The End of the World as We Know It

December 13, 2004 | 100 comments
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Check your 72-hour kits, everyone. Over the weekend I bought and started reading a book because Adam linked to a positive review of it in the National Review.
The book was Mary Eberstadt’s Home Alone America: The Hidden Toll of Day Care, Behavioral Drugs, and Other Parent Substitutes. According to the NRO, Eberstadt argues that we ought to reframe some debates around social issues–divorce, daycare, women’s employment, etc.–in terms of their impact on children, instead of on the adults involved.

I couldn’t agree more. There’s no way to put the genie of second-wave feminism back in the bottle, even if we wanted to–most people have come to believe that women are capable of performing well in any profession, that women should have the right to some economic independence from their men-folk, etc. Unfortunately, this recognition of women’s capacities coincided with the rise of an economic order that requires wringing every last drop of productivity out of every worker to maintain constant growth. Women’s newfound equality has freed them to get sucked into the economic engine along with everyone else, and the “unproductive” labor of running households, caring for children, tending to the elderly, etc. has either been outsourced to low-wage workers or just isn’t getting done. Rather than having the hidden costs of supplying the ideal employee (i.e. someone who can work 10-12 or even 14 hours a day without being interrupted by the demands of humanity) borne by women at home, we’ve shifted them onto our children. And I think the only hope of re-framing the issues is to start talking about the needs of children, instead of about the rights of their parents and the needs of their parents’ employers. So I’m willing to go that far with Eberstadt.

Where I differ from her, and also from many church members, is the proposed solution. Eberstadt’s primary solution to the problem seems to be shaming mothers into leaving the workforce. This will not work. And it’s stupidly uncreative. We *have* to move past nostalgia for a largely imagined past and start thinking about ways to restructure the American workplace in a way that allows, even encourages, *both* mothers and fathers to fulfill their obligations to their children. As Laura puts it, in a post I wish I’d written (part of a series on the book, with really interesting comments–read the whole thing!), “if you want a return to Jeffersonian America, you’re going to have to use Hamiltonian means.”

Mormons should be at the forefront of this rethinking, re-visioning, instead of at the tail end of the inconsistent family values crowd that supports free-market exploitation of workers and tries to make up for it by shouting at women to give up their non-maternal aspirations. The scriptures are clear: parents are exhorted to bring up their children in light and truth; they simply cannot do that if one of them is working at a high-powered, high-income job for 12 hours a day, and the other is isolated at home, dealing with the frustrating demands of children alone all those hours. The economy of Babylon is directly in conflict with the family. The world needs the example of Mormon families who find a creative balance between developing the talents of, and requiring Christian sacrifice from *each* member.

As much as we would like to think it does, the Proclamation on the Family doesn’t go any farther than Eberstadt’s book towards answering the hard questions about how families can work in a postmodern, post-industrial capitalist society. While we speak of the family as the “fundamental unit of society,” and claim to be absolutely committed to parents viewing their families as their first, even their only, priority, we seem to also want to participate in the larger society in ways that the isolationist, self-sufficient family model precludes–we want fathers to excel in their professions and at their church work, mothers to be well-educated and participate in Church and civic life, children to get the most and best education they can afford, etc. All of those goods come with a price: fathers have to work insane hours to excel at most professions; educated mothers will not necessarily want to devote all of their time and energy to childrearing and housekeeping, and may end up with student loan debt that absolutely requires them to spend some time in the workforce; getting a good education for children generally means having the purchasing power to get housing in desirable school districts and paying college tuition.

All those things do not collapse into a single, cheap model. There are, it seems to me, several possibilities for creating the kinds of families that can be engaged in the goods of civic life and still seriously focused on the life of the family: 1) we could let go of the Victorian rhetoric about women as the angels of the house, and let them participate more fully in the economic life of the family (which might, after all, be read as part of “helping each other as equal partners” in the responsibilities to provide for and nurture children, and which has precedent in the history of the church), 2) we could get really serious about creating a civic society that would meet the needs of children–start campaigning to pour a lot of public money into excellent, affordable, and flexible childcare possibilities, parks, supervised recreation programs for kids, libraries, preschools, arts programs, etc., as well as getting serious about improving public schools and creating access to them that doesn’t depend on housing purchase power, 3) we could truly reject the demands of the economy, and start encouraging a counter-culture of Mormons, particularly Mormon fathers, who drop out of the rat race and figure out ways to get by on *a lot* less money, with less participation in the wider society, so that they can really do what is right for their children. What we can’t and shouldn’t do is to keep telling women that they are failing *our* children.

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100 Responses to The End of the World as We Know It

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  4. Ben Huff on December 13, 2004 at 12:25 pm

    Great post, Kristine! I’d like to bring in another avenue:
    4) we could adjust our economic choices and choices of where to live (mainly, choose to move around less) so as to be able to take better advantage of cooperative possibilities in extended families, and to better support long-term friendships. This is a bit like Kristine’s (2), but more counter-cultural. It might also partly help with (3). The particular way we have run with the modern specialized economy not only takes wage-earners away from children, it also takes nuclear families away from their extended families, and tends to make friendships attenuated. Grandparents, cousins, and cooperative arrangements among friends etc. can often do better and willingly the job we might pay institutional day-care to do. I’m not saying we need to exploit our family members; I’m saying that such arrangements are in many ways more likely to achieve our goals with less real cost all around; they have inherent efficiencies, and also inherently more human.

    Of course, I think we need to do some work on all of the above.

  5. Russell Arben Fox on December 13, 2004 at 12:33 pm

    Excellent post, Kristine (and an excellent discussion you liked to over at Laura McKenna’s blog). One quick point about your three concluding possibilities: it seems to me that the only two which are truly mutually exclusive alternatives are 1) and 3). The first option is to make the egalitarianism which is implied in our rhetoric about “parents” expressible in terms of the modern market economy: in other words, make it such that Mormon women can and do participate in the workforce in the same way and to the same degree as men. The third option involves recognizing that the requirements of an egalitarian Mormon (arguably “Jeffersonian”) family life are incompatible capitalist economic achievement, and rejecting the latter. The second option, however, involves a set of policies and practices that could serve either alternative. The different would be in how those policies are justified. If you endorse spending more money and putting more emphasis on day care, flextime, preschools, etc., in order to serve the family as women and men seek some kind of equality in the marketplace (that is, if you combine 1 & 2), then you’re making a liberal argument; you’re talking about increasing the availability of goods to choose between as women and men seek to maximize their economic participation. If, on the other hand, you endorse those things by way of making it possible for those either choose or simply must deal with constrained economic choices, because you think such things out to be free civic goods (thereby combining 2 & 3), then you’re making a social democratic argument. The two different arguments will, in the long run, lead you in two very different directions. (I prefer the latter.)

  6. Russell Arben Fox on December 13, 2004 at 12:50 pm

    Ben, you’re right about the role of extended family in mitigating many of the gender-specific economic downsides of the market economy, and I can’t help but think that, if the right quantitative tools and data were available (and they probably are; Frank will no doubt inform me), it would be possible to demonstrate how the emphasis on ward service and extended family connections do, in fact, often make possible compromises in financially-stressed Mormon families that could otherwise lead to divorce and depression. That being said, I think families, in the sense you’re talking about, really are a component of civic life, and therefore properly fall under categories 2 & 3 (as usually partly note).

    As for which more directly challenges the world around us, I don’t think “conservative” family-centered counter-cultures and “socialist” community-minded counter-cultures are all that different, and I think the hostilities between them are unfortunate. But that’s something I’ve talked a lot about before.

  7. Adam Greenwood on December 13, 2004 at 12:51 pm

    Mea Culpa.

  8. Jack on December 13, 2004 at 12:54 pm

    Kristine,

    I think it’s a “chicken or the egg” conundrum. Yes “babylon” is notorious for taking full advantage of the blood and sweat of humanity, however if the majority would simply live on less the economy would eventually have to adjust itself to the decline in demand. IMO we’re paying (literally!) for our overly zealous search for self fullfillment – and I mean men as well as women.

  9. Frank McIntyre on December 13, 2004 at 1:02 pm

    Kristine,

    Let me just comment now on one passage.

    “fathers have to work insane hours to excel at most professions;”

    This may be more true among those you hang out with than among other professions. Statistically, most men don’t work 60 hours a week. Professions that require long hours probably do so for a couple reasons: a) a sole worker at 60 hours is more productive than one and a half workers at 40 each. Thus the higher wages stem from higher production (specialization). b) long work hours provide a signal as to who likes to work and has high endurance and who does not. Thus one uses long work hours to determine who to give partnerships or tenure to, because after you give them job security you need them to like work in order to keep them working.

    Reason a) is not the fault of the firm, it is the nature of production. Thus the higher wages are just a a reflection of a more productive worker.

    You could probably do away with reason b. if you got rid of job security, but that may not be a net gain!

    “educated mothers will not necessarily want to devote all of their time and energy to childrearing and housekeeping”

    presumably, many uneducated mothers feel the same way. The reason an educated women might feel more so may often be because she can earn more than the uneducated mother. Also, she probably feels pressure from her social group who may feel that staying at home is degrading.

    “and may end up with student loan debt that absolutely requires them to spend some time in the workforce;”

    A state-school education or a BYU education happily goes a long way towards mitigating this problem. If you are not idly rich or sure you are going to work a long time, paying full tuition at Harvard is a pretty expensive form of consumption.

