How should we price the “public option” for dogs?

by on November 3, 2009 at 12:16 pm in Economics, Law | Permalink

David, a loyal MR reader, asks:

Why do I have to make an appointment, wait in line, fill out a slew of paperwork, and pay $70 to adopt a dog that otherwise would likely have been euthanized (at the taxpayers' expense), and yet bringing your very own human child into the world takes nothing more than a few shots of tequila or a broken condom?

I am not suggesting that we stand at a first-best equilibrium, but I can think of one reason for this apparent pricing anomaly.  If dogs were free (or if dog ownership required only that you show up with a fresh condom), too many people would experiment with owning dogs and then abandon them to the public commons.  The $70, or whatever it costs, screens for serious dog owners, as does the paperwork requirement.  

So should the price of kids be changed?  I would suggest that for most women bringing a child into the world (much less raising it) requires more than "a few shots of tequila or a broken condom".  That too screens for serious mothers to some extent.  If we raised the price of kids, as we could do easily with tax law and EITC reforms, we'd have fewer kids in the world.  If we raised the price of adopting dogs, there would be more do-it-at-home puppy production and more dogs.  Neither population change strikes me as an especially desirable outcome and thus we have what we have.

1 Kevin Postlewaite November 3, 2009 at 12:34 pm

I think David’s point is that the upfront cost of a dog is higher. You may be able to raise the price of a child, but is it really viable to raise the upfront cost? When the costs are born (so to speak) makes all the difference I think.

2 Slocum November 3, 2009 at 12:47 pm

Well…except that there’s no particular reason to re-abandon the dogs on the public commons when there’s still the shelter that the dog came from in the first place, is there? Some number of the people put off by expensive pet adoptions would have turned out to be at least adequately attentive pet owners, and when the alternative is doggy death row, what does the dog have to lose? If you were a dog waiting to be euthanized, would you prefer a $70 or $0 adoption fee?

3 Bill November 3, 2009 at 12:57 pm

I think the costs of raising kids is rising, regardless of EITC. And, EITC isn’t rising either. So the cost, and not the price, of having kids is rising. The question is: will a poor parent sacrifice the interest of the kid to pay for the cable fees. Sorry, but I know the answer. And, raising the price of kids, by cutting EITC, isn’t going to reduce the supply. We’ll just have impoverished kids going to school hungry living in stressed out families.

4 Chris November 3, 2009 at 1:12 pm

My family fosters puppies for the Humane Society. The Humane Society pays to spay/neuter the dog, get it up to date on vaccines and microchip it. The adoptive owner pays $200 for the dog, which helps to compensate the society for those costs.

The other reason that the society charges is that it separates those who understand that there’s a lot of cost involved in having a dog from those who don’t. If you’re not willing to pay for the initial shots, will you be willing to pay for annual shots or for food?

Puppies are like blogs — easy to start, hard to maintain. By paying a price, prospective owners signal that they’re willing to maintain that puppy.

5 Adam Hyland November 3, 2009 at 1:27 pm

Commonly in shelters I have dealt with, there is an “adoption fee” for puppies and kittens and only paperwork hassles for other pets (though some shelters charge a fee for all pets). The intuition behind the paperwork is that adoptions of rescue animals should be delayed in order to allow diligent families to self select. The stated reason has something to do with frequent flyers and abusers, but I suspect that employee familiarity is the only real defense against that.

The reasoning behind the puppy/kitten fee should be obvious. In my opinion it doesn’t have to do with offsetting costs (though obviously it does), more to do with establishing a threshold price for desirable animals in order to take advantage of demand elasticity. Just like airlines and universities, we naively expect that segregated fees be attached in an accounting sense to costs, but money is fungible.

6 anon November 3, 2009 at 2:31 pm

How do we get mothers of these children to think about the cost before they are conceived?

Personally, I like the idea of saddling tweenagers for a month or two with those faux babies that cry, have to be changed and fed, etc.

But even then, in some groups having a kid demonstrates that the teenage mother is “all grown up.” And the fathers of these children seem to like it too as it demonstrates what “a man” they are.

7 Norman Pfyster November 3, 2009 at 3:08 pm

Clearly, that depiction of the upfront costs of bringing a child into the world is told from the male point of view.

