Children and Families

Children are free individuals and providing for their care and development is the responsibility of The People. The People will take seriously their obligation to ensure that children have the best chance of achieving their potential. Although the child-parent bond is a crucial component in human development, there is extensive evidence that a biological tie between the two is not necessary, and indeed that proper development is vastly more dependent on parenting skill and availability than on biological relationship. Therefore, there should be no presumption that the biological parents are the most suitable candidates for raising a child and must therefore compete with all other potential parents. This Match-homing process will be overseen by The People.

This is not all that different from current practice in developed nations: Abused or neglected children are routinely removed from their homes and placed elsewhere. Children who are denied medical care based on their parent’s religious beliefs are generally provided that care by The State over the parent’s objections. This is the same thing, we’re just setting the bar a bit higher, and planning to prevent the abuse or poor upbringing of children rather than waiting for it to happen and then attempt the sometimes-impossible repair of the damage after it has already been done. After all, a parent only has to live with their mistakes for 18 years, the rest of us have to live with them our entire lives.

Early intervention is key: If at the time of delivery the parent(s) can’t show they have the necessary Credentials and income (e.g., they have received welfare or wage support within the previous year) or if there are other factors that would put the child’s development at risk, the child doesn’t go home with them. Single parent households would warrant particularly close scrutiny. For example Herring 2012 reports on a wide range of studies that shows that children in step-families are at vastly greater risk via the “Cinderella effect” (e.g., the risk of being murdered by a stepfather is over 100 times as high as by a biological father).

There are also countless studies that have shown that not only do the poor have significantly deficient childrearing practices but that the life of a welfare mother is an extremely hard one for both the mother and for the children (for differences in childrearing ability see Lareau’s 2003 Unequal Childhoods, for more on the effects of environment on IQ see Nisbett’s 2009 Intelligence and How to Get It, and for more on the life of a welfare mother see Hays’ 2004 Flat Broke With Children). A child raised in a low SES family is more than 5 times as likely to suffer abuse or neglect as a child raised in a higher SES family, and this is in addition to the 8-fold increased risk from being raised in a single-parent or step-parent family (Fourth National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect by the US DHHS).

Requiring (or even allowing) an impoverished individual to raise children is not only an unfair burden on that individual, it promotes the archaic concept of children as property. What matters most is what is best for the child, and anyone who claims that a biological relationship is what is most important at the very least doesn’t understand the psychology of the matter and at worst is a proponent of a kind of prejudice: At its core the concept that biology is what is important is exactly the same primitive and authoritarian thought process on which racism is based, and the “parent as owner” concept is akin to slavery.

But what about culture? Would children born in one culture and raised in another be a form of racism or anti-culturism? Is doing what is best for the individual worth the resulting cost to some cultures, the resulting reduction in diversity being to the detriment of everyone? Another thought experiment might help us answer that: Suppose you are just about to be born. Knowing what you know now, where would you choose to arrive? Would it be OK to assign you to a family and location randomly anywhere in the world? If offered the choice between being raised in single parent household living at the poverty level or living in an affluent two-parent household, which would you choose? Is your culture/religion/socioeconomic class so important to you that you would insist on being randomly assigned a position somewhere similar? Is your resentment of the upper class so entrenched that you would refuse to be assigned to a wealthy family even if that meant foregoing the benefits of being raised in an environment like that (better education, more personal freedom and power, a longer and most likely happier life)? Would you insist that you are so special just the way you are that you would refuse any changes in your upbringing that might result in your beliefs being different from what they are now? Unless you can honestly say that you’d be OK with whatever choice fate makes for you, it is clearly immoral to insist that we as a people require every newborn to face this type of random assignment (credits to Rawls 1999 for the concept of “The veil of ignorance”).

This design has the additional benefit of a strong social engineering bias toward preventing pregnancies in women who become pregnant for selfish reasons (i.e., their own need to have a long-term relationship, which is an astoundingly common justification) which will help control population at the lowest socioeconomic classes and break the cycle of poverty: Women are much less likely to have children if there is a significant risk of those children being turned over to be raised by more capable parents if it can be determined that the biological parents lack the skills, finances, motivation, or emotional temperament to raise them optimally. As to whether wider access to education and birth control would achieve the same result, it clearly doesn’t because more than half of all pregnancies are unintended in the US. Although the rate is correlated with income, a full 25% of pregnancies are unintended even in women with the highest income levels, despite the fact that they are more educated and would have easy access to birth control. Again, why should children be forced to live in environments where they are unwanted and/or would not have access to the resources they need to achieve their potential just because of an accident of biology? Do we force people to live with club feet and cleft palates because those biological accidents were somehow “God’s will”?

