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The derangement of incentives

Turns out this childrearing stuff ain't cheap:

The annual report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, released yesterday, reveals that a middle-income family with a baby born last year can look forward to spending about $241,080 ($301,970 when adjusted for predicted inflation) to raise the little one over the next 17 years. That's a 2.6 percent increase from 2011, higher than the broader inflation rate. The study, which does not include payments for college, puts yearly spending on each child for a two-parent middle-income family at $12,600 to $14,700 in 2012.

Jonathan Last, in his What to Expect When No One's Expecting added in the opportunity costs of lost wages and promotions (for mothers who leave the workforce to raise children) and came up with a number over three times larger.

But remember, if you ever earn enough to save some capital to defray these costs, absolute justice demands that you cough up a big chunk of it to the government, to be distributed by (always perfectly virtuous) bureaucrats to other people; especially to the pension funds enjoyed by other people upon their retirement.

It's enough to make you wonder whether it even makes sense to work for a living at all.

Comments (68)

It may also not be including some of the added expenses when a young person is in transition to adulthood, such as added gas and added auto insurance with a young driver in the house. It's my off-the-cuff experience that young people get more expensive the older they get. Even clothing is more expensive for a high school or college student than for a little one, especially if you use hand-me-downs for the little ones.

This estimate seems a bit ridiculous. One does not have to spend that much on ones children. If one has a big income I'm sure it's easy to spend this much, but people who have a pretty low income like myself can get by spending a lot less. (Although putting them through college is another story.)

They are also leaving out of the equation the cost of formal schooling, more or less: since the cost of public education is paid by government, it isn't "counted" as a family expense. Of course the government get's it out of taxes, etc. Figure for a Catholic family sending their kids to a Catholic school, at around 8,000 per year, (plus the taxes they pay for other kids' schooling) and the 13,000 otherwise spent jumps a lot.

Next up: medical insurance. If a husband and wife are childless and are each employed at a large company, they can each get insurance at the "single" rate, whereas if they have kids they need to purchase into the "family" rate, much higher. That cost differential is probably not counted, though I am not sure.

Those estimates are bound to be highly presumptuous of a certain way of living. My dad always said, I think quoting his dad, that the problem "isn't the high cost of living, but the cost of high living." And I would say that college isn't another story. The lavish accommodations and amenities today, fueled by low-cost federal loans, have driven cost up fantastically. Meanwhile the cost of acquiring the actual information to learn is approaching zero, an amazing achievement in world history. An upshot of globalization I suppose. It all comes down to whether you need a credential or not. Some disciplines still do, especially the sciences, but this is a minority. I think it is a shame that there aren't more American STEM majors and such, but given that so many "major" in such squishy and new disciplines I think it is fairly clear that a vast amount of money is being spent to avoid some supposed stigma of things considered "vocational", rather than achieve something positive. The upshot is too many taking on loads of debt gaining worthless degrees.

We don't spend 12k a year on 3 children.

I think it's pretty hard to figure out what one spends "on" a child. For example, the number of rooms in one's house and the size of certain living spaces are obviously influenced by the number of children one either had or hoped to have at the time one was purchasing the house. So in a sense, the fact that I own a house of such-and-such a size really is a function of the number of kids I have, but it's very hard to break that down to a per-child cost. The number of trips to the store I make is partly a function of how many people I'm feeding, especially in my own case since I'm not one of those genius homemakers who can shop once a month for all the meals for the whole family, and I'm constantly buying fresh things like fruits, veggies, and meat. But how to divide that up by amount per child is beyond me.

But I do want to say one thing about "high living" and the cost of living per child: I think that increasingly our world tries to force people to spend more on their children. I'm thinking of various regulations here. Consider something like car seats. It annoys the heck out of me to read preachy articles telling parents that they are negligent if they use the same car seat over a period of years for more than one child. It looks like some kind of bizarre sweetheart deal between the government and the car seat manufacturers to force parents to go out and by The Latest expensive safety gadget for every child they have. That could get pretty darned expensive if you had a lot of kids, but God forbid you should use a car seat for Junior that happens to be more than, I dunno, three years old. Some earth-shaking safety discovery has *surely* been made in the meanwhile about the precise design of car seats that renders his older sister's seat No Longer Safe. (That it was good enough for his sister at the time is apparently something we're not supposed to talk about. It's not updated, and you're a Bad Parent if you don't get him the latest item.)

One could go on with similar points about well-child visits, not letting your kids play with this or that toy, bike helmets, and oodles of baby equipment--high chairs, swings, bouncy seats, etc., etc. Basically, living as a poor or frugal person who doesn't take the kid for every recommended checkup, test, and cleaning, who lets the kids play in Grandpa's woods, and who uses stuff Grandma kept in the attic for toys and baby equipment is living dangerously--in more senses than one. Don't let CPS catch you doing it.

So I think some of this "cost of parenting" is forced upon parents by societal and even legal expectations and requirements or grey areas.

Lydia, that point is discussed at some length in Last's book, particularly the Servile State cronyism of car seat manufacturers and government regulators. (I just heard one of the administration's regulator-kings make essentially the same point, in the context of a debate about over-regulation: he pointed out that the areas of new regulation that have "worked smoothly" are those areas where "the business community has been a partner." Indeed.)

And let's not forget the endless ratchet-effect of electronics. Every 6-year-old needs smartphone and an every 5th grader an iPad, it seems. Again the huge manufacturers are happy to consent to supplying the new necessities.

A friend of mine is getting geared up for her first-grade son's first year of school. As far as I can tell, this is a public school. She's being told that she needs to get a Twitter account so that her son is not educationally disadvantaged. A Twitter account. This isn't coming from her desire to participate in the consumer culture or have gadgets or be in with every trend. It's coming from the school. And just think of the personal infrastructure that assumes. In theory it's possible to have a Twitter account but to have no personal computer or regular Internet connection (y'know, if you're poor!), but the requirement that the parent get a Twitter account pretty obviously assumes that one does have those things.

Lord have mercy. If I ran a school I would instantly and summarily forbid Twitter accounts for any student.

Steve Talbott's book Devices of the Soul (which I reviewed some years ago) includes some wonderful polemics against electronics in schools. I think he'd prefer no computers in school at all! And he backs this view up with the experience and knowledge of a long and storied career in computer science.

Excellent and intriguing review, Paul. I didn't realize you write for The New Atlantis -- I send my freshman students there for articles when they do their essay on technology (they have to consider some way in which social media can undercut its avowed purpose of connecting people and what users might do to avoid that problem). Christine Rosen and Roger Scruton have articles I always assign. The use of electronics in the school setting does carry many problems, and I don't allow any use during class time. Some consider me an old fuddy-duddy (which I am!) for this, but many of my colleagues have the same policy. It's not just the distractions, but the shortcuts -- if you can look up a Shakespeare quote on your Shakespeare app in a millisecond, you haven't understood the context of it in order to find it in the play itself.

