Rat's Nest
Bloggage, rants, and occasional notes of despair

Expensive or obvious?

From The Economist:

A need for nurseries

Milan's shortage of affordable childcare is a common complaint among local parents. But there are signs of change. The city has set aside €500,000 ($560,000) to finance small nurseries in the homes of local residents. About a half dozen such nurseries were up and running by mid-September, and 15 more should open by Christmas.

Bruno Simini, the city official responsible for education, promises places for 200 children unable to get into one of Milan's 117 city-run nurseries by next June. The city government has already introduced incentives for businesses to offer corporate day-care.

Some have wondered just why child care is so expensive. Some have theorized that it is because we demand perfect outcomes at a price that even the destitute can afford. Others theorize that its the litigation explosion, where a baseless allegation that one abused a child in one's care twenty years ago can cost big bucks to defend against.

I would put forth an alternate hypothesis. For 99% of human history (and for much of humanity even now), child care was provided by a mother who kept one eye on the sprogs whilst they were all pulling weeds on the family subsistence farm.

If we assume that the value of that child care was equivalent to a present-day working mom's salary, plus the benefit to the family of those pulled weeds, then the cost of child care probably hasn't changed much over the past few centuries. We've just changed the accounting; we're laying out cash instead of relying on unpaid labor.

One of the great myths of our time is that the liberal/libertarian agenda is costless and painless. It is not. The cost may be paying, the pain may be worth suffering, the result may be greatly preferable to what went before – as is the case with genuine women's liberation. But our punditry promised that there would be no cost to pay and no pain to bear. They told us – and it was because it was what we wished to hear – that there were no choices to make, that the gritty details did not need to considered, that we could have it all and all at once, not merely in child care but in every other political, social, and economic sphere.

They lied, of course. But they've found an economic and social niche in the telling of soothing lies. It is our role to laugh at them derisively, to point the finger of scorn, to tell them that they are unworthy of speaking to us unless they inject some truth and rationality into the discussion. We preferred not to do so, because the process was too difficult and unpleasant.

John "Akatsuukami" Braue Wednesday, September 24, 2003