Demanding More from the Childless

 

Should the childless pay higher taxes so that families with children can pay less? That is the question asked, and answered in the affirmative, by conservative columnist Reihan Salam in a recent column at Slate.

Salam, who is himself childless, comes to this conclusion after analyzing some of the realities that beset parents who are raising children in these difficult times. His major premise is that it is unjust to impose heavy tax burdens on couples raising children because it is they who are making the sacrifices necessary to produce the generations to come — and to raise them to not only be economically productive, but to pass on the social capital upon which the nation thrives.

The tax system already includes benefits to parents with children. But Salam contends that the burden should be shifted even more to nonparents:

Shifting the tax burden from parents to nonparents, we will help give America’s children a better start in life, and we will help correct a simple injustice. We all benefit from the work of parents. Each new generation reinvigorates our society in its youthful vim and vigor. As my childless friends and I grow crankier and more decrepit, a steady stream of barely post pubescent braniacs writes catchy tunes and invents breakthrough technologies that keep us entertained and make us more productive. The willingness of parents to bear and nurture children saves us from becoming an economically moribund nation of hateful curmudgeons. The least we can do is offer them a tax break.

Salam’s thesis is interesting because he identifies not only an economic concern, but a social one as well.

From a purely economic perspective, he seems to have a point. The population is aging rapidly and, the desires of conservatives and libertarians notwithstanding, it is unlikely that the government will be getting out of the business of Social Security and Medicare any time soon. With Obamacare and entitlement spending sending the nation into economic despair, upcoming generations will bear an ever more oppressive financial burden, and a corresponding loss of prosperity.

To avoid or lessen the coming crisis, the country needs children willing to accept the weight. Parents bear the task of raising their children to accept this responsibility. To do this, parents must make enormous sacrifices. They must set aside many personal ambitions to focus their energy and resources on their kids. Society depends on well reared, morally schooled, and hardworking children if it is to survive, much less prosper, economically and socially. The beneficiaries are not just parents, but the childless as well. It might even be argued that the childless enjoy far greater benefits. As they age, those without children will benefit from entitlements like Social Security and Medicare, without having made the sacrifices accompanying child rearing.

There are many problems with Salam’s argument, of course. From a libertarian perspective, it could be argued that parents make the choice to have children and endure all the attendant sacrifice. That is certainly true. But the childless have also made a choice — and part of that choice means shifting the burden onto those who “toil on behalf of America’s future workforce.” To put it simply, non-parents often enjoy far more lavish lifestyles that parents, yet will still enjoy the wealth generated by future generations that will pay the cost of non-parents’ Social Security and the like. Moreover, non-parents who are able to set aside handsome sums for retirement will depend on generations raised by others to keep the economy going, which will be essential to maintaining the security of non-parents’ investments.

Other problems include determining the cost/benefit ratio in setting the amount of these tax benefits. Salam suggests some very high amounts in tax breaks to parents. That means tax increases on non-parents will be enormous. At some point, the injustice (if Salam is right in calling the present case unjust) may be shifted to non-parents. In addition, their incentive to work may drop. Unlike parents, the childless have greater freedom to leave the workforce, because they alone bear the immediate risk of the exit from employment. A sharp rise in early retirement would reduce the size of the workforce, which would in turn increase the burden on the young and increase the risk of stagnation.

Still, it might be worth trying. The country is in a childrearing crisis. New technologies like smart phones and iPads have given children uncontrolled freedom from parental discipline. Sexy pictures passed around schools, online bullying, and access to some very bad stuff on the Internet, have enormously complicated parents’ lives. As economic stagnation worsens, many parents must spend more and more time at work. Children are less and less supervised. Increased take-home pay could give parents greater flexibility to be home when the kids are out of school. It might also lessen the trend of babysitting by technology. A parent with something left at the end of the day will not be so quickly tempted to let the TV or computer watch the kids.

Salam’s vision is egalitarian, which always leads to risky social policy. But it could be that putting more money in the hands of parents will not only balance out an economic injustice, but also rectify a social injustice that severely underestimates the benefits all people, parents and childless alike, enjoy from well-raised children.

