Tuesday, March 22, 2022

Two views on parenting

 I noticed, rather early in my parenting career, two very different attitudes toward parenting. One, which was mine, was that it is a job. I do it for the sake of my children. It is hard. I cheer on their milestones. The older they get, the closer I am to being done.

The other is that it is an experience to treasure. You are supposed to love every minute. You keep a baby book and tons of keepsakes. You are sad when they grow older, because then you're closer to this magical time being over.

At the time I kind of despised the latter view. I felt it instrumentalized children, made them a fun consumer item rather than a sacred trust. Isn't it our job to help them grow up, not enjoy ourselves? Won't this lead to people pushing their children backwards because they dread them growing up?

But I was watching Jackie ride her bike the other day, and I thought, you know what? This moment won't last. I need to treasure it. Even though I forgot to get a picture of it. Even though I never kept a baby book and lost the kids' ultrasound pictures and don't, honestly, miss the baby stage. There is something to be said for simply delighting in your kids. Because kids deserve to be delighted in. They need to know that being with them makes you happy. That they're not just a chore for you.

I feel that this was missing in the definition I learned of love from various Catholic sources. Love, they reminded us sternly, is not good feelings, it is desiring the good for the other. To which I say, sure, it isn't just good feelings, but when people crave love, they don't simply crave being cared about. We want to be liked. We want to know the other person enjoys being with us. It's the knowledge that the good in us is recognized and appreciated.

This is especially true of kids, who are kind of a chore sometimes and are generally aware of it long before they are able to not be a chore. They know their parents love them, that their parents have to love them, but it doesn't feel good to know that you are loved just for duty, that your presence doesn't make your parents happy.

Obviously this isn't something you can force as easily as "willing the good." You can force yourself to work toward anyone's good, no matter how awful they are, but to like someone, there has to be something good about them. Plus, when you're exhausted or depressed, it can be hard to delight in your kids.

Still. It's important to remember that appreciating what a child (or anyone) has to offer us isn't purely selfish. It's giving them a chance to feel good and worthy. So I've been trying to remember to both say and show to my children that I like being around them. That, sure, some games I play with them purely because they beg me to, but some things I truly do enjoy. I love taking my kids on walks in the woods. I like hearing the ideas they come up with. I like listening to an audiobook or watching a good show together. And it's important that I make that obvious--that my kids know I'm not their grudging servant, I'm a person who is honestly lucky to have such delightful children.

Friday, March 11, 2022

The post on inflation I can't write for work

 I'm learning so much about finance from my job. However, since the financial advice I write is mainly for rich people who might need someone to manage their accounts for them, not poor people I want to radicalize into socialists, there's stuff I can't really address.

Inflation is really bad right now; it's the worst it's been since the 80s. Naturally this is bad in a lot of ways. It means that rent and food and transportation and healthcare are all more expensive than ever, but since wages lag inflation, you're probably still getting paid about the same. Meanwhile the money in your bank account is also worth less than it was. If you're really rich, you can get around this by investing your money at rates above inflation. But that's not normally something you can do if you don't have a pile of extra money lying around.

People have been asking what causes inflation, and mainly they seem to want to blame the president. Which is odd because we don't live in a country where presidents are permitted to set prices. Still, I have to admit that extra tax credits and stimulus have contributed to the price increases.

Here's how it works. Say a loaf of bread costs 50 cents to make and you can sell it for a dollar. If you sell it for more than a dollar, people aren't willing to pay that much for it, so you actually make less profit than if you keep the price at a dollar. Well and good.

Trouble is, people need to eat bread. So if all your competitors and you hike the price of bread at more or less the same time, people will still buy it even if it's $5 a loaf. Because they have to eat, and presumably you've hiked the price on all the other food you sell too.

Demand here is inflexible so prices can skyrocket--with one small check. This is that, if the price goes up enough, a certain number of poor people can't buy it no matter how much they want to. They go hungry rather than buy the bread. Now you're losing profits, so you grudgingly have to lower the price again. Low prices are generally good. Some very poor people still can't afford the bread though. You'll drop it to the point that most of your customers can afford the bread. Nobody's actually interested in making sure every single person can afford their product, just that they can sell enough volume to make a good profit.

Imagine, though, that the government realizes some people are going hungry, because they can't afford even a dollar a loaf. So it subsidizes food for the hungry, either by food stamps or straight-up cash.

Immediately demand goes up, and you (you're still a baker in this metaphor) sell a lot more. And you think, hey, with demand like this, maybe I can hike the price! So you hike it a little, and a little more, until demand drops off (some poor people cannot afford your bread). Then you've reached the sweet spot when you're making the most profit on bread you can.

It's safe to say, then, that providing for the poor causes inflation. It will always do that, because as long as suppliers are seeking only their own profit, the more money you provide to consumers, the higher demand will be, and the prices will go up.

This has happened with education. Easy-to-obtain student loans > most people can afford to at least try college > college prices go up. Now everyone's crushed by debt and all, but the profit margin is great. If we subsidize college more, prices will simply go up more. There is no reason for them to ever stop increasing prices until the point at which people stop buying the product. The price will always be set at a number some people can't afford.

And healthcare. Healthcare has very inflexible demand, because nobody likes dying. And so you can see the prices increase and increase; they don't stop increasing because sick people never stop buying healthcare. They will only stop increasing at the level when a significant number of people can't afford to buy it and die instead.

And rent, of course. And houses for sale. The costs go up and up and up, and we are all squeezed tighter and tighter, trying to pay for it. A certain number will not be able to do so, and we have homeless people. We have to have homeless people, to demonstrate we've reached the maximum price for the demand. A certain group of people do not even want there to be anywhere for homeless people to live, because if there is a painless option besides paying a thousand a month to a landlord and accepting a terrible job to pay for it, people will take that option. There has to be punishment for people who don't grind hard enough.

There is, of course, competition, and that helps. If someone wants to carve out a niche as the budget option, they can do so. (Much as I hate Walmart as a company, they make it possible for me to dress my children so I'm not going to say I'm not grateful.) But, in general, there's not enough competition. I heard from a guy on twitter the other day who lives in an area with only one grocery store. Bread there is $7 a loaf. Because when you're a monopoly you can do that. Here where I live, I've been able to reliably get bread for 60 cents, because we have quite a few different stores.

In this country, most things are provided by a very short list of companies. If they all agree-- either explicitly, or simply by watching each other's prices-- they can easily drive prices up and wages down. Take publishing. Since there are only five major publishers, there isn't a lot of competition for any book you want to sell, and advances get smaller while fringe benefits vanish. Likewise if the only department stores in your region are Target and Walmart, Target can set its price fairly high and all Walmart has to do is set theirs just a little bit lower to still be the budget option.

So, is it true that if we raise the minimum wage to keep up with inflation, it will cause more inflation? Probably, yeah. 

I still think we should do it, though. Because I would rather run a race trying to keep up with inflation than simply let a huge number of people fall further and further behind.

But I think we're eventually going to need some longer-term solution. Anti-trust enforcement is a big  one we haven't done enough in a long time. But I'm open to hearing more ideas. I know that division of wealth was once a lot more balanced in this country, and that there are countries where you can flip burgers for a living and still own a house. So it shouldn't be impossible.

But first, I think, we're going to have to want to. And there are a million and one reasons why people don't want that at all.

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