Although various incomplete implementations of this type of policy have been attempted in the past, these primarily have been secretive exercises where little or no attempt was actually made to ensure that the children were placed in households where they’d have the best chance of succeeding. In fact many of these children ended up in institutions or even adopted out into situations closely resembling slavery. One example is the Magdalene Laundries and associated industrial “schools”. Another is Australia’s Aboriginal Protection Act, a racially-motivated policy that resulted in the systematic removal of mixed-race children from Aboriginal families with the stated goal of protecting them from discrimination, unfortunately transferring many of these children not into stable families but instead into orphanages or internment camps where they fared no better. It is also notable that the popular term for that policy was “Stolen Generations”, the very name being an attempt to promote the concept of children as property and to characterize the process of removing them not as an offense against the children, but against their parents.

This proposal is related to the issue of licensing of parents (for a review see Tittle 2004), but there are significant differences. The education that all parents should have, including information about prenatal care, child development, and parenting techniques must be included as part of the Standard Adult Credential set. The primary difference in Matchism is that an assessment of the quality of the home environment will be made for all children, rather than only for adopted children as we do now. And rather than the rigmarole that we currently put adoptive parents through (in most cases including an invasive home visit), Match-homing will only require a simple Credential check to detect any criminal or mental health issues, and an assessment of financial health. The research has shown this to be a sufficient measure of the quality of the home environment (it’s not about any absolute measure of wealth, but people who know how to manage their money and their lives will know (or learn) how to raise children, and those who don’t, won’t).

We should have zero concern that this system will not provide great benefits to the children, both in their odds of success in life, but also in their level of happiness in childhood. As for their odds of success in life, countless studies have shown that Socio-Economic Status (SES) during childhood has a high correlation with a wide range of success-related factors, including incidence of criminal activity, mental illness (particularly depression), stable marriages, out-of-wedlock births, income, and IQ. In fact, a study in France (Capron & Duyme 1989) showed that the effect of environment on IQ is comparable as that of genetics in adopted children. In that study there were four conditions, children born to high or low SES adopted at birth by low or high SES parents, SES being assessed by years of schooling and occupation. The (unstated) assumption is that the SES of the birth mothers is highly correlated with their genetics, a prediction that seems to be borne out in the IQ scores measured at age 14.

The authors found that the average IQ in the low SES children raised by high SES parents was 12 points higher than if a low birth SES child was raised by low SES parents (mean IQ scores were 104 vs 92 for the two groups). Although the IQ scores in the two high birth SES categories were higher (120 and 108), the IQ-increasing effect of the adopted environment was the same. Murray 2002 has shown that a shift in IQ this large alone has enormous effects in how successful a person is as an adult, halving the rate of out-of-wedlock birth, and increasing income and marriage stability by as much as 25%. And this is only one of the benefits that high SES parents bring to children: Perhaps even more importantly they additionally learn attitudes and habits that greatly improve their odds of success in life as Lareau and Nisbett (above) have documented.

This shows that the problems in society that are being caused by the hypothetical “corruption of our genes” that the eugenics movement sought to eliminate can be largely addressed without forced abortions or sterilization or any other invasive process. It really is just as simple as deciding that we must raise all children in a high-SES environment. And doing this should objectively require no “sacrifice” at all from low SES mothers: If a mother truly loved her children, doing something that would drastically increase their odds of having a happy and successful life would seem to be an easy decision for her to make. Indeed, making the decision that her own selfish desires are more important than the welfare of the child would seem to be the very definition of being an unsuitable mother.

As for the happiness of these Match-homed children, studies of adopted children usually show that they are closer to their parents than biological children are, a result that is not surprising: Adopted families all specifically volunteered for that role whereas there are countless examples of biological and step-parent families where one or even both parents were thrust into the role rather than explicitly choosing it. By providing an automatic and permanent response to any abuse or neglect, this system would also replace the foster care system which has proven to be a disaster for the children involved: In some studies high school graduation rates for foster kids are as low as 25%, vs. 50% for homeless kids, and around 60% for the poor. In affluent neighborhoods, however, graduation rates are usually well over 90%, which is a clear sign that those kids are better prepared for life than if they were raised by less skilled or financially competent parents. Note that even the most optimistic school-retention programs, which usually rely heavily on the benefits of self-selected samples for their advertised success rates, cannot promise a 50% overall improvement in graduation rates (for poor kids) let alone a nearly 400% improvement (for foster kids). And yet this component of Matchism virtually guarantees it. All we have to do in exchange is dial-back our instinctive prejudices a little.

To minimize the shock from the adoption process, both for the child and the biological parent, a visitation policy should be included in the design of the system if the child is more than a year or two old. They would become an extended family. We should think of this process as just an extension of the common practice of having others raise our children, whether that be via day-care, boarding school, hiring a full-time nanny, or the many examples of people in less-developed or war torn countries sending their children abroad to provide them with their best chance of success. Maybe think of this design as “nannies for the poor” or maybe “middle class boarding school”, where the upper classes are shouldering the burden of childrearing for those who are not able to do that work themselves.

