Our broken market in parenting

Meritocracy has long been one of America’s most cherished principles. It informs the structure of our educational system, which at its best tries to ensure that the most talented students get access to the resources they need to succeed. Yet doesn’t the social mobility provided by education come “too late,” as it were? Before arriving at school, children are exposed to more or less random differences in the distribution of resources, simply by virtue of who their parents are. Talented students may be mired in a stimulus-poor environment, while the mediocre children of the rich receive, by virtue of a kind of genetic affirmative action, a wide range of educational opportunities that will ultimately be wasted on them. This so-called “system” of parenting prevents pure meritocracy from being achieved, meaning that there can appear to be a moral imperative toward market-distorting redistribution of wealth.

To remedy this standing offense against human freedom, I propose that we apply market principles to parenting. While there is currently no getting around the need to be physically born to a particular person, we can minimize the element of randomness by providing infants with parenting vouchers in proportion to their innate talents (as indicated by an appropriate standardized testing regime). Better parents would naturally be able to command higher prices on the parenting market. Thus the more talented children could then be matched up with wealthier and more socially prestigious parents, promoting the deserving child’s life chances and also making sure that the social and economic resources of their parents are not squandered. Children who were never going to contribute significantly to society could be given to less capable parents. If some kind of error occurred in the placement process, the educational system, as the engine of social mobility, would be able to correct for the problem — though presumably the system would improve over time, so that eventually even that correction would no longer be necessary.

Plato already recognized that something like this type of system would be necessary for a truly just society to emerge, namely, one in which each is rewarded for his or her own merits. While there is a considerable sentimental attachment to our current system, I think we all need to recognize that until our broken market for parenting is repaired, we can never be completely sure that those who are rich or poor truly deserve to be in their respective conditions.

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8 Responses to “Our broken market in parenting”

  1. Tad Ekam Says:

    I appreciate this system very much, but I think you’re giving up on the problem of to whom we’re born too easily. Early childhood care is vital, but is it more vital than prenatal care? I think you’re leaving fetuses to the whims of dangerous illiberal anti-market forces. Surely with surrogate technologies and perhaps with the development of advanced artificial incubation techniques we can free the fetus so that it can enjoy the benefits of a market-based choice of prenatal care.

  2. Stephen Keating Says:

    Still further, we must eliminate the burdensome, profit-killing government intervention in family management. Deregulation is needed to allow parents and children to make informed, personal choices about what kind of disciplinary measures they will use, how many hours children may work, and what kind of industries they can enter at what age.

  3. Bultmanniac (@bultmanniac) Says:

    This is a farce. Everybody knows children’s academic abilities are directly correlated to father’s income and color of skin.

  4. Craig McFarlane Says:

    Your proposal sounds like an abstract for a paper by Gary Becker.

  5. Huol Says:

    I hope you’re joking. Rather than trying to change the very nature of parenting in order to meet the demands of a post-industrial meritocratic society, why not instead seek to change the system itself that would ideally want parents to be inhumanely sundered from their own biological children?

  6. ben Says:

    I have it on good authority that Adam is definitely being 100% sincere.

  7. rleduc321 Says:

    Had there been a qualifying exam, I would never have ended up a parent. But then, I’d probably leave the market with others like me, under the modest proposal given herein.

  8. Steven Shakespeare Says:

    This is an excellent proposal. But we should also recognise that with rights – or opportunities, as I like to call them – come responsibilities. Infants who prove obstructive to the parenting process, those who make excessive demands on the system’s limited budget, and those who refuse to co-operate with the reasonable behavioural adjustments demanded of them, should have their benefits (toys, food, bed) gradually withdrawn. Those who persistently fail to live up to their end of the bargain should have parenting denied them altogether. This would encourage them to abandon a negative dependency culture, and ensure the survival to adulthood only of those who were prepared to be more than burdensome ‘takers’.


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