Posts Tagged parenting
Data-visualization guru Hans Rosling recently gave a fascinating TED talk contemplating the relationship between religion and babymaking. (For some of my commentary on his previous instances of wizardry, see here and here.)
This week at Values & Capitalism, I offer my thoughts on the lecture, focusing specifically on the limits of Rosling’s analysis as it relates to the economic implications of religion and culture.
You can watch the full talk below:
Rosling argues that religion has nothing to do with decreasing birth rates, but getting out of poverty does.
Ah, but what hath religion to do with that?
As I’ve written previously, economists have a tendency to shy away from and/or mistreat any factors that might rattle their neat categorical frameworks and cause “#VALUE!” to pop up throughout their intricate Excel spreadsheets. Observing countries according to “majority religion,” for example, provides little insight into the unique cultural differences and political climates of the countries involved while also Read the rest of this entry »
The subject of contracts is not particularly sexy, which is part of the reason I’d like to talk about contracts—and how we might reach beyond them.
In one sense, we have come to ignore, downplay, or disregard the value of contracts. Across the world, we continuously see grand planners like Jeffrey Sachs trying to impose markets and social stability with the flick of their wands, paying little attention to cultural factors like trust and property rights or the institutions required to make contracts mean something. Similarly, here in America, our government seems increasingly bent on diluting or subverting our most fundamental agreements, whether between husband and wife or Foreclosed Billy and his bank.
Yet in other areas, we are overly contract-minded, particularly when it enables us to slack off or lead predictable, controllable lives. Our default setting as humans is to pursue the minimum amount of work for the maximum reward—to put in our 40 hours, shrug our shoulders, and say, “that’s that.” Take the recent union battles in Wisconsin, where protestors proudly insist that their gripes aren’t about the money, but rather, securing a specialized right to privilege and protection. If such an alarming display of entitlement and self-obsessed insulation-seeking isn’t adequate evidence of our new-found comfort level with legalistic, minimum-effort thinking and living, I don’t know what is.
Contracts certainly play an important role in ordering our affairs—as indicated in my preliminary jab at Mr. Sachs—but we mustn’t forget that they can only take us so far. We may indeed need to establish some minimums in our commitment-making (and enforce them accordingly), but that needn’t mean that the minimum is all we aim to achieve.
This is an issue that progressives, conservatives, and libertarians consistently get tied up with, with our discussions consistently centering on words like “coercion,” “obligation,” “voluntaryism,” and all the rest. Yet in trying to understand the dynamics of these features, we must recognize the limits of such categories, lest our aforementioned human tendencies to carve out rationalistic legalistic frameworks impede or limit our thinking about responsibility and commitment to only involve rationalistic legalistic frameworks.
Here’s where that tricky little thing called “love” comes into play, for it so comprehensively breaks such propensities, and, in doing so, shatters the type of line-item, pseudo-rationalistic entitlement and selfishness that ultimately holds individuals back and consequently drags entire families and societies down into the muck.
If there’s one person who understands this, its economist Jennifer Roback Morse, whose book, Love & Economics, argues that love, particularly as encountered in marriage and parenting, helps to show our convenient political-theory buckets for what they are and teach us crucial lessons about how we are to view people and progress. “Familial relationships are not coercive in the usual sense, nor are they voluntary in the usual sense,” argues Morse.
Marriage may be “contractual” in certain ways, but Morse prefers to see it as a “partnership”—one filled with what she calls “radical uncertainty.” “Will we both remain healthy?” she asks. “Will we both continue to be employed at our current level of income and status? Will our needs change in ways we cannot fully predict?”
