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

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.


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