    Of course, suppose a couple has debt from a woman’s education. The lowest time cost (in terms of hours outside the home) way to deal with the problem is to have the highest wage earner work more hours. Men tend to earn higher wages, because they tend to work full time and are not likely to leave the labor force as soon, so this encourages the husband (not the wife) to be the one to pay off the wife’s debt, because he’ll be getting a higher wage.

    By the same thinking, there are also higher “wages” to women who specialize in raising children, if by “wages” we mean the returns to her and the family of well-raised children. Thus, if specialization really helps productivity in the home and at work, having both parents work part time and raise children part-time generates _less_ money and less returns in terms of child rearing. Bad move. This argument is not specific to gender, its just an argument about specialization. The Proclamation seems to argue that some degree of specialization is a good thing and should be the norm.

    Absolute specialization (where the husband never sees the kids who are raised solely by the wife), does not seem to be endorsed by anyone. That makes sense too, because the benefits of specialization are subject to diminishing returns. Which is another way of saying that specialization’s benefits peter out as specialization becomes extreme.

    “getting a good education for children generally means having the purchasing power to get housing in desirable school districts and paying college tuition.”

    as for college– see above. The local housing problem is exactly right and an excellent reason to support competitive education, such as private schools, home schooling, charter schools, etc., that break the link between schooling and housing. Of course, we all “home school” to some extent, right? Also, breaking this link has its own community costs, see Fox, Russell Arben.

  10. Ben Huff on December 13, 2004 at 1:06 pm

    The difference between talking about extended families and friend networks, and talking about “civic life”, in my mind, is in the extent to which they partake of mass culture and its political problems and inefficiencies. Mass culture also has efficiencies in some domains, like making widgets, but I’m afraid they are not so hot when it comes to caring for human beings. Of course, one would hope that unfortunate choices in school size that undermine real community would not be repeated in the case of day care. Hard to say. But what about issues like the role of religion and disputed moral values in a civic culture of child-rearing? Hence my choice of where to start talking.

  11. Matt Evans on December 13, 2004 at 1:08 pm

    Excellent topic Kristine,

    I fully support your solution number 3 and oppose most of the ideas in solution 2. Ben made the point I would have — the number of dollars for which people are willing to uproot their families is far too few.

    Regarding parents, do you think that the special bond pregnancy creates in women toward their children should be emphasized or overcome? In other words, to what degree should society use the pregnancy-bond for the benefit of the child, and to what degree should society neutralize the pregnancy-bond in order to equalize parent-child attachments? This is an issue that has traditionally been framed by the needs of the adults, rather than what’s best for children.

  12. Ben Huff on December 13, 2004 at 1:16 pm

    Another major advantage to extended families and better friend networks is that it, better than a more generic civic life, directly addresses the loneliness issue for “stay-at-home” parents, as well as helping with kids, where for this reason or that (such as in Frank’s comment) the other parent is working long hours.

  13. Kristine on December 13, 2004 at 1:17 pm

    Society could take advantage of that natural bond by providing really generous maternity leaves to allow women to have that important first year with their children. A side-benefit would be more breastfed children, which has significant upsides for public health (fewer allergies, fewer ear-infections, marginal IQ gains, etc.). I think it’s hard to argue that the “pregnancy bond” has prescriptive implications beyond the first year or two of a child’s life–I think fathers who want to have largely caught up in the bonding department by age 2 or 3.

  14. Kristine on December 13, 2004 at 1:24 pm

    “A state-school education or a BYU education happily goes a long way towards mitigating this problem.”

    Yes, it does, by heavily subsidizing the costs of that education with tax or tithing dollars. The costs are still there, and you can’t mitigate the problem for everyone this way. I would think we’d be very squeamish about encouraging Latter-day Saints to get a cheap education by asking other people to pay for it.

  15. Matt Evans on December 13, 2004 at 1:25 pm

    Nice comments, Frank. My point about the pregnancy-bond ties your points about specialization to specific genders. Pregnancy typically gives women a head-start developing the emotional and psychological attachments necessary to raising children well, but also causes disruptions that reduce their productivity in the workforce. I agree with Kristine that the issues should be analyzed from the perspective of the kids.

  16. Frank McIntyre on December 13, 2004 at 1:29 pm

    Kristine,

    On breastfeeding, have the benefits been causally established by some sort of randomized experiment? I would be curious to know. The correlation between good outcomes and breastfeeding is well-established, but I am ignorant of the state of research on the causal link. If all they are doing are comparing outcomes between breastfeeders and non-breastfeeders, there is likely to be some problems attributing the difference solely to breastfeeding.

    “Society could take advantage of that natural bond by providing really generous maternity leaves to allow women to have that important first year with their children”

    By “society”, what do you mean here? If you mean the standard government mandate to employers, then this is a great way to discourage employers from hiring women, since they know the women can repeatedly take off for a year at a time. If the government pays for it, they probably still aren’t compensating the firm for the costs of trying to bring in pinch hitters for a year every time a baby is born. Thus, once again, this is a disincentive to hire women. And it doesn’t at all take advantage of people’s specialization at their jobs.

  17. Matt Evans on December 13, 2004 at 1:31 pm

    I would think we’d be very squeamish about encouraging Latter-day Saints to get a cheap education by asking other people to pay for it.

    I agree. But who’s going to pay for our generous maternity leave?

  18. Russell Arben Fox on December 13, 2004 at 1:32 pm

    Ben, I’m not talking about “civic life” (which you seem to equate with mass, secular, impersonal endeavors) talking over “family life”; I’m talking about the “civic” (public, neighborly, etc.) implications and consequences of certain family-premised actions. Working through and with extended family networks is almost certainly going to be better for a family which is attempting to reject the sort of economic pressures that potentially threaten the mutuality that children require than working through and with, say, a social club or PTA group. However, even those family networks are going to depend, if they are truly going to function, on the maintenance of certain socio-economic criteria. There need to be parks where the family can meet for free; there needs to be jobs flexible enough to allow people to trade child-watching duties back and forth; there needs to be a sufficiently protective economy so that local industry doesn’t disappear and family members can live in close proximity to one another; there needs to be strong zoning laws so that communities can stay child-friendly and sidewalks don’t disappear and the kids can run on over to Aunt Matilda’s house while Mom gives piano lessons to Dad’s brother’s adopted kid; etc., etc. I lump family life and civic life together not because I think “the public sphere” can take the religious, moral, and associational place of the family, but because the family needs the public sphere, in a way more straightforwardly liberal egalitarian solutions (such as, pay women more and provide universal daytime childcare in every workplace) don’t.

  19. Adam Greenwood on December 13, 2004 at 1:32 pm

    “3) we could truly reject the demands of the economy, and start encouraging a counter-culture of Mormons, particularly Mormon fathers, who drop out of the rat race . . . ”

    Shaming mothers who wish to forego sacrifice and seek fulfillment in the workforce is not incompatible with urging fathers to do the same thing to a lesser extent. Nor is the idea of a mother who stays at home much more than the father some kind of unrealizable Victorian ideal based on a misreading of murky past. I and my wife do it, as do most of the people in our ward.

    Notice that I’m not attacking your fundamental point. The problems of modern America are what they are and the potential solutions are as you lay them out. But you’re not going to persuade many of the Saints if, in your argument, you’re defensive of mothers who work because they want to while taking swipes at the idea of a nuclear family with a homemaker and a breadwinner.

  20. Matt Evans on December 13, 2004 at 1:33 pm

    Frank, for a long time the causal link between breastfeeding and healthy children was contested, but now even formula producers no longer dispute that breastmilk is better.

  21. Matt Evans on December 13, 2004 at 1:47 pm

    Russell,

    Your proposals for regulating the market, especially protecting local markets from outside competition, would make everyone poorer. In the current system, the trade-off people must make to live near their families, rather than take a better job far away, is to be poorer. Is there a reason to make everyone poorer rather than just those who have families and friends they want to live near?

  22. Russell Arben Fox on December 13, 2004 at 1:56 pm

    “In the current system, the trade-off people must make to live near their families, rather than take a better job far away, is to be poorer. Is there a reason to make everyone poorer rather than just those who have families they want to live near?”

    Perhaps because it would make the sort of shaming which Adam advocates more plausible, less discriminatory, and more broadly applicable. Or do you think that there’s nothing wrong with a system which financially rewards the people who, as Adam put it, “forego sacrifice and seek fulfillment in the workforce” rather than doing otherwise, which much social data and, upon my reading, the Proclamation on the Family both encourage?

  23. Adam Greenwood on December 13, 2004 at 2:03 pm

    Russell Fox,
    Why is a grab bag of protectionism, top-down regulation, and stifling zoning the only way to encourage people to settle down and take a financial hit? Child tax credits and other targeted incentives send a message that marriage and parenting is desirable while mitigating some of the costs.

  24. Russell Arben Fox on December 13, 2004 at 2:16 pm

    “Why is a grab bag of protectionism, top-down regulation, and stifling zoning the only way to encourage people to settle down and take a financial hit?”