8 Mr. Econotarian November 3, 2009 at 3:35 pm

I have to admit that dogs are consumables, not producers. They will never pay taxes, they will never invent the next great mathematical theorem.

You pay for dogs because the cost of preparing them for adoption is larger than the price of putting them down. It’s like arguing why should I pay for a paperback when the publisher is just going to throw thousands of copies away.

I don’t know if people should pay per baby, but in Los Angeles you need a “breeder’s permit” to have more than three dogs, perhaps we should have something like that for having more than three children 🙂

On the other hand, I really don’t think tax policy should encourage people in poverty to have more children. The longer they can put off children, the greater the possibility that they might get the skills and job experience to leave poverty.

I’m not sure why anyone, even the rich, should get tax breaks for having children, when we know that public education costs money per child.

9 josh November 3, 2009 at 3:44 pm

It’s cheaper for a person to adopt a dog than a dog to adopt a person.

10 Joe November 3, 2009 at 4:03 pm

I would argue that the additional needed calric intake over the 40 weeks of being pregnant is one upfront cost, and in case he did not know, being pregnant does not appear to be a picnic of bubbles and rainbows….

11 Jim November 3, 2009 at 4:09 pm

Perhaps we should force David to make an appointment, wait in line, fill out a slew of paperwork, and pay $70 to have sex?

12 John Dewey November 3, 2009 at 5:12 pm

“Every guy who bought drinks for a woman but went home alone would realistically go into that equation.”

tom, I appreciated your comment.

13 David November 3, 2009 at 5:45 pm

Awesome! You used my comment!

Of course the question is more of an observation. I’m not really advocating for increasing the cost of children or decreasing the cost of dogs. But I think this observation has some explanatory power. In most cases, you actually have to put some honest effort into finding yourself in possession of a dog, and yet there are SO many mistreated and abandoned dogs out there.

Of course, most mothers put much thought into childbearing. But there are enough mothers out there who don’t–per the Freakonomics-abortion debate–that you HAVE to expect a crazy number of mistreated children.

Thanks Tyler!

14 mulp November 3, 2009 at 6:29 pm

Let’s see, comparing humans and dogs…

First, a dog that is fertile is taxed more, and all dogs require the payment of a head tax. For humans, conservatives oppose all efforts to cut human fertility or preemptively execute the humans who will become a burden on society.

Second, basic health care is mandatory, with it being a crime to fail to provide preventative health care to your dog, and according to conservatives, that is a tax. For humans, well, conservatives see mandatory health care to be like treating humans as worthwhile as your dog, and that is giving humans too much value.

Third, the government supports all sorts of means of controlling dog health and welfare problems, including paying government officials to round them up and execute those who are irresponsible for failing to plan ahead and have owners who will care for them – hey, dog, take responsibility for yourself and get an owner who will support you. For humans, conservatives vehemently oppose allowing any one to voluntarily execute themselves to avoid being a burden. On the other hand, those humans who are a burden are blamed for being a burden, while dogs aren’t.

And for conservatives, a homeless dog is something that will warm their hearts and spur tax payer subsidized assistance to the dogs, but homeless humans are considered vermin to be chased away to the next town.

For a start, I propose that we provide an income tax discount to spayed and neutered taxpayers. Not having kids, and from age 20 being a defacto member of NPG – ZPG wasn’t aggressive enough for me – I would have happily spent a hundred on getting neutered and getting the tags certifying it in order to get a tax rate discount.

15 Neal November 3, 2009 at 10:22 pm

We used to do that, actually.

16 Forex Signals November 4, 2009 at 5:30 am

The point is, that nowadays people in developed countries are dying very young because of stresses and other products of up-to-day life. And at the same time very small number of children is born because of that very up-to-date life and very good life conditions… The government should pay to young mothers!

17 SteveM November 5, 2009 at 11:01 am

Of course, we have raised the cost of kids, to about $300,000 per child from birth through 17 (which obviously does not include the cost of college) in the US, Japan and Europe, and the economics of child-rearing are one reason for a dramatic drop in fertility rates to below replacement levels in Japan and much of Europe, and to barely above replacement in the US.

18 waterproof dog coat July 27, 2010 at 10:23 am

Dogs need to be protected from going into the wrong home so the more involved upfront the less chance of that. Providing education & support in the care of kids is a better solution for a parent who may not be in a position to handle child rearing.

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