There are 103 comments.

Become a member to join the conversation. Or sign in if you're already a member.
  1. user_554634 Moderator
    user_554634
    @MikeRapkoch

    Here’s the link. Couldn’t get it to work in the OP.

    http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/politics/2014/03/tax_credits_and_children_parents_should_pay_lower_taxes_and_childless_people.html

    Doesn’t see to work here either. Oh well.

    • #1
  2. Byron Horatio Inactive
    Byron Horatio
    @ByronHoratio

    This seems all part of the rotten logic of collectivism; collectivize the cost of everything because every consequence is collectivized.  Not to mention the spoils and favoritism that comes with a progressive tax system.

    • #2
  3. user_7742 Member
    user_7742
    @BrianWatt

    There are all sorts of things in life that are unfair…excuse me, “unjust”. Perhaps people without pets should pay more than people with pets because pets obviously are a net positive good for society and in the case of dogs help to provide security and in the case of cats and boa constrictors help keep the rodent population down (depending of course, on how lazy one’s cat or boa constrictor is) and for the stressed and anxious amongst us help to calm our nerves when we pet them. 

    Byron above is absolutely right. We’ve been living with this stupid graduated tax scheme for so long creating these artificial notions that your income level determines your identity as a taker or giver or somehow someone who isn’t in some way paying their fair share (how many times have we heard that claptrap from the Left) – that now we’re coming up with ways to assign guilt to one or more types of Americans to steal even more of their hard-earned income. Yeah, that’s a good idea. Not! 

    A flat tax abolishes all this nonsense and goes a long way to cutting down the size of the IRS substantially. But no, let’s not do that. Let’s continue to confer guilt trips on selective groups of Americans who need to be more fair and spread more of their wealth.

    What an idiotic idea.

    • #3
  4. user_697797 Member
    user_697797
    @

    Here’s a better idea.  Force those who irresponsibly bring children into this world to bear the full cost of that decision.  No handouts, no welfare, no tax credits.  If you cannot provide for the child, they’ll be placed in an orphanage and any income/welfare you might receive will be garnished until the cost for care of your children is repaid.  You can live in the depths of the most extreme poverty.  Soon, low income people will learn there is a cost associated with irresponsible breeding, rather than a reward in the form of tax credits and welfare, and the amount of out of wedlock/financially unsupportable births will plummet.

    Kalam’s thesis:

    It takes a village to raise a child…whether they want to or not.

    • #4
  5. Bartholomew Xerxes Ogilvie, Jr. Coolidge
    Bartholomew Xerxes Ogilvie, Jr.
    @BartholomewXerxesOgilvieJr

    People respond to incentives. A scheme like this would just encourage more people to have children irresponsibly, simply to get the tax breaks (or to avoid the tax penalties of childlessness).

    Parenthood has its own costs, and its own rewards. The decision of whether to become a parent must be based on those intrinsic qualities. I’d rather not see the government confuse the matter with financial manipulation.

    • #5
  6. Cantankerous Homebody Inactive
    Cantankerous Homebody
    @CantankerousHomebody

    Sorry, why are we speaking as though a tax credit to parents is akin to welfare?  So long as we have pay-as-you-go entitlement programs and an ever growing mountain of debt it seems like the childless are really the “takers”.  I think the solution to irresponsible parenthood probably would begin and end at stopping the welfare checks to each additional child in the brood.

    The progressive tax system is tangential to this issue.  I think if we demand on using future income to pay for our current expenditures, then those who are prudently having kids should be incentivized to do so.  To the individual, children bring their own costs and rewards but to the rest of us (as long as we insist on having a country) they’re future social and economic capital.

    I remember in an interview Thomas Sowell asked “What did people do before social security?” and he answered his own question with “they had kids!” Look, I’m single and childless (and dislike children) but that really changed my thinking on the issue.

    • #6
  7. user_554634 Moderator
    user_554634
    @MikeRapkoch

    A few observations:

    This would collectivize child rearing, but the social and economic benefits of children–benefits everyone enjoys–are a collective concern.