Okay, that's off-topic, but these last comments have made me think of it. Speaking of expense, we homeschooled through high school, and only our last started college after laptops were almost universally needed. We did get him one, and it was a good investment, but it's too bad it was essential. However, our library has so few books and journals on the shelves that ebooks and databases are not optional if they're going to do decent research. And for someone living off-campus with limited access to the actual library, having his own laptop allowed him to research any time. But it's expensive (it makes a difference that his tuition was free and he lived at home!), and it opens the door to so many, many distractions from the task at hand.

In one of my classes, the teacher asked our class (this was casual discussion, like before class started, because the teacher was actually not bad)how many of us had smartphones. I was the only person not to raise my hand.

You would be an anomaly here, too, MarcAnthony. I consider a class session successful if students are talking to each other about the material we've discussed as they leave, instead of instantly grabbing for their phones to see what they might have missed on FB in the last 50 minutes!

(This was college, by the way.)

Our welfare state makes it easy for poor people and the very wealthy to raise kids, but difficult for the middle class.

But remember, if you ever earn enough to save some capital to defray these costs, absolute justice demands that you cough up a big chunk of it to the government, to be distributed by (always perfectly virtuous) bureaucrats to other people; especially to the pension funds enjoyed by other people upon their retirement.

Even some of the conservatives here like Maximos and Jeff Culbreath were not particularly sympathetic to families like mine that are at that point where a 5-7% tax rate change is the difference between a stay at home wife and a wife in the workplace. Middle class Christians being able to raise their kids in a semi-traditional lifestyle is apparently less important than ensuring access to health insurance for the poor through state programs.

Very often those from that perspective believe that if _everything_ were changed in society and policy in the way that they suggest, such taxes would be cross-canceled by some other factor. It's not that I don't understand the general schema of such a reply, but I think that it is misguided even on the person's own terms when accompanied by support for some present concrete policy which the person knows will not be part of the global alterations he himself supports. That being said, I don't think Jeff C. ever definitely supported tax increases for increased access to health insurance for the poor, though he may lean that way.

But in general, yes, I would say that those who support greater government "help" are misguided in that they fail to realize the ways in which this _inevitably_ whacks the middle class and makes it more difficult to have and raise children, especially to raise them in a more traditional fashion with the wife at home and the husband as bread winner.

Obviously, no society is ever going to be changed that way short of a willingness to engage in mass murder because the rest of society is not going to acquiesce to being systematically bowled over by one group. There I think that critique is self-evidently useless to anyone from a Judao-Christian perspective. Either you are arguing from a perspective functionally identical to the millennial reign of Jesus Chris or you are arguing from a perspective you cannot ethically implement.

In fact, I remember one of Maximos' biggest complaints, and this is something that Nice Mermot has complained about too, is when their feet are held to the fire and they're forced to say how they'd do something in the world as it actually is. No big speeches, no "well, you'd have to read so-and-so's book," etc. Rather, you have five to fifty paragraphs; Go!

I've seen functional design documentation for very elaborate software systems described in space that's not terribly longer than some of the longest posts on W4. That's why I get very unimpressed when they can't propose even a high level way of bringing things together.

Okay, alright. Let's dial it back on the vague call-outs of people who may or may not even be listening.

For my part self-righteous high-tax welfarism, of the right or left, fills me with disdain. Spare us the sanctimony of childless idealists who, taking a very long time to grow up, think they know how to care for families & children. Attacking capital, debasing frugality, favoring reckless debt, fettering businessmen: this is a contradiction of welfare and compassion. Making it harder for families to prosper and grow is the precise negation of compassion. Attaching penalties to the means by which new people are brought into the world, and raised into citizens, is the exact opposite of welfare.

The one area were I tend to get tangled up with libertarians and capitalists is when I point out the complicity of the finance sector in all this.

Imagine you are a grandfather with some capital left over from a long frugal life. You adore your grandchildren and want to provide for their education, say. Well, that's going to be pretty tricky if you don't watch yourself. The additional taxes on capital, on inheritance, plus the penalties attached to students holding capital in the academic aid environment, means that it might be more advantageous, strictly speaking, to borrow against rather than give away, your accumulated capital, and burn it on immediate spending. Forget helping the grandkids out; better exotic travel, a beach house, leisure and consumption.

And the broker around the corner will sure as shootin' help to put it all into exotic bond funds and take right good care of you.

Paul,

This is a bit OT, but closely related to the subject of incentives. You say two things that caught my attention:

(1) "The additional taxes on capital, on inheritance, plus the penalties attached to students holding capital in the academic aid environment..."

AND

(2) "And the broker around the corner will sure as shootin' help to put it all into exotic bond funds and take right good care of you."

(1) points to bad government policies which could be remedied by lower taxes on capital or eliminating those taxes altogether. We could also end givernment subsidized student aid, which might hurt in the short-run, but help in the long-run as the costs of tuition would stop inflating to ridiculous levels as fewer individuals went to expensive colleges in the first place (and cheaper alternatives became more popular).

But I'm particularly interested in (2) -- a guy like me who believes in free markets and the ability of individuals to make good decision for themselves seems to be the target of that comment. Are you suggesting that grandpa will be taken advantage of by the slick broker "around the corner" because he is not regulated properly? Because grandpa shouldn't be investing in the "exotic bond fund"? But why would grandpa be convinced that is a good idea in the first place? Is he being lied to (in which case can't he sue for civil damages if the risks weren't properly explained?)

In other words, and I know it was just a throw-away comment, but you seem to suggest that folks need to be protected from themselves? Now, I can imagine that sometimes this is the case (e.g. laws regulating gambling), but are financial markets the equivalent of speculative gambling? Are our current laws inadequate protection for the average financial investor (the so-called mom and pop investor)?

I ask all these questions in good faith -- you have thought about finance capitalism much more carefully than I have over the past five or so years and I'm genuinely interested in your thoughts on this subject, particularly as it relates to the dangers of too much regulation promoting moral hazard and/or preventing the formation of capital accumulation because of low returns.

I'll put it this way, Jeff: if statutory law is arranged to favor a certain class of securities, then a whole mass of men will instantly rise up to confect, market and sell that class of security, without a second thought about whether the securities are wisely conceived. As far as I can tell, there is no reason why a free marketeer has any principled obligation to defend the peculiarities of modern securities markets. Up and down the line it's a government-influence game. Also, there is definitely an important distinction between wise investments on the individual level and sound free market policy on the macro level. I might lament the peculiarity that Treasury bills, notes and bonds supply the "risk free" pricing mechanism for the whole bond market, but I sure as heck would not recommend that on that account someone should divest their portfolio of Treasurys.

Look at it from the other direction. Securities dealers would quickly adapt to whatever statutory structure applied to securities dealing. These guys will do fine. Bonds and stocks will still be sold.

My ideal structure is one where securities trading is based exclusively on private capital. Investment firms have to establish their ownership in private partnership shares. If you want to deal in securities, certainly exotic or synthetic securities, do it without public backing. So that means not just a Volcker Rule but a return to privately-held investment banks. I-banks can't float stock on public markets.

The flip side, the free market side, is that once you're re-established with a private capital structure for securities dealing, you can bail on all this other fantasy-land regulation. As if the Fed or CFTC or FDIC or Treasury can predict market action. Supreme folly.

