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Um...

...I've got lots of questions about this article which seems ambiguously worded at key moments (are they counting women whose partners use condoms as using contraceptives?) but this is flat-out silly:

Family planning is a "fiscally conservative policy," countered Jensen of the Women's Health Research Unit. For every $1 spent on contraceptive services, he said, $3 is saved in other government programs such as Medicaid, the State Children's Health Insurance Program, welfare and education.
Now that's true, but by the same token, if we just reduced the population to zero, the budget would be balanced in no time flat. Conversely, if we didn't reduce the population to zero, but did all stop having children, the government would go bankrupt in a few decades. Children cost the government (and their parents) money, but then children become taxpaying citizens who consume few services and fund the government, and then children become old people who cost the government money again. I strongly -- very strongly -- support policies to make it easier for women (and men, for what it's worth) to avoid unwanted pregnancies, but it's neither here nor their in budgetary terms.

January 4, 2005 | Permalink

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» Am I the Only Person Who Has Read (some of) the Report? from Res Ipsa
The usually able Matthew Yglesias also appears to not bothering to read the actual report. One look at the actual study shows of course they are talking about condoms. [Read More]

Tracked on Jan 4, 2005 5:37:35 PM

Comments

You don't think unwanted children are more likely to be burdens on the State than wanted children?

Posted by: bobo brooks | Jan 4, 2005 4:56:58 PM

This reminds me of an (in)famous quote of Lyndon Johnson's in the mid-1960s, when he said that $5 of contraceptives shipped overseas was worth $500 in international development aid and financing. It seemed a logical statement to most Americans at the time, but very many people in the developing world took note of what Johnson said, and hated him (and by extension the US) for it. Now Americans will begin to look at folks like Jensen with just the same kind of anger, and it will be a big problem for Democrats if they get too associated with this kind of mindset.I kind of think MY is ahead of the curve in terms of seeing the critical need for a left-center "pro-natalism", on many different levels than just this one. My guess is that 10 more years of watching the slow-motion demographic disaster that Japan is becoming (and is already) will bring others to his POV. That plus population growth in the red states.

Posted by: Colin | Jan 4, 2005 5:00:15 PM

Yes, What is our primary purpose in our society breeding stock or consumer?

Posted by: j swift | Jan 4, 2005 5:06:49 PM

A condom costs how much?

An abortion costs how much? An unwanted pregnancy to an unwed teen costs how much? Taking a potential member of the labor pool and turning her into a unwed mother costs the economy how much in opportunity costs?

WTF?

Posted by: jerry | Jan 4, 2005 5:06:56 PM

It would be silly if it weren't for the -- I won't say sillier, because really it's too nauseating -- fact that the same people who oppose the government educating people about and providing them with access to contraceptives are those trying to cut the budgets for social services like medicaid, welfare, and education -- often on the pretext that we can't afford it.

Posted by: larry birnbaum | Jan 4, 2005 5:12:33 PM

Bobo has it right, planned families, per se, are more likely to be productive than unplanned ones. "Fiscally conservative" may not be the right term, but unwanted children are certainly a drain on the economy.

Posted by: Free Radical | Jan 4, 2005 5:27:46 PM

Blech. This is why small government types fear liberalism. Once you have publicly funded medicine, publicly funded retirements, and publicly funded education, EVERYTHING becomes the state's business on fiscal grounds.

The outcome may not be bad in a given case, but the logic is terrifying.

Posted by: Jason Ligon | Jan 4, 2005 5:32:40 PM

The outcome may not be bad in a given case, but the logic is terrifying.

This reminds me of why I fear libertarianism. The logic may not be bad in a given case, but the outcome is terrifying.

Posted by: Paul Callahan | Jan 4, 2005 6:02:34 PM

Great one Paul.

Posted by: WeSaferThemHealthier | Jan 4, 2005 6:58:08 PM

Let the young die, let the old die, just torment the ones in between. That's how we're balancing the budget. Got a problem with that?

Posted by: Karl Rove's Fax Machine | Jan 4, 2005 7:47:22 PM

Similar to "bobo brooks" above, I think the issue here is children born to parents who aren't ready to raise them, for whatever reason. Such children are statistically more likely to be abused, poorly educated, have health problems, end up in foster care, commit crimes, etc. All of these add up to burdens on the state. I'd guess that's what the individual quoted was trying to say.

Posted by: Rebecca Allen, PhD | Jan 4, 2005 8:31:43 PM

"Similar to "bobo brooks" above, I think the issue here is children born to parents who aren't ready to raise them, for whatever reason. "

Great Rebecca. Like timing the stock market. How do you reliably spot such people.

Have you ever had a child? I have. It changes everything.

I think a little humility is in order, Dr. Rebecca. Try it sometime.

Posted by: Joel, Ph.D. | Jan 4, 2005 8:53:12 PM

I believe there is a comment on male contraception in the article, but it's frustratingly hard to derive meaning from it. I am also apparently unable to reach the wapo at this moment to referesh my memory.

