Is GDP how we should be measuring success: A deliberately controversial post

Chacha and Linda commented on an earlier post that they didn’t like the way that success of a country is measured by GNP (gross national product) or GDP (gross domestic product), basically how many goods and services are sold in an economy.  Having more goods and services doesn’t mean a country is doing better and focuses on materialism as a sign of success.  [They also talk about the lump of labor fallacy, but that's the subject of someone else's post.]

Believe it or not, in economics we don’t assume that GDP is directly a measure of success.  We really care about happiness, or, as economists like to jargon it up, “utility.”  GDP does measure stuff, and stuff is something that we put into our utility functions.  Assuming free-disposal (which, admittedly, is a pretty big assumption), that is, that if you don’t want something you can get rid of it at no cost to yourself, then more stuff is better (or at least not worse).  We’re all about maximizing happiness, and stuff is just one thing that goes into that equation.

We would love to measure actual happiness.  But… it’s hard to measure happiness.  Even if we ask people, we’re not really sure if they’re telling us about relative happiness or absolute happiness, or if there are cultural differences in how to answer the happiness question that make differences in happiness not comparable across countries.

But we can measure stuff, so that’s what we measure.

We do also use other measures besides GDP: things like poverty rate, infant mortality rate, income inequality, literacy, etc.  These tend to give a measure of how a nation’s poorest citizens are doing.  Each of these captures a measure of a country’s success, but alone each cannot give a full picture.

What do you think?  How should we be measuring success of a country?  Is GDP a valid measurement?  Is happiness our end goal?  What would you measure instead?  (And should we even be comparing countries?  Why or why not?)

Must every weekend day have planned activities?: A deliberately controversial post

Laura Vandekam has been pushing planning things on weekends.  Not doing chores, of course, but something Fun!  Something you can look forward to All Week!  Don’t waste a single weekend day!

I’m as type-A a planning person as almost anybody (I suspect #2 isn’t), but I get a little angry at the thought of someone taking away my occasional (more frequent now) completely unplanned weekend day (and #2 even more so) because somehow that’s supposed to make me happier.  It’s mine!  You can’t have it!  You can’t make me get dressed!

Planning requires mental load.  It requires looking at the clock.  It requires not being able to be completely relaxed.  It means if something comes up you have to make a choice and lose an option instead of just going with the flow.  It may even require getting out of bed at a certain time (and certainly requires getting out of bed at some point) and putting on day clothes.

Oh, but it could be something as simple as going for a jog by yourself (whose idea of fun is THAT?) or having a friend drop by to socialize or going to church.  All of these options require  *effort*.  All require putting on clothes.  What could be better than lazing around the house in one’s pajamas?  Not having to put on pants unless and until one feels like it?

But if you were a sports fan (we’re not), you wouldn’t resent having to go  to your favorite sports team’s game if you had tickets?  Well, actually, I am a big fan of many kinds of arts (definitely not sports… especially not ones that involve sitting outside to watch), but I do resent having to remember to go, having to make sure I’m dressed appropriately, having to deal with driving and parking, and having to stay up past my bedtime.  Plus, since we live in a small town, all such events tend to be on weekday nights anyway.  If I want to enjoy a weekend arts event, that requires driving into the city, something that is a major production so we only do it about once a month.  And we generally need to have the next day off to recover… doing nothing… so as to hit Monday ready to work again.

In fact, there aren’t many things in this small town that I want to do more than laze about at home with my family.  Maybe even *gasp* doing chores.  Because doing chores on the weekend together is actually kind of fun, even though it couldn’t possibly be, and even though chores should be crammed into the weekdays instead or hired out (nobody touches my underpants who isn’t related to me!).  We’re even a bit tired of things to do in the nearest real city (there’s only so many times one can see each museum and zoo and park) and have been considering exploring farther away large cities.

Now, when we were living in a city, it was much easier to have low-key planned activities every day without having to worry about stress or the clock.  We could walk to the Saturday farmer’s market, we could walk to a sushi place and a frozen yogurt place and to the library (which was even open on Sunday!).  The weather also tended to stay in the 2-digit range which made it easier to take advantage of such things.  And there were lots of untried restaurants and free activities a short drive away on the weekends (when traffic wasn’t as bad).  The bar to doing things was lower and they didn’t have to be truly planned with a set time.  Even so, the occasional weekend day off always ended with my partner saying, “I had a good day today.”  And I would reply, “Me too.”

Occasionally when I get cabin fever we’ll take an unplanned day and just get in the car and drive!  Those lead to fun times too, even if completely spur of the moment.  Sadly this part of the country has fewer bakeries and ice cream shops per capita than other parts of the country in which we have lived.  But we still find the occasional random tea shop or pie place.

