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On Sharing - Elizabeth Unexplained
Lots of data but no answers
greyautumnrain
greyautumnrain
On Sharing
Growing up I had an allowance. I also had parents who (wisely) did not buy toys for me after I started getting that allowance unless it was a birthday or Christmas present. Like any kid I had toys I wanted to buy and so I learned to save my allowance. When I got old enough my parents allowed me to do certain extra household chores in exchange for a little more money. This killed a few birds with one stone: it taught me the ethic of working in exchange for money, it made me eager to take several of the more tedious chores off of Mom’s hands, and it was a way for them to counter the decreased buying power of my allowance due to the rampant inflation of the 1970s. So, I did extra chores, got my extra money, saved up for the toys I wanted and occasionally treated my little sister to ice cream. From my point of view it was a pretty much ideal situation, both at the time and in retrospect.

I didn’t read any parenting books prior to Margaret’s birth. The impression that I’d gotten from various blogs I read is that there was little to no merit in most of them and that they primarily exist to make the writers money and fuel online flame wars between moms. This time around I did read Siblings Without Rivalry simply because it did come so highly recommended and because I really want to do everything I can to make sure my kids have the kind of close relationship with each other that I enjoyed with my sister. The book isn’t bad, but I really wasn’t so impressed. Most of the stuff I agree with I consider to be pretty darn obvious. Case in point: not forcing siblings to share. Seriously, do you have to actually tell parents that forcing your kids to share stuff that isn’t joint property is a bad idea? My sister and I always had some toys that were individually owned, and a few things (like the Lego collection) that was treated as joint property. We were never told we had to share, though we sometimes chose to do so, and I don’t recall any major issues with the joint stuff. (In fact, the only argument that I can recall as being at all sharing related was the ever-intractable ‘where does my half of the back seat of the car end and your half begin’ territorial dispute. This was also an issue for Warren and George, so it clearly is a tough one. I am hoping that my $37,000 solution to the problem works.) What kind of message would it have sent if after earning and saving that extra allowance money, my parents had told me that I had let her play with (and potentially break) they toys I bought with it, and I had to treat her to ice cream? Instead of loving my sister I may have resented her as a drain on my resources. Instead of getting a good feeling out of buying her the occasional ice cream cone I would have considered it an unwelcome obligation. Instead of being reasonably happy to vacuum the downstairs for an extra 50 cents it would have been a pointless chore, because there wouldn’t be much point in bothering if I might not actually get to keep and benefit from the extra 50 cents. I think that imposing sharing would have undermined my parent’s entire parenting strategy and sent the wrong message. It’s a bad idea.

Here is where I have a confession to make: This post is not really about parenting. This is a post about economics and politics. In this country, only 55% of people actually pay federal income tax, the rest end up with no federal obligation. If you’re on my friends list, chances are that you’re one of the ‘lucky’ ones who does pay federal income tax, and chances are it’s not cheap. Last year Warren and I paid so much in federal income tax (just federal, not counting state local or social security) that it was the same amount as what my annual salary was 15 years ago. Obviously I make a bit more these days, but we’re talking serious money here. I have no trouble paying taxes for things that are obviously necessary like defense, useful infrastructure, education, police and emergency services, etc. What I have a problem with is the government acting like a particularly clueless parent and imposing sharing. I have a problem with them taking trillions of dollars from people who are productive, skilled and work hard for their money and then giving it to corporations that are in trouble because they are paying bloated benefits and pensions to union workers who as far as I can tell have no marketable skills. Seriously, I resent be forced to share my money with people who made the rather poor decision to drop out of school and become auto workers and who are being given benefits packages that are better than mine. I think you’re not thinking about it logically if you don’t also resent it, though if you have a good reason why someone with at best a high school education and no special skills should be effectively making more than (and subsidized by) graduates of a top university with skills that are in demand, please do let me know. I’m also really not keen on supporting people who don’t want to work at all, bailing out people who bought houses they could not afford (my own house needs work, I’d rather spend the money on that), and bailing out wall street companies that made poor business decisions. If I’m a productive member of society, shouldn’t I be able to spend my money primarily on things I care about? If you make me subsidize people who are not productive, or foolish, or both, isn’t the logical result that I will resent the forced sharing, the people imposing it, and the people I’m being made to share with? I guess the thing that puzzles me is that while there is some grumbling over specifics on the whole economic front, I’m not seeing as much opposition to this economic model as I would expect from a bunch of smart, productive folks.
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Comments
mathhobbit From: mathhobbit Date: October 2nd, 2009 01:47 am (UTC) (Link)
IMO, there are few things more obnoxious than a kid who's incapable of sharing. I'm sure you don't intend to raise one (or three) of those.

