Thursday, January 3, 2019

Why Having Kids Is Not An Unambiguous Investment In Happiness - Yet More Reasons To Ignore Economists' Pleas To Make Babies

The face of a whiny infant screaming his head off.   And a major reason why many of us chose to never have these creatures.

There is a good reason why most physical scientists consider the majority of economists to be blockheads and simpletons: they don't use rational or testable models. One of the most irritating aspects of market economics posits that population growth is essential for future economics growth. The classic example of this simpleton proposition was expressed several years ago in a Wall Street Journal column (p. A1, 'Population's Flagging Growth Undermines Global Economy')

The author, Greg Ip, writing:

"Previous generations fretted about the world having too many people. Today's problem is too few. This reflects two long-established trends: lengthening lifespans and declining fertility.

Simply put, companies are running out of workers, customers or both. In either case economic growth suffers"

Which is total, unadulterated balderdash which no serious rational person should buy.  And indeed I lampooned it in a number of posts, indicating that in the OECD nations right now there are over 200 million unemployed workers who could do many of the jobs going unfilled.  Hell, in this country alone it appears that over 8 million willing workers over 65 years of age are finding a dearth of positions, opportunities to be hired e.g.

'Just Unbearable.' Booming Job Market Can't Fill the Retirement Shortfall


As noted in the above cited piece:

"For older Americans, the last few years of work can be a vital chance to patch up thin savings or pay down debt to ease their way into retirement. Many aren’t getting that opportunity.."

So clearly it is merely PR and propaganda to claim there aren't enough workers and we need to generate more babies.   How can any thinking person swallow this rubbish?    Especially given that adding more workers by birthing them is  a solution we simply cannot afford.  See, e.g.

There has been no lack of economic pushback on falling fertility in the U.S. ever since Ip's infamous piece appeared.  Thankfully, at least now many women are thinking two or three times before spawning more rugrats.  And merely because some pointy-headed wonk ensconced in an ivory tower Rightist think tank says they must.  Besides, more people today - one hopes - think long and hard before they have children, given the psychological as well as financial costs.

According to a recent NY Times piece on modern parenting:

"Parenthood in the United States has become much more demanding than it used to be. Over just a couple of generations, parents have greatly increased the amount of time, attention and money they put into raising children. Mothers who juggle jobs outside the home spend just as much time tending their children as stay-at-home mothers did in the 1970s.   The amount of money parents spent on children, which used to peak when they were in high school, is now highest when they are under 6 and over 18 and into their mid-20s."

Even before the modern era, parenting was not something I relished and fortunately, neither did Janice.  Hence we chose a child-free life.   This, despite the RC Church's edict that artificial birth  control is a big 'no-no'  and "mortal sin". All that codswallop did is provide one more reason to finally leave the Church by the age of twenty-nine.  

Of course, money is the other aspect which too few consider before they jump into parenting, given the costs  to raise ONE kid through college is roughly a quarter million smackeroos.  Let me put it this way: had we opted 40  years ago to have five offspring like my parents did , e.g.

We'd never have been able to save up enough to afford a decent retirement, including the ability to travel, work on our own creative projects and donate to multiple charitable organizations.  How did my parents do it?  Well, because in the 1950s, early 60s, the economy enabled a degree of support and the bank savings rate (4-5%) allowed families to save without risking money in the stock market.  Let's also record the high marginal tax rate,  targeting the richest,  was 91 percent  - not the 38.6% today.

Back to kids as a not so great investment.  According to former WSJ columnist Jonathan Clements ('Are Kids A Good Investment ?  Will They Make You Happier?', Market Watch, Dec, 13)there are still far too many Americans who don't think carefully enough before taking the parenthood step.  As he frames it:

"Prospective parents are convinced children will enrich their lives. The data suggest otherwise."

What evidence might that be?   He notes that many—perhaps most—U.S. parents spend more on their children than they end up saving for their own retirement. The Department of Agriculture estimates it costs almost $234,000 for a middle-class family to raise a child through age 17. If the kid goes on to an in-state university, that would add another $85,000 to the tab.  We are now talking about more than 300 grand per kid. Who today can afford that, even for two  kids, far less five?