    They aren’t. But an approach to the problem which excludes such strategies from consideration, which depends solely upon “tax credits and other targeted incentives,” isn’t looking at the problem collectively; it is looking at it individually. As I noted above, to encourage people in terms of their personal choices is one way to approach the problem; more social democratic methods are another. I’m not wholly sold on the latter, but I find it more than passing strange that so many conservatives, who I know are in favor creating conditions wherein families can be more linked socially and economically, who are disturbed by the rampant and often borderline pornographic materialism coming at us from television advertisments, and who desire more than anything public culture which encourages sense of tradition and restraint, seem to believe that the only legitimate policies are those which involve the former. I mean, at some point, doesn’t the ethical confusion of strategies which are essentially premised upon the argument that “It’s in your individual economic interest to live a more socially obligated life” seem a little much?

  25. Rosalynde Welch on December 13, 2004 at 2:16 pm

    Kris, this is an issue on which I have achieved very little general clarity, although I’m satisfied with my personal circumstance. Each of the three options you describe is dissatisfying to me for different reasons (although you lay them out articulately): 1) seems to re-frame the matter in terms of adults; 2) is really, really expensive, and doesn’t seem to *fundamentally* change the current set-up (ie measures compensating for parents’ absence), merely making parents feel better about leaving their children and, perhaps, making the situation more enjoyable for children; 3) would prejudice aspirations I have for myself and my children.

    So instead of trying to come to conclusion, I want to challenge a few more premises (my specialty)–while affirming that I share your basic view of the matter. First of all, I’m not sure that there is an aggregate societal or sub-societal voice “shouting at” or “shaming” mothers into staying home, even within the church–though certain intrusive family members, outrageous NRO items, or shrill observers undoubtedly do. It’s worth acknowledging the benefits that accrue to families when mothers choose to stay home; it’s also useful to acknowlede the costs. Both stay-at-home and working mothers (and their advocates) need to frankly acknowledge the both the costs and benefits of their choices–to bring personal clarity, to provide information to parents struggling with the same choice, and to provide accurate data points on which to base public initiatives. Your post is a good example of this acknowledgment.

    Second, a provocative question: do children really suffer when their fathers work long hours, if their mothers are available? (Mothers, of course, do suffer when fathers work long hours, and some of that suffering may be transmitted to the children–but is there any *direct* detriment to children?) I have not found that to be the case personally (my husband works 80 hours/week as a medical resident), and I’m not aware of data that suggests as much. I think we’ve fetishized the “he came to every baseball game” form of fatherhood, which idealizes a time-intensive paternal relationship that may be immensely rewarding for the father himself and may ease the mother’s burden, but may not significantly affect the child. (This is assuming that the long-working father makes the most of the time he does have with his children, makes his love and commitment to them clear, and has designated (if periodic) parental duties.)

  26. Adam Greenwood on December 13, 2004 at 2:25 pm

    Well, as a social conservative who gives two hoots about the econ stuff, let me explain why I’d be a lot more interested in the tax credits and so forth.

    First, I think tax credits and so forth are a lot more feasible politically. The individualist orientation of American society is not really negotiable at this stage in the game, at least not in the economic sphere. You gotta roll with it.

    Second, tax credits and so forth send a much clearer message about the importance of families, precisely because they are targeted. The kinds of proposals you’re talking about have a millinon fathers and therefore no clear filial loyalty.

    Third, I believe with George Washington that in a fallen world the wise policy-maker always tries to make Honor and Interest combine. No amount of tax credit can remove the real costs of marriage and child-rearing (the ‘offense,’ as it were), but they can certainly alleviate some of it.

  27. Russell Arben Fox on December 13, 2004 at 2:29 pm

    “[A] provocative question: do children really suffer when their fathers work long hours, if their mothers are available?…This is assuming that the long-working father makes the most of the time he does have with his children, makes his love and commitment to them clear, and has designated (if periodic) parental duties.”

    A complication here is that, in my experience and observation, a tolerance for the former–i.e., Dad needs to work all weekend–often makes it difficult to articulate expectations for, much less enforce demands for, the latter. I have observed some fathers who have to work two shifts to make ends meet for their families carve out some precious, important time for their kids. I have more usually, however, observed such fathers as tired, frustrated, and more susceptible to anger in dealing with their kids than otherwise, with the mother helpless to change things (since she’s financially dependent upon her husband anyway).

  28. John Mansfield on December 13, 2004 at 2:34 pm

    I have wondered how much of our economic expansion of the last couple of decades has actually been just a shift of private activities into the measured economy. It seems like a question someone must have investigated. Does anyone know of articles on this?

  29. Frank McIntyre on December 13, 2004 at 2:38 pm

    Russell,

    I can envision certain assumptions and beliefs about human nature so that a certain amount of regulation is beneficial. But your blanket protectionist stance is not really about helping families so much as it is about your blanket protectionist stance. Protectionism means people have to work more to get the same amount of stuff. This is the antithesis of the goal, which is to make it easier for people to spend time on activities with their families, because they can consume the same amount with less work-time. This also ignores the massive amount of corruption that protectionism pretty much always encourages.

    Matt,

    I readily concede that I am more skeptical than the breast-milk industry. But more to the point, I am just curious about what experimental research has been done. I believe breastfeeding is net beneficial. But I still am curious as to the evidence.

  30. Russell Arben Fox on December 13, 2004 at 2:46 pm

    “The individualist orientation of American society is not really negotiable at this stage in the game, at least not in the economic sphere. You gotta roll with it.”

    Perhaps you’re right. Then again, that sort of thinking in the late 19th century (when there were, comparatively speaking, far fewer public restraints on the practice of industrial capitalism) would have prevented the idea of public schooling from ever getting off the ground, so you never know.

    “Tax credits and so forth send a much clearer message about the importance of families, precisely because they are targeted. The kinds of proposals you’re talking about have a million fathers and therefore no clear filial loyalty.”

    I disagree. Tax credits are highly useful, of course, but they are ultimately about people making choices about making or paying money. They make cash benefits part of the “family values” calculation, with unintended side effects. (Would the pressure for legalizing same-sex marriages be so great if we had decided to try to privilege the traditional marriage relationship through broad social restrictions, rather than through “targeted” legal and financial benefits? I doubt it.) Whereas on the other hand a policy of, say “smart growth” aimed at discouraging the construction of McMansions and the attendant decline of compact, sidewalk-linked neighborhoods is, well, simply and straightforwardly The Preservation of Compact, Sidewalk-Linked Neighborhoods Act of 2005. Sounds pretty direct to me.

    “I believe with George Washington that in a fallen world the wise policy-maker always tries to make Honor and Interest combine.”

    A very good point, and not one that I can easily refute. All I can say is that I find it hard to see how Honor and Interest have been successfully combined when the the rhetoric of the policies being recommended focus almost exclusively on ownership and empowerment, and not very much at all on duty and collective goods.

  31. Jack on December 13, 2004 at 2:49 pm

    My thoughts are purely anecdotal, but it seems to me that in most families wherein both parents are careerists, both come home “tired, frustrated, and more susceptible to anger in dealing with their kids …”.

  32. Frank McIntyre on December 13, 2004 at 2:55 pm

    John,

    There was an article a few years back about how most of Sweden’s “economic expansion” for 15 years was coming from the government paying women to care for other people’s children and elderly, instead of caring for their own children and elderly. In this sense it was not really an expansion at all. Presumably someone has done the same in the U.S. but I don’t have a citation. I doubt the data would be nearly so stark for the U.S.

  33. Russell Arben Fox on December 13, 2004 at 3:07 pm

    “Protectionism means people have to work more to get the same amount of stuff.”

    Depends on the stuff. Gameboys? Yep, protectionism makes that stuff a whole lot more expensive. Pineapples too. But what about “being able to walk to work”? Or “non-transient neighborhoods”? Or “locally-owned television stations which can survive the loss of national advertising revenue which follows their banning of offensive programs in accordance with the wishes of the local population”? You know, nonconsumable stuff like that. I recognize that the preservation of these or any number of other “stuffs” is by no means guaranteed by social democratic policies; maybe they end up being more expensive too. But I think the data there is mixed, suggesting (as you acknowledge) that at least a “certain amount of regulation is beneficial.” But does that mean you’ve admitted my point, and now we’re arguing strategies, not premises?

    “This is the antithesis of the goal, which is to make it easier for people to spend time on activities with their families, because they can consume the same amount with less work-time.”

    I thought the goal, as Kristine articulated it, was to convince people that children, served by an equally bound and committed husband and wife, are more important than earning, consumption and stuff in general, and hence something needs to change in the way America constructs its family policies. Trying to make it even easier to continue to do what we’re already doing doesn’t strike me as much of a change.

  34. gaymormonchef (Rick LaPointe) on December 13, 2004 at 3:23 pm

    Very thoughtful post. I think the most important point is that we all need to be conscious and thoughtful in our greater lives. We need to be aware of and explore possibilities outside of the social/cultural norm (ex. there are many excellent liberal arts colleges that operate with the philosophy of fully-paid-for education through work programs and lower costs, therefore no student loans). There are many employment opportunities that shun the careerism sinkhole. There are local solutions to most national issues. Forget the box; we just need to think; to become aware of our environment and external pressures; to not be afraid of doing something completely different.

  35. ed on December 13, 2004 at 3:30 pm

    John,

    I thought your question was interesting, so I spent a few minutes looking into it. There don’t seem to be many web-accessible papers on the topic. An economist named Euston Quah wrote a book on home production in 1993. According to a book review in the 1995 Journal of Economic Literature, Quah finds that home production overall accounts for perhaps 10% to 30% of GNP, depending on the country and the methods used to measure it. The reviewer believes that adding home production to GNP would have little or no effect on GNP growth rates.