Private unregulated markets. That's the ideal.

Now, no one understands better than I do how distant and speculative such a structure is, but in honor of Mike T I thought I'd give you at least a few paragraphs of what I think might be better.

Paul, if Grandpa can be so well-taken-care-of by the bond dealer around the corner, why doesn't he invest his money for the grand-kids with the bond dealer around the corner and plan to leave them the exotic instruments when he dies? Or is the idea that the bond dealer around the corner is actually _not_ going to help Grandpa out at all and is actually going to harm him?

More related to the main post: It isn't only self-righteous high-tax welfarism that penalizes the middle class and that raises the cost of living and the cost of raising children.

There are many policies that are also favored by and that also "go with" Crunchy Conservatism and Distributism that tend to drive up the cost of living.

I must note here that it wasn't a leftist who once said to me that food in the United States costs too little! It was a distributist-leaning conservative.

Here are just a few of those costly policies that are also likely to be popular with the traditionalist/distributist Right:

--Punitive policies against companies that charge low prices for their manufactured goods and that outsource their labor.
--Polices that encourage buying local food. (By the way, I've heard that the Federal Gov's Agenda 21 tries to tie federal dollars to getting cities to grow all their own food immediately around the city. Sweet idea: Spending tax dollars taken from the middle class or borrowed from their descendants to fund policies which will raise the cost of feeding the children of the middle class.)
--Policies that make gasoline expensive, which will drive up the cost of pretty much everything by driving up the cost of transportation.
--Policies that attempt to drive out "big box" stores that sell clothing and other necessities at low prices.
--Policies that raise the cost of meat and animal products through increased regulation.

Now, unfortunately, there is a lot of cavalier-ness about these increased costs just as there is among welfarists about increased taxation. For example, we're told that, hey, Americans eat too much meat anyway. Or that it doesn't really matter if kids' growth is stunted through not getting enough protein, because height isn't important to health anyway. Or that there's always something else we presumptively "consumerist" American families can give up.

In the context of discussing the cost of raising children, the putative spiritual benefits of growing up in a world where everybody buys only local produce, etc., etc., are neither more nor less than changing the subject. We were supposedly talking about matters of material prosperity, and such claims merely distract attention from the claim that these policies are going to make it more difficult for ordinary folk to feed, clothe, and care for their children, which we should all be able to agree is a negative thing for a policy to do.

So, if and when I'm told that as a free market advocate I have "nothing to say to the poor," one reply among many that I can make is this:

Yes, indeed, I do have something to say to the poor (and also to people who want to have lots of kids): I oppose policies that will make it more expensive for you to take care of your family.

Lydia, I think the "help" from the broker is of the same sort as that famous government man: "I'm from the government and I'm here to help." Help himself, more like.

I like Paul's preference to going back to securities trading in private capital. Even so, though, I suspect that we would still need some kind of market regulatory arrangement, though I can't say just what. My worry is this: all securities, and bonds, and money for that matter, amount to a kind of promise, a contract either written or unwritten (or, more properly, one contract written and another set unwritten). If the government is going to be involved in enforcing the contracts, then it probably will need to put some limits on what kinds of contract can be permitted with securities. We pretty much all agree that a person cannot sell his first-born son into bondage on the basis of a contract, any such contract would be null and void, unenforceable. Similarly, a contract to sell something that either doesn't actually exist, or isn't really deliverable, or is in some way a chimera, should be unenforceable as well. (That's one of the arguments against usury, as well, even though contracts for it are crystal clear). The problem with highly derivative securities arrangements is that nobody can really say for sure just what are the limits of the object, so they cannot tell who is stepping on whose toes when something doesn't quite pan out as expected. It's bad enough to divide up a piece of property according to (a) the land and (b) the building on it, and then (c) the right to use the building for 10 years versus (d) the right to own it after 10 years, and then (e) the right to use the rental for 1 week each year for the 10 years, sold to 50 "owners". Now slice up that property-interest by selling a 1/4th interest therein as a piece of mortgage-backed security, and nobody knows what the buyer actually holds if something about the asset goes south.

Jeff, I am fine with letting Grandpa take his risks with his money that he chooses - if those risks are within a framework that makes sense out of a level playing field. Not all possible deals are so. For example, one of the problems with the sorts of playing engaged in by AIG, LTCM, and Lehman types is that they depend on a market environment that those very deals undermine. In a round-about sense, they amounted to a backhand ponzi scheme. I don't think that society as a whole needs to permit ponzi schemes and just say "buyer beware", I think that some things should not permissible because the snake-oil salesman can disguise his duplicity under too many layers of masks for a reasonable person doing due diligence to figure it out. (See: 70% of politicians catering to dupes on the one hand and stealing from them on the other.)

"There are many policies..."

"Here are just a few of those costly policies"

Policies, policies, policies...

Distributist-leaning conservatives are criticized for NOT being specific enough, and for NOT being policy-minded. But then general ideas we propound are transmuted into "policies" by our free-market opponents, and criticized. Perhaps you neos and right-libs might want to make up your flippin' minds.

"we're told that, hey, Americans eat too much meat anyway."

Of course we do, esp. red meat, as the vast majority of doctors and nutritionists agree.

"that it doesn't really matter if kids' growth is stunted through not getting enough protein, because height isn't important to health anyway."

Yes, because of course if the kids don't get their 2 Happy Meals a week, plus at least one Baconator, it's only a matter of time before they shrink to pygmy-size bodies with barely functional brains, and we won't be able to compete with China anymore! Oh, the horrors!

"I think that some things should not permissible because the snake-oil salesman can disguise his duplicity under too many layers of masks for a reasonable person doing due diligence to figure it out."

Start applying this logic to corporate capitalism in general and you'll be onto something.

Y'all who don't believe in consumerism/commercialism/materialism are living in a korporate kool-aid la-la land. You've not only drunk the beverage but swallowed the pitcher.

On another thread I mentioned Sandel's What Money Can't Buy. It's a damn shame that a liberal, even a rather moderate one, had to write that book. And it's a further shame that most conservatives won't read it for that very reason. (Of course any conservative who wrote it would have his conservatism immediately questioned by the mainstreamers, who view conservatism as primarily about market apologetics. Meh.)

Fine, NM, you can tell us that you oppose those policies. That would also be fine. Obviously, support varies. But in general these are examples of things that are

a)not welfare policies per se
b)either are supported by distributist/crunchy types or
c) directly address alleged problems that distributist/crunchy types are concerned about, even if they are unclear about how they wish to address them.

As for b, I can definitely say that higher protectionist tariffs and attempts to punish companies that outsource _are_ supported by _specific_ distributist/crunchy types I have known. The same is true of greater regulation of the animal products industries (you being the example in this case, and at least one other as well), higher taxes on large businesses' transportation costs (that was not you), and attempts to drive out big box stores by local and state legislation (that was you as well as others).

So, while a frustrating refusal to come down to brass tacks does often characterize such discussions, if one hangs around for years and has many lengthy discussions with such people on-line, one does eventually get some idea of what policies some of them support.

