Blackadder’s Lair

The home of many a cunning plan

First Do No Harm

On Monday, I listened to President Obama’s prime time press conference, which was focused on the President’s economic plans. When asked how we would know if the stimulus package due to be voted on today was successful, Obama stated that his “initial measure of success is creating or saving 4 million jobs.” The inclusion of the words “or saving” is, of course, a fairly big hedge, since the only way to really say for certain that his plan hasn’t saved 4 million jobs is if things get so bad that there are less than four million people working in this country. Still, I take the President at his word that saving jobs is a priority for him, and motivates his strong support for the stimulus package.

The irony is that even as Obama was speaking, thousands of small businesses in the U.S. were bracing for the effects of a new law that may very well put an entire industry out of business. As you may dimly recall, last year there was a scare involving lead paint in some toys from China. In response, Congress hastily passed the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, which required any manufacturer of children’s products to certify, starting on February 10, 2009, that there products did not contain a significant amount of lead.

It sounded like one of those common sense pieces of legislation that no sensible person could oppose. And, in fact, passage of the bill was nearly unanimous. The problem, however, is that the required certification is prohibitively expensive for most small businesses. So whatever the good intentions behind the law, its results are potentially devastating.

Due to public outcry, the Consumer Product Safety Commission agreed to stay enforcement of certain aspects of the new law for one year. Nevertheless, on February 9th the CPSC published guidelines telling thrift stores and other sellers of used goods that they could be held liable for selling uncertified books published prior to 1985, as well as books with metal or plastic components. The results have been far from pretty:

My daughter works in a used bookstore. TODAY they pulled all the books from the children’s section that had any kind of metal or plastic or toy-like attachment, spiral bindings, balls or things attached, board books, anything that might be targeted under this law, and they very quietly trashed them all. I say “very quietly” because the bookstore had a meeting with employees and told them to be careful not to start a panic. If anyone asked what they were doing they were told to say that they were “rearranging their inventory.” No one was allowed to tell anyone about the new law, and no one was allowed to take any of the doomed-for-destruction books home or give them away.

I just came back from my local thrift store with tears in my eyes! I watched as boxes and boxes of children’s books were thrown into the garbage! Today was the deadline and I just can’t believe it! Every book they had on the shelves prior to 1985 was destroyed! I managed to grab a 1967 edition of “The Outsiders” from the top of the box, but so many!

The lesson here, I think, is that laws often have serious and negative unintended consequences, and this danger only increases when a bill is passed in a hurry or out of a perceived necessity to “do something” about a given problem. It’s a lesson, I fear, that we will have to learn again and again over the coming years.

February 13, 2009 Posted by | Children, Economy, Government, Stimulus | 2 Comments

Inventor of the Pill Laments Demographic ‘Catastrophe’

The chemist who made a key discovery leading to the invention of the birth control pill has written a commentary calling demographic decline in Europe a “horror scenario” and a “catastrophe” brought on in part by the pill’s invention.

Mr. Carl Djerassi, now 85 years old, was one of three researchers whose formulation of the synthetic progestagen Norethisterone marked a key step in the creation of the first oral contraceptive pill, the Guardian reports.

In a personal commentary in the Austrian newspaper Der Standard, Djerassi said his invention is partly to blame for demographic imbalance in Europe. On the continent, he argued, there is now “no connection at all between sexuality and reproduction.”

Continue reading

January 13, 2009 Posted by | Children, Family | 2 Comments

No Virginia, There is No Santa Claus

Now that the turkey is digested and the Christmas season has begun in earnest, I would like to make a request of whoever reads this that I hope will not seem naive, or sentimental, or overly moralistic. The request is this:

Please don’t lie to your children about Santa Claus.

Lying is repeatedly condemned in Scripture (Cf. Psalms 5:7; Proverbs 6:17; Ephesians 4:25; Colossians 3:9). And section 2485 of the Catechism says that “[b]y its very nature, lying is to be condemned.” Yet every year millions of Christian parents choose the occasion of our Lord’s birth to lie to their children about the existence of a jolly old fat man who lives in the North Pole. Continue reading

November 28, 2008 Posted by | Catholicism, Children, Family, Morality | 1 Comment

Palin with Child

Morning’s Minion asks, apropos of Governor Palin’s son Trig, who has Down Syndrome, which of the candidates “has the better policies to facilitate a family raising a child with special needs?” He says the answer is clearly Senator Obama. I confess that I have not read Senator Obama’s proposals specifically regarding children with Down Syndrome. Presumably he favors more than being left for dead in a soiled utility closet, which was the practice for children with Down Syndrome that he defended while in the Illinois State Senate. The sad fact, though, is that more than 90% of women who learn that their unborn child may have Down Syndrome have that child aborted. Whether having a smart, successful woman who choose not to abort her child just because he had Down Syndrome in the public eye for the next several years would have an impact on the rate women opt for abortion in such circumstances is an open question. But it is possible that a Vice President Palin would save more lives just through her personal witness, even if she is not able to advance her pro-life agenda legislatively, than would Senator Obama’s proposals. Continue reading

September 2, 2008 Posted by | Abortion, Children, Election, Family, Health Care, Media, Politics | 1 Comment

Can A Higher Infant Mortality Rate Be A Good Thing?