I'm impressed that you mostly managed to skirt my liberal guilt fueled Social Justice triggers in the rest of your post. I totally agree with you on banks and bailouts; if I ruled the universe, they'd be government run until they paid their debt to society. (No, I have no political or economic sense for what the consequences of that would be.) The mortgages are a little trickier because they feel like entrapment or predatory practices to me. And I'd like to believe that union wage abuses are rare and over-publicized relative to the things that unions are genuinely good for. (Again, I don't have much knowledge to back this up.)

Smart, arguably productive, and not very well informed I guess.
psychohist From: psychohist Date: October 2nd, 2009 05:26 am (UTC) (Link)
I have to admit, I find kids who insist on "sharing" other kids' toys against their will to be far more obnoxious than kids who want to keep their own toys.
greyautumnrain From: greyautumnrain Date: October 2nd, 2009 12:25 pm (UTC) (Link)
Consider this an IOU for a long rant about TARP... I'll try to get to it this afternoon.
greyautumnrain From: greyautumnrain Date: October 2nd, 2009 10:35 pm (UTC) (Link)
Firstly, I have every intention of raising children who are good sharers, and I do not let Margaret hog toys on the playground. I just don’t think that forcing a child to share their personal stuff is an effective way to teach a child to share, in fact I think it would have the opposite effect, which I thought was what I was explaining in the first part of my post, but maybe I didn’t put that so well.

Secondly the TARP rant… I (and several of your other friends) work for a bank. Our bank was not in trouble, but it had TARP money forced on it by Hank Paulson, the treasury secretary for the previous administration. I’m not partisan here, I give both political parties an F on their handling of the economic crisis. Paulson wanted to bail out his wall street buddies without making them look bad, so he forced my bank and a couple of other good banks to take TARP funds even though we were not in any financial trouble at the time. We would then have to pay back these funds at a disadvantageous interest rate. It was only after receiving TARP funds that my bank laid people off, IMO so that we could pay back the unwanted TARP money ASAP and not have the government owning any of our stock. We were in fact the first bank to pay back the TARP funds, with interest and extras. Given how badly they fumbled on TARP, perhaps you will understand that I do not trust the government to run any bank. Now I agree with you that they shouldn’t just hand out cash with no accountability on the part of the banks, but I really, truly believe they just should have let more of the banks that caused the problem fail. In the short term this would have caused a whole lot of pain, but I think we would have been way better off in the long term if the government had the guts to do it. When you say the government should keep control of the banks until they pay the money back, I have to cringe because the government has IMO proved itself to be clueless.

Thirdly, there is the union thing. Exactly what do you think unions are good for? I mean, I know what they are *supposed* to be good for, and maybe they were 70 years ago, but they seem useless or worse now. When my mom worked at the airport she had to join a union. She was hired by BA, and she was automatically joined to the union because that’s how it worked. They took dues out of her pay check every week and as far as we can tell did absolutely nothing good for her in return, not even when she was laid off for a time around 1980. Based on personal experience we are a very anti-union in my family. Either they do nothing for you, or they are like the UAW and make demands of the companies they work for that are completely unreasonable and make it impossible for them to compete. I remember back when the auto bailouts were big news I heard an interview on NPR of a UAW worker talking about the loss of middle-class jobs. He was saying that 30 years ago any able-bodied person could get a job in the auto plants, and so he and all his friends dropped out and got jobs. I was thinking ‘WTF, you’re a high school dropout with no special skills and you think you ought to have a middle class job??!’ Obviously the interviewer didn’t question this assumption given NPR’s huge liberal bias, but it seemed like a whopper to me, one that the UAW is perpetuating and will until it runs the companies its worker work for into the ground.
izmirian From: izmirian Date: October 2nd, 2009 06:18 am (UTC) (Link)

part of the problem

Well, I have to admit that even worse than not providing opposition, I'm actually in favor of the government taking more of my money. Of course I'd rather that they not waste it ...

But I think the issue of what the government is spending money on and how progressive the tax system should be can be separated. Assuming there's something that you are really in favor of the government spending money on, how should the cost be distributed between people making 20k per year and people making 200k per year (or 200 million per year for that matter)? There are certainly plenty of well-educated people who work harder than me but went into fields like education and so make far less money than I do. I'm happy to pay more than they do on my taxes.
greyautumnrain From: greyautumnrain Date: October 2nd, 2009 12:24 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: part of the problem

I have no problem with taxes for necessary items. I would complain a lot less if I thought I was getting value for my money. It just seems that the government is incapable on not wasting huge portions of the tax revenue.

