18 Nov 2015

Go Forth and Multiply, Murphy vs. Cowen Edition

Shameless Self-Promotion, Tyler Cowen 16 Comments

My latest at FEE reacts to Tyler’s discussion of China’s one-child policy.

16 Responses to “Go Forth and Multiply, Murphy vs. Cowen Edition”

  1. Transformer says:

    Could I conclude from this post that no rule can ever have benefits that outweigh the costs and its always best to have an “individual decides” approach ?

    Would it apply to a privatly-owned housing district where the property owners have to decide on a “no pets rule”? Would Bob argue “For any family that thought zero pets was the best decision, all things considered the no-pets policy would be redundant. And for any family that decided one or more pets was the best decision — taking vets expenses into account — the no-pets policy does more harm than good. Just allowing every family to decide for themselves the optimum number of pets is the only way to arrive at the optimal number”?

    • Bob Murphy says:

      Transformer, Tyler wasn’t making an externality argument. So if a housing district said, “You’re only allowed to have one pet because two pets would cost you too much in terms of food” then yeah that would be stupid.

      • Transformer says:

        He said “the policy made China a more educated society more rapidly.” He then describes the mechanism for how the one-child policy brought this about. (“It is simple economics that putting a lot of money into the education of each child is easier to do with a single child than with three or for that matter seven kids”)

        Why isn’t that an externality argument?

        (BTW: I agree that he needs some other assumptions about the costs of education to know for sure this mechanism worked the way he thinks it worked)

        • Bob Murphy says:

          Transformer OK maybe he had an externality argument in mind, but I don’t think he really spelled it out. He would need to explain why parents might be happy with “2 kids of moderate education” vs “1 kid of superior education” but neighbors would prefer the opposite, and then why the neighbors’ views trump the parents.

          • Transformer says:

            Leaving aside what Cowen thinks it was you who wrote:

            “Thus, for any family that thought one (or zero) children was the best decision, all things considered — including schooling expenses — the Chinese government policy would be redundant. And for any family that decided two or more children was the best decision — taking schooling expenses into account — the Chinese government policy did more harm than good”

            This seems to ignore the possibility that people might believe that “given the choice between living in a territory where every one can have as many children as they like and living in a territory where every family ,including mine , can have only one child – I would choose the latter as it leads to an externality (a better educated population) that outweighs the cost (less children than would otherwise have) in my subjective value scale.”

            If this were true then even without coercion it is possible that a “single child” policy might be adopted.

            • Bob Murphy says:

              Transformer if I’m criticizing what I take to be Cowen’s argument, you can’t then say, “Leaving aside what Cowen thinks it was you who wrote…”

              • Transformer says:

                So if I say:

                “Cowan is wrong to say that the one-child policy led to a better educated population because its obvious that as long as you allow children to eat as much spinach as they want they will maximize their achievement no matter what family size they are part of”.

                It would (according your last comment) be invalid for you to say “Leaving aside what Cowen thinks it was you who wrote that stuff about spinach, and that argument is rubbish” ?

              • Transformer says:

                If I had simply said “You wrote:”

                Rather than: “Leaving aside what Cowen thinks it was you who wrote:”

                Then the context of my comment would have been exactly the same.

        • guest says:

          “Why isn’t that an externality argument?”

          Because you don’t need an education when you can simply buy the innovations of others.

          You have a higher standard of living when you *don’t* have to work so hard or think so long.

          *Takes a bow*

          Jeopardy’s great – but all the time?! Go play, some.

  2. baconbacon says:

    I think you missed the low hanging fruit here.

    1. Your first child is exhausting because you have to teach them EVERYTHING (also you don’t know what you are doing, shrug). Child #2 however tends to learn from child #1. 1 child families are really inefficient. 1 parent teaches 1 child to read and it stops. In multiple children families Child 1 often helps child 2 to learn to read and so turns into a (slightly) productive member of society. As a bonus teaching others is a great way to improve your own skill set, and so child 1 becomes a better reader as well.

    2. A one child family is a waste of skills. New parents learn tons of stuff about infants, kid 2 is often (relatively speaking) a breeze because you already know the basics and can focus on the details of the kid. Diaper changes, sleep and feeding schedules are already a part of your knowledge base and you can start to figure out the little things that eluded you for months with the first one. This annoying activity is actually a sign they are getting hungry/sleepy, a change in eating habits could mean that so be on your toes. Having one child is like going through the training period at a new job and then quitting. It might be the right decision sometimes, but it would be a disaster if that was policy.

    3. One kid is often more work than two. Two children can play with each other, one child needs outside stimulation nearly constantly. One child has to be taught social rules, two children can figure out social rules through play.

    • Bob Murphy says:

      Baconbacon space was limited but yeah I see your points. (I don’t know from personal experience since I only have 1 kid!) However Tyler presented apparently solid evidence on the narrow point, which is why I switched it to a system-wide argument. I.e. even though I didn’t explicitly say it this way, what I was doing implicitly is arguing, “Yes, given a tuition price, 2 kids are twice as expensive. But the equilibrium tuition price is much lower if most families have 2+ kids.”

      • guest says:

        “(I don’t know from personal experience since I only have 1 kid!)”

        Tom Woods should have rubbed off on you by now, for being such good friends.

        Are you two OK?


        The Remnant needs answers, so you need to fix this.

      • baconbacon says:

        Tyler’s evidence is based on Twins being harder to raise than a single child. Knowing a couple of families with twins- absolutely! Two kids of the same age- especially as your only parenting experience- looks very tough (though parents with twins as a 2nd/3rd child or later instead of a 1st/2nd don’t appear nearly as stressed by them), most of the benefits of two kids come from the difference in their ages. Even at a basic economic level of costs Twins are more expensive than 2 separate ones because hand me downs don’t work.

        • baconbacon says:

          to be slightly scientific about it- mammals tend to have litters at 1/2 the rate of their number of nipples. When litters are larger than that one or several members will die fairly quickly (unless food is particularly abundant). Comparing multiple litters to a double sized litter is not a natural experiment.

    • notsneaky says:

      “One kid is often more work than two. Two children can play with each other”

      At least until they get to the “super intense disputes over ill defined property rights over most trivial crap” stage of development. Then it’s more work.

      • baconbacon says:

        In my experience kids are at their meanest/most selfish/nastiest when they are tired/bored/hungry, and kids in those moods don’t just sit quietly playing by themselves and will be demanding attention in some way.

        2 kids is definitely harder at specific times- a small crisis (poop on the wall) with one kid is harder to handle with two, and occasionally double crises happen, but these are heavily balanced (and I would say outweighed) by all the things that make having siblings enjoyable.

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