Nudge plus vouchers = “Nanny state”?

by on January 10, 2016 at 3:37 pm in Economics, Education, Political Science, Uncategorized | Permalink

Do you like or dislike this mix?:

The prime minister [of the UK] will call for a revolution in child rearing this weekend by suggesting that all parents should attend classes on how to discipline their children.

In a move likely to enrage those fearful of an encroaching “nanny state”,  David Cameron will say that it should be the norm for parents to receive instruction on how to behave around their offspring.

As part of a speech on the family, Cameron will announce plans for a parenting classes voucher scheme, claiming that all parents need help and that there is too little state-sponsored guidance on offer.

I believe most Americans at least do not find this an intuitively appealing combination of policies.  It seems to “insult” the poor at the same time that it brings the state into what for conservatives is the sacred realm of the family.

I wish I could say a policy which irritates so many people is likely to be a good thing, yet I can’t quite see this one working out for the better.  And yes I do know the RCT evidence that personal trainers and coaches can improve the lives of the poor in the developing world.

1 required January 10, 2016 at 3:55 pm

When parents are in class, who take care of the children? Too much logistical problem without government sponsored childcare.

2 Thiago Ribeiro January 10, 2016 at 4:35 pm

They will be used to show the right rearing techniques, I guess.

3 required January 10, 2016 at 4:38 pm

But who has the right rearing techniques if all parents need to go to class? The senior citizens?

4 Careless January 10, 2016 at 5:49 pm

Top Men, of course

5 odeboyz January 12, 2016 at 2:43 pm

Cameron’s parents out-sourced his parenting to very expensive boarding schools. He is now a glib and shallow person who believes in quick fix solutions to social challenges.

6 Tom T. January 10, 2016 at 11:00 pm

I was reared by my uncle for several years.

7 David Condon January 10, 2016 at 4:01 pm

I can imagine the classes could become heavily politicized, and tend to emphasize extreme vigilance in regards to child safety without regard to what is and isn’t reasonable to expect a parent to protect their child from. I’m reminded of the laws about leaving your kids at home alone, which don’t seem to be based on any kind of analysis of acceptable risk, but are just random.

8 Hazel Meade January 11, 2016 at 10:48 am

I agree. I also find the current climate of expecting parents to constantly supervise their children at public parks to be kind of sexist. It’s pretty much impossible to hold down a full time job if you have to pick your kids up at 3:30 in the afternoon and suprvise them for the rest of the day. Unless you send them directly to after school programs, which not everyone can afford.

9 Bill January 10, 2016 at 4:03 pm

A US politician

Making this proposal

Would have to explain

Their own child’s drug abuse.

10 JonB January 11, 2016 at 5:59 am

David Cameron forgot his own daughter in the pub –

Presumably this will be excluded from the list of offensive behaviours that make you a Bad Parent (dependent on your educational background and hence class, as always)

11 Better Idea January 10, 2016 at 4:15 pm

Better give children vouchers on how to deal with their parents.

Also give them the legal right to move out and “divorce” their parents.

12 So Much For Subtlety January 10, 2016 at 4:19 pm

This ought to become some sort of children’s nursery rhyme. You pay the feckless to have more children. They have more children. Those children grow up to be feckless and violent. You pay them to have more children. They have more children. Those children grow up to be even more feckless and violent.

And what point do you start to question your prior assumptions?

Sir Keith Joseph destroyed his political career with some incautious comments about the wisdom of doing this. Cameron is smarter – he is offering a Left-friendly approach. That is, employing a lot more Leftists. All those people who will run the classes, offer advice, schedule the class times. It is like Community College in the US.

13 chuck martel January 10, 2016 at 6:01 pm

” Those children grow up to be feckless and violent.”
What’s the connection between feckless and violent? It would seem that discipline in the form of corporal punishment at least would tend to perpetuate pan-generational violence. Not to say that violence is in and of itself a bad thing. There’s presently not enough of it in western societies. If sleazeballs were punched in the nose or massaged with a cane from time to time life in general would be improved.

