07 Sep 2008

The Bible Says Children Are an Investment

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My mother-in-law gave me The Bible Promise Book, and I came across the following intriguing verse under the topic of “Children”:

3 Sons are a heritage from the LORD,
children a reward from him.

4 Like arrows in the hands of a warrior
are sons born in one’s youth.

5 Blessed is the man
whose quiver is full of them.
They will not be put to shame
when they contend with their enemies in the gate.

(Psalm 127:3-5)

As an economist with a specialty in capital theory, it is unavoidable that I have looked upon my own son at times as a capital good. (At other times I view him as a poop factory.) It sounds crass, I grant you, but in terms of wanting to influence the world, one very influential but long-term strategy is to raise a child or children. Incidentally, this is the single most compelling argument I could give to someone considering becoming a suicide bomber: If your goal were to, say, get the United States out of the Middle East, you could achieve a lot more by staying alive, protesting nonviolently, and then raising your kids with your worldview. It takes a lot longer for that investment to bear fruit, but as Bohm-Bawerk conjectured, there always exist more productive techniques for achieving your ends, the longer you are willing to wait for the results.

The principle of viewing your children as an investment is most obvious in poorer regions where parents literally have to rely on children as old-age insurance, but even in richer cultures it’s the same thing. Whether you are a Christian and want to spread the gospel, or are a Marxist and want to abolish private property, one of the most influential things you can do is have children and lavish them with attention. My pointing out this fact doesn’t mean children exist just to become extensions of their parents; of course not. (Otherwise, you should just be blindly doing whatever your parents told you to do–although let’s face it, unconsciously you are trying to live up to the expectations they put into you, for good or ill.)

This leads to another point: I taught at the undergraduate level but I always thought teachers at the lower grades were far more influential. Think of the teachers that have influenced you in your own life. For me, my kindergarten teacher was super “nice” (I had a crush on her too) and that was the standard for how you were supposed to be as a person; nice to everyone, share, etc. And then, I remember a science teacher in junior high who lent me a book about special relativity (this wasn’t the class material) and that totally influenced me; I might not be half the geek I am today, were it not for him.

In contrast, even someone whom we would expect to have greatly influenced me–like Mario Rizzo, my dissertation advisor at NYU–didn’t really mold me very much, except perhaps to make me think that any American living outside of New York City is necessarily a hick. By the time he got ahold of me, I was already far too set in my ways.

It goes without saying that these observations underscore the absolute insidiousness of government involvement in schooling. Boo! Hiss!

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