If we attempt to separate the two issues, I am not against a somewhat progressive tax system, but I think the one we have is actually too "progressive". I object to the people earning 20k a year paying nothing, which is what we have now. We're not quite at 200k a year as a couple when Warren has a full time contract, and if they raise our taxes much more it becomes a losing proposition for me to work. Some people boggle when I say this, so I have to patiently explain that working costs money... gas, more expensive lunches at work, higher car insurance, and the 20k+ we pay for child care. I am certainly not going to work for 8 hours a day at a net loss when I could be spending that time with the cutest little girl in the history of little girls.
arcanology From: arcanology Date: October 2nd, 2009 02:05 pm (UTC) (Link)
Actually I think it's pretty obvious you should not be allowed to have your taxes be spent primarily on things that you care about, because many necessary things are not cared about by many until they become total disasters. Given the complexity of a modern functioning society it is beyond anyone to even know about all its parts, let alone care about them. We'd just end up with everything we can see funded and the waste treatment plants closing down. Whee! Or for another example of why "government by direct application of care about" does not work well see California's proposition system.
kirisutogomen From: kirisutogomen Date: October 2nd, 2009 02:16 pm (UTC) (Link)
Given the complexity of a modern functioning society it is beyond anyone to even know about all its parts, let alone care about them.

This is very important and very true. The problem is that it's even more true of people in the government. Don't make the mistake of comparing the messy reality of the private sector with some idealized version of perfect governance. In the real world, the federal government ignores the homeless and gives money to Archer Daniels Midland.
psychohist From: psychohist Date: October 2nd, 2009 06:28 pm (UTC) (Link)
I disagree. I think people are better than the government at figuring out what money is being spent effectively. Examples:

The vast majority of actual services are provided by local government, rather than by the Federal government. There are far fewer complaints about property taxes - or even state taxes in Massachusetts - than about Federal income taxes. People know which taxes are being used for services, and which for pork. And part of the reason why local government is more efficient is because people have more direct control over the budget.

Social security taxes get a lot less complaints than income tax. That's because people know that those taxes are used fairly efficiently to fund retirement payments to people who themselves paid social security, rather than used for pet projects of powerful congressmen.

In contrast, most Federal money is simply redistribution away from those underrepresented in congress and towards the districts and states of those who are overrepresented in term of voting power.
greyautumnrain From: greyautumnrain Date: October 2nd, 2009 11:50 pm (UTC) (Link)
Well Warren already responded stating my objection: people don't vote for congressmen who actually spend money on the necessary stuff at a federal level, they vote for people who promise that them that they'll get a bigger share of the pie themselves at the expense of people who are better off, and I think it's entirely reasonable of me to object to my pie being taken away to give pie to someone who is too lazy to bake their own damn pie, which is what I see a lot of federal money going toward.
arcanology From: arcanology Date: October 2nd, 2009 02:07 pm (UTC) (Link)
As far as imposing sharing goes I wonder what you see as the alternative? How does society work when you are not forced to share with the unfortunate and/or unproductive?
psychohist From: psychohist Date: October 2nd, 2009 06:18 pm (UTC) (Link)
Through voluntary sharing, of course. While rationalist MIT folks may not realize it, lots of people give substantial percentages of their income to worthwhile charities, perhaps because they were encouraged to share as kids rather than forced into it.

I'd also say that private charities probably spend that money far more effectively than the government, given the tendency of government money to be funneled to special interests.
greyautumnrain From: greyautumnrain Date: October 3rd, 2009 02:01 am (UTC) (Link)
I think society would work pretty darn well if we weren't forced to share with the unproductive. I don't have a problem sharing with the truly unfortunate, but I think they are but a tiny percentage of those getting some form of public assistance.
firstfrost From: firstfrost Date: October 3rd, 2009 02:25 pm (UTC) (Link)

On the non-taxes side of the conversation...

My sister and I didn't have allowances, and we did have to share things. We also have a great relationship, both now and then; I didn't end up resenting her or resenting my parents for it. I think raising your kids with love, patience, and understanding will do most of what you want for shaping them into the people you want them to be, and rather than the specific tactics. (Of course, I turned into a liberal, but that's probably what they wanted of me).

From watching my nieces, I think that squabbles over sharing will come up a lot earlier than either you or I can remember back to being. The very bestest toy ever, as far as the one-year-old is concerned, is the one that the three-year-old is playing with. (Much like you're now seeing that the most favorite thing in the world to do is the thing that Mommy is doing...) But that's probably a little young for rational economic behavior to have much sway. :)
countertorque From: countertorque Date: October 6th, 2009 07:03 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: On the non-taxes side of the conversation...

Sharing problems start as soon as the new baby can grab a toy within sight of the older kid. Our 3 year old and 7 month old are fighting over sharing right now. I'm unwilling to buy new versions of all of the 3 year old's toys, so they will have to share.
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