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The Feminine Economy and the Economic Man: Reviving the Role of Family in the Post-Industrial Age by Shirley Burggraf


“Wanted: Parents willing to bear, rear, and educate children for the next generation of Social Security taxpayers and to carry on the modern culture of learning and progress. Quality parenting preferred. Large commitments of time and money required. At least one parent must be willing to work a double shift and/or sacrifice tenure and upward mobility in the labor market. Salary: 0. Pension benefits: 0. Profits and dividends: 0.” -- Shirley Burggraf



While Richard Gill analyzes the funeral industry, Shirley Burggraf tackles a little recognized policy problem: In a modern economy children are a terrible economic deal for parents and a great economic deal for third parties, even while popular rhetoric claims the opposite. We produce “human capital” mostly through parental time and expense while the profit transfers to those investing little.


Burggraf argues that we should tax childrens' incomes, transferring the tax to their parents.


Take two similar income couples:

·        Couple A has no children and invests one million dollars for their retirements. If Couple A receives about a seven percent return on their investment, their investment will double every decade.

·        Couple B has six children. Couple B invests one million dollars in raising their children and nothing for their retirements.

Couple A enjoys an extremely wealthy retirement. Couple B enjoys a retirement near poverty. Yet it will be the labors and taxes of couple B’s children and the children of other parents that support the retirements of couple A. Without other peoples’ work and their childrens' work, the retirements of the childfree and non-contributing parents would be impossible. Their savings and investments would be, as Rolf George says, “worth less even than confederate dollars.” Children and parents eventually pay for retirements through taxes or labor or both. Burggraf calls this the childfree “Yuppies free lunch.” A March 23, 1998 article in U.S. News and World Report implies that the best career move a person can make is getting sterilized. Frugal parents produce children who end up supporting the wealthy retirements of wealthy childless individuals while the parents gain little economically from their efforts. And that does not include other benefits. The interest payments by grown children for government debts created by others, for example, make the lives of owners of government debt wealthier.


Consider another example: Imagine parents who raise children to adulthood, then one of the adult children has a child. Soon after the birth of the grandchild, the adult child leaves the grandchild to the grandparents, going off to improve his career and invest in his own retirement. The grandparents raise two generations of kids. They get almost no help or reward. No reciprocation here. Yet when the adult child reaches retirement, he might enjoy millions in economic benefits--and other non-economic benefits--provided by other peoples' children and the child he abandoned. Third parties gain labor, innovation, and customers. This injustice is so obviously wrong—harmful and unmerited—it is a wonder that our obsolete theories of justice have almost nothing to say on such matters. To its credit, Burggraf's work looks at the big economic picture, calling this the largest economic rip-off in history.


Economic policies—government debts, union contracts, fiscal policies, monetary policies—sign children, parents, and the unborn up for contracts they never agreed to or would not have agreed to if just alternatives had been available. Public and private retirement plans are near welfare programs for the childfree, one-child parents, and biology only parents. Private pensions, whether they are deserved or acquired primarily through the exercise of power, must be supported by the labor of others. Good parents get ripped off. Many things we should not tolerate are things we tolerate without even noticing. Rewarding a non-contributing parent with millions in retirement benefits while the parent’s former spouse gets little is one. We try to keep living standards up by increasing loads on parents. Meanwhile third parties walk around claiming to be victims of school taxes when, in fact, they shirk duties. Resources primarily move from parents to third parties rather than from third parties to parents. Family is an important economic engine, not some peripheral activity. An economy treats hitting, throwing, and kicking balls as pinnacles in productivity, and the raising of children as valueless, is profoundly wrong. Child rearing is necessary for the survival of a society, yet expensive, difficult, and time consuming.




Parents make huge moral, financial, and physical efforts to raise a child. Society pays a small amount for public education (about $100,000 per child claims Burggraf) and other smaller programs (which Burggraf fails to include). Society gains an adult who will earn millions, pay at least a half-million in taxes, contribute several hundred thousand for public pensions, dispense thousands more to support private pensions, furnish the moral and social benefits of his or her labors. Parents pour resources into children produce adults who pour their efforts into retirees and other third parties.


Conventional lack of wisdom believes policies that benefit non-ward of the state parents and children are pandering, not matters of growth, remuneration, and good results, even among working class individuals worse off than wards of the state. Parents are responsible for children for roughly two decades, but they are entitled to little of the wealth produced by children for the next half-century. It would be intriguing if twenty-somethings in 2030 went on strike and decided not to assign value to pieces of paper (or ones and zeroes) held by retirees.


The biggest flaw with Burggraf’s recommendations to revamp retirement programs: They fail to help parents when parents would benefit from them most: When their children are young. Her system would also have enormous transition costs.


Burggraf also supports parental-choice school vouchers, but there is a dirty little secret out there: Many parents do not care much about academic achievement. Ask teachers how often they get calls from parents about grades, social matters and extra curricular activities versus calls on academic content and learning. Some teachers never get asked about academic content. Who will protect children from edbeat parents?


Both liberals and conservatives care little about good standards and enforcement of those standards. As I once read in the Atlantic Monthly, liberals are opposed to policies with the word standards in it and conservatives are opposed to policies with the word national in it. They both favor low, unspecific, irrelevant, pathetic standards. So we end up with "standards" as merely a buzzword for politicians to

get elected so they can pursue other policies once they get elected.


The author’s plan is too regressive. It provides too much benefit for wealthy parents, benefits that would have less utility for them. Her system holds parents accountable for bad kids when other factors are to blame. A thoughtful, hard working parent should not be punished for what peers, schools, media, politicians, demagogues, low-lifes and unlucky genes do. See the Nurture Assumption for more on this topic.


Her bloated stats are useful as illustrations of points, not as precise economic analysis. She does not include other social costs of children such as Medicaid and does not include other social benefits such as supporting private pensions, other taxes paid, defending South Korea, keeping dictators from invading nations at will.


Burggraf should be credited with addressing a major issue and present some good arguments in favor of change, even if some of her proposals are inadequate. She sees the big picture of a country slowly, relentlessly redesigning itself to serve the interests of adult pleasure seekers. Let’s hope that someday individuals come along who will be able to break through the power market hegemony in economics, individuals who do not acquiesce to vile rhetoric and lose themselves in distractions. Recommended. Book review by J.T. Fournier, last updated July 26, 2009, 304p (H) 1999              


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