Economists: more human than you think!

I like the preface to Bryan Caplan’s new book, Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids. He says:

I doubt that “They’ll help me out when I’m old,” has ever been a good reason to have kids. Love tends to run downhill; as an old saying ruefully observes, “One parent can care for five children, but five children cannot care for one parent.”

The only promising way to meet the “What’s in it for me?,” challenge is to appeal to the intrinsic or “consumption” benefits of children. … if someone asks “What’s in parenthood for me?,” you’ve got to highlight kids’ cool features: They’re ridiculously cute; they’re playful; they’ll look like you; they’ll share half your genes; it’s all part of the circle of life.

It’s an obvious point, but one often missed by budding economists (at least the undergrad econ students I see), that economics deals with ALL benefits. Including non-monetary, non-market-valued benefits. The only payoff you need to induce you to have children and cut your pay in half is the warm fuzzy that comes from having them.

It makes me sad when people say things like, “Oh, you economists probably don’t take this into account but [blah, blah, blah].” Economists try to take pretty much every decision-relevant cost and benefit into account. When I hear people say that it’s usually because they think an economist has undervalued a benefit that the complainant thinks is of overwhelming value. In most cases it turns out that the complainant themselves is actually neglecting to take into account some countervailing cost that the economist has thought about. By all means tell us when we miss something out, but don’t think that there is some benefit that economists don’t care about because it’s too laden with emotions: we’re human too, y’know 😉

4 replies
  1. Miguel Sanchez
    Miguel Sanchez says:

    Good stuff. As a newish dad myself, I can tell you that the comedy value alone is worth it.

  2. Matt Nolan
    Matt Nolan says:

    “economics deals with ALL benefits. Including non-monetary, non-market-valued benefits”

    Indeed – we were just discussing that at work today.

    I would say that A LOT of people miss this point – including many policy focused economists …

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