As Morse notes, a partnership reaches beyond our preferred and overly nit-picky me-vs.-them comparisons (see also: “love keeps no record of wrongs”), focusing more heavily on the we aspect and thus transforming our efforts to be in service of someone and something higher than ourselves:
Partnerships feature ongoing, joint decision making during the life of the relationship. In purely contractual relationships by contrast, the parties negotiate most, if not all, of the significant decisions prior to entering into the contract. In a partnership, the partners share responsibilities, decision-making, and risks…
…In a partnership, both partners have enough at stake in the relationship that they have an incentive to do all the unstated but necessary things that can be known on the spot and in the moment. The contract is neither the end of the relationship nor the method for how the parties relate to one another.
Orienting our perspectives around we-centered uncertainty requires us to reject the type of liberal, me-centered Read the rest of this entry »
My eight-month-old son has always been extremely forceful about pushing the limits of his physical capacity. With each new skill he has learned — whether rolling, sitting, or scooting — he has immediately set his sights on pursuing the next thing. (At a mere three weeks of age he was able to lift up his head completely on his own.)
Over the past week he has learned a new skill: standing.
He can’t stand independently, but as with every previous pursuit, he certainly thinks he can. He pulls himself up on anything he can find — our couch, his toys, his crib, whatever — and each time he is successful, his eyes light up, his muscles flex, and his voice sounds out what Walt Whitman would surely call a barbaric yawp.
He is empowered. After all of his struggling, all of his toiling, and all of his striving, his muscles are finally ready to support his body sufficiently.
But alas, standing is not good enough. Within minutes he moves away from his object of security toward the nearest open space. Slowly and intentionally, he begins to test the unknown, moving one hand away from his support until finally falling to the floor with a resounding thud.
This type of failure is continuous, but it does not discourage him. Within seconds, he pulls himself up and once again pushes away from his support, fighting feverishly to Read the rest of this entry »
Bryan Caplan has some interesting thoughts on weird people and their kids over at EconLog. The discussion centers around whether children tend to reflect their parents’ level of “weirdness.”
As far as what he means by “weird,” Caplan leaves the door open to plenty of quirky traits, including “jokiness,” libertarianism, or a mere “fascination with role-playing games.”
Here is the initial premise:
…[S]uppose that the parent-child correlation on the trait you picked is exactly zero. Then no matter what you’re like, you should expect your kids to be at the 50th percentile. If you’re normal, that’s a pretty good deal; at least on average, your kids will be just like you. But the weirder you are, the less your kids will typically resemble you. Even if you’re at the 95th, 99th or 99.99th percentile, you can expect your kids to be perfectly average. In a world of zero parent-child correlation, weird people have little in common with their children. (emphasis added)
After providing some evidence for these claims, Caplan offers the following analysis:
Now let’s look at these facts like a mad economist. There are two ways to surround yourself with people like you. One is to meet them; the other is to make them. If you’re average, meeting people like yourself is easy; people like you are everywhere. If you’re weird, though, meeting people like yourself is hard; people like you are few and far between. But fortunately, as the parent-child correlation rises, weirdos’ odds of making people like themselves get better and better. This is especially true if the parent-child correlation largely reflects nature rather than nurture, because you won’t have to ride your kids to emulate you; they’ll do it on their own initiative. (emphasis added)
As your weirdness increases, so does your incentive to have kids. If you like football and American Idol, you’re never really alone. You don’t need to build a Xanadu for yourself. But if you’re a lonely misfit, oddball, freak, or weirdo, then find a like-minded Read the rest of this entry »
Here’s an excerpt:
We take seven years to complete our bachelor’s degrees, and when we’re finally finished, we complain about our debt. We specialize in fields like literature and “diversity studies” and then complain about the lack of high-paying jobs. We live with Mom and Dad till we’re 30, only so we can have enough cash to buy the newest gadgets and clothes. All of this delayed development – all of this self-absorbed, childish dilly-dallying – has led to an unproductive and entitled generation.
My proposal? A good old-fashioned “thump in the rump” from the invisible hand:
In our current economy, we still have plenty of time to choose lesser punishments – to get serious about our goals, to reexamine our futures, to readjust our attitudes, to pursue new careers. But at some point, drastic misbehavior will require drastic measures. And when it comes to my generation’s defiant, entitled, know-it-all mentality, I fear that we will reject the milder forms of discipline in hopes that we can escape any discomfort altogether.