Moreover, as I said, it was someone with those leanings who said to me that American food is too inexpensive, so it hardly seems uncharitable to guess that someone who thinks that would support policies that make food more expensive!

Oh, the bit about growth stunting is also a _real_ example, not a made-up one, NM. Maybe you _would_ get alarmed if you thought that the policies you support would result in children's not growing to their full height. At least one person with whom you have many other agreements was quite willing to bite the bullet on that, because allegedly it wasn't a big deal as far as overall height and if it happened didn't mean anything about whether the kids in question were getting less-than-excellent nutrition.

See, NM, your problem here is that you make a lot of us very nervous about the sort of Bloomberg-style paternalism you'd be prepared to embrace or at least tolerate. After this latest comment, I am left wondering, "would this guy set bureaucrats over me and my wife, with authority to intervene on decisions concerning how we feed our children?" Or, "would this guy authorize some cockamamie scheme of red meat rationing?" The mere fact that these stand as potentialities, so to speak, instills in me a deep suspicion of the arguments from which they arise.

NM,

Yeah, no conservative publication in their right mind would even commission a book review of Sandel's tome and/or allow a favorable review to get published. Oh wait, you don't know what you are talking about.

Paul and Tony,

Thanks to both of you for responding -- I could easily support the type of financial reforms you suggest.

One should be afraid of controls from the left. However, to suggest NM has affinity with ideologies of centralized control is rather absurd. We already know he believes in subsidiarity.

Anymouse, I'm not trying to go around that barn again. NM is in favor of state-level laws that would, in my opinion, increase prices. Whether that is consistent with "subsidiarity" or not gets something of a shrug from me and is largely terminological. I'm making some attempt to stay in the vicinity of the topic of the post, which has to do with the cost of raising kids and having a family. That even state-level laws that, for example, outlaw big-box stores or which increase regulation on food farmers and hence make meat, dairy, and eggs more expensive would increase the cost of living and raising kids seems to me undeniable. Nor is this "all about NM" as an individual person. This is about approaches to policy and to economics in general. And in general, there are plenty of directions that policy is likely to take to address concerns that not just NM personally but *other people with whom he has many agreements and who would identify themselves with -isms he favors* which will indeed increase costs. These include but are not limited to the ones I've listed. It's absurd to suggest that it's uncharitable to imply, e.g., that those on the alternative right tend to favor protectionism in manufacturing policy. That is scarcely a secret! This isn't all about labels, about whether someone can be said to "support subsidiarity," whether someone is a leftist or what-not. This is about the cost of living. I've been making, in what seem to me fairly moderate terms, the point here that there are trends in the non-mainstream right that would also tend to increase the cost of living. I've carefully avoided getting into the "label war" and have tried to keep my statements clear and down-to-earth. And I refuse to get involved again in the "label war." That there is a dismissive trend regarding favored ideas that would increase the cost of living in that portion of the political spectrum as well as on the left seems to me undeniable, and I've given instances. I've quoted again and again the distributist who told me that food in America is too cheap. What more do you want? That puts it pretty starkly, doesn't it?

So, Lydia, the most important thing when it comes to regulatory policies of the sort you mention is that prices are kept low? Not to be flip, but slavery helped keep cotton prices low.

I.o.w., there are intangibles that come into play here, both costs and benefits, that cannot be included in sheer market equations. In this sense the market cannot police itself, because it does not take into consideration these non-market factors.

As far as the growth-stunting is concerned, it seems to me that that's debatable, given the problem we currently have with childhood obesity. Although I guess our kids could be both fat and short.


I understand your point Lydia. But I will say outright that issues like the price of food are very much a secondary concern to me. Acting against the things we both oppose, like abortion, divorce, and child abuse, is my priority. And I am also less wiling to believe that economics is orthogonal to those issues.

Jeff S., I actually read that review in the WSJ a week or so ago and thought it was pretty good. My complaint was not that the conservative press wouldn't review it (I mentioned nothing about reviews), but that it took a liberal to write it.

~~After this latest comment, I am left wondering, "would this guy set bureaucrats over me and my wife, with authority to intervene on decisions concerning how we feed our children?" Or, "would this guy authorize some cockamamie scheme of red meat rationing?" The mere fact that these stand as potentialities, so to speak, instills in me a deep suspicion of the arguments from which they arise.~~

Maltreatment of the Creation and everyday low prices! have become a trade-off due to agribusiness. All I'm saying is that a conservative worthy of the name will take this into consideration and not just fluff it off. Which is why it's a shame that a liberal had to write a book like Sandel's.

So, Lydia, the most important thing when it comes to regulatory policies of the sort you mention is that prices are kept low? Not to be flip, but slavery helped keep cotton prices low.

I rest my case. Aaaaaand, here we go, folks, with the change of subject which I _expressly_ anticipated above.


I.o.w., there are intangibles that come into play here, both costs and benefits, that cannot be included in sheer market equations. In this sense the market cannot police itself, because it does not take into consideration these non-market factors.

Here was my anticipation. I already said:

In the context of discussing the cost of raising children, the putative spiritual benefits of growing up in a world where everybody buys only local produce, etc., etc., are neither more nor less than changing the subject. We were supposedly talking about matters of material prosperity, and such claims merely distract attention from the claim that these policies are going to make it more difficult for ordinary folk to feed, clothe, and care for their children, which we should all be able to agree is a negative thing for a policy to do.

NM, I do think it inter alia a problem if policies cause a rise in prices and hence in the cost of living. In any event, that was the problem to which the main post was addressed. Whether the fact that it's hard for a family to afford to raise their kids is offset by the deep spiritual advantages of buying from the farmer's market or knowing that the beef one is eating had a Really Happy Life while on the hoof is something each man must decide for himself. However, I take it that you're not really doing much to contest that your approach to policy would result in raised prices and cost of living, which just simply has been my point all along.

By the way, as far as a cavalier attitude towards higher food expenses, I give in evidence the following eyewitness account from Joe Carter from a FP conference he attended:

http://www.firstthings.com/blogs/firstthoughts/2012/01/06/monarchists-to-the-left-of-me-socialists-to-the-right-here-i-am-stuck-in-the-middle-with-you-liberals/

I find it amusing that in the comments thread someone tries to correct Carter's memory of the dismissiveness of the speaker toward the student's concern about cost and just ends up, to my mind at least, confirming Carter's account!

Well, Anymouse, if food prices (and gas prices, and lots of other prices) are a secondary concern to you, I can guarantee you that they aren't a secondary concern to my friends with six children who are struggling to make ends meet on a single salary!!

Which takes us back to the main post, does it not?

Am I willing to make common cause with social conservatives who don't share my concerns about these economic issues? Certainly, I am so willing, as you say, Anymouse. I have expressed and acted out that willingness again and again.

But since Paul put up a post about, y'know, something else, namely, the cost of raising kids, it's relevant to post comments about a variety of policies that increase that cost, even if, yes, those policies may be favored by some people with whom I have other common causes.