Now, we’re not saying you should never do anything on the weekend.  We do something most weekends.  But we also cherish our days off.  The ones where we don’t get up until late (totally wasting the morning!) and the answer to, “Did we have anything planned today?” (or if partner is asking, “Do we have anywhere we need to be at?”) is “No.”  If you’re not happy with doing nothing, by all means, start planning stuff.  But if the thought of someone making you do something more on weekends makes you feel a bit possessive, then by golly, don’t force yourself to plan more activities.  Listen to your boredom and listen to your stress, and you should be ok.

There’s a reason many religions celebrate a Sabbath.

Vive la no pants!

Do you think every day of your life should be planned so that you get things done and always have something to look forward to?

Telling kids how they feel: a deliberately controversial post

One of the things I don’t like in many parenting books, but have found no research pro- or against- is this idea that you’re supposed to tell little kids how they’re feeling.  The books tend to call it “acknowledging feelings” and it’s what you’re supposed to do instead of praise, instead of solving kids’ problems, interfering in sibling conflicts, and a number of other verboten parent-interactions, depending on which parenting book or “expert” you’re following.

My first problem with this is, even if my kid is only two, how the hell am I supposed to know what he or she is feeling better than ze does?  Isn’t it presumptuous of me to say, “You’re sad because X” or “I can see that you’re angry”?  Sometimes I will ask, “Are you sad?” But, I’d get pretty pissed off if someone told *me* what I was feeling.  I think even very small children deserve more respect and agency than that.

My second problem with this, and mind you, this is correlation, not causation, is that I’ve hung around parents that use these techniques and their kids are either 1. holy terrors or 2. hold a bit of contempt (or just healthy ignoring) for their parents whenever their parents pull this crap.  In practice, it doesn’t seem effective.  But the parents who follow “experts” blindly tend to be less confident in their parenting in other ways, so it might be something else going on and not a problem with the actual (unproven) technique.

Do you think it’s appropriate to tell small children how they’re feeling?

Should parents pay for their childrens’ college?: A deliberately controversial post

A common discussion on PF blogs is whether or not parents should pay for a kid’s college education.  The discussants generally fall into two camps:  Yes, we are trying to save for it now (though often they don’t go into why) and here’s how, and No, we think kids should pay for their own education mainly to help build their character.

We at Grumpy Rumblings will flesh out some of these reasons, and discuss why we think some of the reasons may be more or less valid.

Yes:  Graduating without student loans is a great gift and can provide kids with a head start in life once they graduate.  They will also be better able to concentrate on their studies if they’re not forced to work all the time or go into massive debt.

No:  Kids whose parents pay may not take college seriously.  They may be more likely to goof off or drink or skip class etc.  College is expensive and parents should take care of their own wants and needs– kids can work or take out loans.  Learning how to pay off college loans isn’t a bad lesson.

Yes or No depending on your perspective:  Some of the differences in beliefs about paying for college seem to be in part class based.  One potential effect of parents paying for college is that students can follow what they’re interested in in terms of majors without having to think about how profitable that major is.  If you come from a privileged background, then being able to major in anything, even a *gasp* humanities major, is a benefit.  If you come from a less-privileged background, this may be considered to be a waste.  Similarly being allowed to experiment with different majors can be seen as a plus or a minus depending on the parent’s viewpoint.  Is college a coming of age experience vs. career preparation?  Is the goal to make the most money or to leave the world a better place?  One’s view of college depends greatly on one’s background.

What we think:

We do not believe that the best way to get kids to care about the value of an education is to make them pay for it.  The value of education in general can be instilled at home from an early age.  And if it doesn’t take, then we doubt that forcing the kid to work 40 hour weeks is going to make hir any more likely to attend class.  In fact, we think it’s going to make hir more likely to sleep through class if ze attends at all.  If that’s the case, then perhaps ze should be doing something else besides going to school.  #1’s parents paid 100% for her college education.  #2’s parents left her with a reasonable loan load.  They both took college very seriously, seriously enough to get into good graduate schools.

One thing that really bothers us is when wealthy parents refuse to pay at all for college.  The ones who value fancy cars and exotic vacations over paying for some of the kid’s tuition.  The problem is that when your parents are poor, you are pretty likely to get financial aid at some portion of the schools to which you’re accepted.  However, if you’re rich, that’s much less likely to happen unless you luck into some pretty amazing merit or sports scholarships.  That means a poor kid may be on the hook for 10K in subsidized loans after graduation, but a rich kid 40+K unsubsidized from a state school or upwards of 200K from a private school.  Even if the rich kid has had more opportunities K-12, it still seems to be an unfair burden to be on the hook for full-tuition with four years of unsubsidized loans.  Less wealthy parents should obviously secure their retirements first and their kids are likely to not come out with as horrific loan burdens precisely because of financial aid.

No matter what you decide, it’s a good idea to let kids know early on what to expect.  I felt so bad for my friends who applied and got in awesome places but then had to do 2 years at community college because their parents figured Hawaii and/or a new car was a better deal that year than paying some of the tuition at Dartmouth or Notre Dame.  On the other hand, knowing that I could go anywhere because my parents had been saving their whole lives opened up a world that would eventually propel me into a higher economic class.  If I hadn’t known I could go anywhere (and given how little money we had growing up, I wouldn’t have assumed I could), I might not have aimed as high.

