Friday, August 26, 2005

Licensing Parents:

I never understood why statists (non-libertarians), on both the left (those who support the "nanny" state) and the right (the social cons who support the "granny" state) don't call for and demand the licensing of parents.

If I understand the rationale for licensure of various things -- drivers license, gun license, professional licenses -- it goes something like this: There are certain thing which can greatly affect the safety and well being of the public. They take special care and demand very high levels of responsibility. As such, if we didn't license drivers, for instance, the roads would be less safe and the public would be in danger...if we didn't license medical doctors, medical care would be less safe and the public would be in danger...and on and on.

But still (and as Sandefur can attest) many areas of life where vital public health and safety concerns aren't on the line require licensure. You want to work in a hair and nail salon, you need a license. You want to get that deck built on the back of your house, you need a license.

But for those "important" licenses like driving and medical surgery, I think the key word is "responsibility." There are certain acts which inherently require responsibility and licensure is a way in which the public or the government can require that you meet certain minimum standards. Okay. So what then is the one thing in life that most any ordinary person can do, that without question or possibility of debate, requires more responsibility than any other thing? The decision to have and raise a child.

So why then don't we license that? One question would be, how would we do so? Simple: Require every female resident of childbearing age to have Norplant implanted, which doesn't get removed until she and her spouse get a license. What would the requirements of the license be? For this, I would turn to William Galston, a moderate lefty-Democrat who worked for Bill Clinton (James Q. Wilson citing Galston):

[Y]ou need only do three things in this country to avoid poverty—finish high school, marry before having a child, and marry after the age of 20. Only 8 percent of the families who do this are poor; 79 percent of those who fail to do this are poor.

Or we could adopt some variation thereof: For instance, only married couples who can demonstrate they are economically able to support the baby would get the license. If they are under 20 or didn't finish high school, they could have one. And it's not just poverty that is avoided by this. Educational failure and violent crime also accompany out of wedlock teen births.

Obviously, as a libertarian I don't support this. But I do believe that it's hard if not impossible to justify our system of government mandated licenses for the so many areas of life which clearly involve less responsibility than the decision to beget a child.


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