Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Sadly, this is why we need politicians

GetUp put an April Fool's day ad in the Australian today inviting all parents to take their babies to MPs offices for free child care. The website mentioned in it links to a GetUp page admitting the joke and calling on the Rudd government to keep its promise of paid maternity leave.

It was cute. What stuns me is the general conversation that surrounds paid maternity leave. If you find the term "breeders"offensive, please don't read the comments on the ABC news site I linked to up there.

So the arguments go like this:
  • We shouldn't be subsidising people having children, the world is over populated.
  • The world isn't overpopulated because there is plenty of room and we just need to change the way we do things.
  • Paying maternity leave is discriminating against DINKs (and other variations on the "What about Me?" argument).
  • Paying maternity leave is reasonable because parents are raising the children who will support those DINKs* in their dotage.
  • Don't be stupid, you had kids to satisfy your own selfish needs and not to raise the people that will look after DINKs in their dotage.
All of this seems to dance around the point of why a government would choose to provide paid maternity leave (except possibly the second last one, which gets close). Or why it wouldn't.

There are essentially 3 reasons why a government would choose to fund something.
  1. It is economically valid
  2. It is a moral imperative
  3. To win elections
Given that most large decisions are based on 1 or 2, with a proviso of not violating 3, I'll mostly discuss those.

The Productivity Commission
, an independent Government sponsored body with a focus on economic issues, has recommended 18 weeks of leave. It has done so because it believes this is the best option economically. A few of the reasons are:
  • You only get paid maternity leave if you have a job before you have a baby, thus encouraging more participation in the workforce. So it doesn't benefit those evil welfare sluts who have babies for the money**.
  • By maintaining a connection to the workforce, women are more likely to return to work after having their babies.
  • Having more women participating in the workforce decreases labour costs and improves Australia's competitiveness.
  • Providing families with a more sound financial basis at the beginning of their children's lives makes them more likely to spend money on baby stuff (and presumably other stuff), thus stimulating the economy.
So pretty much, providing paid maternity leave keeps women as wage slaves and ensures that they raise good little consumers. Win now, win in the future.

What about the moral imperative? Clearly babies benefit from a parent being home with them, and the breastfeeding that is made much easier if that parent is Mum. But whose is the moral burden to ensure that happens?

The kind of people who call those with children "breeders" argue that having children is your choice, you fund it. I don't entirely disagree with this, except that it assumes that we all live in a vacuum - that the way children are raised impacts only on the family to which they belong. This is clearly rubbish. The "my kids will look after you in your dotage" argument comes from an instinctive rejection of the "user pays" argument. But it is actually much more compelling than that.

Children are not just our future, they are our present. The more stable and functional our families are, the more stable and functional our communities are. And I'm making this argument from a pratical point of view. Frazzled, overworked, poorly bonded mothers do not make happy, harmonious citizens. Nor do their children make pleasant little blighters we can all coo over. I'm not saying happy mothers are never screaming banshees, nor are their children permanent angels, but the more stressed families there are in the world, the more likely you are to run into banshees and the monsters.

And as they grow up, other issues arise. There isn't an inevitable causality, but the harder life is for families, the more "difficult children", "delinquent teenagers" and "antisocial young adults" society needs to cope with. That all has a cost, both economic and social. It just makes social sense to reduce the risks as much as we can.

In my view, the much more significant moral argument is that we are social beings. We all have a responsibility to assist with the raising of the next generation. Paid maternity leave is on the same footing as public education, vaccination programs and public service announcements. They make the world we live in a more equitable and pleasant place. And so all those DINKs are not being ripped off, they are benefitting just as they are benefitting from me choosing to vaccinate my child.

From a population point of view, the world's population needs to stop increasing. It needs to drop, but slowly would be better than precipitously. Ideally, everyone should be replaced and that's all. Since there are no guarantees to a long life, that would result in a globally, slowly declining population. That is pretty much what Australia is doing now. That is pretty much what all countries with free access to birth control and no religious objections to using it are doing. In other words, leave women to their own devices and they manage the population really well. Leave it out of this argument, it is irrelevant. Just like no-one chooses to have a child to make sure someone else has someone to fix their TV when they are old, no-one chooses to have a child because there is paid maternity leave. Or at least the numbers are vanishingly small on both counts.

I haven't addressed the whole "paid holiday" argument, because no-one who has had a child, or knows someone who has well, could possibly make that argument, and it makes my blood boil. However, blue milk did a great job of making it some time ago [ed - making the argument against the "paid holiday" argument - I know what I meant!] . Go read it.

In the end, Rudd can't decide on 3. That's why he hasn't acted, because I am pretty sure he can see 1 and 2 are a given. Go sign GetUp's petition, and do whatever else you like doing to make it clear which way this policy will make you vote.

*DINKs was used by one of the commenters to refer to themselves, hence my choice.

**Controversially, I do believe there are a small number of women who have babies for the welfare money. I think they are short sighted and stupid. I don't think we should stop paying welfare to all the others because of them. I don't even think we should stop paying them. We paid John Howard for 11 years. As a society we have to support stupid people as well as everyone else. After all, everyone is a stupid person sometimes.***

***That may have been the longest footnote I have ever written.


  1. I managed to completely miss any April Fools stuff today. I think I'm living under a rock sometimes.

    Great post.

    In other words, leave women to their own devices and they manage the population really well. Yes indeed. Educate and liberate and like magic the birthrate falls. If anything the concern is how to stop it falling, so paid maternity leave can only be a good thing in that context anyway.

  2. A great post. I like 'children are our present as well as our future' - we are all part of the melting pot of society and deserve the support structures, especially those that foster healthy relationships - such as paid maternity or parental leave.

    I am worried that Rudd will use the economic downturn to get out of his responsibility to support paid maternity leave. The Productivity Commission couldn't make it any clearer, but Rudd may decide not to see the value of supporting the now and the future of children and their families.

    Thank goodness for 'getup' and others who will continue to pressure until this is pushed through.