BEN STEIN ALERT!!!!
You thought you wouldn’t have to read him anymore since his firing by the NYT, but he’s back in Fortune, with an article controversially titled “Assessing the Net Value of Children.”
Supposedly we’re supposed to be shocked and stunned and appalled by the argument, which is that the high-cost of kids explains falling birthrates, but, uhm, duh!?
Now, Stein does embellish, a bit, the plight of the modern parent:
The private school parent also has to pony up for every kind of lesson — ballet, horse, and music lessons, maths tutoring, and chess club. The parent also has to drive the little ones to all of these events as well as to the “play dates” that lurk like unanesthetized colonoscopies in modern life. Then there is the most horrible event a healthy upper-middle-class American can have: social engagements with the parents of Junior’s classmates.
In other words, we are talking about child rearing as part unpaid chauffeur, part torture.
Then there is college and a real course in horrors getting the darling in somewhere that won’t embarrass you in front of your pals at the club. That’s before paying for the school, which is a stunning slap in the face. Total college costs at a “prestige” school can easily touch $70,000 a year, real money for most people.
And after graduation day, what do you get for having the system holding you by your ankles and shaking all the money out of your pockets? You might have a son with a law degree who cannot get a job, a daughter with a film-school degree who works as a masseuse, or a musician who keeps you up all night with his drums.
There, we admit, he sounds really out of touch.
But the economics behind falling birthrates is sound and well established. People in developing countries (and who live on farms) have more kids. The rich and urbane have fewer.
If anything, Stein doesn’t go far enough in discussing the way the modern economy discourages child-having.
Immigration, in a sense, is a substitute for kids. The “Jamaican home nurse” is practically a Hollywood cliche, owing to the presence of immigrants in eldercare — which was once a responsibility that would have fallen on children.
And careers aren’t as stable. When you expect to move around a lot, switch careers multiple times, and have big gaps in employment, the fixed cost of having a kid (in school, no less) is much bigger than if you have a lifelong job at the local mill or factory.
So Stein maybe didn’t go far enough. And again, he revealed himself as being out of touch. But his fundamental premise was pretty spot on.
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