Monday, June 18, 2007

Heat From Buy, Buy Baby Review

Karen's review of Buy, Buy Baby has generated some heated comments today. First off, thanks for your comments; this is exactly the kind of conversation we need to be having at Doses of Reality. While these comments deserve (and may ultimately provoke) a series of posts, I wanted to address one underlying false premise in particular, expressed in the following statements:

"Wrong. Government is part of the answer. We need more mandated time off. ... Government needs to balance the voraciousness of the "free market" which believes in nothing but spitting products out, chewing workers up and taking home nice juicy profits." - lauram

"...companies are not so ingrained with 'good hearts' that they’ll gladly offer up time off protections for working families. I live in Tennessee, where Moms get a generous amount of protected time off for maternity (although pay is not guaranteed). But it’s not because the employers of the greater Tennessee area all agreed to do so. They were 'forced' by legislation." - todd

We all agree that mothers getting to spend more time with their children would be a good thing. We also agree that getting paid time off to do this would also be nice. But let's not stop there! I can think of many other good things I might like to enjoy. I hate having to pay high gas prices (I drive my children around in a minivan!), so maybe my employer (all employers) should buy my gas. The price of groceries has also increased tremendously as my children grow in size and number. This, too, should be covered. After all, who can live without food? As it happens, I also enjoy beach vacations. Alas, these can be pricey, too. Should my employer just skip right along without financing this important time of relaxation for my family? I would mention my astronomical pediatrician bills, but many on the left are already way ahead of me on that one...

The real question here is what should the state and federal governments pay for (or force employers to pay for) and what should they not. This discussion is nearly identical to the debate over the minimum wage. Is it really enough? Perhaps it should be $10/hour. But why not $50/hour? I would be able to afford practically everything I need for that kind of scratch. And if the minimum wage were $5,000/hour, well then, I could just retire now (making sure to work at least two or three hours a month, of course). At some point this discussion reaches the level of absurdity. Maybe that point is $10 for you or maybe even $15, but at that point you concede an important premise: there is a LIMIT on the amount of money government or employers can provide for us. We might argue about where that limit falls, but we need not revisit the premise.

Paid maternity leave adds only one more benefit to a host of other benefits already offered by competitive employers in addition to salary. In a free market, employers and employees come together and agree to the limit. However, if government mandates an extra premium or a larger salary, what might happen? We don't have any more money in the equation (actually, we may have less, since new regulation isn't without cost), so one thing that doesn't happen is people suddenly getting lots more benefits and salary for free. These benefits are paid for by the employer (those greedy capitalists...). Do you really think greedy capitalists will sit idly by while their profits plummet? Of course not! The added costs are simply passed on Employees may have paid maternity, but they might make less money, or there might be fewer employees working much harder now. Consumers also get to play by paying higher prices for goods and services. Really, the only upshot is that politicians can make nifty campaign ads claiming to have helped struggling mothers (except the ones who got laid off or whose companies went out of business)!

Maybe paid maternity leave is too important to leave in the hands of employers. Perhaps the government could simply provide this valuable service to worthy taxing the rich. They have this down to a science in France. The results? Citizens with entrepreneurial dreams wanting to become part of "the rich" have left in droves. Consequently, France's tax base shrinks and shrinks until, one day, there will be no more rich people left to tax. If, on the other hand, government allows individuals to keep more of their money, they will reinvest that money into the economy (buying plasma screen tvs and beach vacations or maybe even buying more stock). When this happens, employers can afford to hire more people and pay them more. Suddenly there are a lot more people paying taxes and a net increase in tax revenue. This was exactly what happened when Reagan cut taxes in the 1980s.

Back to the book review: the solution is not increased government spending (and taxing), but rather, free individuals deciding to be more careful with money and less materialistic. Our culture tells us we can have everything we want right know. Unfortunately, this is a big, fat lie. This post has only dealt with one aspect of the issue at hand. I look forward to hearing your thoughts and expanding the conversation.


Travis said...

First, I appreciated the insightful book review. It was a little depressing to read the bulleted list of my generation's (I hate the tag "X" unless it's followed by "Men") characteristics. The one point of disagreement with Karen's review is minor, even insignificant. No Gen-Xer was born in the '80s. But who can say with any certainty when "generations" begin and end. Some of accused me of being from another time!

Philip I am really enjoy your observations as well. You even busted out with some slang - I would be able to afford practically everything I need for that kind of scratch." Both analyses were "spot on". I love Karen's comment about "the government's money", as if it had any. Whenever the government spends more it costs me more.

Great stuff!

Todd said...

You are quite right to point out the sadly common view of the government as our Sugar Daddy. Trust me, I've beat the same drum chanting the "the government ain't got no money" for a long time myself. With respect to companies, I believe in a free enterprise and that demands personal and corporate responsibility that goes beyond the letter of legislation- every time.