14 So Much For Subtlety January 10, 2016 at 6:14 pm

If you beat a dog for no reason, the dog is going to grow up mean. If you beat your dog and when and him know he’s done wrong, he is likely to be obedient.

The feckless do appear to use more violence in child-rearing than the non-feckless but it appears more random. They do not explain why they are beating the children so the children cannot learn their lesson.

But that is not my point. Which is the feckless are too feckless to blame themselves for their fecklessness. They blame society. Which leads their children to grow up to thin mugging is only fair – reparations so to speak. The feckless are encouraged to hate their betters.

15 ibaien January 10, 2016 at 6:39 pm

“If you beat a dog for no reason, the dog is going to grow up mean. If you beat your dog and when and him (sic) know he’s done wrong, he is likely to be obedient.” first off, the whole beating animals to train them thing has been profoundly debunked, to the point you’d have to be living under a rock or a gleeful sadist to continue to advocate it. second, is the goal of parenting really to raise ‘obedient’ children? or is this just yet another conservative value I’m unable to understand?

16 So Much For Subtlety January 10, 2016 at 6:48 pm

Profoundly debunked just means the Left doesn’t like it. Not that it doesn’t work. I will go with gleeful sadist I think. Sounds about right.

The goal of parenting is to raise a child that neither works the pole or lives behind bars. Obeying the law is not trivial. Not hurting others is important too. All things that feckless parents are bad at teaching their children.

17 Ray Lopez January 11, 2016 at 12:23 am

Do you own pets? I own dogs, cats, fowl and a pet monkey. I would never think of hitting the monkey, but the rest deserve a good beating and learn from it. Spare the rod and spoil the dog… cats on the other hand don’t register a beating and will come back for more, though they also learn, Pavlonian (sic, debunked I know) style. BTW I don’t beat them enough to really hurt them, just to get the message across. BTW2 – my parents used to beat me when I was young, and I grew up to be a success. Nuff’ said.

18 careless January 11, 2016 at 10:34 am


Do you believe electric fences don’t work, too?

Actually, I have had one dog who really didn’t care about the shock and would stand on the line getting zapped, and the other dog who was terrified of it.

19 ibaien January 11, 2016 at 3:54 pm

the fact that all of you associate the ability to generate a fear-of-pain response with ‘obedience’ and furthermore advocate that as a best practice for both pet and child rearing speaks huge volumes about the state of contemporary conservative thinking.

20 chuck martel January 10, 2016 at 7:53 pm

How do you know what the feckless, whoever they might be, do to manage their children? It seems that the government-subsidized feckless spend more time with their children than the workaholics that are so admired in the consumer society. Maybe the offspring of the non-feckless, (could they be called “feckmore”), aren’t exposed to television at the daycare centers that now raise middle class children and thus uninfected with prole values.

Assuming that dogs somehow know the difference between human right and wrong is anthropomorphozation. Sure, if they get swatted enough times with yesterday’s NYT for peeing on the carpet they might quit doing it but that doesn’t mean that they actually understand the situation. After all, they lie about drugs in people’s cars and luggage.

21 Better Idea January 10, 2016 at 7:24 pm

“There’s presently not enough of it in western societies.”


As a hypothesis, it has low probability of course. Violence breeds counterviolence and hatred. The political externalities of that alone are considerable.

22 chuck martel January 10, 2016 at 7:36 pm

“Violence breeds counterviolence and hatred.”

Or fear and compliance, which is why the cops don’t hesitate for a second to use it.

23 Better Idea January 10, 2016 at 7:41 pm

Sure. If you are willing to be universally hated and stabbed in the back the very first second you slip.

24 careless January 11, 2016 at 11:22 am

Cops aren’t universally hated

25 Better Idea January 11, 2016 at 8:17 pm

It’s also not legal for cops to just punch people in the nose or cane them. The violence they can use is regulated. Populists like chuck martel want to expand that, which will lead to more hatred.

And of course there are already people who hate the police, not to mention the politicians at the top.

26 So Much For Subtlety January 11, 2016 at 3:27 am

Better Idea January 10, 2016 at 7:24 pm

Violence breeds counterviolence and hatred.