A parable: I know a relatively well-respected researcher who, finding out that he and his wife were going to have a child, sat down and performed some calculations to determine how many diapers he would need for several years. His reasoning was that since it was a fixed and predictable cost, he could buy them in bulk, get a discount and not have to worry about the issue again. My understanding is that his diaper supply was exhausted in about six months. I don't think you can realistically claim that anyone is prepared to be a parent without the practical.

What I get a bit more concerned about, is an implicit message that we don't want the 'wrong types' of people to have kids. Colin's Lyndon Johnson story is well-taken.

Posted by: Mike Collins | Jan 4, 2005 9:17:18 PM

"I think a little humility is in order, Dr. Rebecca. Try it sometime."

Can you say that with a straight face and then sign your name "Joel, Ph.D."?

Anyway, Dr. Rebecca is right, as was bobo brooks. MY said that a decrease in unwanted children was "neither here nor there in budgetary terms". I'm not quoting any research here, but I'm quite confident that unplanned children are more likely to commit crimes, need welfare, and produce less in economic terms. Therefore, it is possible that the quoted statement that contraceptives save money was correct. However, Dr. Joel, if you'll notice, neither poster advocated any sort of policy, they just pointed out the problem in MY's reasoning. So your question "Great Rebecca. Like timing the stock market. How do you reliably spot such people" is 'neither here nor there'.

Posted by: stanley fatmax | Jan 4, 2005 10:14:28 PM

Right. We're not obligated to "reliably spot such people" or any such thing. The point was to offer services that people can choose for themselves. Pretty hard to get much simpler.

And budgetary considerations are perfectly valid in their own right, whether or not other considerations may be (as in the present case) more important. The best way to show that contraceptive services aren't wasteful financially (net) is simply to show that they are beneficial financially (net). It's a simple enough point if one can manage to ignore artificially added Fear Factors.

Posted by: eric | Jan 4, 2005 11:20:08 PM

The point of the article was the concern that women without adequate health insurance were finding it difficult to pay for contraceptives.

Matt, you are an idiot.

A woman without health insurance or income sufficient to pay for her contraceptives is going to be eligible for Medicaid from the moment of conception. If she does not meet the citizenship requirements her delivery will be covered by Medicaid and her pre-natal care will be covered by another program such as Title V.

Her child will be covered by Medicaid from the moment of delivery.

The only way the kid will ever get off Medicaid is if Mom gets a good job with insurance, i.e. the thing that was missing in the first place. Much of this kid's life will be subsidized: his day care, his school lunch, his food, his health insurance.

Mom's life will be much tougher with an unplanned kid. It might cost her significant earnings over a lifetime and therebye limit the taxes she pays. And the real cost of the child through the age of 18 and perhaps beyond is far greater that a monthly prescription for birth control pills.

Minimizing unwanted pregancies is a smart and cost effective policy. If government has a role, please let it be a cost effective one.

As for the 'left of center pro-natalism' and 'population growth in the red states', well... this unwanted kid is the one the red states hate, and want to stop subsidizing. If you really want an eye opener, check out the average age of your state child protective services staff. Red states such as my own, Texas, really do not like to fund even basic protections for kids.

And Paul: great comment.

Posted by: Nat | Jan 4, 2005 11:27:07 PM

"Can you say that with a straight face and then sign your name "Joel, Ph.D."?"

It's called "irony," Stan. Rebecca signed her name with her degree, as though her point were freighted with more significance because of her PhD. I was parroting her to make the point that having a PhD "is neither here nor there." Sorry if I was too subtle.

"Anyway, Dr. Rebecca is right, as was bobo brooks."

Well, yes, in principle, no one should have children before they are ready. She's right, but operationally, this is meaningless. Nobody really knows whether they are ready to have children until they do. So "timing" parenthood is a bit like timing the stock market--much easier to do in retrospect. That, Stan, was my point.

Posted by: Joel | Jan 5, 2005 6:38:51 AM

"Well, yes, in principle, no one should have children before they are ready. She's right, but operationally, this is meaningless. Nobody really knows whether they are ready to have children until they do. So "timing" parenthood is a bit like timing the stock market--much easier to do in retrospect. That, Stan, was my point."

Well, Joel. This is such a poor analogy that I have to comment. Your point that nobody can be certain that they are actually ready to be a parent is true, but hardly relevant.

The point is that people who consciously choose to conceive a child are MUCH MORE LIKELY to be ready to be parents than people that don't. If this weren't the case, there would not be millions of abortions every year, principly by young girls that were not seeking to get pregnant.

I suppose putting it in the terms of your bad stock market analogy: It is the difference between trusting your investment to some random person off the street vs. trusting it to a registered investment advisor. There is no guarantee that one person will make wiser investments or work hard at the necessary research than the other. HOWEVER, it is MUCH MORE LIKELY that a person that is educated in investments and chose that career will make better decisions with your money.

Also, your stock market analogy is bad for another reason. You can spot tendencies in parents. More often than not, the older the parent, the more ready they are to be parents for a variety of reasons: experience, responsibility, financial security, likelihood of a two parent household all increase with age. Of course, at a certain age this becomes untrue, but within certain bounds older first time parents are more likely to be better first time parents.

