child growth and maturation issues that threaten the healthy continuation of our shared values and way of life?

There are no "universal" principles, economic or otherwise, to signal that a childcare system is effective and efficient apart from these two issues.

Based on these principles, I put it to you that the childcare system now in place in the US is both ineffective and inefficient. It is one of the primary factors in the breakdown of societal cohesion now well underway in the US. My question to you is this, what do you propose to fix the real problems with childcare in the US. And, please no homilies about efficient market theory or marginalism. Give me some suggestions that might acutally work.

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RWS

The decision to have children or not to is truly puzzling. In high-entitlement European countries, it is about as easy to have a kid there as it is anywhere on the planet. Free medical care, free education, free daycare, free university, etc. One can be the most carefree person and then decide to have a kid and it'll be well cared for. And yet, the lowest birth rates.

Clearly, there are values changes that have been significant factors in whether people want to have kids or not. I don't know if it is radical individualism or sort of a rejection of being singularly successful (to have a child) or what.

When I was in Sweden last year, I saw the changing of the guard at the palace. Looking over the ceremony was a statue of old King Gustav Adolphus with a very strong pose and looking as proud and authoritative as he could be. Below, a few of the guards had long hair coming out of their helmets. Now, I'm only 28 and not some sort of old fogie complaining about the hippies, but that image was rather striking to me. Not sure if I can decipher it, but it is certainly something to think about, I guess.

Ryan

As long as we're describing everything in terms of the market, maybe the population should be allowed to decline. We'd have more resources per person and a smaller labor pool which would be in greater demand (assuming immigration was also restricted.)

Automation is sure to improve and the demand for manual labor to decrease. In the same way that the bulk of the population didn't need college two generations ago, perhaps Masters degrees will increasingly be required for the average individual to function in society. If this happens, the average individual will require even more resources in terms of time in order to be fuctional.

Requiring a constantly growing population (whose average lifespan is likely to increase), puts an even greater burden on the next generation in order to pay for the current aging population. This seems like a huge pyramid scheme to me.

I'm curious, though, if anyone can provide evidence that incentives promote childbirths across economic strata?

Bart

I do feel that one issue that could use facilitation is the return to the workforce of mothers and the accommodation of part-time schedules.

I don't agree that most couples work because of financial necessity. Certainly, in some cases that is true. But most couples pair up and marry while both spouses are working. By the time they have children, they are used to the double incomes and may in fact need them to support their mortgages or rental payments. It may feel like necessity, but they don't really need the expensive house or apartment, the $4 coffees, etc

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