Rubbish. People love and admire mass murderers. People on death row are deluged in fan mail and marriage proposals. Every Leftist student in the world has hung a picture of that brutal and callous murderer Che on his wall. Stalin was and is loved in university common rooms across the West.

Osama Bin Laden wasn’t right about much but he was right when he said people support the strong horse. The West is despised because we do not kill, we do not torture, well not much. Even our own intellectuals prefer people like Yasir Arafat.

27 Better Idea January 11, 2016 at 3:46 am

Last I checked, most of these people died shitty deaths or spent years in a shitty prison cell.

What you are describing is real psychology, but you’re also cherrypicking, and you’re leaving out the other side of the coin, the psychology of reciprocity and just deserts.

28 Ricardo January 11, 2016 at 10:20 am

This is usually projection more than anything. Yes, there is a low element of society that idolizes sociopathic violence. As Corey Robin has pointed out, some conservatives are oddly and somewhat creepily sympathetic to this element. But part of being civilized is building respect for freedom and the rule of law to marginalize violent people and their fanboys and fangirls as much as possible. It’s a work in progress but I tend to think it has had positive results, as reflected in a long-term decline in violence and its acceptability.

29 chuck martel January 11, 2016 at 10:25 am

The US, not necessarily the West in general, is despised by more primitive societies because the killing is done in as risk-free a manner as possible. Americans are unwilling to accept the death of their own sons in foreign battles but applaud the destruction of primitives by high-tech impersonal means. These primitives still value courage and tenacity. They live by a code from centuries past.

30 Ricardo January 11, 2016 at 12:23 pm

@chuck, the US is despised by some people and beloved by others for all sorts of reasons. People often project their own inclinations onto these feelings by others. That’s why whenever the question “why do they hate us?” is asked, Americans often give answers that, amazingly enough, correspond to their own hobby horses and dislikes. Leftists think it is because of rapacious corporations and CIA plots to despoil and exploit foreign countries, Dinesh D’Souza thinks it is because of liberal social policies and you think it is because too many of your fellow citizens are pussies. It’s incredibly banal.

31 chuck martel January 11, 2016 at 2:15 pm

You’re right. In fact, the US is loved by the rest of the world. That’s why they watch American movies.

32 So Much For Subtlety January 11, 2016 at 5:12 pm

Better Idea January 11, 2016 at 3:46 am

Actually I don’t think any of them spent time in a prison cell. That misses the point. There is no denying they are widely admired. Che still get hagiographical films made about him. People like murderers. A lot.

Ricardo January 11, 2016 at 10:20 am

It is not the lower classes that idolize sociopathic violence. Norman Mailer wrote love letters to a murderer and he was not lower class. It is over-whelmingly the Left that idolizes people like Che or Stalin. Not the Right. The Right has worked hard to be respectable, which, as you say, means restraining violence.

chuck martel January 11, 2016 at 10:25 am

The US, not necessarily the West in general, is despised by more primitive societies because the killing is done in as risk-free a manner as possible.

Rightly so. Homer condemned Paris for being willing to kill, at a distance, but not being willing to die. It is the Western tradition.

33 Thiago Ribeiro January 11, 2016 at 6:35 am

Unless you believe in trial by combat, there is no reason to think sleazeballs would be the ones being punched mostly.

34 Aaron J January 10, 2016 at 4:19 pm

I believe weekly home visits and a few well designed classes could be quite useful. I think the evidence, both in the developed and the developing world, points to such benefits. It’s certainly worth an RCT.

This article does not make me optimistic about the UK scheme though.

35 Gochujang January 11, 2016 at 10:34 am

It is always lightly humorous that the British Government calls their plans “schemes.” We should do it too.

In this case, I don’t take the announcement seriously. It would be incredibly expensive “for all parents.” Opportunity cost would be rife.

The real scheme must be political, signaling.

