Monday, March 13, 2006


Bryan Caplan links to a great post on parenting and economics. It reminds me of one of my previous posts on the topic. In any case, Bryan then asks:
The only problem: Most of Cox's advice is aimed at parents of young kids, but most of the anguished parents I know have teen-agers! In particular, I know a number of parents who have 18-year-olds who refuse to go to school or get a job. What's a parent of a teen-age bum to do?

As the father of four boys (all under the age of 10) I practice a parenting technique called "Love and Logic". It's described in a book called "Parenting with Love and Logic" and it's quite similar to what Dr. Cox prescribes.

In any case, what to do with the teenage bum? I would hope that my pre-teen children would see something like this coming from a mile away since they've been dealing with me and my devious wife since they were born. But if I just started practicing this parenting style on them as a teenager, I'd first sit them down when we're all in a good mood. Maybe after a good movie on TV, or going out to they're favorite dinner or something like that.

Then I'd casually say something to my wife. Of course, we'd have rehearsed this many many times so that we knew what our plan was. Maybe we'd do it on the way home in the car.

Me: You know, honey. John's been living at home for a while now. He's not in school and he's not got a job.

Wife: Yeah, I know what you mean. It doesn't seem like he's got any plan for anything, really. I'm not sure what to do about this, do you have any ideas?

Me: Well, I've decided that we need to start treating John much more like an adult. We've been doing a really bad job at that lately. We're acting like he's 4 years old and it's just not working.

John (interrupting): Yeah, that's right.

Me: I'm sorry, John, I'm speaking with your mother right now. Just a minute. Anyway, I think we should start treating him much more like an adult. Do you think we can do that?

Wife: Oh yes, I know exactly how adults are treated. I don't think that will be a problem at all.

Me: Ok. Then we're agreed. Sorry, John, you were saying?

John: I was just agreeing with you.

Me: Oh, good. So this sounds like a good plan to you?

John: Sure. Whatever.

Me: Oh good. I'm so releaved. I thought you might hate this plan.

John: Why would I hate it?

Me: Well, let's not think about that for now. I'm sure that it will all work out just fine.

And then I'd just end the conversation.

The next day, I'd put a bill on his bedroom door for rent. The rent statement would read: "Can be paid monthly in cash or by semester in college grades of C or better." Rent or a college acceptance letter is due on the 1st of the month. I wouldn't say a single thing other than that. The monetary amount would not be ridiculous, but it'd certainly be more than he could afford without getting a job, maybe $100 per month.

I suspect that the kid would not do a single thing, and the 1st of the month would roll around without a payment or an enrollment letter. At which point, I'd go into his room, remove his stereo (or some other valued possession) and sell it. In it's place, I'd leave a note saying something like, "repossesed for non-payment of rent".

Now the trick to this would be when the kid came home and discovered his missing stereo, to be empathetic. To say something like, "Man that really stinks! I know *exactly* how you feel. I would hate it if I lost my house because I didn't pay the mortgage! What are you going to do?"

Now if the kid's smart, he'll do something immediately. If he's particularly stubborn it will take a couple of months of losing his things before he starts to realize that he's being treated like an adult and it's going to require and adult response: get a job, go to school, or move out.

You might prefer to start with something smaller: maybe stop buying his favorite food. Then escalate to bigger things like his stereo.

This seems harsh. But it's all in the delivery. It's all in how much empathy and compassion for the kid's problem you have. If you make life difficult enough for the kid, but deliver that difficulty with empathy, the kid will choose to leave. He might be very unhappy, but that's when you innundate him with your catch phrase: "I love you too much not to treat you like the adult that you are. Good luck!" The kid may not like you very much when you do this, but it will serve him well in the future. When a payment of a bill (or some other adult responsibility) starts to get close, he'll have the memory of this (relatively) small pain to help him avoid a much more painful situation that's not delivered by his parents.

And that's how a parent gets through this kind of thing. If you *could* lay both painful situations side by side and choose which one your child was forced to experience, you'd almost certainly choose the least painful one. When you do something like this, you have to remember about the larger pain in the future that you're sentancing your child to if you avoid the small pain today.

Of course, if you want a much better set of examples, I recommend this.

Bounced Email

I tried to send an email to the author of this article, but email to him bounced. Here's what I tried to send him:

Mr Colvin:

I read your article on the possible reverse of income inequality. In it you state:

"Rising income inequality has settled comfortably into America's big economic picture as a reliable--and much lamented--megatrend... The college graduate's income started beating the high school graduate's income by a wider margin every year--and income inequality began to swell. That explanation makes sense, and the data support it."

My question is: why only think about this trend since the 1960's? The trend of ever increasing knowledge started long before that. Probably it started in earnest with the development of the printing press. That's when it became relatively easy to disseminate information. With that easy dissemination of information came the
growth of those who used it to their advantage. Those who didn't bother to gather that information were left behind.

But that is nothing compared to the demands that the industrial revolution has made on increasing knowledge and skills. Someone with a high school level education in 1900 (with little or no exposure to the internal combustion engine) would have a VERY difficult time getting a high school graduate's job in 1960. Someone with a high
school education in 1965 (and little or no exposure to computers) would have a difficult time working at McDonald's today - a job for pre-high school graduates.

The increasing demand of knowledge is not a trend to be lamented. It is, rather, a trend to be celebrated because it's a mark of our progress. It's the natural result of innovation.

As far as the trend changing, I think it's more of a blip than a trend. I think it's much more akin to what Schumpeter called "creative destruction". A great description is available in a paper called "The Churn".


Thursday, March 09, 2006

This can't be right...

It's been a long time since I've written anything here. Too long. I don't know if I'll sustain anything, but here goes...

Last night at church, we celebrated communion. And as is usually the case, I was struck by how big what Christ did for me. But this time, there was something more. This time, I couldn't seem to feel happy about it. I mean, I am happy about it, but...

Think of it this way. Imagine that you've just started writing a book. You finish the first page, and the next day you come back and the entire book is written. Maybe you know who wrote it, maybe you don't. But you read it. And it turns out to be good. It turns out to be exactly what you'd have wanted to write, if only you'd done it. It's so good, that even though you didn't write much of it, you feel its necessary to publish it, because this thing can't be kept secret. So you publish it. Next thing you know, everyone is giving you accolades. You're appearing on the today show. You're getting recommendations from Oprah. You win the Pulitzer. You try to convince everyone that you didn't really write it, but they don't believe you.

In the end, you know that you didn't deserve this. The real author of the book deserves the accolades. The real author of the book deserves the prizes. All of this is a sham.

That's how I felt last night. I can't possibly deserve this. I am far too wretched for the cross to apply to me. Yet God says it does. And somehow that just doesn't seem right. In exactly the same way that I couldn't accept the Pulitzer, it just seems wrong to accept the cross. Thank you Jesus for what you did, but it seems too much.

I don't know where I'm going with this thought. I am ineffably glad that Jesus did what he did. It is my *only* hope.