It used to be that children were a form of economic security, whether in terms of adding manpower to the family business (farming counted), or acting as retirement insurance. As our economic model evolved, however, children became less of a necessity and more of a passion project, and, as with anything driven by love, only a niche part of the population is really into it. Which isn’t to say that the niche can’t be big; in many cases, though, the niche is clearly too small for societies to be happy with.
Including, and especially, ours. In 2015, our fertility rate was 1.24 births per woman. That falls even lower than Japan’s (about 1.4), which we’ve known to be an ageing society since social studies started as a subject.
Hence, I propose a model for the state to consider. A model which slaughters the sacred cow of the nuclear family, and which falls more in line with the direction that the economy has been moving towards all this while, namely, outsourcing in the name of comparative advantage.
…is simple. The state needs to replenish its population, but individuals do not have the incentive to produce the requisite babies. Hence, babies should now be considered a public good.
I propose a shift in thinking: babies do not belong to their parents, for those who do not desire to bring them up. Those who do may go ahead and rear them the good old-fashioned way. For those who don’t, these babies can be given to the state.
The state will run childcare centres that will bring these children up. In a sense, these are orphanages, but with official adequate funding, and without the accompanying stigma, because we are dismantling the definition of a family. Meaning, it will be perfectly normal for children to call the state their parents. Because children are considered a public good, the money required to run these childcare centres will come from taxes. The benefits of replenishing the population and fueling the economy with its much needed human resources will justify the investment.
There will be no penalty for giving a baby to the state. The state will consider it a neutral act, or even an act worthy of reward, which would already manifest itself in the form of maternity benefits. The state can also pay for whatever requisite operations and checkups in the process of pregnancy. In order to prevent people from gaming the system, there will probably be a need for a maximum number of babies the state can receive from one individual. Beyond that, should the individual bear another child, the state will still accept the baby, but will consider the individual to be taking no-pay leave, and no longer bear any cost associated with the process.
Every state-run centre will assign every certain number of children to a group of caregivers, who will be responsible for taking care of the children’s miscellaneous needs, and making sure that the children are not being mistreated, much as parents would. When these children reach school age, they can be sent to other centres, such as kindergardens, which will take care of their educational needs. Children will have allowances and money for other necessary expenses, and at a certain age (21?) they will be independent. In short, they will have the lives that children have now, with the only difference being that they are under the state’s care.
I believe is this is already most children’s experience, since many households are dual-income: parents send children to childcare centres, and only see them in the morning or at night when they are home from work. Most of childcare is already outsourced. We can outsource the entire process altogether, instead of this half-hearted compromise that results in an inadequate replenishing of the population.
An additional benefit is a truer meritocracy: the large number of children brought up by the state will start on more or less equal footing, with similar opportunities offered to all.
Of course, this is currently too simplistic a model to be implemented, and probably sounds too uncomfortably similar to a socialist model. More thought needs to be given to issues like, how does the state bear the greater cost of a mentally or physically disabled child? What do “similar opportunities” mean? If a child desires to go overseas to pursue a more expensive education, how can the child do it (perhaps only with a scholarship?)? Does the state have too much power over these children, since, unlike actual parents, children can’t run away from the state if they are unhappy?
But I believe the essence of the model, which is separating the idea of child-rearing from individuals, should be seriously considered.