36 Bill Harshaw January 10, 2016 at 4:21 pm

In the first half of the twentieth century the home extension agents of USDA’s Extension Service conducted classes on many aspects of the home economy. These days googling “Extension Service child rearing” produces hits like “Parenting Grandchildren”, “Child-REaring Advice Literature”, Background on Southeast Asian Parenting” “The Challenge of Being a Parent-Caregiver”, “Rearing Moral Children”, all programs of different state extension services.

37 Chip January 10, 2016 at 4:37 pm

The record of child protection by the UK government’s social services is utterly appalling.

But this seems to be the melody played by statists: a cadence of steadily expanding power pierced throughout by a screech of incompetence.

38 Stephan January 10, 2016 at 4:43 pm

” The record of child protection by the UK government’s social services is utterly appalling.”

yes , here is an example

39 prior_test January 11, 2016 at 3:59 am

Cameron is the leader of the Conservative Party in the UK, and though his many flaws are open to discussion, the idea he is a statist (at least by Tory standards) seems on par with the sort of ignorance displayed by Prof. Cowen when writing ‘at the same time that it brings the state into what for conservatives is the sacred realm of the family.’

On the other hand, Cameron is also well known in the Uk for this – ‘David Cameron and his wife, Samantha, left their eight-year-old daughter, Nancy, in a pub after having Sunday drink, Downing Street has confirmed.

She is reported to have spent a quarter of an hour at the Plough Inn at Cadsden, in Buckinghamshire, before Mrs Cameron returned to collect her.

Number 10 said the couple had been “distraught” when they realised Nancy was not with them.

It said the incident had happened “a couple of months ago”.

The Camerons were at the pub, near the prime minister’s country residence, Chequers, with Nancy and their other children Arthur, six, and 22-month-old Florence, as well as two other families.

After leaving, Mr Cameron went home in one car with his bodyguards and thought Nancy was with his wife and their other children in another car.’

40 Larry Siegel January 11, 2016 at 4:27 am

I’m going to bet on little Nancy growing up to be a well-adjusted human being and a smashing success.

*On average over time*, her parents are imparting the right values. A quarter of an hour in the pub of one of the world’s finest B&Bs is not going to hurt her.

I’ve left my kids behind inadvertently too.

If the parental-training program can expose lower-class parents (90% women, I imagine; sounds like a biological impossibility) to more people like David and Samantha Cameron and less like the left-wing C students who are likely to actually get hired to run this program, it will be a success.

41 buford puser January 10, 2016 at 4:45 pm

“I wish I could say a policy which irritates so many people is likely to be a good thing”

Pretty spells out the raison d’etre and preferred “mood affiliation” of this blog, and right-wing “intellectuals” generally.

42 So Much For Subtlety January 10, 2016 at 5:06 pm

1. This is not a right wing blog.

2. The Right is usually proud to speak for most people. The Silent Majority.

3. It is the Left that thinks it is a revolutionary vanguard,

4. Offending Middle America has been the Left’s thing since, like, forever.

43 buford puser January 10, 2016 at 6:18 pm

Thank you for your response. As to your points:

1. Yes, and the sun does not rise in the east.

2. Why then would you guess that we’ve had two terms of Obama, are about to have another term of whomever the Dems nominate, and that Democratic House members’ combined vote totals dwarf that of the House Republican “majority”?

3. You do have a vivid fantasy life, don’t you?

4. Actually, we’re more into stuff like creating Social Security, unemployment insurance, Medicare, stable middle-class incomes sustained by good jobs, fighting racism and other forms of bigotry, and Truth, Justice and the American Way, but thanks for trying.

Anyway, none of this has anything to do with my point, which is that the function of this blog and right-wing “intellectuals” in general is to cheerlead for anything that will make people who aren’t rich miserable, or will make rich peopel richer at publix expense.

44 buford puser January 10, 2016 at 6:40 pm

i apologize for the typos and admit in advance of anyone saying so that they demonstrate the intellectual bankruptcy of the Left. I am revealed as one of those pointy-headed intellectuals who can’t park their bicycles straight that Goldawater warned you about.

45 Art Deco January 10, 2016 at 6:46 pm

We get it. You’re an unteachable sectary. Now run along.