My response was an attempt to balance the discussion slightly towards what is government’s right and protective role. It’s a sticky matter, determining what falls into that category. Many American’s I fear will opt for the government-gimme plan instead of what is more progressive and appropriate. Still, you as an American cannot allow companies to terminate, replace, or relegate parents that choose to temporarily leave work for the birth and early bonding period with their child. That has already been settled largely by the Family Medical Leave Act, but not settled without the appropriate protections by law.

The corporation I’ve managed in for the last 7 years has an extensive set of “good heart” principles it operates under. This is especially true with respect to work-life balance. I will point out however that even though this is one of the better companies around, our approach in the development of these policies is clear: We exceed, often slightly, the letter of the law. For example, if the law states an employee receives 120 days of protected medical leave, our rule will be that we add a grace period of 30 days or so to that protected time for qualified circumstances. The point being that the legal standard was the catalyst for the corporate benefit, not the converse-- (without specifically calling into question the scruples of any corporation) the legal, protective standard was necessary. I call it the “defensive driving” of the government – and it’s the about the only job fit for government.

I’ve personally managed some 200+ employees in my time with this company- many just starting out in the workforce and with their families. I’m delighted to be able to counsel with them in family and personal need situations and reassure them of their rights and our support for their situation. I also have no conflict in telling them, on occasion, that their time away (family related) will be unpaid. After all, we don’t discontinue health insurance (and a few other benefits) so we are hardly maneuvering to protect the “bottom line”. I have many to thank for this piece of mind that I enjoy in my work, among which is a responsible government.

Karen said...

Thanks for the continued comments. I agree that these issues are sticky - and I look forward to several more complete posts about them, just give me some time. :)

As for Generation-X the definition is pretty ambiguous. But, as I said in my review, the end date has been defined as 1978 by some and 1981 by others. Wikipedia actually takes it through to 1985.

Philip said...

Travis - Thanks for the good word!

Todd - Thanks for your comments! I can appreciate your experience in dealing with these issues "on the ground" where real, live people are concerned. I am glad your corporation strives to go beyond the bare minimum. Certainly, these types of policies make it easier (or even possible) for women to have a family and a career. The assumption here is that women can (or should be able to) easily have both a family and a career. I realize that this assumption is widely held as a maxim in our society, and, truthfully, I don't completely disagree with it. What does need to be pointed out (or at least questioned and thought about) is that, while women can do both successfully, it is by no means "easy." Ask any women involved in pursuing this course if it is easy. Many would would admit that it is a hard thing to pull off. Time and energy are limited. What government has done, by implimenting programs like the Family Medical Leave Act, is hidden the true cost of women having a career and a family. It is now "easier" because corporations and tax payers are picking up the slack. Any attempt to reveal the true costs involved is immediately labeled uncommpassionate, while increasing these entitlements is viewed as compassion. But true compassion would be individuals giving services and money freely. Simply taking money and services from one person and giving them to someone else is usually called stealing.

Karabeth said...

A little historical perspective would be in order here. Philip, Stephen, and Karen were raised by one-income families with stay-at-home moms. Yes, they were actually raised with the income that only the bread-winner father provided without benefit of government handouts! Philip states such handouts are stealing. Who gets ahead if the government provides assistance by raising the taxes on daddy's paycheck so mommy could stay at home on maternity leave? In these cases it would be stealing from one parent to pay the other one. So much for Peter and Paul.

It's amazing that they also managed to graduate from college coming from such under-privileged conditions! (And without government assistance here either.)

Another unusual fact is that Karen's family didn't own a TV until she was about 10 years old. (Gasp!) Maybe this is one case study that could be included in the research that she was asked to conduct. After all, whether you agree with her opinions or not, you must admit that she has a brain and she knows how to use it.

Please, don't tax the corporations any higher than what they're paying now. A higher tax on them is automatically a higher tax on me. Do you really think their profit margins are going to go down?

It's time to stop the instant gratification for both babies and adults. How ironic it is that a book talking about instant gratification for babies doesn’t recognize instant gratification for adults when it comes in the form of government assistance.

There was the comment that Karen is young and will probably change her mind. I doubt it. I'm old(er). I'm her mother. I haven't changed mine.

Regarding your comment, Karen, about "Boomers:" you’re forgiven! :)

todd said...

Just curious - Would anyone like to contend that the the Family Medical Leave Act fits handedly into this category of ill-advised government theft?

Philip may have already made that assertation -- I'm unclear.

Philip said...

As opposed to well-advised government theft? Taking our money for national defense, police and emergency services, and certain infrastructure projects is one thing. After all, that's why we have a government at all. Taking our money just to give it to other citizens--that's outrageous. Yes, the Family Medical Leave Act (1993 Clinton / Democrat-controlled Congress legislation) falls within this second category.

todd said...

Ah your view is clearer to me now - thanks