As Michael Moore runs around the country telling everyone that America is horrible because it does not provide free health care, intelligent people understand that there are limits to what a free, capitalistic society can do. The founding fathers set up a system that heavily relied upon self-reliance and competition, with only a small dose of governmental intrusion. And that means some people are going to live irresponsibly. But unless they break the law, nobody can stop them.
A good example of this is bad parenting. Millions of American parents are just terrible, routinely abusing and neglecting their children. But unless the abuse is extreme, those children usually remain in the charge of bad parents. It is not against the law to be ignorant or inappropriate in front of your kid.
Now there is a move in New York City to bribe bad parents. Mayor Michael Bloomberg has set up an anti-poverty initiative, financed by private donations, including his own, that would pay bad parents to do things that good parents do without thought.
For example, if a parent takes a child to the dentist for a checkup, that parent would get $100 for each kid the dentist sees.
If a parent secures a library card for the child, that warrants a $50 payment.
Attending parent-teacher conferences, another $50.
The program would also give money to kids who perform well in school.
Under Bloomberg’s initial offering, 13,000 poor families would be eligible to get the cash, which could add up to $6,000 a year.
There is no question this is a bribe. What kind of parent doesn’t take his kid to the dentist or encourage the child to read? A bad parent, that’s what kind. Is paying bad parents going to change their parenting? Probably not.
So why do it?
The reason is desperation. Take a look around; you can see troubled kids everywhere. And these children are likely to cause an enormous amount of damage to society in the coming years. If you can even get a small amount of normalcy into their lives, it’s better than nothing.
In China, the totalitarian government tells parents how to raise their children and even how many kids they can have. If a child doesn’t show up for school in Beijing, bad things will happen not only to the kid, but also to the parents. There is little truancy in China.
But here in the land of the free, chaotic homes are relatively safe from scrutiny. Again, unless there is violence or extreme deprivation against children, the government stays out of it.
I support Bloomberg’s parental bribe program as long as it is privately funded. But I know it will fail in most cases. There will be fraud; there will be chaos in implementing the payments. But if it only helps a few children, then go ahead, because there is no other way. Poverty, crime, addiction, and social estrangement are all driven by adults whose parents let them down in childhood. Go to any prison or rehab center and ask.
Finally, most poor parents are good parents. And some rich parents are bad parents. This is not an economic issue in my opinion, even though the payments are directed at the poor.
Parents who abuse or neglect or corrupt or abandon their children are simply doing evil. There is nothing worse. And all the money in the world won’t change that.