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EYE ON THE PIE: Let's turn our children into assets

August 15, 2005

Could we reduce some of the major costs in our society if we had fewer children and more immigration from abroad? Think about it. Children, particularly those 15 to 19 years of age, are a major disruptive and expensive aspect of our nation. They establish behaviors that lead to lifelong misery for themselves and expenses for the rest of us.

Teens get into all sorts of costly trouble. They lead police on dangerous chases because they will not obey the law. Even when not evading the police, they are a threat to others on the road. They waste our resources by not applying themselves to their studies. Their tastes in clothing, music, movies and TV degrade our cultural standards.

Younger children offer moments of sweetness along with enormous expense in time, energy and money. Yes, babies are cute, but they probably cause as much anguish as they do joy. Children are insatiable consumers. Our efforts to please them involve vast expenditures on cereals, toys and clothes that contribute little to their or our long-term satisfaction or well-being.

There is an alternative to this squandering of our national resources. Encourage Americans to have fewer children and to develop policies of immigration that enhance our national well-being.

First, we would remove the token subsidies now given for parenthood. This means the income-tax exemptions for children would be deleted. Subsidies for child care would be eliminated. Even the current inadequate additions to welfare assistance for children would be dropped.

Second, health insurance would not cover pregnancy. Just as many believe that insurance should not cover medication for erectile dysfunction because it is a lifestyle problem, so too is pregnancy a lifestyle choice. Perhaps abortion or adoption of the child should be forced on any unmarried woman under age 21. Clearly, parental leave would be revoked.

In place of adding to our population with children we produce, we would import college-age adults. Specifically, careful recruitment by universities would bring the most talented and energetic English-speaking students from aboard to study in the United States. If their performance here is acceptable, they would be eligible for citizenship. Their initiative, inventiveness and income would help American businesses and contribute to Social Security. We would be putting our money where it would pay off better than in diapers.

Sentimentalists will oppose this rational solution to strengthening our nation's future. They will argue that it is against family values. But America is not built on families; its building block is the individual. We are a people who characteristically left their families behind and ventured out to somewhere else. Our heroes are celebrated as single people, not as family members.

Of course, if we do not like this scenario, we could opt to invest in our children. We could consciously and deliberately turn them from liabilities into assets. This means changing how we spend money on young children and reducing the amount of discretionary funds teens have.

Foremost, an investment policy means a new approach to raising children. Our concern should be not just custodial care for the child nor merely satisfying the parents' desires. We would need to recognize that child rearing is an essential societal function.

Immediately, liberals and conservatives bristle at that last sentence. Both fear that government will impose its values on children and that parental control will be lost. The only difference between the liberals and conservatives is which set of values will be imposed by government.

However, as a society we agree already on many aspects of good behavior. If we focused preschool education on cooperation, self-control, respect for others, cleanliness, safety, plus appropriate speech and grammar, parents would not object. Unbending liberals and conservatives will continue to fry in their juices, but our children would be more valuable to America.

Yes, with sufficient, appropriate child care and early education, we might have young children prepared to learn in school and teens who would not be a danger to themselves and our society.



Marcus taught economics more than 30 years at Indiana University and is the former director of IU's Business Research Center. His column appears weekly. To comment on this column, send e-mail to mortonjmarcus@yahoo.com.
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