If you support policies that reduce the cost of living for families, then you support welfare, food stamps, Medicaid, public education, and all the rest. Obviously something is being overlooked here.

If you support policies that reduce the cost of living for families, then you support welfare, food stamps, Medicaid, public education, and all the rest.

Not sure I understand that, but if it means what I think it means, then no. "Cost of living" is supposed to mean the actual cost. We're not supposed to be talking here about just shifting the cost to the (other) taxpayers. In fact, Paul addressed this above when he rejected "self-righteous high-tax welfarism." Others have talked in this thread about how the middle class gets whacked from both sides. Obviously the idea is not to pretend that there's a free lunch by shifting the costs to taxes or deficit spending. Rather, the idea is, if possible, actually to reduce or at least not to increase the cost of raising children for people who want to _support themselves and their families in the real world_.

Although I guess our kids could be both fat and short.

Case in point, Mexico which now has a worse obesity problem than we do.

If you support policies that reduce the cost of living for families, then you support welfare, food stamps, Medicaid, public education, and all the rest.

Beyond Lydia's reasons, this is not true because there are many policies in place now that increase the cost of living. Quantitative Easing is a good example of this. The only thing it did was hold the banking sector together at the expense of drastically raising the cost of consumer goods. Peanut butter, for example, is by many estimates around 100% more expensive than it was in 2007-2008. It does not logically follow that chasing this inflation with food stamps is a sound or sustainable economic program. Rather, if you care about the poor you should really hope for a Rand Paul presidency and that he declares a state of economic emergency and orders the Federal Reserve seized by the Treasury under emergency police powers for a full audit and criminal investigation. But I digress..

A sound money, balanced budget policy with protection for core internal markets is historically what has kept many of these costs down. In the last 10-16 years we've rapidly embraced a free trade, loose money and profligate spending program and we wonder why our markets are falling apart. On top of that, you have the fact that the federal government has been so deeply in bed with the health care and financial sectors in the last generation that these industries are virtually unaccountable to the public as documented by some conservative and libertarian writers like Karl Denninger, Zero Hedge and others.

It so happens that I was at that FPR conference and actually met Mr. Carter there -- he and I have a mutual friend who attended. And he is quite wrong w/r/t to the spin he put on Cloutier's talk. The fellow with whom I attended, himself a self-proclaimed neo-conservative, felt that the talk was actually quite good.

Lydia, the fact that you believe prices and the other concerns can be kept in separate hermetically-sealed compartments does not mean that it's so, and in fact, speaks to the truth of what I'm saying, viz., that limiting such discussions to strictly market-based considerations is in fact a skewing of the issue based on certain pro-market beliefs. In short, your very protest begs the question.

Actually, I understood the question here to be what we could do to help families afford to have more kids. You want to bring your own agenda into it, which apparently is, "What can we do to help families afford more kids but only to the extent that this is compatible with my truckload of other issues, like buying local, animal welfare, etc., etc.?" Well, that's just a different question. My point from the beginning was merely that if we're going to concern ourselves with the increasingly high cost of raising a family, we're going to need to be willing to step on a few toes on the distributist side of the line. Or at least willing to do so in principle. Naturally, NM, _you_ will think this an overly narrow point, but I think it's often more profitable to keep one's points clear and concise. It prevents enormously time-consuming "webbing" and makes it easier to defend oneself against charges of misrepresentation.

Mike T, here's something I've always been curious about, and I'm not ashamed to admit that I've never understood it: Why is the cost of food not included in estimates of inflation? And is there no good way to include it? It seems such an obvious and basic matter as far as the cost of living is concerned. I'm thinking here of your point about the cost of peanut butter.

"My point from the beginning was merely that if we're going to concern ourselves with the increasingly high cost of raising a family, we're going to need to be willing to step on a few toes on the distributist side of the line. Or at least willing to do so in principle."

Probably correct. But we'll also have to set aside some of the pro-market shibboleths that we on the right simply refuse to examine. We must face the fact that prices on certain things are sometimes kept low artificially by decidedly non-market practices which carry the illusion of being market-based simply because big business espouses them. Likewise, it is shortsighted to accept uncritically market practices that negatively affect other things, which in the long run undercut the very outcomes we would desire.

Mike T, here's something I've always been curious about, and I'm not ashamed to admit that I've never understood it: Why is the cost of food not included in estimates of inflation? And is there no good way to include it? It seems such an obvious and basic matter as far as the cost of living is concerned. I'm thinking here of your point about the cost of peanut butter.

My understanding is that including them would blow away the government's claims that inflation has been under control in the last 2-3 decades. When I was in college 8-12 years ago, the cost of gasoline was about $1.50/gallon if I remember correctly. I remember when it was under $1.00. We've seen it top $4/gallon. Now part of that is due to economic policies like not allowing the creation of new refineries, but gas taxes haven't gone up much either. The effect is ultimately that the cost of gas has inflated dramatically. My grandmother has complained bitterly that she never converted to a natural gas system because fuel oil is now nearly cost prohibitive for her old house; I think in one month in the winter she spent something like $750 for fuel oil.

We must face the fact that prices on certain things are sometimes kept low artificially by decidedly non-market practices which carry the illusion of being market-based simply because big business espouses them.

That is an issue, but take the food stamps and farm bill issues. The government is directly assaulting the food price, but it must do so in order to counter the effects of inflationary policies. If the federal government gave up these programs right now, the result wouldn't be libertopia; it would be the sort of hunger-induced rioting that lead to the French Revolution. Conservatives and libertarians have generally not been good about realizing that sometimes there is an inherent order of things wherein eliminating a bad thing now in the absence of eliminating other bad things mitigated by it can actually make things worse. Both groups have generally been so pathetic in advancing their own causes that they tend to freak out when one of their own (such as Milton Friedman on the negative effects of open borders and welfare) observes that a seeming victory may in fact be a strategic trap from the left.

But Mike, you certainly know that the USDA and Big Agri have been in bed together for decades, such that they've almost become one big incestuous super-entity. Disentangling that huge, stinking mess is going to take more than just tweakage of the farm bill and reform of the food stamp program.

(Of course in the mainstream conservative fairy tale none of this incestuous behavior can be laid at the feet of the corporations. The only bad capitalism is crony capitalism, and the "crony" part is never attributable to the corporate side, only to the gummint.)

We must face the fact that prices on certain things are sometimes kept low artificially by decidedly non-market practices which carry the illusion of being market-based simply because big business espouses them.

That's a fair statement, which I'm prepared to endorse. Debt, for instance, is being kept artificially low. Whether food is, is another question entirely. For one thing food is enormously varied. For another it remains to a considerable degree regional. For another it is complicated by the emergence of this new stuff, which is barely food at all, namely fast food, which I'll agree is eaten in excess by all too many of our countrymen, myself included.

Then there is the matter of priority, to which Anymouse referred. To say that Americans eat fast food in excess is a far cry from saying legislation should be enacted to restrain them, or even from saying excess fast food consumption is a matter requiring political action urgently.

In my judgment it is not. The matter applies in the preponderance to personal virtue. Men should repent of their gluttony.

