How much is a child? 26

Diena, one of the largest daily newspapers, seems to have embarked on a holy crusade to make the government stop reforming the system of child benefits.

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Essentially, the government plans to replace the system where each family receives 8 LVL per child with a more targeted one, where only families with at least two (or even three) children would be eligible.This measure is projected to save 11 million LVL. Through its editorials, Diena has been attacking the plan for quite some time. In what was an obvious attempt to affect the vote in the Parliament, the Friday's issue featured a front page headline saying “one child becomes worthless” To drive the point home, nearly all of the front page featured an equality sign between a baby, on the left hand side, and zero, on the right hand side. Overall, Diena’s position was neatly summarized by Maris Zanders in his Friday’s co-ed: “in practice, it means that poor families will not plan having children at all...”. I disagree with such an interpretation. I think the government is making steps in the right direction in what regards child benefits. Moreover, I can think of at least two serious reasons why the position taken by Diena is irresponsible. This is a serious allegation, so let me explain.

Will a more targeted child benefit policy discourage people from having children? This is what Diena seems to believe. However, I can easily produce a different narrative.I don’t know about the effect of 8 LVL per child per month (but I’ll get to it later),but there is one thing I am quite sure about. The number of children planned certainly depends on one’s security in the future, i.e. having a stable source of income, and having a job. It’s not a coincidence birth rates usually plummet during the times of severe distress, as they did in Latvia the early 1990s, and as they probably did during this crisis. As long as people are afraid of wage cuts, or losing a job, or, in the case of almost every fifth Latvian, not finding one, my guess is that having children is not among the first things on their mind. Further, I think we have a broad consensus now that balancing the budget will go a long way to restoring economic growth and, thus, reducing unemployment. This means budget consolidation. So when Diena is relentlessly attacking a consolidation measure (like it vehemently opposed a car tax some time ago), without proposing a viable alternative, it makes the whole process longer, the crisis - more protracted, the demographic situation - worse. Moreover, it risks pushing the government into really stupid consolidation measures that are detrimental to growth, like raising the social tax rate and minimum wage. I think such behavior is irresponsible. Diena doesn’t like this particular measure? If it considers itself a serious newspaper, it must propose an alternative.

Next, lets address the question of whether a monthly benefit of 8 LVL per child is effective. That is, how many more children are there in a world of 8 LVLper child, as compared with a world without them? At this point, I should say I am not an expert in demography, and I am not familiar with the relevant literature. So I really don't know what the anwer to the above question is. But lets suppose the effect is 'substantial' and carefully think through the implications. Latvia is not the only country dealing with the problem of 'too few' or 'too many' (as in say China) children. If a subsidy, or a tax, tied to the number of children is an effective measure of birth control, why so many people are making a fuss of demographic problems? You want more children? Pay 8 LVL (or more) per child. You want less? Tax 8 LVL per child. We seem to have a perpetum mobile for child creation here, in which putting money from one pocket to another (tax and transfer schemes) has large real effects. Why hasn't anyone come up with this ingenious scheme? Do we have something that qualifies for a Nobel prize? When we start thinking that lots of people have been very dumb for a very long time - it's a pleasant feeling, I know - but we are most likely in error in our reasoning somewhere. So maybe the idea that paying 8 LVL per child can have substantial effect on the num,ber of children is wrong.

So which measures are effective? I don’t know – but at least I know that I don’t know. Here are some good guesses though. I already mentioned stablity of incomes. How much women can minimize the adverse effects of rearing children on their professional careers is probably another important area. Next, what would happen to a woman that must raise her children alone, after a divorce? Can she count on adequate alimonies from her ex-husband? Not in this country. Further, we don't just want to maximize the output of children, do we? We also want their parents to take care of them, invest in them, give them education. An unwanted (save for 'being worth' monthly revenue of 8 LVL) child runs serious risks of, say, becoming a drug addict and robbing you on the street. Hardly someone you want to pay a subsidy for, do you? So maybe 'quality' of children should matter as well, not just their raw numbers. What I am trying to say is that family planning is an extraordinarly compex decision, and I am sure that many clever people, smarter than me or you, have done a lot of serious thinking and research on this subject. Maybe we should try to learn from their efforts. And what does Diena do? It presents the whole issue as being largely about 8 LVL per month. And that is the biggest problem. Instead of fostering a high-quality debate, explaning the complex trade-offs involved, educating and enlightening its readers, it reduced the whole debate into the ridiculous '8 LVL per child or people would have no children'. For a paper that considers itself serious, this is irresponsible.