As for where the adoptive parents will come from, this is unlikely to even be a problem. Adoption, especially of infants, is a grueling process that often takes years, and that’s with a system that does not even seek out adoptive parents. Many, if not most, existing foster parents would be thrilled to have an infant because they would generally come without the preexisting damage that children from homes where they have suffered abuse or neglect usually have. And they would come without the threat, or option, of removal that plague current foster systems because these possibilities work strongly to prevent the all-important parent-child bond from forming. But the best source will be 40-50 year old parents who have already successfully raised a family. Due to rapidly declining birth rates, especially in higher SES families, many of these parents will be denied the opportunity to become grandparents. This system can provide them with something even better.

The highest honor The People can bestow upon an individual is to be chosen to raise a Match-homed child, although in the more difficult cases they should also be compensated for the time they will invest to do so. Net cost for these stipends will still be far less than institutional or foster care (not even counting the vast costs incurred by the damaged individuals those systems produce) or the close supervision that is required for parents whose qualifications are in doubt.

As for whether current attempts at intensive early childhood education is a viable alternative to Match-homing, the research shows that it is not. While undoubtedly helpful, any benefits from these programs (most notably the US Head Start system) quickly fade during the subsequent school years. It may be that these programs are simply a poor match for the instinctive tendencies of human children who are probably actually designed to adopt the attitudes and value systems of their parents rather than those strangers attempt to imprint on them. Which may also explain why our school systems are such ineffective sources of education in this domain (see Gatto’s 2006 The Underground History of American Education).

Unfortunately SES is only one of the variables that has a large impact on an individual’s potential for success. A similar effect can be found as the result of being raised in a large family. For example Blake’s 1992 Family Size and Achievement exhaustively shows that being raised in a family with more than 6 children has a negative effect on IQ and an individual’s chances of success about as large as being raised in a low SES environment. While many people romanticize large families, subjecting children to an environment where they have a large number of siblings can only be seen by Matchists as a deliberate act of child abuse and ought to be strongly discouraged. It is also clearly a display of selfish indulgence at the expense of the environment (and by extension The People as a whole).

Both of these effect sizes dwarf the those of the most common interventions proposed for low SES mothers or households: The effect size of maternal nutrition, maternal smoking, and lead exposure (at least that below the level of acute toxicity) are on the order of 3 IQ points. The effects of SES and family size are around four times as large. One can only conclude that we’re waste a lot of time, effort, and money trying to deal with those other issues when we could have four times the effect with this relatively simple and inexpensive intervention. We just need to decide to put the welfare of children above the “property rights” of their parents.

Although this is one of the more controversial components of Matchism, it is a nevertheless a necessary component because it enables several of Matchism’s other tenets, including the fundamental rule that the choices one individual makes cannot have a significant negative impact on other individuals. Allowing parents to choose to raise a child when they lack sufficient resources (education, motivation, finances, etc.) would be the equivalent of deciding that this principle does not apply to young individuals. This component is also necessary to make the income redistribution system in Matchism fair: Unlike becoming unemployed or disabled or reaching retirement age, the decision to raise a child is, again, a choice, and it is therefore fundamentally unfair to allow some people to explicitly choose to place a significant burden on The People merely to satisfy their own desires. It is in the best interest of the child, and by extension The People, that we abandon what is, at its core, just a cultural tradition, albeit a tradition originally derived from an instinctive behavior.

Another thought experiment, this one from McIntire 1973 in Tittle’s 2004 Should Parents Be Licensed may help us gain some perspective on the issue of how our existing moral codes have this one all wrong:

Supermarket Scenario: A mother and daughter enter a supermarket. An accident occurs when the daughter pulls the wrong orange from the pile and thirty-seven oranges are given their freedom. The mother grabs the daughter, shakes her vigorously, and slaps her.

What is your reaction? Do you ignore the incident? Do you consider it a family squabble and none of your business? Or do you go over and advise the mother not to hit her child. If the mother rejects your advice, do you physically restrain her? If she persists, do you call the police? Think about your answers for a moment.

Now let’s change one detail: The girl was not that mother’s daughter. Do you feel different? Would you act differently? Why? Do “real” parents have the right to abuse their children because they “own” them? Now let’s change another detail. Suppose the daughter is 25 years old and yelled “Help me! Help me!” Calling the police sounded silly in the first scenario. How does it sound with a mere change in the age of the victim?

The inescapable conclusion from this scenario is that our current moral codes incorrectly consider children to be possessions, and that the preferences of the parents completely overwhelm any rights the child may have. This is exactly the same argument used to justify slavery, and exactly why we need to make our Matchspecs based on rational analysis rather than relying on our instinctive (and obviously obsolete) moral codes.

Because children are, from conception, the responsibility of The People, The People have the final say on what happens to them. That is, neither individual freedom nor the right to privacy extends to the gestation, delivery, or rearing of a child. Whether to allow, deny, or require an abortion will be decided by statutes designed by The People. Leaving this to the courts, as the US has done, is inefficient and unfair. Instead, the law must define what happens when a three month old fetus is determined to have an uncorrectable genetic defect, or is being carried by a woman with a serious drug addiction. Note that this is the only exception to the bodily integrity Clination used in Health Care.

Next: Relationships