Meanwhile, it seems some men have. I read recently that Subway franchises have surpassed those of McDonalds. Now Subway's raison d'etre is simply healthier fare, so the breadth and depth of that market would seem to be apparent, complicating, to some extent, the picture of the fat lazy American. In fact a very sizable proportion of Americans are very avid fitness enthusiasts. Marathons have never been more people. Durn near every city holds several over the course of a year. Obstacle course events like the Tough Mudder I was crazy enough to run have surged in popularity.

In truth obesity tracks with poverty and family instability. It's a part of the divergence of America into rich and poor, temperate and profligate, chaste and promiscuous. It's part of a larger story.

For myself, I hardly think banning large sodas will do a lick of good in the ruined places where large sodas and the TV or internet become the ersatz parents in dysfunctional communities. Nanny-Statism usually comes right alongside a pernicious indifference to deeper virtue. Ban the fast food but permit the anonymous dalliances between 15-year-olds. Proscribe the sodas but indulge the orgies.

Good points there. And I agree with Lydia that reducing the costs of raising children is a worthwhile goal. But, I would be far more inclined to address the problems with booster seats, daycare, and excessive support for expensive college degrees, rather than bring up issues that could put one into conflict with Porchers and agrarians. Of course, I am an agrarian so I would probably think that. Anyways, food being expensive has been a pretty constant feature of human life in many time periods and societies. But the idea of children being expensive is fairly novel and pernicious, leading me to place my greatest emphasis on areas such as the expansion of government regulation and mass consumption.

One aspect of "allowing" or "making" food to be more expensive by implementing whatever positive policy we think might be good, but is inherently artificial with respect to food's own natural price, always runs into one major problem: there is ALWAYS someone on the cusp for whom an increase in price means hunger. If "most" people eat 25% too much beef, so we raise the price of beef artificially in order to curb that, necessarily the 5%, or 1%, or .02% of people who DID NOT eat any excess beef, and who could only barely afford it at it prior price, are then cut out of the market for beef and left without. Is that just?

Notice, I did not ask "does that serve the community overall?" Here's why: whatever gains we could mark in the "benefits" column, such as increased health of many, better care of cows, and reduction in gluttony, that would offset "costs" in the opposite column such as increased poor health and hunger in the poor, these are all part of the cost/benefit ratio and are the legitimate calculus for public officials. I would submit, though, that the loss of justice is not subject to that calculus. You cannot "weigh in" a little bit of injustice which is your own action over on the left side and offset it with a big dollop of public gains on the other side - to do so is the consequentialist approach to morals. If the action is unjust, then it is bad EVEN IF there are lots and lots of gains on the public health side, more than losses to public health.

So the question remains: if we take away all the unnatural price supports, subsidies, and over-regulation that skew prices, thereby arriving at a LEVEL playing field, and we find in that position that the price of beef (or any other food) is low enough that many people over-indulge, is artificially raising the price specifically in order to regulate use and effect public so-called "moderation" an inherent injustice to the portion of the poor who are thus forced out of that market without any suitable replacement? I would suggest that there is very good reason to think that it is. Subsidiarity implies that the government's role is limited with respect to private property: it has a right to tax only to the extent of necessary public goods, and it has a right to regulate use of private property only within limits, and paternalistically modifying the cost of otherwise reasonable actions (buying a pound of hamburger) to reduce such purchases doesn't seem to be part of that.

Now, all that is assuming that we could say that we have a level playing field. To the extent that we don't, changing the conditions so as to increase the price may, or may not, be getting TO a level playing field. I am OK with that when the changes are getting rid of subsidies and other such price modifying structures. But other than those, the presumptive condition is that what we have is the level playing field, and you have to make a positive argument to show that it isn't rather than the other way around. It's no good to say that we "have a corporatist culture" and that skews the level field, because there is no way of knowing, just from that alone, whether the sum total of effects of that situation are an increase or decrease overall on any given price. If, like Paul and myself, you want to push for getting rid of unnatural corporate and finance structures on principle, then do so on principle, let the chips fall where they may on prices for specific items, and THEN you do have a level field for pricing. Don't barge in with price regulations on a given commodity in exasperation with the corporatist culture as a whole. That's not a fix, it's just more bandage on the gangrene.

What does that have to do with families affording children? Families don't have the freedom to decide to get rid of the entirety of disordered economic culture in order to find and identify just prices for goods. Each person has a basic right to work on the assumption that the price in front of them is an

approximation of the true fair market price, except for known specific immoral practices (such as your hiring a Mexican to do your lawn at $2 per hour because you know he is illegal.) In addition to working toward a more just culture (by electing just representatives) each person also has judgment calls to make on the fuzzy edges of "probably fair enough" and "possibly unfair or inappropriate" conditions: buying the beef raised in pens versus not buying beef, the shirt made in Honduras versus the shirt made in Bangladesh versus the shirt made here in the US by a company that was found to hire illegals 10 years ago versus the shirt sold by a company that actively promotes immoral behavior. These kinds of judgment calls partake both of culture-saturated information that everyone knows and publicly available information that you have to search (and for which there is a cost-benefit limit on effort), as well as the personal situation, and thus cannot be made across-the-board for all people in the same way. For the (legal) immigrant who is scraping by on beans and rice every night, buying a shirt from Bangladesh made at $1 per hour wages may NOT be an unfair pricing, where it could be for a well-off lawyer. That is to say, the actual location of the fuzzy edge of OK is different for different people.

And that means that there is plenty of call for government to get rid of paternalistic practices that take these choices out of the hands of individuals and let people make their own moral choices according to moral insights of their own. Sure, some people will make immoral choices. That's the nature of human free will. What we DON'T want is government getting in bed with corporations (and vice versa of course) to screw up market incentives to wholesome moral practices (like having kids), that's pretty much the reverse of human freedom.

But Mike, you certainly know that the USDA and Big Agri have been in bed together for decades, such that they've almost become one big incestuous super-entity. Disentangling that huge, stinking mess is going to take more than just tweakage of the farm bill and reform of the food stamp program.

NM, that is precisely my point. Without taking concrete steps to fix the other structural problems with agriculture the act of removing food stamps and food price subsidies would have the opposite outcome that most on the right want. One of those things that must be fixed is that we need to end the Federal Reserve System as we know it and institute a system of sound money. Our efforts to keep food costs low have come in no small part due to the Fed's unwillingness to abide by its legal mandate to ensure stable prices and low inflation. They've had 100 years; you'd be a fool to think that an institution that has not followed its mandate for a century can be reformed. It's time to cut our losses and go back to something backed by a real commodity of value. Doesn't have to be gold, it can be copper for all I care. Heck, it can be steel. It just needs to be something that requires more effort than stitching together cotton and wood pulp and blasting it with mostly green ink.

"Men should repent of their gluttony."

It is difficult to control gluttony when avarice is recast as "self-interest," then touted as a good. The deadly sins are linked, whether the descendents of Adam Smith attempted to remove one from the list or not.