Much of the problem is only seen in retrospect after a kind of "buyer's remorse"  sets in.  Thus, parents belatedly confronted with evidence that their choice wasn’t necessarily the right one rebel and resist using assorted rationalizations.  According to Clements:

"I see this with retirees who have already claimed Social Security—and are now told they would have been better off delaying. I see it with folks who lease cars or buy overly large homes. And I see it with parents who are shown the sorry data on children and happiness."

Clements says he first came across such data a dozen years ago. He references an  academic paper which charted satisfaction with life, as reported by parents who were approaching their first child’s birth. As the happy day got nearer, reported life satisfaction climbed ever higher—only to come crashing down in the years after the birth. By the time the kids were age 3 or 4, both mothers and fathers were reporting life satisfaction that was significantly below their long-term baseline. Well, think of it!  Faced with a screeching little rugrat such as the one shown, keeping you up all hours of the night, and making endless demands on your time and resources. Selfish? Of course!  That's what many of us knew about ourselves beforehand - we the child-free - which is why we opted not to have kids despite all the yammering of well-meaning outsiders.  (I still recall the Headmistress of Janice's Queen's College telling both of us at a cocktail party that we owed it to Barbados to have children to compensate for all the progeny generated by lower intellects.  Yes, seriously!)

I mean, let's be honest here, it isn't all about just sparing the planet more millions of resource-consuming American kids.  Another huge reason is self-interest and a stark honesty (and self-knowledge)  that includes knowing you are not a child person.  Clements goes on:

It seems parental happiness has a lot to do with the amount of work and aggravation involved.  Indeed, countless studies suggest children either don’t have much impact on happiness or the effect is somewhat negative. One study even found that women rated child care 16th out of 19 daily activities, putting it just above commuting and just below housework.

The least happy parents seem to be those who have young children, are young themselves, are raising kids alone or have children with problems."

Again, this isn't rocket science or plasma physics.  Young children (2 - 5 yrs.)  are almost universally a pain in the ass.  Walking- talking Donald Trumps in miniature, grabbing, demanding, sassing and worse- crapping nonstop making endless messes to clean up - often requiring tons of disposable diapers to be added to already over strained landfills.

The most interesting Clements' observation of all, and one worth noting in the USA's individualist capitalist culture:

"That brings me to an intriguing study that looked at 22 countries. It found wide disparities in happiness: Parents in Portugal, Hungary, Spain and five other countries were happier than nonparents in those countries. But in the other 14 nations, nonparents were happier. The bad news: The U.S. sat at the bottom of this ranking, just below Ireland and Greece.

What drove differences in national happiness? The study’s authors conclude that the results were heavily influenced by government policies. Parents were happier in those countries with family-friendly laws that mandated such things as paid family leave, subsidized child care, and guaranteed paid sick and vacation days."

In other words, the democratic socialist nations like Denmark, Norway and Sweden assured parents the highest probability of being content because they knew they had state support and benefits - which the stingy U.S. refuses to offer.  Opting to confer most tax cut benefits on the wealthiest. I mean, given this is it any wonder young adults are choosing to have fewer or no children?  Why should they when the government inveighs against their own interests?

In this sick sort of society what are the options for those intent on still undertaking parenthood?  Clements' suggested strategy is to have plenty of moola saved up, say to afford expensive child care (almost as much as private school tuition) and also make sure to live close to "family" and hope they will provide support when needed. Well, good luck!

In the end, let's be clear the condition of lower U.S. fertility is a direct result of the U.S. cowboy capitalist system which demands citizens go it alone, stand on their own. What the child free citizens are saying is: "Fuck you! If you aren't going to support us we aren't gonna have kids to become your future precious consumers!"

In other words, why should they "invest" in having children if the government refuses to invest in their kids as essential future citizens, or consumers?  Can't anyone see that when the Neolibs demand higher birth rates - for whatever reason - they are insisting on having their cake and eating it? They want their precious Pareto-based economic system of endless consumption supported indefinitely by the "Proles", but they don't want to raise the Proles' wages (or social benefits via taxes)  to assist that endeavor. 

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