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grr > Ahmeds 18.01.2011 20:13
Doma interesanta kā atkratīties no "zemniekiem". Tikai izvēloties šādu "elites" norobežošanās politiku, nez vai tiek uzrunāta auditorijai, kura tiešām domā par 8 vai 88 ls.

===

At last a good point from the "nativists".

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Vladimirs 15.01.2011 01:04
Possibly, this is an assault on the popularity of the ruling party. Voters hate it when words like "social budget" and all variations of "cut" are met in one sentence. Who owns "Diena" anyway?

It is really sad when the first thing that comes to mind after reading articles in local news papers is not about the issue itself, but the curiosity who might benefit from it being published :(

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Jaņdžs 13.01.2011 11:32
I take the point V. Dombrovskis makes about Diena campaign to keep the Ls 8 for children. I understand that it is also a fishing expedition on the part of Diena for populist votes, i.e., subscribers.

However, Latvia and its politics are locked into a failed system of government not only locally, but world wide. Therefore, were the Diena campaign to succeed in rousing the hated populists, it just might be hooking onto a fish that is able to pull the fisherman into the sea. That would be welcome news, because it would mean that Latvia has a second chance of resetting its priorities (there are none now), one of which should be to seriously consider leaving Brussels sphere of influence if for no other reason than to propose Latvia as the future centre of Europe.

Of course, to even consider remaking itself into a potential developed nation, Latvia has to make its first priority capital accumulation. Under the present government one can look forward to even more people (populists?) emigrating, and I feel despondent that that is what lies ahead for all.

As for writing in English, I do so, because to write in Latvian is to consign one's self to the echo chamber of an empty barrel into which no one will bother to look into anytime soon. The demographic ghost makes its appearance here once again: it is likely that the writer who writes novels in Latvian is a thing of the past. It simply does not pay. It is short sighted to think of this transition period of unenforceable compulsory use of Latvian as a sign pointing to the future. Certainly not as things stand now.

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Latvietis 12.01.2011 17:28
Dr Dombrovsky - I really thibk your efforts on communicating with this Ahmeds are wasted. he is clearly some 17 year-old Visu Latvijai child-activist trying to get a rise from all of us that want a serious debate.

a question - how relevant is the Swedish experience to Latvia? there are serious budgetary differences between the two. Are there any more relevant best-pracice cases? e.g. Bulgaria, Belarus or Brazil?

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V Dombrovsky -> Ahmeds 12.01.2011 16:07
So you're not just a 'nationalist', but also a 'farmer'. Well, this must explain the bitterness... Let me guess, a ZZS? And an English-speaking one. Interesting.

Well, it's not about exclusion of 'farmers', but about sorting out certain points. There are other means of communicating to broader audience, including farmers, and of course they're more effective in the language that they speak. It's just not exactly my purpose here.

Suppose I wrote this in Latvian and on Delfi. There are some very weird selection mechanisms at work re who writes comments there. I wouldn't want to spend time reading these comments to find "interesting" ones. Serious people wouldn't want to spend time writing comments, given what others are writing. A vicious circle. Hence the need for a screening device - at a certain stage of production (and testing) of ideas.

Or, think about it like this. There is Saeima in which there are 100 MPs, who deliberate legislation and make decisions. Why not all the citizens, as in some ancient Greece city-state direct democracy? Would you say those others, including the many farmers, are excluded? The answer is - efficiency. Deliberation is hard when there are too many voices.

