Thursday, 3 July 2008

Once again: everything has a cost


When an activity that has settled into a custom needs to be changed the inevitable costs already incurred are posited against what it takes to build the new. Not all of those are visible.

Just as a current scenario can suggest the expenditure to those directly involved but will only become noteworthy to the rest once the link between the activity and its effects throughout the system has been made, so does the change hide its wider influence in the initial stages. It is difficult enough to stretch one's awareness towards the unfamiliar, much harder still to define something that has not yet substantiated itself.

A process has settled in when its host system acquired a general balance as a consequence. A modification upsets that balance. At that point the question becomes: in whose favour will decisions be made?

In favour of the status quo and its adherents, or in favour of those who would benefit from the new?

Resetting the equation costs. Take childcare.

Traditionally the costs were born by the mother, the wife, added to the efforts required of the father, the husband, to maintain his family. Under feminism women moved into the workforce and despite the added income the sumtotal of resources (which includes time) proved insufficient to fulfill the equation.

Outsiders emerged and now childcare centres dot the urban landscape. They cost, and since most people are not happy with a perfect balance of their ledgers they want to see some profit. If in the home the credit and debit sides are neutralised because husband and wife do not profit against each other, the same cannot be said for outsourced activities. Each activity unit - in this case each child - represents another profit margin for the childcare centre. Hence the more children per mother, the greater the imbalance per household.

The indirect effects on a society's balance sheet have not yet been expressed in actual numbers, although their sheer existence is recognised readily enough.

Increasingly disparate family ledgers demand actions from the government and when given result in common debit. When the money has to be recouped somehow up go the taxes. A bigger tax burden triggers more demands for relief, and when governments respond in comes the new debit. And so on.

Sooner or later a solution must be found and again, in the end in whose favour will the decision be made? Whatever the perception may be, whatever ideology drives this or that side, there will be costs.

If we make home-centred child rearing our initial reference, and if the costs of reverting to the traditional standard are considered too high, the spiraling aspects of outsourcing need addressing.

Within our reference the ledgers were balanced inside the family, but the additional burden on the father was shared by all the fathers. Indirectly the costs were thus spread across the whole of society. Such a system worked for millennia.

The salient point here is not the home - after all, 'home' means a lot of different things across the variety of cultures - but the aspect of commonality.

State-run, in other words, public child care absorbs these costs in effectively the same way the obligations of traditional fathers were diffused across society.

Free-marketeers may not like this, but in the absence of any plausible solution from their side they should reconsider.

Sooner or later the decision will have to be made. Childcare is one example, but any activity that is as essential as it is potentially inflationary falls under the same heading.

The communal aspect of communism took second place to its dictatorial ideology. But replace the party hacks with math-literate technocrats and who knows, we just might have equality for once.

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