    An accessible link to the research on Sweden that Frank cited can be found here:

    http://cob.jmu.edu/rossermv/Rosen.pdf

  36. Nate Oman on December 13, 2004 at 3:30 pm

    “But what about “being able to walk to work”? Or “non-transient neighborhoods”? Or “locally-owned television stations which can survive the loss of national advertising revenue which follows their banning of offensive programs in accordance with the wishes of the local population”? You know, nonconsumable stuff like that. ”

    Russell: Why on earth do you assume that these things are not priced by the market? This seems like an utterly implausible position to take. Real estate prices internalize things like location in relationship to work, turn-over in the community (this is done in terms of things like quality of the schools, etc.). Talk to any realtor. As for local television, it seems to me that they will respond to the actual viewing habits of the local population rather than their civiclly expressed outrage. To be honest with you, this is probably a better means of replicating actual collective desires and preferences. Talk is cheap after all…

  37. Adam Greenwood on December 13, 2004 at 3:40 pm

    Now that enough people have jumped on Russell Fox, I feel free to argue his side for a moment (since I am after all fairly sympathetic).

    So I have to admit that I was tracking Nate Oman until he dropped this doozy of an observation:
    “To be honest with you, this is probably a better means of replicating actual collective desires and preferences. Talk is cheap after all… ”

    Why on earth is our interest to find out what people *really* want and then replicate it? The whole premise of this argument is that there are some things people really want that they shouldn’t.

  38. Russell Arben Fox on December 13, 2004 at 3:45 pm

    “Why on earth do you assume that these things are not priced by the market?”

    I don’t assume they aren’t priced. They are priced–usually quite highly priced. (At least insofar as real estate goes; the television station example probably doesn’t really work.) I want them to be more available to poor and middle-class families, which means I want them to be priced lower. Frank’s argument was that protectionist policies (which I should reiterate once again, I only bring up as one of any number of different collectivist strategies which might be employed towards creating the sort of family conditions which Kristine–I think rightly–argues we should be aiming for) drive up prices. My response was that protectionism drives up some prices (namely, that of many–though probably not necessarily most–consumer goods), but keeps down others (specifically, less obviously “consumable” affective and public goods). You can dispute the specific practicality of these measures; furthermore, you can dispute the whole anti-growth (or, more realistically speaking, the “controlled-growth”) socio-economic premise which Kristine laid out in her third alternative (and which, whether he acknowledges it or not, I think Adam can’t help but be committed to). But you can’t say I’m not thinking about costs. I am. We just don’t agree on which costs are most central to the problem Kristine identified.

  39. Rosalynde Welch on December 13, 2004 at 3:50 pm

    Frank wrote: “But more to the point, I am just curious about what experimental research has been done. I believe breastfeeding is net beneficial. But I still am curious as to the evidence. ”

    See http://aappolicy.aappublications.org/cgi/content/full/pediatrics%3b100/6/1035 for a useful overview from the American Academy of Pediatrics, with extensive references citing the kind of research you seem to be looking for.

  40. Frank McIntyre on December 13, 2004 at 3:51 pm

    Russell,

    I was complaining about your protectionism. Other stuff I take on a case by case basis. As an aside, I walk to work. In fact, I paid more to buy a house close enough so that I could do that. There are quite a few communities built along sidewalk-style housing. And that’s great because now people who want that can move there. So if small towns or individual neighborhoods want that kind of social democracy, power to them. Social Democracy always works much better and is, I think, much more justified, among 300 people than 300 million.

    “I thought the goal, as Kristine articulated it, was to convince people that children…are more important than earning, consumption and stuff in general…”

    If you can change people’s preferences, go ahead. But look, no matter how much you can or can’t change people’s preferences, you can get comparable change in behavior by making it so people can earn that minimalist lifestyle in as little time as possible, all else being equal. Protectionism inhibits that goal, encourages corruption, and offers few, if any, widespread benefits.

    I just read your comment to Nate. Your argument appears to be that protectionism makes real estate cheaper. Why?

  41. Adam Greenwood on December 13, 2004 at 3:52 pm

    Sorry, Russell Fox, I should be more clear. We are committed to option 3, both ideologically but also personally. Expect to see us going home next year.

  42. Frank McIntyre on December 13, 2004 at 4:06 pm

    Thanks Rosalynde. That was exactly what I was looking for. It appears that the research is based (as best I could tell) on surveys of mothers breast-feeding and not breast-feeding, and comparing the outcomes of each. Some of them appear to control for differences in mother socioeconomic status and infant birthweight. None that I saw were randomized. Not great, but not horrible.

    The main problem is this— mothers who breastfeed presumably also care for their child more in other ways. Thus their children have better outcomes due to a combination of treatments, all the better outcomes would be attributed to breastfeeding, even though it is not breastfeeding, but the package of increased care, that makes the total difference. In principle, this problem can be a real doozy, such that breastfeeding could look beneficial even if it didn’t matter at all. In this case, it probably just means some or all of the dozens of effects are illusionary or not as strong as reported.

  43. Nate Oman on December 13, 2004 at 4:10 pm

    “My response was that protectionism drives up some prices (namely, that of many–though probably not necessarily most–consumer goods), but keeps down others (specifically, less obviously “consumableâ€? affective and public goods).”

    Why is this so? This seems like a fairly novel claim, namely that protectionism tends to have price effects only on certain kinds of goods. What exactly is the economic theory behind this? Land is arguably special because to the extent that location is part of the good embodied in land it is by definition unique. However, this does not mean that limiting growth will make the goods you associate with particular forms of controlled growth real estate cheaper. The price is a function of the supply and the demand. If the supply is fixed then you can only reduce the price by decreasing the demand. Note, you might get around this by things like price controls or queing arrangments. These sorts of policies, however, do not reduce prices, they simply change their medium of payment from up front cash to under the table cash and waiting in lines. I agree that you are considering costs. The disagreement lies less, I suspect, in our sense of the relative importance of differing costs than it does in our understanding of the social mechanisms by which those costs are priced. I have more faith in the ability of price theory to usefully answer these questions than in the ability of communitarian philosophy.

    It seems to me that the preservation of socially desirably levels of public goods is best accomplished through public subsidies. Of course, you may be lumping protectionism, transfer payments, and the like into one conceptual basket labled “progressive policies” or perhaps, to use the borrowed Crolyism, “Hamiltonian” means. They are, however, different tools that have different sorts of consequences.

  44. Kristine on December 13, 2004 at 4:18 pm

    “mothers who breastfeed presumably also care for their child more in other ways”

    Frank, you should probably rethink that and take it back. There are plenty of mothers who would like to breastfeed but can’t, also plenty of women who find breastfeeding so difficult that it distracts them from the rest of their mothering work and fills them with frustration, not to mention adoptive mothers who care profoundly for their babies without breastfeeding them. It might be statistically likely that breastfeeding mothers are more attentive, but there are so many obvious anecdotal exceptions that one should probably tread very lightly around the stats.

    Just trying to save your skin, man!

  45. a random John on December 13, 2004 at 4:24 pm

    Kristine,

    Perhaps you should go back and re-read Frank’s comment. He is making room for all sorts of exceptions and anectdotes, though I can see how his initial choice of words might prompt knee-jerk responses.

  46. Nate Oman on December 13, 2004 at 4:25 pm

    Kristine: Frank was not making a moral conclusion. He was talking about the degree to which one can confidentally draw causal conclusion based on statistical correlations. The andecdotes don’t answer the question one way or another. Niether does defensive moral posturing. What we need is a well constructed emperical study. Certainly that cause is not going to be advanced by ideological attacks on attempts to criticize the realability of previous studies.

    OK. I am getting off of my defender of social science soap box now.

  47. ed on December 13, 2004 at 4:29 pm

    Frank is not saying that mothers who can’t breastfeed don’t care about their children.

    He’s saying that mothers who don’t care about their children are less likely to breastfeed.

  48. Frank McIntyre on December 13, 2004 at 4:33 pm

    Kristine, you’re too kind. I recall a woman I know mentioning that whenever her Relief Society had a lesson about fasting, the whole lesson seemed to be made up of people talking about all the exceptions to fasting for various issues such as pregnancy and so forth. Ah, the tyranny of the minority!

    I hereby append the sentence to read:

    “mothers who breastfeed presumably also care for their child more in other ways*�

    * although true on average (which is what the statistics rely on and what I am implicitly assuming) this is not true in each and every particular case. In particular, there are billions and billions of reasons why some women cannot or choose not to breastfeed even though they are every bit as good as every other woman. Furthermore, all woman are good**.

    ** On average.

    Actually though, your comment suggests a useful experimental design. Compare the outcomes between children whose mothers can’t breastfeed for unrelated biological problems to comparable women who can breastfeed. That kind of study would potentially deal with average behavioral differences because the decision not to breastfeed is no longer behavioral but biological. I bet some enterprising bio-statisticiam has thought of this and performed an interesting study or two based on it. That might be a more trustworthy study than the ones I glanced at.

  49. Russell Arben Fox on December 13, 2004 at 4:36 pm

    “This seems like a fairly novel claim, namely that protectionism tends to have price effects only on certain kinds of goods. What exactly is the economic theory behind this?”