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V Dombrovsky 12.01.2011 12:42
-> ..
"8 LVL ... forms a vision of future in people's mind"??!

I am not sure what you mean here. In my opinion, 8 lvl a month send a clear signal that there is total ABSENCE of any vision of the future, that the governemnt thinks childcare/democratic issues are adequately addressed by 8 LVL a month.

-> NB
And when your child becomes a bit older, you will start thinking about availability of good schools, extra-curricular activites (e.g. sports, chess), etc.

When my son was about 2 years old, we lived in Stockholm for couple of months. What I found striking is how much thinking went into so many details of what formed parenting experience. From parental leave, kindergartens, flexi-hours to availability of children playgrounds, trolley spaces in public transport, children facilities in public places, cafes, restaurants. This was clearly a result of many years of hard thinking and work to make a parenting experience as seamless as possible.

At some point I even participated in studying and commenting on some of the relevant Swedish experience: http://www.mutual-learning-employment.net/uploads/ModuleXten...

And the level of debate in Latvia? "8 lvl per month"... And so many people seem to think that's what it's all about. And some newspapers actively promote this way of thinking...

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gonzo 12.01.2011 08:06
8 ls per child is meaningless if your family is middle class, its meaningful for people that need it. Which is why the initial idea was to take 8 ls away from wealthier families and double it to 16 ls for poorer families.

This idea is what Diena was attacking, now it seems like they are considering support for only families with more than one child, but again this doesnt deal with the issue of income. In a recent editorial Bojars at Diena said that people need support from the state otherwise they wont have children, the world has changed, he wrote. How does he know that thousands of years of human history and the evolutionary impulse to procreate are over? he doesnt say, there is never any evidence/research or really even rational argument that accompanies it.

in a world of budget cuts, measures should at least be designed to protect the poorest members of society.

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.. 12.01.2011 02:28
True, newspaper should educate people by introducing relevant debate, not focusing on one issue. However, they might be against the policy not because of future impact, but presence. It is rather painful for people who already have children.
As well, I would argue that 8 LVL per child doesn't have substantial effect. It actually also forms a vision of future in people's mind. If government can take away all the subsidies for children, people won't plan to have children until they have enough budget to cover expenses at least for 1 - 2 years. (Haven't read the article though, so can't judge how does Diena write about the issue. However disagree, that 8 LVL/per child is meaningless)

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Ahmeds 12.01.2011 00:18
_However, knowledge of English is correlated with a certain level of development. Hence, I write in English._
Doma interesanta kā atkratīties no "zemniekiem". Tikai izvēloties šādu "elites" norobežošanās politiku, nez vai tiek uzrunāta auditorijai, kura tiešām domā par 8 vai 88 ls.
Tikai nerakstot latviešu vai krievu valodā, var aizdzīvoties citā pasaulē un nedzirdēt sev adresētas lamas, ka "Tādus rakt grāvjus vajag sūtīt! - vismaz kāda jēga būs!"
Jo citādi pavadīt laiku tukšās apcerēs vai labāk visiem mazu pabalstu vai "visu vai neko" pabalstu, - no tā budžets nepildās un jēga maza/nekāda.

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NB 11.01.2011 22:30
As a middle-class parent with a job, I can add the following to the discussion:

8Ls per child is largely irrelevant. It barely covers (if it does) a single visit to a doctor.

What -I- need for myself and my child, is the following:

1) availability of affordable day care. It is most unpleasant in Riga -- however, Riga does hold about half of the country's citizens.

My child had to be signed up for every nearby municipality day-care center the day he was born. He had to wait for 2.5 years until he got in, AND he was lucky. Until that, we had to do with private center, where the price was around 150Ls per month -- 3 times what it costs to have a child in municipal day-care center. Why? Because municipality only pays 1/3d of its subsidy to privately owned centers. What is it, if not illegal subsidy of state/municipal business?

And AT THE SAME TIME, the municipality plans to build new municipal children day-care centers, stating the large queues as the reason, rather than paying the private ones the same as it does to its own.

