Caplan on Parenting

by Russ Roberts on May 9, 2011

in Parenting, Podcast

The latest EconTalk is Bryan Caplan discussing his new book on parenting, Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids. Bryan thinks we are the products of our genes and there are great limits to what parents can do to influence their children. I push back–I agree that there are limits but I am not as convinced by the evidence that Bryan provides as Bryan is.

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Kara Tappan May 9, 2011 at 12:22 pm

Loved this! Very interesting as I try to navigate the world of parenting with my two young daughters.

Mao_Dung May 9, 2011 at 1:46 pm

The problem with children is that they grow up to become adults. Children need to be freed from their Parents’ mind control. Teach your kids to read before they learn to walk. Let’s follow a child born in the ghetto to see how things all work themselves out, with the inevitable increase in the standard of living.

kryx May 9, 2011 at 3:39 pm

Do you have any children? At an early age they learn spontaneously by observing and imitation. Gosh, you could say it is an emergent phenomenon. Your idea is akin to denying gravity exists – good luck.

John May 9, 2011 at 6:52 pm

Mr. Caplan’s overall message is correct. Children aren’t as expensive as we imagine; and parent’s are overly-burdened sherpas when it comes to raising the 1.7 kids that they have.

That said, I think his argument that parents are vastly less influential on their kids outcomes underestimates their important role in shaping character. Vices never corrected, virtues never fostered, have a huge influence on a child’s outcome. The merciless violence, drug use, and despair in the inner-cities highlights the problem quite clearly. Nurture still holds sway, and intact families still matter. So do good parenting and modeling. I can virtually guarantee you that none of my children will join a gang and murder others. Can a mother in Chicago be so certain?

And as the father of six, my wife and I work very hard at limiting what our children are exposed to at an early age. “The Simpsons” is not a good substitute for ballet. Sorry, not buying some of the particulars of what Mr. Caplan’s selling! But I like your overall message. Have more children! You’ll never regret it.

Emerson May 11, 2011 at 12:40 am

I hope Bryan (and all others interested in the topic) will check out Tom Hodgkinson’s wonderful book The Idle Parent. Easily the best parenting book I’ve ever read, not that there have been many.

bjcefola May 11, 2011 at 7:46 pm

I haven’t listened to this yet, but I think a variant of Pascal’s Wager applies. Raising your kids as though you could influence and teach them something seems more likely to produce a meaningful and fulfilling relationship then if you assume otherwise.

Prior_Analytics May 12, 2011 at 11:10 pm

Despite the math that suggests that there is an upper limit to what any set of resources can sustain, for the time being we still have plenty of room to grow.

That said, if I could change one economic principle around parenting it would be the concept of the traditional abdication of responsibility that happens somewhere between when a child hits driving age and when they get married.

I wonder if parents would have as many children as they do if they had ‘lifetime’ responsibility for their children, and any and all children that their children have.

If the economics of supporting direct offspring, is so easily accomplished, why not make it part of the responsibility of parenthood. And, before anyone ever gets any support from the State, why not make the parents responsible for it all.

Education, medical care, shelter, food, just the basics. In fact, just to make it interesting, let’s say that the shelter has to be at the same economic level as the house they grow up in.

Sounds easy enough, if there are no shortages of resources, why not guarantee the next generation the same life that the parents have today, and surely with the added ideas that these children will be providing, surely it be easier than when the parent had to provide it for themselves.

To the degree that a parent would not take this on this lifetime economic responsibility, why not? If it’s so easy? If it’s such a low risk bet at the time of conception.

And, in the case that parents do not, then who shall they get to take this risk? Who is to take the economic responsibility that parents are afraid to take on?

Perhaps we could come up with economic lifestyle insurance (ELI) that parents would buy and companies could sell that insures each child with the lifestyle of their parents. Companies could make a killing off of this because with all the cool ideas of the future, it will cost much, much less in the future than it does today for the same economic class of lifestyle….

In fact, for those who don’t want to have any more kids, how about investing in an insurance company that sells economic lifestyle insurance? From all the data that we just heard, providing for the next generation is gonna be a cinch! Who would not pay what they could to provide a lower risk pool that insured their children and all children in a similar economic risk bucket?

Any takers?


Zippies May 13, 2011 at 3:10 pm

This sounds like an interesting book on parenting. Thanks for the post.

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