    I don’t understand why you find this novel. Rent-controlled apartments in New York City remained affordable to poor and middle-class renters long after surrounding property prices would have normally rendered them unavaible to families living on a certain means. In short, prices were kept down. Were those prices distortive on the broader market? Massively so, and all sorts of moral hazards were generated as well. But I never claimed that the sort of strategies which I posited as part of any potential solution were nondistortive or didn’t result in moral hazards; I didn’t bring such up, because it isn’t pertinent to the priorities I’m arguing for. Is that what you’re asking: what’s my economic theory which argues that protectionist or otherwise choice-reducing policies will have effects which can be specifically contained to the targeted good? If so, then I confess I don’t have one. Obviously there will uncontrolled and likely negative effects. But that’s a different aspect of this discussion. If, on the other hand, you’re honestly asking me what kind of economic theory it is that holds that price controls on a certain good will, in fact, control prices on that good, then I’m at a loss as to how to respond; it seems pretty self-explanatory to me. (If I’m misunderstanding some obvious point, please explain it to me, since I’m not seeing it.)

    “These sorts of policies, however, do not reduce prices, they simply change their medium of payment from up front cash to under the table cash and waiting in lines.”

    Fair enough; though I’m not sure I trust the math which would place all these “prices” upon a single continuum, I’ll agree that attempts to limit and discourage certain economic activities in the name of preserving pricing arrangements which, I believe, are helpful to the distribution of family-friendly goods, will simply mean that the continuing price increases of those goods will be felt in other areas. But that just means we need to ask which families can “afford” waiting in line as opposed to the ever-rising amount of upfront cash which would otherwise be necessary, and what the impact of “earning” such capital (waiting-in-line capital vs. cash-in-the-bank capital) has on families. To get back to Kristine’s original post, it strikes me as quite arguable that life choices which maximize the latter form of wealth often involve a greater division between child involvement and child-rearing responsibilities than those which seek to maximize the former.

    “The disagreement lies less, I suspect, in our sense of the relative importance of differing costs than it does in our understanding of the social mechanisms by which those costs are priced. I have more faith in the ability of price theory to usefully answer these questions than in the ability of communitarian philosophy.”

    This is probably correct.

  50. Kristine on December 13, 2004 at 4:38 pm

    I recognize that Frank was talking about the studies, not making value judgments about the women involved. I was pointing out that he might want to tread lightly, exactly because saying things the way he did is likely to offend people. My suspicion is that he also hasn’t done enough research into the studies that have been done to say definitively that the studies aren’t good enough. It might be polite and respectful of him to trust that Rosalynde and I, who have some investment in and knowledge of the topic, know what we’re talking about, even if we can’t, at a moment’s notice while caring for our small children, provide him with documentation of studies he deems reliable enough.

  51. Jordan on December 13, 2004 at 4:44 pm

    A state-school education or a BYU education happily goes a long way towards mitigating this problem.

    This was from comment 6, and unfortunately it’s not true anymore. State schools are, for the most part, now almost just as expensive as the Harvards and the Yales- especially for graduate school.

    For example, my law school tuition at the University of Michigan law school, if I had to pay it, would be $34,397 (as an out of state student). It is not much better for in-state students, running a whopping $29,397. Definitely not an “affordable” state school education. Perhaps in Utah and certain other states out west, educations at state schools remain afforable. Not anywhere else!

    Here’s a thought- what if a woman does not want to use her time and talents on things outside of the home? My wife truly does not desire to pursue a career- even though I have tried to persuade her that it would not be so bad. Yet she feels guilty about her lack of desire to pursue another career because she thinks society expects it of her, even mormon society these days! She looks at other sisters who do so and thinks that they somehow look down on her for her long thought out decision to stay home. Do they? I always say they don’t, but maybe I am wrong. My perceptions are often faulty, especially as they relate to others’ thoughts and feelings.

    Thus, rather than being “shamed into leaving the workforce,” my wife often almost feels “shamed” into joining it! How can we prevent THAT from happening?

    As far as taking advantage of cooperative possibilities in extended families, lots of us, believe it or not, try to AVOID becoming entangled in a messy web of extended family. We love extended family, but not proximity to extended family. I certainly would not want most of our family watching our kids for any extended period (except, of course, for John and Alli ;) ). It is better for the kids to adore them from a distance than learn of their shortcomings firsthand.

    So when a woman decides firmly that she WANTS to stay at home with her kids, that she definitely does NOT want a career, and that she doesn’t want extended family doing what she is already good at doing, what is such a woman to do in this progressive world?

  52. Kristine on December 13, 2004 at 4:47 pm

    “what is such a woman to do in this progressive world?”

    Stay home and be proud and happy to do it! (and please not make uncharitable comments in RS about women who choose differently :))

  53. Kristine on December 13, 2004 at 4:50 pm

    Alas, while I was typing my snarky comment about Frank’s not having thoroughly studied the topic, he was good-naturedly typing an acknowledgment of the same. I withdraw the snarkiness–sorry, Frank.

  54. Frank McIntyre on December 13, 2004 at 4:51 pm

    Nate and I were curious if you had any reason behind your claim that international trade protectionism would keep land prices down. It is clear that you were not trying to argue such a claim.

    As for rent control. This decreases the supply of housing, and as such would be antithetical to attempts to better house the population. Russell, there are ways to jigger with markets, but regulation and price controls are not the best way to do what you want. It is funny because you have all those perfectly acceptable goals in mind and then you go off on these bizarre, utopian, socialist schemes about how to achieve your goals. There are probably ways to get your goals without weighing them down with a bunch of bad economics. You really need to spend more time with intermediate microeconomics. I suggest Nicholson. Then you’ll be able to come up with much more effective and efficient ways to reshape the world.

    “Waiting-in-line capital” — now I know there is a trend towards calling everything under the sun “capital”, but no, waiting-in-line is not, nor will it ever be, capital.

  55. Jordan on December 13, 2004 at 4:51 pm

    good answer, Kristine. There are unfortunately unkind people, men and women, on both sides of the fence. I remember one missionary in our district back in those good ol’ days who said that mothers should *NEVER* work- and that doing such was a sin. He quoted McConkie and Kimball. Another good elder in the district had a mother who had sacrificed much during her life working outside the home, and who had even had the “gall” to enjoy the sacrifice of working. He was rightly offended, and then wrongly said that the elder’s mother was “backward” and needed to get with the times. There were no kind feelings around that day.

    Understanding is good.

  56. Katherine on December 13, 2004 at 4:52 pm

    “Second, a provocative question: do children really suffer when their fathers work long hours, if their mothers are available?”

    While I can’t answer that exactly, my children have definitely and directly benefitted from having their dad home with us this year. I have enjoyed a huge benefit personally, but I am sure that the gain to our children is more than what is mediated through my own gains. There are many times when they strongly prefer his comfort, companionship, or assistance to mine.

    Also, I think that the hours father spends at home not only spell mother from constant demands, but double the manpower available in any given moment–two kids can have full parental attention at one time.

    I suspect, but won’t positively assert, that children do suffer when their fathers aren’t home.

  57. Clark on December 13, 2004 at 4:56 pm

    As for rent control. This decreases the supply of housing, and as such would be antithetical to attempts to better house the population

    Forgive my ignorance, but isn’t one reason for rent control to ensure affordable housing for low wage workers who are a necessary component of any local economy?

  58. Melissa on December 13, 2004 at 4:56 pm

    Jordan,

    Just like all women, LDS women can be brutal to each other regarding their personal choices in this area so your wife is probably right that there are those who look down on her. But, guess what? The sad, sorry state of things is that if she chose to work, she’d be criticized for that too. It is important for her to feel confident enough in her “long thought out” decision to be at peace with it even in the face of judgment.

  59. Nate Oman on December 13, 2004 at 4:57 pm

    Russell: Whether or not price controls benefited the poor and the middle class seems like an open question to me. In my former-fair-city-of-Cambridge the frequent beneficieries were Harvard professors and other professionals. Furthermore, price controls are imperfect means at best of controlling cash payments. They are regularlly circumvented by illegal payments. Hence, the price decreed by law does not always (indeed usually does not) match the price actually paid. Finally, waiting in line is a price.

    The problem of incommensurability is, I admit, very tricky. However, I am not sure which way this cuts. To the extent that we lack a reliable metric for measuring differing kinds of benefits against one another we might be best served by allowing such adjustments to be made by contract. Indeed, this is precisely the point of Pareto welfare economics, although it is not without its own normative and positive problems. The problem, of course, is that Pareto assumes that we have a stable concept of property and a perfect mechanism for internalizing externalities, to say nothing of the shakey moral status of expressed preferences.

  60. Nate Oman on December 13, 2004 at 5:05 pm

    Clark: The idea is that if the price is set below the cost of providing the service then suppliers will exit the market. There is a considerably body of emperical literature suggesting that price controls in rental housing tend to result in decreased numbers of rental units in regulated market.

  61. ed on December 13, 2004 at 5:07 pm

    “Waiting-in-line capitalâ€? — maybe it’s a form of “social capital” produced by the feelings of community that arise among people waiting in line together. As the “public sphere” is marginalized and people are increasingly “bowling alone,” queueing provides a much-needed nexus for the formation feelings of social inter-connectedness.