2) availability of children health care that is in between a scheduled visit to your family doctor and emergency rush to the hospital.

Especially for a new parent, such as myself and my wife, it is frightening and confusing when a small child gets sick, because he can't even say what hurts. With the present system of family doctors, ours is an overworked guy who only picks up phone during his business hours and converses in short sms during weekends, which is when trouble usually comes. It is most distressing to have to wait for child to reach high enough tempareture to call ambulance, just because that's what your family doctor suggested.

These were two examples of, what I have experienced as a parent, and what I want is a system, where I feel that there is enough assistance on the local (and sometimes national) level for my child, so that I can continue to work and devote time to him, and mundane problems do not turn into nightmares.

In short, it is not extra money that I need for my child as (thankfully working) parent. It is a system where quality day-to-day assistance is provided for me and him.

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... to G.D. 11.01.2011 22:12
Par izplatito slimibu un bailem no konflikta - varetu Jums pastastit, ar ko beidzas cina par adevatu publisko lidzklu izlietosanu valsts parvalde - ar drosmigu viedokli un riskesanu (ta teikt - viens pret sistemu), kad beidzas nebut tik labi. Katra zina bez valsts parvaldes reformam nekadu izmainu nebus - un diskusiju par 8 LVL par bernu turpinas muzigi.

No tiem 8 LVL vispar varetu mierigi atteikties, kompensejot ar merketu socialo pabalstu tiem, kas ir nabadzigi, vai ar nodokli neapliekamo ienakumu par bernu palielinasanu stradajosajiem (lielaku devumu dos tiesi mazo algu sanemejiem).

Kaut kadi divaini domu gajieni - vajag attistit konkuretspejigu ekonomiku, tad dodam subsidijas, vajag dzimstibu palielinat - nodrosinam 8 LVL pabalstu menesi, tikai beigas nenotiek ne viens, ne otrs, vienigais faktors, kas vertejams nemainigi augsts - emigracija.

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Doma 11.01.2011 19:39
Pilnībā piekrītu autoram un ceru, ka valdība spers vēl citus soļus šajā virzienā. Jo demogrāfija Latvijai ir akūti svarīga.

Bet par valodu - pieļauju, ka autoram nav viegli rakstīt latviski (vismaz rakstītā formā tā ir visai grūta valoda), tāpēc izvēlas angliski. Tiktāl viss labi, bet kāpēc latviešu komentētājiem jākomentē angliski, gan nesaprotu. Tāds snobisms šķiet.

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G.D. 11.01.2011 18:54
Screening device… Neesmu parliecinats, vai no shis varishanas savaa sula ir kada jega. Nu ko, visi sanak, paklape viens otram pa plecu “nepiekritu, bet labi uzrakstits” un super. Ejam talak. Bet dzive norit paralela pasaule. Ja rakstitu kaut vai krieviski, vismaz butu kada jega. Vai gadijuma taa nav Latvijaa tik izplatita slimiba (kas manuprat ari ir svarigaka Latvijas problema): bailes no konflikta? Mes visi esam gatavi izteikt drosmigu viedokli… tachu angliski… Par laimi, ieveeros tikai “lidzigie” un viss bus labi.

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V Dombrovsky 11.01.2011 17:59
Hmmm. Something our dear Ahmeds doesn't understand is that good things MAY come out of of ten or (hopefully) more Latvians discussing matters in English.

You see, an important reason I write in English is that this is a screening device. I am interested in what some (but definitely not all) people have to say about what I write. Unfortunately, I don't always know who these people are, and I also don't want to spend time siphoning through delfi-like comments. However, knowledge of English is correlated with a certain level of development. Hence, I write in English.

Why screen? Because serious change cannot be brought about by one person, it requires collective action. Organizing collective is an extremely tricky affair, and sucessful collective action usually happens from small numbers of like-minded people. A prerequisite, though, is that these like-minded people need to know each other's ideas, way of thinking, etc.