    The dog and cats analogy misses my first observation, i.e., dogs and cats won’t keep the economy going.

    This has little to do with illegitimacy or irresponsible parenting; it is a tax issue, and taxes are paid by people who earn income, the vast majority of that comes from working. Parents who work are, almost by definition, responsible parents.

    Welfare reform is a necessity as welfare provides a huge incentive to stay on the dole. But those who would see their taxes reduced (working parents) are, for the most part, not on welfare, and will not have kids to get more welfare. 

    Reducing the tax burden on parents would afford them greater flexibility in child rearing by perhaps allowing a mother to stay home, or work part time, so she can be there when the kids enter the dangerous teen years.

    Birth rates have been declining. Even if this increased the number of children, it would be for families with working parents, and could encourage more children to support a system in danger of collapse.

    • #7
  8. Mike H Coolidge
    Mike H
    @MikeH

    I’m convinced that the net tax burden is currently on those with children. I like Ramesh Ponnuru’s opinion of giving a ~$4000 non-refundable tax credit to parents of children that is applicable to payroll tax. So, a family could bring their total tax bill to zero but receive no money from the government. No refund, no welfare. Automatic stopgap on having too many kids for the tax benefits. Those most able to afford children (and presumably the ones that would have more of the type of children we want) would have the most incentive to maximize their fertility.

    • #8
  9. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    Children are less and less supervised.

    I seriously doubt it. It seems to me that these days, children are more supervised than ever. Gone are the days when it was non-weird for a child whose chores were finished to spend the rest of the day outdoors playing, unsupervised, till suppertime.

    Children have access to more information than they used to, including dirty information like porn, but that isn’t exactly the same thing as being unsupervised.

    As for the dirty information out there, naturally you want to shelter your kids from it, but kids should know enough to sense when something’s bad news and defend themselves from it. Sexual bullying among teens and pre-teens did not need the internet to happen. I can personally attest there was plenty of it before internet usage became widespread, and it has probably always been around. A totally innocent kid is at a disadvantage in these situations.

    Better, I think, to give your kids some parent-supervised worldly knowledge, awkward as it may be, than to leave them totally clueless as to the sort of nasties that bored adolescents probably have always been able to dream up.

    • #9
  10. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    Mike H:
    I’m convinced that the net tax burden is currently on those with children.

     How do you figure? I’m not saying you’re wrong, I’m just interested in the details.

    • #10
  11. Mike H Coolidge
    Mike H
    @MikeH

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake:

    Mike H: I’m convinced that the net tax burden is currently on those with children.

    How do you figure? I’m not saying you’re wrong, I’m just interested in the details.

    Here.

    • #11
  12. user_554634 Moderator
    user_554634
    @MikeRapkoch

    MFR:

    Children should be know enough to sense when somethings bad news? Come now. Children have never known enough. If they did we’d have no reason to take care of them. Do children know enough not to cram a whole bag of candy down their throats? Mine didn’t. Do children, especially adolescent boys, know that porn is bad news? Not in the circles I traveled when I was a teen. There have been beer busts since the dawn of time, and these children did not, it seems, know this was bad for them. Your asking an awfully lot from children.

    As for playing outside, when I was a kid we were outside all the time, but we were hardly unsupervised. There was a sort of invisible hand supervising us. In neighborhoods people not only knew each other, they knew each others kids, and always had a sense of where they were and what they were doing. Mrs. R, S, P, G, C, stopped a lot of stupidity around the neighborhood. Now there is little sense of neighborhood. No wonder parents keep kids inside, and computers or iPads ready to hand.

    • #12
  13. user_554634 Moderator
    user_554634
    @MikeRapkoch

    Interesting. The argument seems to be gaining momentum. Here’s a couple links, on from Salam, the other from the New York Times.

    http://www.nationalreview.com/agenda/374985/mini-symposium-taxing-childless-reihan-salam

    http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2014/04/02/tax-the-childless-to-help-parents/ease-parents-double-tax-burden

    • #13
  14. Whiskey Sam Inactive
    Whiskey Sam
    @WhiskeySam

    Horrible idea.  Once again, those of us who have lived responsibly, within our means, and planned for our future are going to get screwed over to bail out everyone else who didn’t.  No thanks.

