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Thursday, November 10, 2005

3rd Way: The Future of the Family

Weekly Standard, The Party of Sam's Club The first set of ideas Douthat and Salam propose are based upon government funded economic incentives to promote and strengthen families. The basic idea that just as families have an effect on our economics so can economics have an effect on families is a good one. Here are the concrete policy ideas from this section:

Quebec's Allowance for Newborn Children (ANC), implemented with considerable success in the late 1980s, might serve as a model: The program provided (approximately) $500 for a first child, $1,000 for a second, and, for a third and all subsequent children, 20 quarterly payments of $400. According to one estimate, from Kevin Milligan of the University of British Columbia, this led to a 15 percent bump in the province's birthrate, and the overall "cost" to the government of each additional child--i.e., each child who would not have been born in the absence of the ANC--was just over $15,000. That number sounds high, but it pales in comparison with the financial sacrifices that the parents will make to raise the child--the opportunity costs, in forgone wages, can top $1 million for a family of modest means--and the value of the taxes that child will pay over a lifetime.
A better way to approach the division between work and family life might be what sociologist Neil Gilbert calls a "life-course perspective," with measures that would allow a mother (or father, for that matter) to provide child care full-time for several years before entering, or reentering, the workforce. For instance, the government could offer subsidies to those who provide child care in the home, and pension credits that reflect the economic value of years spent in household labor. Or again, Republicans might consider offering tuition credits for years spent rearing children, which could be exchanged for post-graduate or vocational education. These would be modeled on veterans' benefits--and that would be entirely appropriate. Both military service and parenthood are crucial to the country's long-term survival. It's about time we recognize that fact.
Unlike Quebec, America is reproducing at above the replacement rate (if only barely.) I am unsure that we need more children from a numerical standpoint. Given that this benefit would be most attractive to economically disadvantaged people with a short term focus I am not convinced that this wouldn't be economically damaging rather than beneficial. A better idea along these lines seems to me to be a trust fund that is gifted to each child that could be used for college education or trade schooling. As to the idea of pension or educational benefits for stay-at-home parents that is an intriguing idea. It seems likely to me to pay for itself quite easily over time. I especially like the idea of a education benefits. The administration and details of such a program are problematic, but it seems to me to definitely by an idea worth kicking around.


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