So, my dear Ahmeds, I am afraid you (and the likes of you) are not my target audience here. I hope you won't see it as something personal, whoever you are. I will start caring for what you think, once you work through your inhibitions and get to the next level. We will talk then.

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V Dombrovsky 11.01.2011 17:48
Thank you, Krista. My best wishes to you and your newborn :)

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Krista 11.01.2011 17:27
Thanks, Slava, for your voice of reason in this mostly hysterical, sensless debate over 8 lats. Agree with your every word. Why oh WHY has no one in this debate asked and answered the question of the PURPOSE of these miserable 8 lats?! Why are they there, to do what with (well, in Riga two people can have a decent lunch sans alcohol, for sure)? Why 8 and not 2 or 10,5 or 150? Why has no journalist or analyst publicly enquired after the reasoning behind the specific amount - perhaps because of the fear of discovering that maybe (and I am just guessing) in Soviet times there was a monthly child support of 8 roubles and no one thought of changing the figure? Can we really afford to sprinkle crumbs for "everyone" while some people don't need them and for many it is clearly not enough?

I have one positive thing to say about the subject: I think the present Latvian maternity leave and compensation policy is very generous, even in it's downsized version. As a brand new mother (my daughter was born last week) I appreciate this support very much. I beg the government to keep "my" 8 lats and by all means give them to people with children who need them.

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Ahmeds 11.01.2011 17:11
_I think we could have a more rational_
===
Nedomāju, ka sanākot kopā 10 latviešiem un viņiem visiem sākot runāt savā starpā angliski, ir kaut kas racionāls.
Mērnieku laiki 2011!

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x 11.01.2011 14:36
the argument about resources going for education is not that stright-forward: if there are no children(or very few) to educate, there is no need to pay about 5% GDP (public funds)?:)

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John W 11.01.2011 13:57
For example, I think taking a good look at the amount gone to Parex/Citadele plus the amount set aside to be a safety reserve for the financial sector would be a start. In this way, I think we could have a more rational, fairer discussion regarding the allocation of resources. I say this because comments such as yours regarding taking money from education - although fair to an extent - ignore the wider picture.

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Luis F 11.01.2011 13:18
John W - could you be so kind as to explain what you mean in more detail. What, in particular, should I be "taking a good look at"!

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John W 11.01.2011 09:18
Luis F, you make a fair point the finite nature of resources available to the government, but why not also take a good look at the private debt that has now become/will become the taxpayers' burden?

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Luis F 11.01.2011 09:11
Jaņdžs - what is your argument? That they should pay more? If so, where should they get the money? We have none. Should we be taking money from education to pay to have more kids that then will not be educated because there is no money for them?

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Ahmeds 10.01.2011 19:22
_The tiresome repetitively cretinous Ahmeds is sadly typical of the broad, grey mass of the latvian electorate._
======
Liek smaidīt dubulti. Gan dēļ teksta, gan dēļ valodas...

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Jaņdžs 10.01.2011 18:28
I am amazed how the government of this small nation manages to kill the nation off.

Ls 8 = $16. Many mothers of their first child have little education, no husband, and no chance to become educated if they belatedly decide to correct that mistake.

It is predicted that given the present trends, there will be 1.3 million inhabitants in Latvia by 2050 in total.

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Latvietis 10.01.2011 15:24
I really enjoyed reading this blog.

Alas, following the exit of Raudseps et al from Diena, there are no serious newspapers left in Latvia. The remaining idiotically populist rags are only suitable for the toilet. What with the parliament being taken over by nationalist children, a handful of shows on LTV1, and IR magazine, remain the only forums for serious debate. It's all a bit worrying.

The tiresome repetitively cretinous Ahmeds is sadly typical of the broad, grey mass of the latvian electorate.

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Ahmeds 10.01.2011 10:30
Ja švauksti raksta angliski ārzemju auditorijai (khe, khe), tad jau vajadzētu paskaidrot viņiem cik $ ir 8ls.

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