46 buford puser January 11, 2016 at 11:39 am

I know you are but what am i?

Best wishes for your remaining time in junior high school, Art. A thing they may teach you about soon is reasoning and logical argument. Points for vocabulary though.

47 Nathan W January 11, 2016 at 2:33 am

Anything that doesn’t epitomize the rightest of the right is practically Pol Pot’s brother to SMFS. And Art is almost unfailingly insulting to anyone who points out any inconsistency in the thinking of any such folks.

I think they both think of themselves as sensible, moderate people.

48 Bob January 11, 2016 at 8:00 am

2. “Dwarf”? That seems just a bit strong. The highest number I’ve seen is 1.37 million more dem house votes in 2012 … but that fails to take into account things like Dem vs Dem races in CA, jungle ball elections in LA, and of course the shockingly distorting impacts of unopposed elections. Sure maybe the Dems got more house votes when you figure out how to aggregate non-comparable races but “dwarf”? Not on your life.

4. “Fighting racism” has the bad electoral record of being voted down by the middle class pretty much everywhere in the last 10-20 years. California and Michigan, for instance, have banned affirmative action in direct opposition to the will of the professional Left and the Democratic power. “Fighting for good jobs” has involved all sorts of things that middle america has voted down more than a few times – a lot of middle America opposes agency fees, public sector unionism, prevailing wage standards, and more. Now sure, five decades ago, the American left was solidly behind the will of middle America, but that ship sailed long ago. The modern left rests much of its coalition on individuals with below middle incomes (for whatever reason, historically disproportionately minority) and individuals with much higher incomes on average (those residing in the coastal metropoli, typically with advanced education). Be it gay marriage, climate change, drug legalization, “microaggressions”, police violence, etc. I cannot think of a single issue where the center of the country tilts towards the leftward (on the American scale) position.

As far as chearleeder for the rich, please. Tax simplification (e.g. a “flat tax” or many other options) would make a lot of well off accountants and more importantly owners of TurboTax a lot less money. Pulling the corn subsidies would hurt a lot of commodities traders and more than a few agribusiness conglomerates. In the end, a lot of middle class Americans like their guns, their religion, and their immigration laws; shockingly they do seem to vote in great numbers for the party that gives them those.

49 Ricardo January 11, 2016 at 10:00 am

“individuals with much higher incomes on average (those residing in the coastal metropoli, typically with advanced education)”

For the nth time, no. NYTimes exit poll has Romney winning 54% of voters who earn more than $100,000 per year. This is consistent with other surveys done in other contexts and the research of Andrew Gelman: wealthier Americans on average favor Republicans over Democrats. You are right, of course, that people who live in coastal areas and people with graduate degrees tend to vote for Democrats but you are forgetting that not all of those people are particularly well-off just as many well-off people do not live in coastal cities and/or do not have advanced degrees. You are conflating three different variables that are only somewhat correlated.

50 buford puser January 11, 2016 at 11:55 am

Nice try at defending a few points, Bob, and i think you may be a _teachable_ sectary given that you favor reason over invective, although you don’t seem very well-informed- too much time in the Fox/Wall Street Journal bubble?

Doesn’t the fact that we’ve had two terms of a Kenyan Muslim socialist president, are about to have another term with a Democratic president (either the lesbian harpy or the card-carrying Communist), and that, as you concede at point 2, the Democratic “minority” in the House got substantially more votes than the so-called “majority”, somewhat undercut your argument at #4?

Well, that, and all the polls showing substantial majorities of Americans support gay marriage, believe climate change is real, and favor legalizing marijuana. That’s more than a “single” issue. I’m not aware of a left consensus that “microaggressions” are even a thing, and i suppose all patriotic Americans oppose excessive use of force by police given our roots in throwing off British tyrrany.

51 Thanatos Savehn January 10, 2016 at 4:46 pm

So Mr. Cameron intends to be this generation’s Dr. Spock? “Don’t start potty training until college”, no doubt. Given the ongoing infantilization of young adults it might be just what the PM ordered.

