Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Paying people to have children?

In many parts of Africa, parents take the view that it is a good idea to have several children, as they are good investment for the future.

In China, the government has, in certain places, adopted a two-child policy, and even a one-child policy.

In Britain, and many other western nations, we have, since the passing of the Family Allowances Act 1945, had a policy of paying people to have children. This has recently become rather expensive, with the result that the government has decided to pay certain people to have children, but not others. (Basically, if either parent earns over £44,000 per year, they will not be paid to have children.) The logic of this has been lost on some people, and it is generally not considered one of the government's better decisions.

However, it is not the details of what the government has proposed that I want to write about - it's the concept of child benefit. What fascinates me is that just about everybody these days (at least in Europe) seems to think that taking tax-payers' money to pay people to have children is a good idea. This idea is a fairly novel one - and does not seem to have occured to many Europeans before the beginning of the 20th century. It still doesn't seem to have caught on with many people in the USA or in Africa - or for that matter in China.

Yes, I know that child benefit is an easy way of providing tax-payer's money to people who might just need it, and I'm not a Malthusian, but this idea of paying people to have children seems distinctly odd to me.

Of course, if you believe that the state is really your parent, then you'll probably think this is fair enough. But the idea that the state is your parent also strikes me as not just odd, but also dangerous.

9 comments:

indigomyth said...

Surprise surprise, I agree with you. I have been having this discussion with people at work. It is rather depressing to see the widespread criticism of the nature of this law (rather than its specific details - an £87k a year couple gets benefits, a £45k a year single person gets none). It shows just how far socialism has spread into the culture.

With regard to Africa, I confess to very limited sympathy, especially after Old Holborne drew my attention to the massive population rise in places like Ethiopia, and the simple realisation that the same people that Geldof was saving in the 80s, are now the feckless parents of yet more children. Surely, if you are in a situation in which you know that your children would starve, and would probably die, you would refrain from having any?! Is the African culture of having children so powerful?

Albert said...

I'm not at all sure about paying people to have children. I would prefer in the first instance, benefits to those who need it, and tax breaks for married couples.

I have a feeling Indigomyth may have something to say on this.

indigomyth said...

Albert,


//I have a feeling Indigomyth may have something to say on this.//

Am I really that transparent and predictable?

I find it morally repugnant, indeed absolutely evil, that my money is taken from me, and given to other people just because they happen to be involved in a particular type of relationship. I don't care about whether they are married or not, and I do not want to pay for them. I want to spend the money I earn, on what I want. Not on what the government wants, or what the Catholic church wants, or what the "majority" wants, what I want. I was reading Cranmer on this topic, and he decried it as being not compassionate - hmmmm, how "compassionate" is it, exactly, to take money from people, under threat of violence, and giving it to other people, because you happen to value the type of relationship they engage in? I was considering the arguments in favour of state-sponsored marriage. The one that I came back to was the one based on the benefit to children, and the alleged fact that children raised by married couples tend to be less likely to commit crime. Okay, let us accept that proposition. Let us say that not financially supporting marriage will result in more crime, due to wayward children. Even under those circumstances, how is my condition worse than under a State levied tax? Under a tax system that recognises marriage, I have a near 100% certainty of money being taken from me. But, under a system that does not raise money for marriage, I only have, lets say, a 50% to 70% chance of being mugged (to be very generous). Well, in that case, I am still in greater profit under a system that does not recognise marriage, compared to one that does. I can get mugged once a year for the rest of my life, by some disenfranchised youth, losing maybe £100 in total. Compare that to the month in, month out, exploitation that the State subjects me to, all to give money to married couples.

**Breath, breath, breath**

Young Mr. Brown said...

Indigomyth,

Re: Africa

In Africa - and in other places as well - the reason that people have plenty of children is that since there is no welfare state, you rely on family to provide for you in your old age. In other words, the more children you have, the more people there will be to look after you when you are old.

And by the way, since life expectancy in Africa is not high, (and not just because of AIDS - though AIDS has brought life expectancy down considerably in many places)- in order to make sure that at least some of your children will survive to look after you, having a reasonable number makes sense.

Surely, if you are in a situation in which you know that your children would starve . . .

I suspect that very few people in Africa are actually in a position where they know that their children will starve.

indigomyth said...

YMB,

//in other words, the more children you have, the more people there will be to look after you when you are old. //

I know that. However that would still mean that the African parent is putting their own long term happiness and comfort above those of any potential children. They are effectively saying "Sod your quality of life, and the high chance of you starving to death, I want someone to look after me when I am old, so I am going to have a couple of children to make sure that there is someone to support me".

