The Duck of Minerva

The Duck Quacks at Twilight

Taking David Cameron to School……(Literally. This guy is stupid.)

August 17, 2011

I get most of my European news from the Financial Times, which I admit does make for a somewhat skewed perspective on British politics. You all do still wear top hats and monocles, right? But apparently Britain’s Prime Minister is promoting, earlier than expected in the wake of the London riots, a tax credit for married or co-habiting couples with the belief that a two-parent family makes for a more stable home and fewer young thugs (or righteous freedom fighters railing against the system, either way) looting cell phone stores in the future. Politicians are so stupid.

Let’s take it for granted that the cause of looting lies in the failures of parents rather than of the social environment in which the poor grow up in. I actually do believe that a loving, two parent family is the best way to raise kids, even as it is by no means the only factor. But David Cameron needs a basic lesson in positivistic research design and causality. (Don’t do it, Patrick T. Jackson! Do not pull your hair out every time I use that word inappropriately in a way inconsistent with how science actually operates! It is not worth it! You have lovely hair!)

The causal logic behind this scheme is that two parents simply sleeping under the same roof leads to better-raised kids. If we simply create incentives for the father to stay in the house, surely good parenting will result. Obviously this is silly. It is the quality of parenting that matters. Having two good parents is better than one good parent. But having one good parent is better than two bad parents who hate each other, or two parents who don’t like one another or one good parent and one bad parent.

Generally when single mothers are raising children it is because the guy is kind of a d!&k to begin with. That’s why he left. Or if not, the mom and dad are ill-suited to one another — they fight like cats and dogs. In other words the fact of the single family is endogenous to the crappy relationship, rather than the exogenous cause of the f*&cked-up kid. The Tories are getting the causal relationship wrong. We see this all the time.

So how is providing a financial incentive to keep them in a loveless relationship or keep a deadbeat around going to make for better adjusted kids? Well, it isn’t, David. The key to better kids is better parents, which means some kind of social engineering at a young age to help them learn, ideally before puberty, to resolve conflicts peacefully, not act like they are the center of the universe, etc. Not to change sleeping arrangements.

Also, are the type of people who shack up purely to get a tax write-off the kind of people we want having babies? This is a strange marriage of Reaganite/Thatcherite incentive economics and social conservatism. Those should be separated. Good parents need good values, not more money. Good luck!

How do we do that? I have no idea, but my guess would be education. Yes, that very education budget that is being slashed in the UK right now by the Tories. (That is true, right? Again, I just read the Financial Times, so I only know the market for yachts is stronger than ever. I’m serious– that was an actual article).

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Rathbun is a professor of International Relations at USC. Brian Rathbun received his Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of California, Berkeley in 2002 and has taught at USC since 2008. He has written four solo-authored books, on humanitarian intervention, multilateral institution building, diplomacy and rationality. His articles have appeared or are forthcoming in International Organization, International Security, World Politics, International Studies Quartlery, the Journal of Politics, Security Studies, the European Journal of International Relations, International Theory, and the Journal of Conflict Resolution among others. He is the recipient of the 2009 USC Parents Association Teaching and Mentoring Award. In 2019 he will be recognized as a Distinguished Scholar by the Diplomatic Studies Section of the International Studies Association.