52 Rob January 10, 2016 at 4:49 pm

Sure, lots of parents need help along these lines (judging by how their kids behave in public), but the problem with this policy is that they’ll get only “government approved” training. Quite often, the government has no idea what it’s doing (look at the wonderful history of government dietary guidelines) and will just make things worse.

53 rayward January 10, 2016 at 5:00 pm

I would prefer honesty, but I appreciate it’s a political liability. I have commented many times about my childhood, long ago, when everybody was average, average when average was, well, average. Now, it’s not. Whether it’s charter schools, vouchers, or other schemes, they all have one thing in common: average is no longer average. So what’s to be done? The preferred approach among some is to focus resources on above average, those most likely to succeed, most likely to contribute in a world which rewards the top 10%. I get it. But it’s naive to believe there’s no cost, no social cost, no economic cost.

54 ibaien January 10, 2016 at 5:08 pm

“There are tricks to it, things you should have learned a long time ago such as, if you leave milk out, it can go sour. Put it in the refrigerator, or, failing that, a cool, wet sack. And put your garbage in a garbage can, people. I can’t stress that enough. Don’t just throw it out the window.”

55 dearieme January 10, 2016 at 5:10 pm

Cameron is a disciple of Blair, though I wouldn’t yet go so far as to suggest hanging Cameron.

56 Matt Moore January 10, 2016 at 5:28 pm

It seems very expensive to buy everyone childcare classes, just to remove the stigma from them. And that is the purpose – to normalise attendence.

But the premise is flawed. The ‘at risk’ group that really needs these classes does not care about middle class shame.

57 Matt Moore January 10, 2016 at 5:31 pm

Actually, it occurs that the unintended (or maybe intended by some very far-sighted Conservatives) consequence will be to normalise voucher schemes and / or personal services budgets. Which would be very good.

58 Slocum January 10, 2016 at 5:55 pm

I could imagine this devolving into the same kind of excruciating, heavy handed intrusiveness that is currently imposed on prospective adoptive parents by social services agencies. We had friends who went through it, and it sounded pretty awful. And what it made it worse was that they had to be careful not to betray what they really thought of all the classes, home inspections, ‘infertility grief counseling’ and the like.

59 Donald Pretari January 10, 2016 at 6:17 pm

My position, for many years, at least, is that programs like this one, that could work, would be considered by most people too expensive and too intrusive. Maybe I’m wrong.

60 Chris Hansen January 10, 2016 at 6:28 pm

I propose Emma Watson or Kate Middleton to volunteer for spanking practice.

61 So Much For Subtlety January 10, 2016 at 6:55 pm

No government could afford that many classes.

Still at least there would be no shortage of volunteers although it might encourage more family breakdown.

62 jon livesey January 10, 2016 at 6:39 pm

I don’t normally have to question the accuracy of what Cowen posts, but if you look up the original story in the Guardian, you find that all that’s going on here is that the Government will offer vouchers to fund parents who *want* to attend such classes.

You also find that the last time the Government did this, only about five thousand parents took up the offer.

63 Adrian Ratnapala January 11, 2016 at 1:09 am

But in addition, the quoted section says that Cameron believes “all parents should attend classes on how to discipline their children” and it should be “the norm for parents to receive instruction on how to behave around their offspring.

Agreed this is very different from compulsory classes, but if the government really is successful at establishing such a norm, it would have much the same effect . Also if they start nduging hard enough, government will find ways to make it difficult for those who disobey the norm.

64 Art Deco January 10, 2016 at 6:49 pm

The moderator offers a remarkably anodyne response to what is a frank outrage.

65 hector777 January 10, 2016 at 8:28 pm

Behavior is mostly genetic, and inheritable.

High IQ, well behaved people have no need for this parenting class nonsense.

For the people who most need it, it will not work!

66 carlolspln January 10, 2016 at 8:38 pm

‘Behaviour is mostly genetic, and inheritable’

Wow. Let’s attribute behaviour to genes, none of which we know anything about. Because we’re so much smarter than those inferior others. [Nathan W]

67 hector777 January 10, 2016 at 8:44 pm

When I see a double-blind RCT that shows parenting classes improve outcomes in children, I might change my mind. Until then I choose to remain an evil bigot who thinks children are the genetic product of their two parents, roughly.