    • #14
  15. Yeah...ok. Inactive
    Yeah...ok.
    @Yeahok

    No. 1000 times no.

    No.

    This is how government (and tax regulation) bloat happens.

    I’m in favor of more children per family but the federal government is not the implement to use to promote this idea.

    The way to fix things is by repealing bad/unworkable/unaffordable laws.

    All federal welfare/social security/education programs cause more harm than good and what good that might result is way overpriced.

    Will the parents have to refund their tax credits when their children go on welfare and food stamps? I don’t think Octomom’s kids are going to contribute anything to the economy in the next 50 years. All this does is make being a baby momma more profitable.

    • #15
  16. EThompson Inactive
    EThompson
    @EThompson

    Brian Watt: There are all sorts of things in life that are unfair…excuse me, “unjust”. Perhaps people without pets should pay more than people with pets because pets obviously are a net positive good for society and in the case of dogs help to provide security and in the case of cats and boa constrictors help keep the rodent population down (depending of course, on how lazy one’s cat or boa constrictor is) and for the stressed and anxious amongst us help to calm our nerves when we pet them.  

    You said it all, Brian. Most excellent comment.

    P.S. Thanks to 2.0, I was actually able to like your comment twice.

    • #16
  17. Son of Spengler Contributor
    Son of Spengler
    @SonofSpengler

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake:

    |   Children are less and less supervised.
    I seriously doubt it. It seems to me that these days, children are more supervised than ever. Gone are the days when it was non-weird for a child whose chores were finished to spend the rest of the day outdoors playing, unsupervised, till suppertime….

     I think we’re looking at a bimodal distribution. At the higher end of the income scale, children are overprogrammed and oversupervised by parents who are highly (emotionally) invested in their success. At the lower end of the income scale, rampant fatherlessness has left single mothers to put bread on the table, leaving children unsupervised (and underprogrammed) for large swaths of the day.

    It may also be useful to consider that these children will grow up to comprise two (or more) groups of adults — an elite group taxing a productive group to support an unproductive group.


     

    • #17
  18. Mike H Coolidge
    Mike H
    @MikeH

    I don’t think the government should subsidize children (but I also don’t believe the proposal I mentioned in #8 would do that), but I’m curious if anyone who’s strongly against this type of proposal have kids currently or plan to.

    • #18
  19. Albert Arthur Coolidge
    Albert Arthur
    @AlbertArthur

    Are we talking about raising taxes on the childless, or lowering taxes for parents? It’s not the same thing. I’m against the former and in favor of the latter. But, here’s an even better idea: lower taxes for everyone.

    • #19
  20. Nick Stuart Inactive
    Nick Stuart
    @NickStuart

    I have 5 children, four of whom have served in the military, all of whom we homeschooled K-12 (saving the state somewhere in the vicinity of say $500,000 (I think more, but let’s leave it at that). We’ve paid our dues.

    People without children are already being forced to pay for public schools they get virtually nothing out of (it can’t be argued it is a necessary expenditure because of the low overall quality of the product).

    The current tax system is obscene. Nobody’s taxes should be raised for any reason. The system itself must be simplified before it collapses. Stop tinkering around with it to advance this or that social good by incentivizing or disincentivizing this or that behavior like we’re a bunch of rats in a Skinner box.

    • #20
  21. CatManDo Inactive
    CatManDo
    @CatManDo

    Yes, that makes a lot of sense. Let’s raise my property taxes, which as a childless adult are already ridiculous and used to pay socialist unionized teachers who flunked out of college to turn my neighbor’s kids into mindless Obama-bots. What was Salam smoking when he wrote this, and can I have some?

    • #21
  22. thelonious Member
    thelonious
    @thelonious

    Parents and children benefit more from government programs than the childless.  They do use schools, parks and other programs government provides for children.  I would argue parents get a better return on investment on the taxes they pay.

