The argument in favour of having childcare is that rather large numbers of people desire to have childcare. That’s certainly a good enough justification for me because I’m a liberal – the aim of having this thing called civilisation in the first place is that people get to have more of what they want.
That people want it therefore they should have it argument doesn’t work with progressives of course. There must be some proper, scientific, justification for why it should be provided to them. This rather falling apart at times, the search for a rational justification. As it does indeed fall apart when we start talking about childcare:
“There are 13 million working parents in the UK, and they need affordable childcare they can rely on to play their part in the recovery,” she said. “Quite simply, childcare needs to be considered as economic infrastructure, with the investment to match.”
That’s the first mistake there in economic terms. Investment is that part of spending which is not upon current consumption but which is in the creation of assets for use in and over the future. When talking about childcare no one is talking of the construction of some machine or system which will do the job for the next few decades. Rather, they are talking about paying the wages now of the people doing it now. That is not investment, that is consumption. No, we cannot invest in consumption.
It is true that it’s a nervous tic over on the progressive side to describe anything they desire as being investment but it is indeed a tic, not a truth.
There is also this point:
“This is a manmade crisis which has a huge disproportionate effect on women,” he said, adding that “97% of the early years workforce are women and it is their livelihoods and futures at risk because of the government’s failure to take leadership and provide the transitional and long-term funding the sector needs to survive.”
Given that 97% part childcare is largely women looking after other women’s children. Largely lower class women looking after upper class women’s children too. The class relationship hasn’t changed much here since nannies were common. It’s not entirely obvious that women taking care of children is all that different from women taking care of children.
Sure, there is this division and specialisation of labour thing. If one woman can take care of four kids – say – and the average family is two little ‘uns then concentrating the childcare has its merits. This isn’t though what the current argument is:
The new survey also reveals a downward spiral – 33% of employed mothers had forfeited a childcare space because of costs since March, while the number for self-employed mothers was 44%.
The complaint is that the income from working does not cover those costs of childcare. To which the correct answer is don’t have the childcare and don’t work. Insisting that someone else pay for it doesn’t change this calculation.
We desire that people do things which add value. That’s what GDP is – value added – and that’s also what we all consume, the value added in activity. So, we desire to have the maximum value added and the minimum of value destruction. Prices are great aids in working out which is which in a market economy.
So, if women find that the earnings they gain from going to work are less than the costs of going to work – including that childcare bill – then they’ve just shown that their work is worth less than their childcare. So, they should be doing the thing which adds more value, looking after their own kids, than the thing which adds less, going to work.
True, there are intricacies here, things like the tax wedge. It might make great sense to get someone to look after the kids on a pure wage basis, but not after taxes are paid on wages earnt and then also employment taxes paid on the childcare wages paid out. This of course would be an argument for less government in this sector, not more. But after we take account of these then it still isn’t worth going to work? Then it’s not worth going to work, is it?
That we try to dump the costs onto society as a whole doesn’t change that calculation. Prices are still telling us that women parking their kids with other women is value subtracting from the society as a whole. Therefore we shouldn’t be doing it.
Which is the problem with the attempt to provide an economic justification for childcare. There isn’t one. There is, for of course there is, that traditional – perhaps classical – liberal justification that it should be done just because lots of people want it to be done. That in itself bringing along certain other problems.
For there are many things that lots of people want done – steaks for tea, Marmite advertising on the TV, having a foreign holiday on a jet plane, buying fast fashion – which the progressives say we cannot have on those economic calculation grounds. Merely wanting them isn’t enough, d’ye see? Well, OK, merely wanting the freedom and liberty to live as one wishes isn’t enough – no childcare and certainly no state subsidy of it. Or, alternatively, life gets lived as those doing the living desire and we have the childcare – and not the rest of the progressive interference with our lives.
It’s one or the other folks, you don’t get to change your argument in midstream.