October 1st, 2009

Summer Hat

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.