You wouldn’t think so. The death of a newborn child is a tragedy, and the fact that the United States has a higher infant mortality rate than other developed countries is often cited as a serious failing of America’s health care system. But according to Dr. Linda Halderman, the higher U.S. rate is due in part to the fact that we try to save the lives of more infants than do other countries:

Low birth weight infants are not counted against the “live birth” statistics for many countries reporting low infant mortality rates.

According to the way statistics are calculated in Canada, Germany, and Austria, a premature baby weighing <500g is not considered a living child.

But in the U.S., such very low birth weight babies are considered live births. The mortality rate of such babies — considered “unsalvageable” outside of the U.S. and therefore never alive — is extraordinarily high; up to 869 per 1,000 in the first month of life alone. This skews U.S. infant mortality statistics.

Norway boasts one of the lowest infant mortality rates in the world. But when the main determinant of mortality — weight at birth — is factored in, Norway has no better survival rates than the United States.

Continue reading

August 22, 2008 Posted by | America, Children, Health Care, Statistics | 3 Comments

Regrets, I Have A Few

What does an economist get his dad for Father’s Day? If you’re Bryan Caplan, the answer would seem to be: you get him a philosophical argument against regret:

1. Basic biology: A man produces hundreds of millions of sperm every day. Each of these sperm contains (half of) the genetic blueprint for a different person. The slightest physical movement changes the position of sperm.

2. Therefore, any change in my life prior to my children’s conception would have led my children not to exist. If I had crossed my legs differently, or walked to the frig, or even chuckled an extra time, the sperm would have been rearranged, negating my children’s existence. I might have had different children, of course, but they wouldn’t be the ones I have.

3. Like most parents, I have a massive endowment effect vis-a-vis my children. I love them greatly simply because they exist and they’re mine. If you offered to replace one of my sons with another biological child who was better in every objective way, I’d definitely refuse.

4. Therefore, if you offered me a “do-over” on any aspect of my life prior to my children’s conception, I would refuse, for it would mean that these specific children would never have been born. Continue reading

June 15, 2008 Posted by | Children, Philosophy | Leave a comment

When Should You Die?

I’ve noted previously the thin green line that separates parody from reality, but I have to say that the folks behind this website have taken unintentional self-parody to an all new level. The site, which appears to be associated with the Australian Broadcasting Company, asks kids to calculate their family’s level of greenhouse gas emissions.* Based on these answers, the site calculates “when you should die” in order to not use “more than your fair share of Earth’s resources.” If you put in the “average” answers for all of the questions, you will be told you should die at age 9.

The use of these sorts of scare tactics is hardly new. When I was in the Boy Scouts, we had a weekend retreat one time that was devoted to environmental issues. This guy spoke to us about how he and all the other adults were using up all the earth’s resources, and that by the time we got to be adults there would be nothing left, but he and his adult friends didn’t care, because they’d all be dead by then anyway. Bwahahaha! Needless to say I was suitably freaked out by this. Also needless to say, I managed to reach adulthood while somehow avoiding the imminent environmental apocalypse of which he spoke. Since then I’ve always been filled with a profound sense of skepticism when I hear people talk about environmental doom and gloom (a skepticism reinforced by the fact that the guy who spoke to my Boy Scout troop was hardly unique). Still, it’s amazing that folks would be quite to baldfaced about it as they are at this site.

(HT: Coyote Blog)

*While the quiz does ask questions about driving, food, flying, etc., it turns out that one’s death date is mainly determined by how much money one spends. If you spend more than a subsistence level on “ordinary stuff” you are doomed to an early death, though you can prolong your life somewhat by spending money on “stuff that’s better for the environment” and “ethical investments.”

June 4, 2008 Posted by | Children, Environmentalism, Global Warming | Leave a comment

What To Do About Child Labor

Via Mark Shea, here is an interesting piece from Inside Catholic advocating an end to child labor laws in the United States.

Now I expect that to many the very notion that we should abolish laws restricting child labor will seem shocking and scandalous. The very term conjures up images of eight year olds in sweatshops, working long hours in poor conditions, to the detriment of their education and possibly even their health. It is something no parent could wish for their child.

Which is exactly the point. The vast majority of parents do not want their children to work, and certainly if the work involves poor conditions or interferes with a child’s education, almost any parent would do whatever they could to prevent this from happening. Outside of cases of severe poverty, therefore, no law restricting child poverty will be necessary, as parents themselves will either keep their children out of the workforce altogether, or allow it only on a limited and highly controlled basis (i.e. paper-routes, summer jobs, and the like). If, however, the choice is between having one’s children work and having them or their siblings starve, many parents will reluctantly allow their children to work, and in such a case telling a parent that his children cannot work is tantamount to telling him he must watch them die. At best, then, child labor laws will be a redundancy; at worst a cruelty. Continue reading

January 23, 2008 Posted by | Children, Economics | Leave a comment