18 January 2008

What is the cost of a child?

My original intention was to write a post with this title in response to the news that Tony Blair has been given a lucrative half-a-million-a-year post at J. P. Morgan. Since this bank was implicated in the illegal reconstruction of Iraq, I hoped to find a figure for the number of Iraqi children who died to enable this colonialist wheeze and do the maths. Now who's thinking like an economist?

Economists actually work out the cost of children - and this is part of the problem. Even the most liberal newspapers encourage parents to see their children as 'costs', a recent estimate rising as high as £165,000. This reminds me of the work of economist Gary Becker, who discusses all family relationships as market trade-offs. I laughed at his foolishness; now I realise others were more gullible.

Children have become an important part of the consumer-based economy, with pester power now the subject of discussion in academic journals read by marketing gurus. Parents have been willing to take on debts to over-feed and over-equip their infants - and to assuage their guilt at not giving them enough of what they really want - time and love.

What has finally pushed me into posting on the subject of children is the appearance of Thatcher's feral children in the newspaper headlines. Can anybody really be surprised that the generation that grew up in the 1980s have emerged as bestial and amoral? Wasn't that the culture their generation inherited?

The era of Thatcher was dominated by the law of the jungle so why should we be surprised that it has spawned a generation of wild, untameable people? But this is being unfair to the jungle and its inhabitants. My memory of feral children from Romulus and Remus to Kipling's Kim is that they are noble savages; the stories stand as reminders that the natural world has its own balance and harmony.

Commentators identify the source of the problem as failed parenting whereas they should rather criticise the absence of parenting. In this late and decadent form of capitalism only those who sell their souls in the workplace are accorded value. Even people heroically bringing up children on their own are forced to abandon this most important role to spend hours on the telephone persuading others - perhaps other single parents like themselves - to take on debt to keep the economy afloat.

Many of the children who compete to attract the most ASBOS - a sign of distorted aspiration or an alternative pecking order? - would have probably preferred to be brought up by chimps or wolves since their own parents no doubt spent every waking hour at work on the consumption treadmill.

1 comment:

  1. Imagine if the state/capitalism regime ever tried to run adverts to encourage people to have kids. They'd have a tough job.

    'Do you get home from work tired to the core and want to deal with squabbles and tantrums?'
    'Do you want to work full time and spend 70% of your income paying a child minder?'
    'Do you want to feel small in front of workmates because you're always nipping off to deal with a puking child or leaving early to get to the child minding service?'
    'Do you want to spend huge amounts of your money on disposable toys or face a 7 year old's screaming rage?'
    'Then called 0800 666 666 to find out more about having kids!'

    In bean-counting capitalist terms kids don't make sense.

    Of course, in terms of keeping a child fed and watered the costs are minimal I should imagine - probably most little 'mouths to feed' could be sustained by the
    food otherwise thrown away from the fridge each week. And love is 100% free.

    It's everything else that's the problem, the massive inflation of needs - Xboxes, branded clothing, mobile phones, the list goes on. It's very hard to
    be the 'fascist parent' that denies their sprog all this essential pointless tat. And even the government agrees that 'poverty' is now merely not having a material object someone else somewhere has.

    Even if you can wean kids off tat then you still have to educate them and in
    many areas of the urban UK the schools may vary from not-great to little more than child containment prisons where students are not even trusted to take textbooks home, or are not expect to bring a pen to the lesson - even though the building may be some PFI palace of architecture. This just shows how low Thatcherism and New Labourism has sunk.

    I managed to grow up fine lower middle class with a cheapo bike, 'gay' trainers, no TV in my room, mobile phone, no family holidays abroad, no big teenage 'nights out', etc. It's amazing how many adults at work spend their lunch hours dashing to the shops to hunt down some piece of pointless tat their kid is currently demanding - probably as compensation that they're not around enough.