~~If "most" people eat 25% too much beef, so we raise the price of beef artificially in order to curb that, necessarily the 5%, or 1%, or .02% of people who DID NOT eat any excess beef, and who could only barely afford it at it prior price, are then cut out of the market for beef and left without. Is that just?~~

Of course not. But the distributist/agrarian ideal would be not to raise prices artificially but to attempt to reduce demand among those who overconsume. Thing is, it is extremely difficult to convince Americans that there is even such a thing as overconsumption in regards to anything, let alone food, given our complete capitulation to a consumerist mindset. When it comes to spending our default mentality amounts to "I want what I want when I want it," which is only natural after the corporations have fed us decades of "Have it your way!" advertising. Choice devours itself, indeed.

"If, like Paul and myself, you want to push for getting rid of unnatural corporate and finance structures on principle, then do so on principle, let the chips fall where they may on prices for specific items, and THEN you do have a level field for pricing. Don't barge in with price regulations on a given commodity in exasperation with the corporatist culture as a whole."

Ideally, this is something to strive for. However, seeing that any reform of this nature would have to take place incrementally, and not in one fell swoop (unless as Mike says, you want panic in the streets), it would mean that regulations on specific given commodities would have to be in place at least temporarily in order to prevent large damaging fluctuations. Any regulation has to be commensurate with the corporate power it's attempting to limit, since both over-regulation and under-regulation have their respective problems. Not that a perfect balance will ever be struck, but at least the attempt should be made.

Posted last night on FPR:

http://www.frontporchrepublic.com/2013/08/nourishing-america/

"This article originally appeared in Trends in Social Innovation, an e-magazine celebrating the creative powers of community entrepreneurs." (In other words, no need to be ascared of it being anti-market.)

Any regulation has to be commensurate with the corporate power it's attempting to limit, since both over-regulation and under-regulation have their respective problems. Not that a perfect balance will ever be struck, but at least the attempt should be made.

Regulation is often more harmful than beneficial. My employer which has several tens of thousands of employees nationwide finds our regulatory environment significantly less daunting than I do because it can afford to distribute over all of those employees the cost of a small bureaucracy that keeps the whole enterprise in line with those regulations. If I were to start a business, obviously I could not do that. Family farmers face something similar in that whatever burdens regulations impose can be far more easily absorbed by their larger competitors.

I would rather see an environment that is openly discriminatory in favor of the small business with most regulations simply not applying to them at all. A business of a few hundred people or less is simply not a comparable entity to one that has tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of employees. It's like comparing a medium sized city to a full state in terms of how different of a beast they usually are.

With respect to gluttony, I don't see any inherent state interest there. Gluttony is a private choice like all vice consumption. Certainly, gluttons like all indulgers of vice may shorten their lives, make miserable their loved ones, etc. However the state is rarely competent to effect positive change in such matters. The state's normal answer for everything is coercion, implied or explicit (the difference being usually how long one deals with the state and/or resists it).

"A business of a few hundred people or less is simply not a comparable entity to one that has tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of employees."

Yes. One may then ask why so many "conservatives" insist on seeing something like Wal*Mart as simply Uncle Joe's General Store writ large?

I agree with you on gluttony. My point was that it's difficult to discourage food gluttony when the entire culture encourages one to be gluttonous about virtually everything else.

NM,

I wasted 10 precious minutes of my life reading that silly article. Here's how it starts:

In a recently popular documentary, Rosie, a 5th-grader from a small town in Colorado, describes how she often goes to bed with an empty pit in her stomach. Sometimes the hunger is so bad that she can’t concentrate in school. Her mother works at a diner, making sometimes as little as $120 every two weeks. They survive, partly on the generosity of their church and a local food bank. Still, it’s tight.

Pop quiz for all you conservatives out there -- why is Rosie's Dad not mentioned? Because the problem of hunger or "food insecurity" like the problem of poverty more generally is really a problem of the break-down of the family. Once we are talking about an intact two-parent family (hopefully with good Christian values) then we can start talking about Paul's concerns about how to make raising their kids cheaper on Dad's income with Mom at home taking care of all six kids ;-)

Just the sort of response I'd expect from a True Believer, Jeff. Never mind those holes in the safety net. Just make sure we provide a lot of bootstraps. Sheesh.

Distributism is one of the silliest political movements in existence, and it disturbs me that there are smart people who actually take it seriously. I suppose it appeals to the sort of people who think that the testimony of Chesterton's apple woman provides sufficient evidence for the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Just the sort of response I'd expect from a True Believer, Jeff. Never mind those holes in the safety net. Just make sure we provide a lot of bootstraps. Sheesh.

Jeff's point about the welfare system is generally correct. The welfare system is designed to make keeping a boring, unattractive husband/father around unnecessary. Where's Rosie's Dad? Probably divorced by Rosie's mom or some guy that everyone around her knew wouldn't stick around for the kid. The safety net is designed to make Rosie's choices there less painful and to the extent that it does that, it promotes vice.

Christians often forget that single motherhood is almost invariably a personal choice in modern society. There has been no mass military mobilization since World War 2. Industrial jobs are incredibly safe today. Divorce and fornication are the only two major causes of single motherhood now in modern society. Since women initiate 70% of all divorces, and the majority of them are no fault (which is by definition frivolous until proven otherwise), it is incumbent upon us to ask why Rosie has no known father in her life. The likely reason is her mother's choices, not tragedy.

Like it or not, that's just the way it is. Chances are that if Rosie's Dad were married to her mother and in her life, she would not be going hungry because she'd at least have two full time working parents.

I am no apologist for the welfare system. I think it needs some serious reform. However, there are hungry kids out there now, and cultural plans to restore the family, as much as I agree with them, do not help with the immediate problem.

However, there are hungry kids out there now, and cultural plans to restore the family, as much as I agree with them, do not help with the immediate problem

While you probably could create some sort of welfare system that does not have the state acting as a surrogate husband and father, the fact remains that the one we have does that. So while you may feed hungry kids today, by supporting the welfare state as it currently exists you are implicitly sacrificing those cultural plans. In a way, you are doing evil that good may come of it by undermining how much a woman really needs a man as a provider for her children. I know that's a hard pill for many Christians, especially Catholics, to swallow, but it is what it is. If you know that the progress of this welfare state has been to aid and abet divorce, out of wedlock birth, etc. then supporting it no matter what good it may does means you are fine with the damage it does.

Supporting the system as it currently operates is definitely not a good thing. However, even if we were to overhaul it or remake it completely, the fact remains that some sort of safety net would need to be in place during the overhaul. By all means, dismantle the welfare state. But have something in place to catch the falling while the dismantling is going on. That's basically all I'm saying. God will not allow us to ignore the poor based on some abstract small-government principle. Or big-government principle either.

I saw other oddities in that article. For example: It was mostly about helping Rosie's family get more fruits and vegetables, but as anyone who has gone on a diet knows, eating more salad isn't going to make you much less hungry. In other words, the article seemed to be trying to fit its very own star example into the "round hole" of poor nutrition rather than not enough food that "sticks to the ribs." If the kid is hungry at night, the problem is not chiefly getting her more carrots and salad.