To read the full article, click here.
The first time I read John Eldredge’s Wild at Heart, I was looking for answers.
I was edging into my 20s, getting accustomed to college life, and struggling to get used to what would become a four-year, long-distance relationship with the woman who would later become my wife.
Our relationship had plenty of promise, but it also had plenty of bumps. To put things plainly, I was insecure. I was doing everything I thought a good guy was supposed to do. I whispered sweet nothings, paid for meals, and even opened doors for her here and there. But something was causing conflict. No matter how much I did or how much she expressed her devotion, I didn’t feel like I was good enough.
The worst part is that I let her know it.
We were stuck in a rut, and it was all because of me. But rather than realign my perspective and change the way I viewed myself (and our relationship), I thought the answer was to simply let things slide with the hope that things would fix themselves.
To be honest, I was afraid to recognize who I really was.
After all, if I did, I knew I would have to change.
With that as my attitude, Wild at Heart was exactly the book I needed to read.
The book is part diagnosis, part treatment. Eldredge begins by outlining God’s proper design for men, and moves quickly to condemning both modern culture and the modern church for promoting widespread emasculation. This trend, Eldredge argues, has led most men to exhibit a significant amount insecurity (or what he also calls a “false sense of self”). Eldredge wraps things up with a detailed recovery plan — moving step by step through different methods by which men can adjust their behavior and align their outlook to a Biblical perspective.
As I read the book, I slowly began to identify problems in my own life. The more Eldredge began to describe what a Godly man looks like — strong, secure, dependable, selfless, wild — the more I started to Read the rest of this entry »
Jennifer Senior recently wrote a fascinating piece for New York Magazine titled “All Joy and No Fun,” in which she discusses whether having children makes us happier.
Although we all probably think we have a good idea of what happiness consists of, it becomes quite elusive when we analyze it as a scientific variable.
Senior adequately recognizes this elusiveness in her article. Rather than taking a firm position from the get-go, she instead drifts from study to study, illuminating some of the more persuasive points while still playing a fair amount of devil’s advocate.
Such an approach is necessary for this topic, for as Senior notes, the majority of mainstream studies say that parenting does not actually make us happier in the long run:
Most people assume that having children will make them happier. Yet a wide variety of academic research shows that parents are not happier than their childless peers, and in many cases are less so. This finding is surprisingly consistent, showing up across a range of disciplines.
Most parents tend to doubt such findings (including me), but when you actually read the studies, it’s hard to doubt their conclusions (at least from a macro perspective). Certainly none of us are unhappy parents!
“So what, precisely, is going on here?” Senior asks. “Why is this finding duplicated over and over again despite the fact that most parents believe it to be wrong?”
The only answers Senior is able to come up with are that either (1) “parents are deluded,” or (2) “the experience of raising children has fundamentally changed.”
I would say the second guess is probably more convincing.
As Senior explains:
Before urbanization, children were viewed as economic assets to their parents. If you had a farm, they toiled alongside you to maintain its upkeep; if you had a family business, the kids helped mind the store. But all of this dramatically changed with the moral and technological Read the rest of this entry »
For those who don’t know, Josiah was the 19th king of Judah, and was unique among the other kings in the extent to which He restored God’s law in the land. On the surface this may seem like a simple story, but Josiah did not begin his reign in the best of circumstances.
Josiah’s grandfather, King Manassah, had reversed all of the spiritual gains made by his father King Hezekiah. Manassah was absorbed in idolatry and witchcraft, and eventually sacrificed his own son on an altar of fire. After Manassah’s death, his son Amon (Josiah’s father) reigned in a similar fashion — building temples to Baal, worshipping idols, and continuing to “forsake the Lord” as 2 Kings describes it. After reigning for only two years, Amon was assassinated by his own servants, leaving his son Josiah to assume the kingship at only eight years of age.