    Anyway, it makes as much sense as rent control…

  62. Frank McIntyre on December 13, 2004 at 5:07 pm

    Clark,

    There are actually several generations of rent control, and I am not familiar with the pros and cons of the most nuanced forms of it. That said, the reason to study economics is to appreciate how good motives can lead to very bad plans that actually do the opposite of their intent. Price fixing is an example of this.

  63. Clark on December 13, 2004 at 5:17 pm

    Are you saying price fixing reduces the total available units or the total affordable units? I suspect the former, but in that case it seems to avoid the question at hand. There have to be people to run the McDonald’s to make an obvious point.

    I’m less talking about the general issue of price fixing, than merely pointing out there are competing issues here. What do high housing costs do to the overall cost of living and are some services lost? Likewise it would seem the problem is less price fixing alone, than say price fixed housing tied to say certain requirements. And I believe most cities, including Provo, have such housing.

  64. Frank McIntyre on December 13, 2004 at 5:20 pm

    Kristine,

    Actually, you brought up my biggest pet peave, which is much research never seems to be up front about these rather obvious flaws in the design, such as the one I mentioned. Behavioral biases and unobserved differences across controls and subjects are a huge problem. They are what much of economic data work centers on. The end-result is that it is easy as a lay-person to read a literature and get the opinion that something is settled when in fact the research experiments are pretty poorly designed. This is rampant in the social sciences as well.

    So I looked at 5 or 6 abstracts and it was clear from the abstracts that the behavioral problem was not being dealt with at all. These were not randomized trials but surveys comparing two groups. I then began to doubt such a randomized trial would pass muster with a human subjects board. So I became pretty sure that the literature as a whole had this problem, because the kind of experiment I suggested based on your comment would be very innovative in medical research. Biologists aren’t trained to think that way. The only people I know who have done that type of work (on medical data) were trained as economists. I would be delighted to discover I was wrong.

  65. Frank McIntyre on December 13, 2004 at 5:25 pm

    Price fixing reduces total units and especially total affordable units. As for McDonald’s, the market can deal with this without your regulatory help, thank you very much. If no one wants to work at McDonalds, the wages at McDonalds will rise until either somebody wants to work there or nobody wants to pay for the high priced McDonalds food. Either way the outcome is efficient.

  66. Russell Arben Fox on December 13, 2004 at 5:26 pm

    “Nate and I were curious if you had any reason behind your claim that international trade protectionism would keep land prices down. It is clear that you were not trying to argue such a claim.”

    Land in general? No. But has the discussion ever been about that? My concern has always been affective goods which are tied to public, generally nonconsumptive materials, like living location, social environment, etc. Factory goes out of business because it’s cheaper to produce widgets in China. Neighborhood which used to be nearby the factory, where everyone who worked at the factory for two generations used to live, falls apart. Families have to move. Maybe they can’t replicate in their new homes the sort of proximate work environments which were so conducive the affective pleasure of multigenerational intimacy previous enjoyed. Maybe they can’t do it because the new job is in a state where minimal zoning regulations have effectively relegated blue-cllar workers to distant, older suburbs from which they have to commute along an interstate (and the dispersed tax base has mitigated against the formation of any effective public transportation alternatives). Maybe they can’t do it because the inadequacy of retraining programs has resulted in a pay cut that prevents them from affording homes near their place of work. Then again, maybe the moms want to keep the kids in the local high school because of the band program, only the dad relocates, and can only afford to come home every other month, if that. Trouble with the children follows. (That has happened three times to families in our ward in the past two years.)

    Does protectionism have anything to do with the brute cost of land? Probably not. But might it have something to do with the affordability and availability of specific living environments, environments which can always be imitated by those with the means, but rarely by those without? I think it might, which is why I don’t think it can be discounted a legitimate tool in the family preservation toolkit.

    “‘Waiting-in-line capital’ — now I know there is a trend towards calling everything under the sun ‘capital’, but no, waiting-in-line is not, nor will it ever be, capital.”

    Then why did Nate call it a medium of payment? If “capital” is an inapt term, I withdraw it. Nonetheless, Nate posited waiting in line as something which needed to be factored into the price of good. Since people wait in lines as part of paying a price for a controlled good, it seems reasonable to ask who has the appropriate “wait-in-line” reserves, and who doesn’t. If we’re going to be stuck in a game of quantifying all these properties, there’s going to have to be some term to describe the families who have made working arrangments whereby both parents have a plentitude of waiting-in-lineness, as opposed to those who don’t. By reserving “captial” in the way you suggest, I wonder if you aren’t perpetuating a reading of economic life which posits transactions conducted via cash transfers as innately superior to those conducted via participation.

    “You really need to spend more time with intermediate microeconomics. I suggest Nicholson. Then you’ll be able to come up with much more effective and efficient ways to reshape the world.”

    You’re probably right. Then again, it might be helpful if you spent more time with the sociological literature. I suggest Christopher Lasch, Alan Ehrenhart, Amitai Etzioni, or Michael Harrington. At the very least, they might suggest to limits to your own conception of how to properly shape the world.

  67. Matt Evans on December 13, 2004 at 5:33 pm

    Frank, I haven’t followed the research closely, but I do know that at one time formula producers (breastmilk’s competitors) used to dispute research studies showing breastmilk to be better, arguing that the studies hadn’t sufficiently accounted for independent variables. Formula producers now concede their formulas are not as good as breastmilk, and I assume they only dropped their “just-as-good” stance once the research proved they were second-best.

  68. Jordan Fowles on December 13, 2004 at 5:35 pm

    I admittedly have not followed every word in this discussion, but why does nursing/not nursing matter? Of course, I should probably read rather than having someone answer this question, so feel free to ignore the question.

  69. ed on December 13, 2004 at 5:43 pm

    Russell: In economics, “capital” refers to something that is produced through investment, in order to allow more production in the future. If a farmer saves his grain for seed (instead of eating it), that’s capital. If an artisan spends time making a tool (instead of making a good to sell), the tool is capital. If you spend your time going to school learning to be an accountant (rather than earning money at a job), you’re building “human capital.” If you’re waiting in line, your time is just wasted, no capital is produced. It’s not really a “form of payment” because nobody gets paid, but it is a costly form of rationing which acts something like a “price” increase for the buyer.

  70. Clark on December 13, 2004 at 5:51 pm

    Jordan, nursing ensures that the baby gets the antibody protection of the mother. There are also very strong correlations between health and intelligence of adults and whether they were breast fed as babies. Formula has improved a great deal the last 10 years, but is still no where near where breast milk is. Even if a mother is working most health professionals advise pumping and giving the baby breast milk.

  71. Nate Oman on December 13, 2004 at 6:00 pm

    In my opinion, both Frank and Russell need to spend more time studying law. ;-> I suggest that they begin by reading Prosser On Torts, Corbin on Contracts, some book of Property (is there a standard text book on property?)

  72. Kristine on December 13, 2004 at 6:02 pm

    Jordan, nursing does matter, but not so much in this thread–I mentioned it in an aside to Matt, Frank asked a couple of questions, and we’re all off to the tangent races.

  73. Frank McIntyre on December 13, 2004 at 6:06 pm

    OK, last comment for the day:

    Jordan: A secondary spin-off from the benefits of mother’s staying home, kept alive by my pedantic determination to over-analyze causal claims.

    Russell: Your argument for protectionism is that it stops plant closings? But plant closings based around foreign competition are no worse than those from domestic competition, since both cause workers to move. So pretty much you are here opposing competition. And technological innovation is no different, fundamentally, than Chinese competitors, in terms of forcing plant closings.

    So how much technological innovation and compitition should we stop in order to keep the same factories rolling? There used to be lots of car producers in the U.S. and nbow there are three, should we have kept all those plants alive even though they were woefully inefficient? Perhaps it would be enough to go roll back the clock to the beginning of the century (infant mortality = 10% (20% for blacks))? Or maybe back to the middle ages (infant mortality= 30%)?

    What about your argument could not be used to forbid any competitor, domestic or foreign, from outcompeting an inefficient plant? Shall we forbid the sun for giving away its light and energy and putting the coal workers out of business?

    But you probably don’t want to go that far. So how far do you want to go? How much money (and worse health, and shorter lives, and less free time) should we pay to factories that lose money every year in order to keep them around, just to avoid people moving? And how do we tell the ones that are worth it from the ones that are just taking the money and saying they need it? Because you’ve now rejiggered the incentives so that money comes not from outcompeting, but from threatening to go belly-up and demanding money (either directly or through trade barriers). All of these problems come up in protectionism, domestic or foreign. It is impossible hubris to think you can run an economy from the top down. And such rampant government interference is ripe for corruption, exploitation, and stagnation.

  74. Adam Greenwood on December 13, 2004 at 6:11 pm

    Using your definition, Ed, it’s hard to see how waiting in line (or at least one’s position in line) isn’t capital.

  75. lyle on December 13, 2004 at 6:12 pm

    Christine/Frank/All T&S lawyers:

    So, where is the “mormon” or “family friendly” law firm? If LDS lawyers/partners take their faith seriously, shouldn’t there be “mormon” or “family friendly” law firms that _require_ associates/partners _not_ to work more than 40-50 hours/week unless there is an important trial, etc? Is this what you have in mind when saying that LDS folks should be at the forefront? After all…_all_ this requires is a critical mass of attorneys who are willing to take lower wages in order to subsidize the lower working hour requirement. Or are these types siphoned off into government/non-partnership track work? ok…tis just my humble suggestion/hoped for invention.