    • #22
  23. skipsul Inactive
    skipsul
    @skipsul

    Nick Stewart hits the crux:  Yes parents bear an incredible financial burden, but the childless and elderly pay property taxes, and in many locales those taxes punish longtime property holders to the point of having to sell their estates.  I’ve got 4 kids, I know the expense, but fix the rest of the bloody tax code.  It is the endless tweaks, adjustments, special interests, credits, rebates, and other meddling attempts to “correct” behavior that have gotten us into the current disaster.

    Clean the damn tax code up, stop trying to “correct” it to achieve your own pet ends.!

    • #23
  24. user_554634 Moderator
    user_554634
    @MikeRapkoch

    Here’s an interesting piece from Elaine Maags of the Urban Institute:

    http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2014/04/02/tax-the-childless-to-help-parents/its-the-childless-low-income-workers-who-need-a-tax-break

    • #24
  25. skipsul Inactive
    skipsul
    @skipsul

    Salam is not the first to propose this, I heard it on Econ Talk some months ago.

    Every time we attempt to “fix” social behavior through financial pokes like this, we lose a bit of our freedom.  Why on earth should we continue to ask our tax masters to prod us to do this or that activity?  If I put in a “green” water heater, I get a tax break where the rest of you suckers front part of the cost.  If I buy a “green” car, you suckers pay for part of that too.  Not only is this unjust, it divides us.  

    Think of the heater for a moment – if the government fronts say 50% of the heater cost, all I have to do is make up the rest.  But what if I can’t afford that first 50%?  So we have a policy which right up front divides us.  If the heater is that much better, why do I need a governnment handout to get it?

    • #25
  26. EThompson Inactive
    EThompson
    @EThompson

    Albert Arthur: Are we talking about raising taxes on the childless, or lowering taxes for parents? It’s not the same thing. I’m against the former and in favor of the latter. But, here’s an even better idea: lower taxes for everyone.

    But the latter is the former because somebody has to pony up and pay the bills. Frankly, I think I should get the tax break for paying for other people’s children to use public parks, highways, libraries,  attend university and run up $250k bills while they complain about the possibility of paying for Social Security out of paychecks they have no intention of earning in the first place. Do not get me started on the Millennials.

    • #26
  27. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens
    @BryanGStephens

    There is nothing more important in the long term than raising another generation of citizens. It is in the people’s best interest. I had a post along these lines in 1.0, but I cannot link to it yet.

    • #27
  28. Whiskey Sam Inactive
    Whiskey Sam
    @WhiskeySam

    Bryan G. Stephens:
    There is nothing more important in the long term than raising another generation of citizens. It is in the people’s best interest. I had a post along these lines in 1.0, but I cannot link to it yet.

     I can guarantee you that the childless would get nothing but a bill out of this deal and not be given any input on how those children they are paying for are raised.  

    • #28
  29. Fricosis Guy Listener
    Fricosis Guy
    @FricosisGuy

    Great. Another conservative has a plan to have us turn on each other like dogs.

    • #29
  30. user_554634 Moderator
    user_554634
    @MikeRapkoch

    Here is something else to consider. Birthrates are dropping in the US, just as they have been dropping precipitously in Europe for many years. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Birth_rate. If the trend continues, and since economic factors play a significant role in this I’m guessing they probably will, there will be too few children to produce the wealth that keeps us going. At some point the system will collapse.

    Families create a bond of love and commitment between members. This in turn instills a sense of obligation in children to care for their parents–as their parents cared for them. When inevitable cuts must be made in SS and Medicare (and other things) it seems likely that adult children will not have a similar sense of obligation for people who decided not to have children. To put it another way, childless couples will have to rely on the general goodwill of children they did not have to keep things going. Absent familial bonds, the only hope is that children have been instilled with a broad sense of responsibilty for others. That will come from parents. Parents who bear the burden of providing a moral education. How will the childless fare?

    • #30

Comments are closed because this post is more than six months old. Please write a new post if you would like to continue this conversation.