68 carlolspln January 11, 2016 at 12:03 am

Way to completely miss the point, Hector!

69 buddyglass January 11, 2016 at 8:30 am

Anecdotally speaking, in almost every situation I’ve witnessed where a stable, loving, high-performing family adopted a kid whose parents had serious issues, they’re able to bring that kid’s behavior in line with that of their biological children. I’m not completely discounting nature w.r.t. things like poor impulse control, etc, it does seem as if nurture is the more significant factor.

70 Nathan W January 11, 2016 at 9:26 am

Similar experience.

My mother took on a foster child a few years back, who she later officially adopted. The kid was originally written off as retarded due to FAS (hence much higher foster care rates), but it turns out that her alcoholic parents just did a ridiculously poor job. A short 5 years later, between ages 9 and 14, and now the kid is well above average in many subjects and extremely well adjusted.

Parenting matters. Sure, there are genes, but for most kids the environment is far more important.

71 buddyglass January 11, 2016 at 10:15 am

To partially walk back what I said above, I’m much more willing to admit the significance of genetics when it comes to “IQ”. Last I heard the research said IQ was roughly 1/2 nature and 1/2 nurture. So if the ideal family adopts a foster kid whose parents both had 90 IQs and then provides the ideal environment, maybe they’re able to take him/her from (mean-sigma) to (mean+sigma). But probably not higher than that. They’re likely to be able to affect more drastic improvements in behavior, though, compared to the status quo (i.e. child raised in terrible environment by birth parents).

72 Nathan W January 11, 2016 at 12:12 pm

That all sounds pretty sensible to me.

73 required January 11, 2016 at 10:38 am

In a discussion about “The Son Also Rises” and other things about nature and nurture, we find that biological children have 3x effect for good behavior correlation and adopted children has 2x effect for bad behavior correlation. Thus nature is stronger than nurture towards children behavior, but nuture is still relevant.

74 Floccina January 10, 2016 at 8:32 pm

I think we should exercise cation when telling people how to raise their children.

75 Greg January 10, 2016 at 10:17 pm

When I go to government-mandated traffic school, it makes me a slightly better driver. Why should a basic parenting class for people who might not get any guidance otherwise be a bad thing? For those of you who are concerned about this scheme, consider how many people are just making it up as they go along. Teaching some life skills isn’t so bad. If they disagree, they’re free to ignore it.

76 Art Deco January 11, 2016 at 8:20 am

Why should a basic parenting class for people who might not get any guidance otherwise be a bad thing?

Because teaching your children is not a practical skill like driving a car and it implicates the parents’ precise moral and metaphysical convictions, that’s why.

77 Moreno Klaus January 12, 2016 at 6:37 am

Yeah but, how many parents even know what “moral and metaphysical convictions” means? 😉

78 Bob from Ohio January 11, 2016 at 10:25 am

“If they disagree, they’re free to ignore it.”

In the beginning yes. Mandatory classes will lead to prescribed methods though. Its inevitable with big government types.

79 Nathan W January 11, 2016 at 2:40 am

Interesting idea.

How bad could it get? Parents who don’t like the advice will just ignore it. Probably it will start a lot of conversations about which parts are/aren’t working in their particular circumstances, and making it more normal (again) to talk about regular parenting stuff could presumably be helpful for some people who feel lost in a world of individualism.

80 Slocum January 11, 2016 at 7:39 am

How bad could it get? Imagine expanding the scope of child ‘abuse’ to include a ‘failure to engage in best parenting practices’. And it’s not as if there’s no precedent for an ever expanding definition of child abuse (which now, in many places, includes things like ‘leaving a child in the back seat of a car while dashing into a shop’ or ‘allowing children to walk to the park and play on their own’)

81 Michael Savage January 11, 2016 at 5:45 am

The UK struggles to provide basic child protection services, with many recent high-profile scandals. The costly, difficult and mostly dull job of sorting out basic provision should take priority over flashy new initiatives. This is like someone struggling with long division announcing that they’re going to start an advanced calculus course. Before we even start to assess whether it’s a good calculus course, the student should learn to add up.