  76. Russell Arben Fox on December 13, 2004 at 6:24 pm

    “But you probably don’t want to go that far. So how far do you want to go?”

    Exactly the right question. I’ve no simple answer. Still, at the very least I’m sure it is clear, given the sorts of tools I think might be, under certain circumstances, effectively employed on behalf of conserving family and community-friendly socio-economic arrangements, that I’m willing to a good deal further than you. Now let’s flip it around. How far do you want to go? How far you willing to allow a mostly unregulated market, restricted only by priorities which can be implemented through the fairly selective, non-collective tool of tax breaks and incentives, to wholly determine the price of labor, the location of workplaces, the provision of social insurance, the survivability of locally developed products and practices, etc., all of which are central to what Kristine originally brought up?

    “It is impossible hubris to think you can run an economy from the top down.”

    I’m not aware that I advocated a complete command economy. If I may employ a similar degree of hyperbole, I take it that you would agree that it is an impossible hurbris to believe that microeconomics can provide a definitive formula for determing all socio-economic valuation and hence action? Of course you would.

  77. ed on December 13, 2004 at 6:26 pm

    Adam,

    I can see how you’d see your position in line as capital under my definition.

    The reason I don’t think it is capital is because, from a social perspective, standing in line is just a waste. The other types of investments I listed are not wasteful, they produce something that is socially useful. It’s the difference between just slicing up the pie, and making the pie bigger.

    I might note that market systems do sometimes “invest” in wasteful things. For example, costs payed to lawyers in a legal dispute might be seen as wasteful, at least to the extent there might be a cheaper way of resolving the disputes. If you write a brief in a civil lawsuit, I wouldn’t call that “legal capital.”

  78. Kristine on December 13, 2004 at 10:08 pm

    Wow, guys, that was weird–I wasn’t intending to spawn quite such a specific economics policy discussion. I was frightened away from econ. by a high school teacher with the hugest, awfullest comb-over you’ve ever seen, and never quite recovered enough to tackle Ec 10 in college. So, what I wanted to talk about were the ways in which we could imagine an ideal Mormon family for the 21st century–I think that will necessarily look different than the Mormon family of the 1950s, and may actually look a bit more like the Mormon family of the 1880s (minus polygamy, one hopes), where Mormon women were more fully integrated into the economic life of the community (see, for instance, the passage from BY which Rosalynde quoted last week) and their adaptability and resourcefulness, as well as their nurturing and decorating capacities were valued in church rhetoric (not always, or Emmeline Wells wouldn’t have had anything to editorialize about, but sometimes, at least). To some extent, I think this is already happening, and the rhetoric just hasn’t caught up yet.

    Also, I want to be a little utopian about what it might mean to call on governments to enact laws that strengthen the family. (paraphrasing, sorry) We have tended to read that as a call to arms against gay marriage, but I think and hope that it could mean much more than that. It could mean calling for serious paternal leave policies, for instance, or for reinstating daycare assistance for mothers who are moved from welfare to work, or any number of things that Frank will immediately say are impractical. I think it’s too easy to simply accept that the dictates of the market must prescribe our family forms and practices–I’m interested to see what we might imagine to be the ideal before we try to account for the ways in which the real impinges on that ideal.

    (I’m picturing Frank banging his head on his desk repeatedly–sorry, Frank!)

  79. Bryce I on December 13, 2004 at 10:36 pm

    Well, I’m pretty late to this discussion, but here’s one of my many thoughts:

    I am surprised to find myself in agreement with Rosalynde in comment 22 when she asks and answers,


    do children really suffer when their fathers work long hours, if their mothers are available? (Mothers, of course, do suffer when fathers work long hours, and some of that suffering may be transmitted to the children–but is there any *direct* detriment to children?) I have not found that to be the case personally (my husband works 80 hours/week as a medical resident), and I’m not aware of data that suggests as much.

    My father is an attorney in Manhattan, with the associated long hours, which combined with his Church service meant that my siblings and I seldom saw him growing up. My own parenting style is in deliberate contrast to his — I’m home a lot, and spend a lot of time caring for my kids. While this is satisfying to me, is it any better for my kids? I would hope so, but reading John Rosemond’s latest column (link here), I found myself unable to disagree with his contention that the most important relationship in a family is that between the husband and wife, and we often get caught up in the erroneous belief that our children are our greatest responsibility.

  80. Jordan Fowles on December 13, 2004 at 10:48 pm

    WHOA! I *almost* just posted a very caustic remark about John Rosemond, who my wife loves to read and with whom I also usually fail to disagree. The causticness would therefore have been false- I better refrain from posting until tomorrow, or until exams are over- whichever event makes me feel better.

    The point would have been that my wife just loves Rosemond’s stuff. I am a bit more skeptical.

  81. Bryce I on December 13, 2004 at 10:56 pm

    Jordan –

    I have to admit that I included the Rosemond reference because he’s always good for an outraged comment or three. I’m impressed/disappointed that you managed to bite your tongue.

  82. Jonathan Green on December 13, 2004 at 11:00 pm

    Sure, Bryce, but working extremely long hours isn’t so hot for the relationship between husband and wife either, right? I guess I’m not quite seeing the contradiction implied by “I would hope so, but…” Being home a lot with your kids is probably a huge plus for your wife, and that is a good thing for you, which is also good for your kids, etc., etc. Or am I missing something here?

  83. Jonathan Green on December 13, 2004 at 11:03 pm

    It’s up to me, then: Who the h*ck is John Rosemond? Am I supposed to know him?

  84. Jordan Fowles on December 13, 2004 at 11:11 pm

    John Rosemond is a well-known psychologist who worked/works with families and children. But he never did actually go on for his Ph.D. in psychology, so you can hand-wave him right out of your mind, Jonathan. No need to worry about anything he said or says.

  85. Bryce I on December 13, 2004 at 11:24 pm

    Jonathan –

    I wouldn’t change the way I’ve managed my time and my relationships with my wife and children. However, I have a hard time saying it’s the only way, or the best way, to be a good father. When Rosalynde describes her family situation, I don’t find myself shaking my head and saying, “Those poor kids.” That’s all I’m saying.

    The reference to John Rosemond is meant partially to evoke his long-running argument against the “parents are first and foremost their child’s best friend” philosophy of parenting. He lives in the 1950′s, and I find myself agreeing with him a lot more than I would expect myself to. I don’t read him for advice — I generally don’t have the types of problems with my kids that he deals with in his writings. But perhaps that’s because our parenting styles are similar.

  86. Rosalynde Welch on December 14, 2004 at 1:24 am

    Interesting link, Bryce–I’d never heard of John Rosemond.

    Kristine, I’ve finally figured it out: in the 21st century, all Mormon families will be perpetual graduate students! Graduate school life was highly conducive to a fulfilling family life for us. Because of the flexibility of student life, John and I could share childcare duties (although I covered the vast majority, since our children were infants during those years); furthermore, the student housing provided us with a neighborhood of trusted LDS neighbors with whom we could leave our daughter for the ten or so hours a week we needed babysitting, during the last few months. Plus, living on campus allowed us to bike to school, and the proximity allowed me to get around on campus easily with the children.

    I really think that those years in graduate school with our babies will prove to be some of the sweetest of our lives.

  87. Jonathan Green on December 14, 2004 at 8:39 am

    Okay guys, this has been fun, but the economists are coming back on shift pretty soon and we’d better get out of their way.

    Bryce, thanks for the clarification. As for the 1950s arguing with the 1970s, my eyes glaze over pretty quickly.

    Rosalynde, part of me agrees with you: flexible schedules, shared duties, easy human-powered transportation and mass transit. But when you raise the possibility of perpetual grad school, the other part of me wants to cower in a dark corner in the fetal position.

    Jordan, why not let bygones be bygones? So I used an infelicitous phrase that I should have amended or abandoned. We all have human foibles, right? Besides, psychology isn’t my field, so I can’t ignore Rosemond so easily.

    Instead, I have to read at least to the third paragraph, where I detect the first sign of conservatism. Then I dismiss him.

  88. Frank McIntyre on December 14, 2004 at 11:33 am

    Russell,

    Kristine wants her post back, so let me try to focus on a particular issue and we can brawl about the rest of it another day.

    Let’s assume we agree that communitarianism is a hugely important good, and let’s further assume that factory closings noticeably and importantly undermine communitarianism.

    As best I can tell, this is the argument you present for why protectionism is good— because it decreases factory closings by allowing non-competitive producers of textiles or sugar beets to continue to operate. But the leap from factory closings to protectionism is the part where you really need more economic thinking. Protectionism benefits certain groups at the expense of other groups. As such, it can be readily analyzed with the same sorts of tools we use to analyze all sorts of polices, such as tax schemes, Social Security, the minimum wage, EITC, tax cuts to businesses, training programs, Head Start or anything else. And the goal in evaluating a policy is to answer questions like:

    1. Does it have the intended benefit?
    2. Who pays for the program? Is the program disproportionately paid for by the poor?
    3. How do the costs (judged by the costs to those who pay for it) compare to the gains of those who benefit, in terms of communitarianism and other gains? In other words, how much benefit is there per unit of cost, whethe rin dollars or measured in other terms.
    4. Does the program generate inefficiencies, such as encouraging corruption?
    5. Is the program well targeted? Are the people we wish to benefit actually the ones being benefited?
    6. Is the program difficult to administer?
    7. How does the program change people’s behavior?