Once again, using your analogy: older consistent stocks are more likely to yield investment gains than young, untested stocks because the older companies have more experience, financial security, etc.

Posted by: aeneas23 | Jan 5, 2005 9:48:16 AM

aeneas23, I don't disagree with anything you said concerning unwanted children, teenage moms, or how the stock market works. My wife and I became parents in our early 30's after establishing our professional careers, so I can appreciate your comment concerning older parents. I've been a stock market investor for the past 15 years, so I'm well aware of the risks of the market. You simply missed my point and talked right past it. That's the danger of analogies, I suppose; they can be stretched past their Youngs modulus, and thus be distorted beyond utility.

I wasn't making an analogy to investing the the stock market. I referred specifically to "timing" the market. Anyone can make money if they only follow this advice: "buy low, sell high." The problem is predicting in advance where the highs and lows are. That's what is meant by "timing" the market. Likewise, it would be much simpler if we could follow this advice re parenting: "good parents should have children, bad parents shouldn't." The problem is spotting good and bad parents in advance. Many people are unfit to be parents at any age and income level. Many are.

Here is what Rebecca wrote:

"I think the issue here is children born to parents who aren't ready to raise them, for whatever reason."

For whatever reason. I don't see anything that specifies only teenage girls. Of course I agree with you concerning the unreadiness of teenage girls. Had that been in Rebecca's post, I wouldn't have responded at all.

Perhaps I misunderstood Rebecca's point. You certainly misunderstood mine.

Posted by: Joel | Jan 5, 2005 10:36:00 AM

To much of the above--huh? The speaker is talking about government spending on birth control. And, regardless of who funds it, in this country using birth control is a voluntary decision (thank God). So the main beneficiaries are people who want to use birth control but can't access or afford it without help.

I don't see how this comment implies anything like the Lybdon Johnson comment above (which was ill-framed). The point is that helping people access birth control when they want to and can't is a cheaper way of helping them help themselves than waiting until after conception.

Posted by: veruca | Jan 5, 2005 10:54:53 AM

The same demographic that engages in high risk behavior while desiring to postpone a pregnancy can't reasonably raise a child. The term unintended pregnancy is relatively meaningless and does not predict any life course for a particular child other than, statistically speaking, the demographic that has the most unintended pregnancies is raising a generation of children destined to crime, poverty, and more poor decision making. That same demographic does not do any better with children they do want. It has nothing to do with intentions. Poor decision makers make poor decisions about sexual practices and poor decisions about child rearing.

So, of course, it makes fiscal sense to increase contraceptive use, especially among that demographic.


Posted by: yamamoto | Jan 5, 2005 11:02:38 AM

His reasoning was that since it was a fixed and predictable cost, he could buy them in bulk, get a discount and not have to worry about the issue again.

It's strange that he could not predict the quantity with more precision, but there's a more fundamental problem. Disposable diapers are arguably still getting better, depending on what you think of the incremental design changes (but I think they're a lot better in terms of fit and absorbence than they were 20 years ago). I can also tell you that huggies have steadily been getting cheaper over the past year as they keep adding more "free bonus" diapers in the box you can get for $29.99 at Costco.

I'd also be a little concerned with the shelf life of diapers, because of the materials used to make them more absorbent.

Posted by: Paul Callahan | Jan 5, 2005 12:25:00 PM

This is more a comment on the original article than on Matt's blog -- but I wonder if improvements in fertility testing and fertility treatments have anything to do with more women deciding not to use birth control?

I used birth control faithfully for nearly 20 years, but my husband and I don't use it any more, even though we're not actively trying to conceive. Why? Because after being unable to get pregnant and undergoing various treatments and tests, it's clear that I'm subfertile. A pregnancy is theoretically possible -- all of the plumbing is fine -- but it seems silly to go back to using birth control when the likelihood of conceiving is so tiny.

Posted by: janet | Jan 5, 2005 3:14:59 PM

Reading some of these comments, I see a terrifying brand of liberalism, but I take comfort that it’s largely navel-gazing.

No matter how much some people think it’s a good idea, US States don’t and shouldn’t give parental qualification tests. All courts that I’m aware of have clearly stated that the right to reproduce is a fundamental human one. I’m not sure if people here are aware of this fact or not, but I note it.

I doubt that nanny-statism in the US would spiral to the point of requiring permission to get pregnant, ever.

And now we come to the inherent problem of statism, be it conservative or liberal: it doesn’t really do too well in the free marketplace of ideas. No one here wants a theocracy, and conversely, no one wants communism.

And now let’s look at the future: nature is ruthless; it doesn’t care about ideals or education. It just favors the most prolific. Life’s a bitch.

Posted by: kmw | Jan 5, 2005 3:44:53 PM

US States don’t and shouldn’t give parental qualification tests

Jesus F. Christ. Who's arguing to the contrary?

Posted by: baba | Jan 5, 2005 4:06:51 PM

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