In short, the Kingdom of Judah had backslidden into 57 years of spiritual adultery. When Josiah became king, he was immediately confronted with a choice that most children aren’t faced with — he could continue to perpetuate the status quo of idolatry and human sacrifice (i.e. the easy route), or he could abandon everything he knew and return to worship of the one true God — Jehovah.
For reasons related to his fear of the Lord, Josiah chose the latter. By the age of eighteen, Josiah had commissioned the priests to restore the temple to its proper place, after which he rediscovered the Book of the Law (either the Torah or the Book of Deuteronomy). Upon hearing his secretary read it out loud, Josiah was dismayed by the implications.
2 Kings 22:11 describes the incident in detail:
When the king heard the words of the Book of the Law, he tore his robes. He gave these orders to Hilkiah the priest, Ahikam son of Shaphan, Acbor son of Micaiah, Shaphan the secretary and Asaiah the king’s attendant: “Go and inquire of the LORD for me and for the people and for all Judah about what is written in this book that has been found. Great is the LORD’s anger that burns against us because our fathers have not obeyed the words of this book; they have not acted in accordance with all that is written there concerning us.
In other words, Josiah immediately had faith in the Word of God, and by applying it to the culture around him he realized how disobedient and profane God’s people had become. Remember that in this moment Josiah is hearing God’s Word for the first time and he simply believes it right away. Given how countercultural such stringent laws would be at that time, the audacity and immediacy of his faith is incredibly inspiring to me.
It reminds me of what Abraham talks about in Jesus’ parable of Lazureus and the Rich Man (Luke 16:19-31). When the rich man is burning in Hades, he begs Abraham to let him go back to earth and warn his family against continuing their wrongdoing. Abraham responds by saying they need no more warning than what they already have at their disposal.
“They have Moses and the Prophets,” Abraham says. “Let them listen to them.”
Josiah didn’t have the privilege of a Christian (or Jewish) upbringing. He wasn’t the recipient of “proper parenting.” He wasn’t taught to memorize Bible verses or tithe from his paycheck. He didn’t go to youth group every Sunday or attend summer camp revival services.
After all, his father was a pagan.
But when Josiah was confronted with God’s word, he simply knew it to be true. From a young age, he sought and pursued God despite his cultural disposition and “natural inclinations.” He recognized evil and realized that living righteously required faith in God and a holistic rejection of the world as he knew it.
After this realization, Josiah took many actions to reverse the wrongs of his forefathers. He restored the Temple, re-instituted the Law, destroyed the “high places” of idol worship and prostitution, and presided over the first Passover since the days of Samuel.
We can all talk the talk and say we love the Lord, but when Josiah heard God’s voice, he took immediate and extreme action. He really believed that God was true to His word.
This is what the Lord had to say to Josiah:
Because your heart was responsive and you humbled yourself before the LORD when you heard what I have spoken against this place and its people, that they would become accursed and laid waste, and because you tore your robes and wept in my presence, I have heard you, declares the LORD. Therefore I will gather you to your fathers, and you will be buried in peace. Your eyes will not see all the disaster I am going to bring on this place.
The Hebrew translation of Josiah is “Jehovah will support,” and from the above passage it is evident God was indeed backing Josiah’s decisions. Covenants are two-way deals, and Josiah was supported by Jehovah because he made the choice to enter into relationship with God, even when the earthly systems of his day were going the opposite way.
That is what I want for my son. I don’t want him to have the fatherless childhood Josiah had, and I will try my best to protect him from the rampant idolatry of this world. But my prayer for him is that he discovers an earnest and sincere devotion for the one true God — one that perseveres the wickedness that will inevitably surround him. My son may have been born into a culture of corruption and deceit, but it can’t be any worse than the one King Josiah was confronted with.
As my wife and I continue to shepherd him toward adulthood, we will continue to pray and trust that our son will meet God intimately and realize the value that Jehovah can bring to a fallen world.