• Safety Nets – ctd.

    I tried to say this a few weeks ago, but David Brooks did it better today:

    Middle-class parents don’t deprive their children of benefits so they can learn to struggle on their own. They shower benefits on their children to give them more opportunities — so they can play travel sports, go on foreign trips and develop more skills.

    People are motivated when they feel competent. They are motivated when they have more opportunities. Ambition is fired by possibility, not by deprivation, as a tour through the world’s poorest regions makes clear.

    Many of us had the safety net of our families. We lucked into them from birth. They didn’t give us everything, but they provided us with the solid floor from which to jump. We want to be careful not to remove the desire for others to jump higher, but not everyone gets the same experiences we do.

    The American dream is one of an equality of opportunity. If you remove the chance for people to succeed, that’s when despondency and dependence will set in.


    • Many middle-class parents do deprive their children of benefits that could provide, so that the children not be spoiled, that they learn the value of a buck and learn how to work hard for a living. I came from an affluent family but since I was 12 years old and I got a paper route I paid for all my clothes (except for clothes that I got for Christmas presents) and I paid for any food that I got out side of the home. I of course paid for all my first car and all my car insurance. I paid for all my college living and tuition except the part was due to states subsidy as it was a state school.
      This gave me the feeling that I had for the most part earned my way. I assume the my father thought it built character and I think that it did. I think that it was also motivational, I have done quite well BTW.
      I have also heard that some rich people like Rockefeller made their children work and earn their way. Who wants Paris Hilton for a child?

    • @Floccina: I am not sure I follow your logic. From your description I didn’t get the sense that you were being “deprived” by your parents. You said you came from an affluent family, so, is it possible that you wanted to do paper routes to earn money or to gain some working experience, not because you were being “deprived” by your parents? This is different from what Aaron Carroll was talking about here and what David Brooks wrote in NY times today. Parents teach their children in many different ways. One thing they don’t do is to take the safety nets away.

      • I guess that it depends on what you mean buy the following:
        Middle-class parents don’t deprive their children of benefits

        My only point was that parents are in fact concerned that they not give everything that they can afford to their children because they fear that will undermine independence. Brooks says:

        They shower benefits on their children to give them more opportunities — so they can play travel sports, go on foreign trips and develop more skills.

        But many parents do not encourage them to participate in sports (they are often neutral on sports) or certainly go on foreign trips partly because the do not want them to be spoiled.

        Maybe I am wrong but I think Brooks’ point is that you cannot spoil a child nor demotivate a child by giving them too much. I do know if he right or not, my point is that many parents act as if you can demotivate/spoil a child and so do not give them everything but encourage work and independence. He seems to be saying that having less is not motivating and having plenty is not motivation killing. His theory seems to mean that Paris Hilton is not spoiled but is just the way she is genetically. He may be right but some parents worry about creating Paris Hiltons.

    • The lengthy quote at:


      Speaks eloquently about what happens to children when the safety net fails them and their families. Its tragic.

    • While I agree with the point that deprivation can be demotivational, I want to point out:

      The family is our major source of inequality of opportunity!

      From connections and wealth at the high end, to prenatal/child nutrition at the low end, the family you’re born into makes a HUGE difference in your opportunity set. (Even ignoring genetics and the like).

    • Ezra Klein had some nice comments on this subject today:

      “Still, for my money, the worst of Romney’s comments were these: “My job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”

      .. The thing about not having much money is you have to take much more responsibility for your life. You can’t pay people to watch your kids or clean your house or fix your meals. You can’t necessarily afford a car or a washing machine or a home in a good school district. That’s what money buys you: goods and services that make your life easier.

      That’s what money has bought Romney, too. He’s a guy who sold his dad’s stock to pay for college, who built an elevator to ensure easier access to his multiple cars and who was able to support his wife’s decision to be a stay-at-home mom. That’s great! That’s the dream.

      The problem is that he doesn’t seem to realize how difficult it is to focus on college when you’re also working full time, how much planning it takes to reliably commute to work without a car, or the agonizing choices faced by families in which both parents work and a child falls ill. The working poor haven’t abdicated responsibility for their lives. They’re drowning in it. ”