February 14, 2007
Words of Wisdom From Mrs. Lovejoy

Won’t somebody please think of the children? Not, it appears, in Britain and the US.

The line that’s used so often by political obfuscators that it became a Simpsons cliché is again shown to be a smokescreen. According to a new UNICEF study, of the twenty-one “economically advanced” countries in the study, Britain was the worst and the United States the second worst place for children.

The study attempted to measure children’s well-being in several aspects of life: material, health, education, relationships, behaviors and risks, and self-perceptions. The results will doubtless provide fuel for the fires that power both ends of the political spectrum.

The social conservatives will call the situation unacceptable, and continue to oppose full funding for schools and health care for children. They’ll fulminate over impending socalism, and tell us we couldn’t afford it even if we adopted such a heretical policy. This view is belied by the report:

The evidence from many countries persistently shows that children who grow up in poverty are more vulnerable: specifically, they are more likely to be in poor health, to have learning and behavioural difficulties, to underachieve at school, to become pregnant at too early an age, to have lower skills and aspirations, to be low paid, unemployed and welfare-dependent.

Regardless of where you place yourself on some imaginary spectrum of political views, it’s hard to argue with that. It is of course impossible to measure the harm done to succeeding generations by inadequate provision for children, but it is not difficult to see the harm this causes to society, even if dollars are your only unit of measure.

The wimpy liberals, on the other hand, will wring their hands in despair over the terrible plight of the children, and compromise away another quarter of what the children have left. Perhaps they’ll agree to state that evolution is controversial, or to allow advertising in schools, or to hand over some schools to the private sector. They’ll find something to give away, some principle on which not to stand.

I can hear the sound of distant whining now. “All we can do is what the government can afford, and it can’t afford much because of all those tax cuts we gave to the super-rich. And we wouldn’t dare rescind tax cuts; we’d have negative ads run against us from then on by the super-rich, who wouldn’t vote for us in any case.”

Could it be that the capitalism we tout to the world is actually hurting our children? Well, it hurts everyone else, so I don’t see why the kids would be excepted. In its place I suggest a different standard by which to judge the value of an action: somebody, please, think of the children.

Oh, and one more thing: I wonder how much play this will get in US media. I’m not holding my breath.

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at February 14, 2007 03:05 AM
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It didn't surprise me that three Scandinavian nations and the Netherlands are leading the list, after all they have - and have had for a long time - the highest standards of social welfare of all countries included in the study (no data from Australia and Japan there).
What *did* surprise me was Spain coming in fifth right after these countries.
The Spanish are exactly average of the 21 countries involved, as far as relative poverty is concerned. They are slightly above average in child health and safety, well below in educational well-being (far behind the States - being below average as well - and only just above the UK). They are slightly above average in relationships and well above average in 'behaviour and risk', though they smoke more grass than most.
But judged by the self-perception of the children, they win the silver medal! (conservatives will probably say: small wonder when they are constantly running around intoxicated).
Apparently there are no data about self-perception from the US.
I think there's something more to child well-being than can be measured by these studies, and maybe that's why I feel so attracted to Spain. It might be an inherent feeling of solidarity within a society. I don't know.
There's a German film about Kaspar Hauser, directed by Werner Herzog and going by the title of "Every Man for Himself and God Against All".
Sounds like the credo of capitalism. No place for child well-being there. Who cares, as long as they become soldiers and workers and do what they are being told.
As they bloody well should, my conservative friends might say.

Posted by: Peter on February 14, 2007 11:02 AM

The invisible hand of competition so touted by the economic conservatives is turned against them on this one, where the countries which invest in their young people raise up more capable adults.

Posted by: whig on February 15, 2007 1:08 AM
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