10 Apr 2009

Henderson Yes, Caplan No

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EconLog is really a great blog. The three of those guys together have as much output as one Tyler Cowen (and that’s a compliment to the three). In this post I’ll praise David Henderson for this great point about anarchy and foreign affairs, and then I’ll proceed to criticize Bryan Caplan.

Caplan is getting ready to hawk his new book (as we all must do) and so gives us his preface, which starts like this:

When I tell people that I’m writing a book called Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids, the most common response is, “Because they’ll take care of you in your old age?” Now’s a good time to issue a disclaimer: That is not what I’m saying. Indeed, I doubt that “They’ll help me out when I’m old,” has ever been a good reason to have kids. Love tends to run downhill; as an old saying ruefully observes, “One parent can care for five children, but five children cannot care for one parent.” In any case, there are more cost-effective ways to provide for your old age than starting a family. In a backward farming community, you can take the money you were going to spend on children, use it to buy land, then rent it out when you’re ready to retire. In the modern world, self-help is easier still. Invest in a retirement fund, or buy an annuity. No muss, no fuss.

(1) I am suspicious whenever an economist “blows up” centuries of wisdom in two sentences. Is it really true that Bryan Caplan knows better than billions of people all over the world who (I assume) would claim that they have large families as an insurance policy?

(2) Does anyone else find it odd that Caplan is saying “no muss no fuss” in reference to retirement funds and annuities? I literally wrote in a recent email to my parents that it’s good they (will soon) have two young sons with PhDs, since their retirement just got halved.

(3) Does Bryan know that population grows exponentially while land has historically been fairly fixed? (I believe that was one of the reasons for primogeniture.) If people take Caplan’s advice and have a bunch of kids, with each generation there is less land for each couple to buy as a retirement option. Human beings are incredibly versatile. I think it is one of the wisest investments you can make to raise children, especially if you can pull it off so they don’t hate your guts by the time they’re in their 30s.

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