I’m implacably against this kind of intrusion, but before rehearsing the arguments about paternalism there should be a bit more scepticism about means and motives.

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83 Bill January 11, 2016 at 10:18 am

Give children the vouchers

For them to select

Which Parenting Classes their parents should take.

84 Bob from Ohio January 11, 2016 at 10:30 am

And this is from the leader of the so called Conservative Party.

Its a short trip to the “state guardian” Scotland is trying to implement.

We owe most of our heritage of freedom to England and Scotland. Its a shame the road they are on.

85 Moreno Klaus January 12, 2016 at 6:39 am

Yes, it is a socialist hellhole!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Death panels!!!!!!!

86 Epictetus January 11, 2016 at 11:47 am

I live in the City of London. On the first working day of 2016, a man sent by the government knocked on my door at 0800 (the visit had been officially arranged in advance.) He had come to take the temperature of the water in my hot and cold taps, to make sure that my water is not too hot and not too cold. Were I one of the three bears in Goldilocks, I might want some sort of state sponsored Goldilocks to check that my water, my porridge and my whole life is neither too hot nor too cold, but as a free born and moderately well educated Englishman, I would prefer to take responsibility for how hot my bathwater is. England today is a country where young white children in the care of the State are systematically raped by Islamic fundamentalists and the police do nothing about it for fear of being accused of racism, and where suspected terrorists awaiting trial regularly wander out of the country to go and fight for Daesh in Syria. Even if I am mistaken in my belief that the state should get out of the business of snooping on how hot I run my bath, I am sure that the instinct to meddle in other people’s private lives that now characterizes so many of our civil servants, MPs and Lords would be better directed at other things.

87 Boonton January 11, 2016 at 1:52 pm

I wish I could say a policy which irritates so many people is likely to be a good thing, yet I can’t quite see this one working out for the better. And yes I do know the RCT evidence that personal trainers and coaches can improve the lives of the poor in the developing world.

Two conflicting schools of thought here. One is the poor are poor because they lack something. The other is that they are poor because of outside circumstance. You’ll find that the left and right has people who take on both sides of the argument. For example, libertarians who argue for ending occupational license systems (i.e. hairdressers, plumbing etc.) are taking the circumstance view. Leftists who argue for ‘parenting classes’ or education loans/credits are taking the ‘lacking something’ view. It’s a bit strange to me that this UK example is coming from their right wing party. I’d be hard pressed to imagine a Tea Party type person in the US suggesting universal state funded ‘parenting classes’.

But how would one come up with a ‘nudge’ program premised on classes/coaching helping individuals that are effective? One way might be to do a type of randomized voucher. Say you have a good database…say you can track homeless families with children. So say some person comes forward and says they would like to do some basic resume/job skill coaching with homeless families, a bit of light social/psychological work. They think this might make a huge improvement. So from the database you take the set of families they are going to try to help and you at the same time create a phantom ‘control set’ of families who are not part of this system but otherwise appear to be as close to them as possible. After a period of time you see how well the control set did (how many got jobs, kept the kids in regular school, moved on to rent or buy a place to live) versus the treatment set. If the treatment set does exceptionally better, they get a payout. If not they get nothing.

Private finance could then fund the groups by buying up the payouts. In other words, in the above example a Wall Street bank could give the group $2,000 per family they work with. If the work succeeds and the gov’t payout is $5,000 per family, the bank makes a nice profit. If it doesn’t then the bank loses. From the govt’s point of view this could be largely self financing. Nothing is paid out if it doesn’t work but if it does work the payouts are likely offset by reduced gov’t spending in other areas as well as higher taxes paid.

I would suggest perhaps the UK could try this approach. The gov’t will pay 1,000 pounds for every parent who goes through a ‘class’. But the payout comes 5 years from now and only if on average the parents who had the class had fewer social service calls, fewer court problems, fewer truancy problems etc. than the background population.

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