At least the article _did_ mention meat. Ahem, yes. If Rosie got more meat, that would help her not to go to bed hungry. Perhaps we could look at what is driving up meat prices and meanwhile not come up with any brilliant new ideas that are going to make them higher. (Believe me, I shop; I've noticed how meat prices have gone up.)

Then there are gas prices. A friend of mine apparently doesn't live near a grocery store and literally told me the other day that gas is so high that she can't afford to drive to the store more often than once a week. The article mentioned "food deserts." Well, if some of the people who live in "food deserts" are fortunate enough to have a car, it would be good if gas didn't cost an arm and a leg.

Another tension I noticed in the story was between the author's desire to criticize subsidies keeping (he claims) the cost of various allegedly "unhealthy" foods artificially low and his overall desire to help Rosie not to go to bed hungry at night. The people interviewed in the story at least "get it" that some food is better than no food. Again, if the kid is hungry at night, a policy (even if a necessary policy) that drives up the cost of corn (say) by removing subsidies and hence the cost of many foods she presently eats is not really addressing that problem but may rather make it worse.

So the article itself seemed to be pulling in multiple and even conflicting directions.

"So the article itself seemed to be pulling in multiple and even conflicting directions."

~~The reality is that the issue of food is multi-faceted and highly complex, and extends beyond the issue of hunger into issues of health and human flourishing. If we really want to find a way to make sure everyone in America is well-fed—sustainably and nourishingly fed—we have to look at the issue from all angles.~~

That's the fifth paragraph of the piece. Miss that, did ya? Figures.

Article:

Sometimes the hunger is so bad that she can’t concentrate in school. Her mother works at a diner, making sometimes as little as $120 every two weeks.

NM:

Just the sort of response I'd expect from a True Believer, Jeff. Never mind those holes in the safety net. Just make sure we provide a lot of bootstraps. Sheesh.

Mike:

Jeff's point about the welfare system is generally correct. The welfare system is designed to make keeping a boring, unattractive husband/father around unnecessary. Where's Rosie's Dad? Probably divorced by Rosie's mom or some guy that everyone around her knew wouldn't stick around for the kid.

Forget Dad, what about Rosie's Mom? Why is 2 weeks' work only pulling in $120? Because she isn't working 40 hours per week, that's why. And why isn't she working more? How the heck do we know? It might be because she is on drugs. It might be because she is a terrible worker and the boss can only afford to have her work the 10 hours/week that are slowest. It might be because she is going to school and can't work much. It might be because the place is only open Saturdays and Sundays, for crying out loud. Whatever the reason she isn't working more, WHICH THE ARTICLE DOESN'T EVEN CONSIDER, that's the first reason Rosie is hungry. It's just bad reporting, really. The article probably would have been more accurate to say she doesn't much work at the diner.

Now, not all of those reasons are independent of the economy and so on, and not all of them mean that Rosie's Mom is a bad Mom. But many of them have little or nothing to do with can't get food because her pay is so low so much as can't get enough food given the other choices made, which is a different ball of wax.

I don't know what the solution to hunger is if we want to fix it for every single hungry person, because generally there is no possible way to fix any problem for every single sufferer. There will always be SOME Rosie or other. But if we want to fix most of the problem, obviously fixing the economy and the marketplace will do a lot more for fixing hunger than revising how we give food to food banks.

Ideally, this is something to strive for. However, seeing that any reform of this nature would have to take place incrementally, and not in one fell swoop (unless as Mike says, you want panic in the streets), it would mean that regulations on specific given commodities would have to be in place at least temporarily in order to prevent large damaging fluctuations.

Fine, go ahead and provide a "soft landing" for people currently on the dole, including those who don't even know they are because it's hidden. As long as the well announced, locked-in, non-negotiable operational word is TEMPORARY, I could live with that. In theory. But then, isn't that where all these programs came from? I am not saying the whole thing has to be fixed in one step. Fixing the money (gold or equivalent standard) could be done without re-rigging the entire economic structure from the ground up, various countries have done it in modern times.

God will not allow us to ignore the poor based on some abstract small-government principle. Or big-government principle either.

God will also not absolve you of your guilt for supporting a system that undermines marriage in the name of taking care of the poor. Don't forget that either...

Forget Dad, what about Rosie's Mom? Why is 2 weeks' work only pulling in $120? Because she isn't working 40 hours per week, that's why. And why isn't she working more? How the heck do we know? It might be because she is on drugs. It might be because she is a terrible worker and the boss can only afford to have her work the 10 hours/week that are slowest. It might be because she is going to school and can't work much. It might be because the place is only open Saturdays and Sundays, for crying out loud. Whatever the reason she isn't working more, WHICH THE ARTICLE DOESN'T EVEN CONSIDER, that's the first reason Rosie is hungry. It's just bad reporting, really. The article probably would have been more accurate to say she doesn't much work at the diner.

$120 for 2 weeks of work is below minimum wage even for a restaurant worker assuming she works 40 hours a week or something close to that. I'd hazard a guess that it's below minimum wage (yes, I know waitresses make a different minimum wage) for even 20 hours a week. But remember something here, Tony. I can't remember who it was here but even one of the Catholic conservatives here lamented that women on welfare have to work instead of getting to be stay at home moms because you know that's more important than forcing these women to work instead of sponging the system without a husband in their life.

"Whatever the reason she isn't working more, WHICH THE ARTICLE DOESN'T EVEN CONSIDER, that's the first reason Rosie is hungry. It's just bad reporting, really. The article probably would have been more accurate to say she doesn't much work at the diner."

The "Rosie" story isn't a feature of the article per se, but rather the subject of a documentary that the article mentions. It's got nothing to do with "bad reporting," unless you're going to fault the documentary, which I'm presuming you haven't watched. If you're going to criticize, at least get it right.

"God will also not absolve you of your guilt for supporting a system that undermines marriage in the name of taking care of the poor. Don't forget that either..."

Uh, didn't I already agree with that above? Twice?

The "Rosie" story isn't a feature of the article per se, but rather the subject of a documentary that the article mentions. It's got nothing to do with "bad reporting," unless you're going to fault the documentary, which I'm presuming you haven't watched. If you're going to criticize, at least get it right.

To the extent that the article cites the documentary regarding an argument, Jeff and Tony are free to criticize it. Maybe the documentary does have a balance that is not being cited because that would not be favorable to the point made in the article. We don't know either way, and it's not their responsibility to track it down rather than criticize what is presented.

Uh, didn't I already agree with that above? Twice?

Yes, you did. However it needs to be pointed out whenever a conservative gets pragmatic about having the state get involved in relieving the poor. Call it a reality check if you wish.

Sigh. I'll try this again. The state is already involved in relieving the poor. If that relief is to be decreased or otherwise reformed (which I fully agree needs doing), some temporary existing support will have to be maintained during the process, unless you want riots. That's all I'm saying.

Didn't notice this till now -- the guy that wrote 'What to Expect When No One's Expecting,' Jonathan Last, is the same guy who reviewed the Sandel book for the WSJ.

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