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Having caught your eye, I direct you to an article in the April 9, 2015 edition of the Grey Lady. It discusses attempts by various countries to boost domestic birthrates. The same issue had been considered earlier by Noah Smith. There are two questions lurking here. First, what is the optimal population size for a country? If the goal was to shrink the population then a declining birth rate is not a bad thing. Suppose the goal is keep the population fixed, because, say of pension obligations. Then, one wants a replacement birth rate of roughly 2 per couple.
If the birth rate is below the target, what should one do? Interestingly, I cannot recall anyone I have asked or read who does not turn to Government interventions of various kinds. Noah Smith, for example, only discusses Government interventions before concluding one should imitate the French. If the birth rate is below what is optimal for society, why doesn’t the market take care of it? Do we have a missing market? Is this a public goods problem? (If so, then, Mankiw who is often castigated for being a selfish beast, is, in this case, an unstinting provider of public goods, see here.)
Analogies are sometimes helpful (if biology is the study of bios, life; geology is the study of geos, earth, what does that make analogy?). Farmers plant crops and after a period, the fruits of their labor are harvested and sent to market. The Farmer must anticipate what will be demanded in the future to decide what to plant now. What if she plants turnips when what is desired are parsnips? This problem is solved with a futures market for parsnips (or turnips or pork etc). Why not a futures market for babies? Those who want warm bodies in the future to support them in their dotage pay for babies now. Swiftian, I know, but interesting to consider. Once one thinks about how to implement the idea, difficulties emerge. One might, for example, be concerned with moral hazard on the part of parents. However, these same difficulties are present even with various Government subsidies.
There is a brief period in a professor’s life when they are the lion of the dinner table and toast of the town. Its when the children of their friends and contemporaries are about to enter college. To my colleagues near and far I say enjoy the attention while you can.
What advice did I offer when called upon to do so?
Don’t worry. Your child has already made the most important decision of their lives and done so correctly. They chose you as a parent.
`No, seriously, how can my child make it to a top school?’, was the invariable reply. Followed by a reminder of the ostensibly low acceptance rates at `top’ colleges. `Don’t worry,’ I would repeat, `arithmetic is on your side.’
Each year about 30,000 students apply to Harvard. About 10,000 of these will be summarily rejected on academic grounds. That leaves about 20,000. Not all of them will get into Harvard. However, most of them are applying to the same subset of schools. There are 7 Ivy League schools, plus MIT, Stanford & Caltech. Throw in the University of Chicago and Berkeley. Collectively, these institutions enroll about 20,000 students in their freshman classes. This is not counting Duke, Northwestern, Michigan and UCLA.
`But, but, isn’t all that hard work, focus and diligence wasted if they don’t get into Stanford, MIT or Harvard?’
No, those habits will serve them throughout their lives not just at admission. Admissions is a lottery among those who make the `grade’. If the `losing ticket’ is Cornell or Chicago, its a lottery with no downside! How often does life present you with with such an opportunity.
I have two kids, ages 14 and 11; you may have met them at Stony Brook. We have three PC’s at home so that we can work at the same time and play together using our home network. The PC’s stand one next to the other in the same room. This way we are together even when each one works on his own things, and I have control over the sites they visit on the net. In general, I do not allow telephones/TV/PC in bedroom: all devices that can cause a family member to be locked in his room must be located in public areas.
A couple of days ago my older son asked whether he can purchase his own laptop from his own money. Why do you need a laptop? I would like to write stories, and it is difficult to concentrate in the room-with-computers. Correct answer, for which I have no counterarguments. Yet so far he did not write so many stories, and he does not have much time to write stories anyway. Anything else? I may also read my e-mail. Wrong answer; this is exactly what your father is afraid of. You can use my laptop. Your laptop is not always available, and I cannot use it when I am at mom’s house. That’s correct. I am afraid that you will use the laptop for other activities, be locked in your room and we will never see you again. I can delete Internet Explorer.
So here is where we stand. The kid wants a laptop, I know that writing stories on the laptop is just the first step, and that even if now he will use it only for that goal, in some years he will use it for games, surfing, chatting, and all the things that kids in his age will do, and we will see him only for meals. I may fight windmills, like Don Quixote, and in few years anyway he will be locked in his room, but I have hopes that I can keep some social activity even when the kids are 17-year old. I also do not exclude the possibility that writing stories is nothing but an excuse: a reason he came up with so that I allow him to purchase a laptop, but in fact he wants the laptop for other reasons.
What should I do? Any suggestions?
And, Eran, this is one example for the use of strategic thinking in raising kids. Once you think of the consequences of your decisions, and try to figure out the reasons for you kids’ requests, you enter the zone of game theory. Others may use different terms, but, after all, each one uses the terms that he knows.