Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Incentives for Family

While it may seem strange to speak of external economic incentives to get married and have children in the context of today's philosophical emphasis of intrinsic desires and self-fulfillment, such incentives used to play somewhat of a role, at least as scaffolding, in supporting traditional family values. How might this happen? Where could such incentives originate?

Well, as you grow up you might one day ask yourself, "Who will take care of me if something were to happen to me? What if I were to get sick? Who will take care of me when I get old? Will I be alone?"

The obvious and traditional answers to the these questions are based in the family. If you are sick, a spouse might nurse you back to health while older children take on a temporary burden of providing for the material needs of the family (perhaps alongside your siblings, parents, and cousins). When you and your spouse grew old, the children you lovingly raised would see to it that your needs were met.

What happened to these incentives? Do any of them still exist and play a role? The short answer is no. Thanks to legislation such as Medicare, Social Security, the Prescription Drug Acts, and the age discriminating clause in the Employment Act, there is little reason to be worried about having your needs met when you are old.

After the legislation above was enacted, any remaining economic incentive for families was likely evaporated in the passing of the 2010 health care bill. This bill, which President Obama will sign today, mandates health care coverage. Now there is no need to be worried about who will take care of you when you get sick--the government will. The government will make sure the system works for you. Furthermore, because the government "closed the doughnut hole" for elderly care and lowered the Medicare age to 55, it is feasible that you could go through life without ever worrying about having a son or daughter or spouse to take care of you.

If you think that these economic incentives for families are inconsequential, try finding a welfare state that has a fertility rate reaching the 2.1 replacement rate. There is not one. By creating government safety nets for the sick and elderly, we have removed the economic pressures that lead to creating families.

Not only does this not bode well for the institution of the family but it also leads to dilemmas involving labor shortages (to take care of the lopsided demographic pattern) which, in turn, leads to immigration dilemmas. Heavy amounts of immigration can lead to fractures in cultural cohesion as the immigrants have less and less incentive to assimilate. This, over time, can lead to violence, even war.

So, when we try to create a society with fewer consequences--or even less harsh consequences--the consequences will usually pop up in unexpected and unintended places.


Fancy Nancy said...

So true! Who will take care of me "when I'm sixy-four"? Hope it's my kids--not my nanny state.

Elle and Jared said...

I'm showing this to Jared so he'll start posting on my blog (I mean "our" blog) and because I think it is smart.

Whitney said...

Brilliant observation. I wish more people understood the consequences of what we're doing and the PRINCIPLES behind it. A friend of mine referred me to your blog because of this post. I completely agree with you. Thanks for sharing.

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