    And there are lots more questions one could ask. This is what economists try to do. It is actually quite difficult to empirically answer these questions definitively for some programs.

    In order to do protectionism, you want to feel confident that, based on the answers to these questions and others like them, protectionism achieves your goals (communitarianism) at the lowest possible cost to the community and, presumably, t o other communities. By that criteria, protectionism is almost certainly a loser. It is not well targeted to achieving your goal of increased community, in that it has lots of other peripheral effects. At the same time, it generates lots of costs. It acts as a regressive tax on consumers. It encourages corruption.

    All that said, if it were your only option, you might still think it was worth it if all you cared about were not letting factories close and so you were willing to bear all the other costs. OK, fine. But here is the key— you can keep factories open other ways that work better, are better targeted, and cost less to the community and to other communities. Thus you should be thinking in terms of targeted subsidies or taxes to workers or firms, or setting up retraining programs (though these are certainly no panacea), or easing market distortions that close factories or keep people from finding new jobs in their community, etc.. Alternative programs or policies can achieve your communitarian aims at lower cost than trade barriers. As programs go, protectionism is strictly dominated. It provides no benefits that cannot be achieved better by other programs. I have no idea why you got the idea that it was a good way to achieve your aims. It simply isn’t.

    Let go of protectionism, All you have to lose are your chains!

  89. John Mansfield on December 15, 2004 at 8:06 am

    This topic was quiete yesterday, so I will inflict some thoughts I shared on this matter with relatives this summer.

    Riding in trains across Pennsylvania these past months, I became interested in learning a little more about the Amish. Farming is their main occupation, and many of them use older, horse-powered methods. An interesting point for what follows is that at the beginning of the 20th Century their agricultural practices and lack of financial opulence were not nearly as distinctive as they are now. They stayed as they were and the surrounding world changed.

    In many American communities, it is the common practice for husband and wives to both be employed. It wasn’t that way forty years ago, but it is now. Among Latter-day Saints, though, generally only the husband is employed, in keeping with the guide of church leaders. This will have the result of Latter-day Saint families having less money than they would otherwise and being overall a poorer people.

    It may be objected that there are costs associated with having both spouses work that take away from the gains. True, but the offsets only offset a portion of the gains generally. The women and men in question are rational actors able to figure out what is in their own best interest financially.

    It may also be said that those choosing to have both spouses employed may be better off financially, but worse off in other ways. This seems like the Amish attitude that there is peace found in plowing with a horse that is worth the loss of productivity. I agree with this concept as it applies to the Latter-day Saints. I think there is a financial sacrifice involved that “pays off” in ways that don’t mean that we get back that which we have sacrificed.

    Supposing that the ideas above are correct, what do you think of the losses involved? If as with the Amish, the financial lives of Latter-day Saints and other Americans are separating, how do you feel about being part of a poorer people? Poorer in terms of smaller, older houses on less desirable streets, cheaper cars, fewer luxuries compared with your peers. Peers are those who have the same earning capacity that you do. This will even carry over to the opportunities to “obtain as much education as possible,” and result in your children’s financial peers being a poorer class than your own.

  90. Jonathan Green on December 15, 2004 at 2:23 pm

    John, those are interesting observations, and I hope they come up again in case this thread goes dark. I don’t know much about the Amish, but I suspect that Mormons are too comfortable with modernity and not insular enough to make the Amish experience directly applicable. Still, the possibility of our being economically trapped in the 20th century while the rest of the world marches into the 22nd is worth considering. Sometimes I wonder if that would be entirely a bad thing.

    I’d like to get a better handle on what the financial benefits and costs are of having both parents working. For us, the costs of child care and a second car haven’t seemed worth it, although I haven’t run the numbers. The equation would certainly change if my wife had, say, trained as an accountant., but I don’t know by how much. I’m thinking here of Tyagi and Plummer’s The Two-Income Trap, a book I’ve never read but that might be relevant.

    Assuming that having only one parent working entails a financial penalty compared to one’s peers, how does this penalty compare to the financial penalty of paying a full tithe? If the 1-income penalty is about the same or smaller, then one could argue that something like its presumed effect (economic regress among orthodox LDS) should already be seen among full tithe payers.

    How do you figure that the economic penalty will prevent one from getting as much education as possible, by the way? Do you simply mean that our children would tend to live in less affluent neighborhoods with less effective public schools? That may be, but beyond the secondary level, it’s doesn’t seem too difficult these days to trade debt for education.

    Another question to consider is to what extent outward conformity to group norms (husband working, wife not, multiple children, regular church attendance, whatever) confers economic benefits by giving one greater access to the local appendage of what is a national and increasingly international network of mutual assistance. If you contacted a bishop in a distant state and dangled the possibility of an active family moving into the ward, what are the chances that he could put you in touch with someone who would help you find an affordable place in a good school district?

  91. Kristine on December 15, 2004 at 2:52 pm

    It simply isn’t true that among Latter-day Saints, only husbands are employed. In fact, Utah rates quite high among states as to the percentage of mothers of young children who are employed. I don’t know of good data on LDS women outside of Utah, but a quick glance around the pews in my ward on any given Sunday would turn up only a few mothers who are *not* employed outside the home.

  92. Jordan Fowles on December 15, 2004 at 3:02 pm

    Jordan, nursing ensures that the baby gets the antibody protection of the mother.

    Clark et al.,

    I know why nursing is important- my wife has nursed all of our children and still continues nursing the youngest who is now almost 19 months old. I just wondered why it was important to this particular discussion. Frank and Kristine explained its relevance, however. I think it is very possible for a working mother to continue nursing- pump for the day, nurse at night.

    And I think that Kristine’s perception in her latest comment, #89, is correct. That is why I mentioned previously that my wife has actually felt social pressure at church to work outside the home.

  93. Jordan Fowles on December 15, 2004 at 3:25 pm

    Oh- and sorry about the hand-waving comment, Jonathan. To my own fault, I must admit that since that particular discussion I have been even shown quite a bit of ire towards Ph.D. students in the humanities- even more than usual. That’s not good! That’s OK, though. Since I started law school some Ph.D. students in my ward have all but stopped talking to me since I “sold out” (their words). So I guess that is more the base of my ire than the exchange a few months back with Jonathan.

    The point is- I’ll let it go. Sorry for bringing that up again.

  94. Jonathan Green on December 15, 2004 at 3:46 pm

    Kristine, the actual percentage of LDS working mothers was in fact one thing I was wondering about. Thanks for the information.

    Jordan, you’re not supposed to just let things go like that. This is the Internet, after all. Cisco routers are powered by snark. Venom is the free operating system upon which all web servers run. Do you want the whole Information Superbileway to come to a crashing halt? You’re supposed to save up the spite until a key moment when I have my back turned.

    Fine, have it your way. Merry Christmas, and all that.

    (And what are those people in your ward thinking? People at a Big 10 school should know better.)

  95. Rosalynde Welch on December 15, 2004 at 4:15 pm

    “It simply isn’t true that among Latter-day Saints, only husbands are employed.�

    Kristine, really? A large majority of the young mothers in all of my wards have not been employed, unless you count cutting hair at home, babysitting home, teaching aerobics in the evenings, teaching piano, and that sort of thing–which seems to me to be in a different class from mothers who move fully into the workforce.

  96. Bryce I on December 15, 2004 at 4:31 pm

    Rosalynde –

    Anecdotal evidence aside (my ward has similar low numbers of mothers who work outside the home), I suspect that Kristine is right.

  97. James Rabaan on December 15, 2004 at 6:15 pm

    So what does Ed Enochs think about all this?

  98. Kristine on December 15, 2004 at 9:13 pm

    Rosalynde, not to make unwarranted assumptions, but I think it’s a class thing–you’ve been largely in wards full of upper-middle class (or soon-to-be-there-grad-students), right? Lots of those moms stay home, at least for a while, outside the church, too. In my ward, the moms who are at home are the 5 women whose husbands make the most money. Everybody else has to work, at least part-time.

    Paging Marie Cornwall! We need some numbers!

  99. Zigi Goldberg on December 23, 2004 at 10:05 am

    The “Daycares Don’t Care” website shares Eberstadt’s viewpoint about day care described in Home-Alone America.
    The url is:
    http://www.daycaresdontcare.org

  100. Ariel on October 15, 2005 at 7:21 pm

    Hey guys, I just found this site and started poking around- I hope nobody cares that I’m jumping into the middle of this discussion.

    The Amish communities might be a better analogy than we think- at least an analogy of the ideal. (I don’t think the LDS world will ever actually morph this way.) If LDS families remain single income, we will fall behind in the economic scheme of things. Compared to the rest of the nation, we won’t have many toys. The Amish don’t have ATVs and boats, but (correct me if I’m wrong) they don’t consider themselves to be poor. They work, and make the things they need to live, and seem to do it quite sucessfully, because they don’t live “in the world.” They have their own world.

    What if LDS familes bound together and made self-sufficient communities? The men would be encouraged to spend time at home. The women would once again be part of the economy, while at the same time raising the children. Education would be passed down from parents to children. Home-schooling or very small local schools would be the norm. Would we be “poor” then? While this will never happen, it has some enormous benefits.

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