What is the relevant intra-family externality?

…some parts of the analysis may apply to young children as well. Children are allocated to various "tasks" to their parents, and cannot easily trade or voice marketplace demands. In some countries parents or relatives allocate children rather ruthlessly to hard labor. Even in richer settings parents claim to be altruists but in fact many care more about the safety of their child per se, or about the social status of the child (proxies for their genetic investment), rather than caring for the utility of their child. Parents might therefore overinvest in safety and rigorous education for their child, not taking the child’s utility into account.  Under some conditions the policy recommendations would involve a reallocation of children into "fun" activities. This would favor easy schools, sugar-coated cereals, and disfavor government regulation of fun but dangerous children’s toys.

That is a possible concluding paragraph for a piece I am writing on animal welfare; you will hear more about this soon.  But that bit may not make the final cut.

Yes we don’t treat animals well enough, but what are the parallels between animals and children?  I am not sure where the relevant intra-family externality lies.  Are selfish parents not spending enough time looking out for their kids?  (Do partially benevolent parents get lazy and use the TV as a socially costly babysitter?)  Or do uptight parents seek too much control over their kids?  Are both somehow true at the same time?  I find these underexplored questions to be among the most important for normative economic investigation.


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