It does not seem to me to be an overly moral course of action, having children to look after you, when you know that your children will have an uncomfortable quality of life.

//I suspect that very few people in Africa are actually in a position where they know that their children will starve.//

Then they are morons. If I have lived in a country where there is widespread starvation and disease, where my parents suffered from lack of food, where many of my siblings have died, and where I have to walk miles to get food and water, I would be smart enough to see something of a trend, wouldn't you?

As I say, the children "saved" in the 80s are now the parents of a whole new generation of children that need "saving". They clearly have not thought about the reality of their situation OR they do not care that their children are going to have a bad quality of life.

Young Mr. Brown said...

Indigomyth

"Then they are morons. If I have lived in a country where there is widespread starvation and disease . . . . They clearly have not thought about the reality of their situation OR they do not care that their children are going to have a bad quality of life.

There is, in my opinion, some truth in what you are saying. But then 'not thinking about the reality of their situation' is not unique to Africans.

Nor is it really fair to say that they don't care that their children are going to have a bad quality of life. What, for an African, constitutes a bad quality of life, is not the same as what would constitute a bad quality of life for the average western European.

I don't know how well you know Africa, but for most Africans, starvation is actually pretty unlikely. (Aid and Development agencies, for their own purposes, present a view of Africa which is somewhat one-sided.) Poor diet and disease and infant mortality are widespread, but then the same was true for England and Scotland until a couple of hundred years ago.

However that would still mean that the African parent is putting their own long term happiness and comfort above those of any potential children. They are effectively saying "Sod your quality of life, and the high chance of you starving to death, I want someone to look after me when I am old, so I am going to have a couple of children to make sure that there is someone to support me".

Yes, self-interest is a great motivating factor, and selfishness is part of the human condition. But the average African does not see it quite like that.

Put it like this. In the UK, a lot of people (and not just those who have never worked) expect to live at the expense of the state (to use Bastiat's phrase)- including in their old age.

In Africa, and other traditional societies, they expect to live at the expense of their families.

I know which approach I prefer, and I reckon that Bastiat is with me on this one.

:-)

indigomyth said...

YMB,

//What, for an African, constitutes a bad quality of life, is not the same as what would constitute a bad quality of life for the average western European. //

Yes, that is true. I do not really see then, why adverts begging for money ought to claim that their predicament is so terrible.

//Poor diet and disease and infant mortality are widespread, but then the same was true for England and Scotland until a couple of hundred years ago. //

Indeed. However, in England and Scotland there seemed to be a far more restrained attitude to producing childern. The population certainly did not balloon like it has in some parts of Africa.

//I know which approach I prefer, and I reckon that Bastiat is with me on this one. //

Oh yes, I completely agree - of the two options, the family one is the better. However, that option is vastly, vastly, inferior to the third option - supporting yourself (or, by default, having the money to pay someone to do that).

//Yes, self-interest is a great motivating factor, and selfishness is part of the human condition. But the average African does not see it quite like that. //

I find nothing inherently wrong with self-interest. However, it is altruisim that the Africans are playing on - altruism of their children, and of the West (who provide aid). It is also altruism that makes a lot of Africa such a violent place - the persecution of homosexuals being one thing, the persecution of woman, in order to maintain "social cohesion", another.

Young Mr. Brown said...

Indigomyth

"I do not really see then, why adverts begging for money ought to claim that their predicament is so terrible."

I think the answer to that is two-fold. It is partly that for some Africans, their predicament really is terrible, and people in the west assume that it is much the same for all Africans. And it is partly because aid and development agencies find that they get a better response to their appeals if the situation looks really dreadful.

"However, in England and Scotland there seemed to be a far more restrained attitude to producing childern. The population certainly did not balloon like it has in some parts of Africa."

I don't know, but I suspect that the main reason for the recent rapid population growth in Africa is modern antibiotics.

It's also true that most African countries are actually not very densely populated.

indigomyth said...

YMB,

//And it is partly because aid and development agencies find that they get a better response to their appeals if the situation looks really dreadful.//

I suspect that this makes up the bulk of the reasoning.


//I don't know, but I suspect that the main reason for the recent rapid population growth in Africa is modern antibiotics.//

However, if that is the case, then the survival rate of infants goes up, so the Africans ought not need as many to keep them fed and watered in their old age. If every reproducing couple has only two offspring, then that is sufficient to provide care to both parents, and to keep the population quite stable.

//It's also true that most African countries are actually not very densely populated.//

Correct, however the proportion of that land that is actually suitable for cultivation to provide food for those people, is actually the critical thing. Were it only area of land, we could say that a population of a million on Antarctica ought to be well off. The fact still remains that Africans have more children then they can comfortably feed and water, without foreign aid.