Update:  Cherish the Scientist asks about her situation.

Do you think these reasons are valid?  Where do you stand on the paying for kid’s college education question?

A deliberately controversial post: The sins of the parents

should be visited on the kids.

This is a sentiment we often see on the internets.

Schools in poor neighborhoods are often terrible.  If the parents cared, they’d homeschool or move. (Because that’s totally an option for single moms on EITC working minimum wage jobs as best they can.)

We shouldn’t improve the quality of school lunches.  If parents cared, they’d be feeding their kids organic meals full of veggies made from scratch every night so one meal a day wouldn’t hurt them.

Personally we suspect a lot of this sentiment is disguised racism.  Who cares about black kids or Hispanic kids.  It’s their fault for being born something other than anglo-saxon.  But maybe not– the internet seems to think just as poorly of rural white parents from West Virginia.

We also suspect it’s a way that middle class folks feel superior.  We’re not like THOSE people.  Our kids will do just fine because we’re so wonderful.  Our schools are great not because everyone else in our neighborhood is able to pay higher property taxes, but because we made the decision to be (white and) middle class.

It’s parents’ fault is the repeated refrain.  That’s why schools are crumbling.  That’s why kids are fat.  That’s why kids are in bad schools.  Or don’t get enough to eat.  Or get kidnapped or shot.

We at Grumpy Rumblings say:  WHO CARES?

Whether it’s parents fault or not, Won’t somebody think of the children?

Kids could have crappy parents and still get a great education if all kids had access to great schools.  Sure, some kids may be too damaged to benefit from even the best interventions, but what about the bulk of kids who could benefit?  Who through no fault of their own are stuck in poverty with little way out?  Imagine if they had great preschools, safe neighborhoods, healthy food, high quality K-12… the chance to take a calculus class.  Maybe they’d have a chance to live the American Dream.

Even if their parents suck.

Cleanliness is next to cleanser in the dictionary: a deliberately controversial post

Why do we have to train our kids to want to be tidy?

Yes, we need our kids to be polite and respectful of others’ spaces.  They need to know the basics of how to clean a floor or a dish or make a bed or whatever, because some day they may be a guest in someone else’s house and when you’re in someone else’s house you need to be a good guest.   But why do they need to get uneasy, unhappy, upset, etc. when a room isn’t clean?  Isn’t the ability to deal with a little bit of mess a much more important skill than the need to make sure a room is clean?

Many (but not all) women I talk to can’t even comprehend this idea.  They look at me like I’m nuts.  Eyes narrow.  Conversation gets really awkward.  Cleanliness really is next to Godliness and is something we should all be striving for and God hates those who don’t clean up after themselves.  Usually it’s women who are SAHM or who are WOHM but always stressed out and complaining about not having any time and having husbands who don’t help out enough that are most unable to comprehend the idea.   Really, just let things go.  It may even help your relationship!

(For some reason, I’ve never met a man, other than the rare case who has been formally diagnosed with OCD, who seems to have this hang-up.   A pathology in men is the social norm for women.  IBTP.  Also:  think about the implications this situation has for gender division of chores in a game theoretic framework.  The person who cares is the one who does the work.  The one who does the housework gets to relax less at home.  And bam, you’ve just supported a Gary Becker hypothesis about wage-gender differentials.)

But I think they *can’t* let things go because having things cluttered really bothers them.  It gets down deep into the craw.  And yet they want their children to have the same disability.  The same visceral need to have the place be spotless.  As if it’s a virtue.

I don’t mind a house being clean, but I don’t mind it being messy either.  Messy houses are more comfortable.  Clean houses are more like places one goes to visit.  Both have their virtues, but neither one bothers me.  Obviously there’s a problem with broken glass, rusty nails, excrement etc… but that kind of thing is not going to be an issue with the average family (even if news reports make that kind of thing seem more common).

We don’t have a house-cleaner.  We don’t need our house to be spotless.  We don’t need it to be tidy.  If company comes, we clean.  If stuff is in the way on the floor, it gets moved out of the way.   It doesn’t take that much cleaning to make sure that the kitchen and bathrooms aren’t going to be giving anyone salmonella.  Things that need to be found in a hurry are organized (like spices or paperwork).  But that level of cleanliness sure as heck doesn’t require the fly-lady.  Or spending $80/week on a cleaner.

Disclaimer:  We are NOT saying there’s something wrong with you if your house is clean.  If you have the time or the money and it’s something you value, go for it.  But if you don’t have either and it’s stressing you out, we feel bad for you.  Sure, one solution might be to somehow find time, money or family support to get things shiny, but another is to work on being more comfortable with something less than perfection.  And the ability to live with imperfection is a gift we should give all our daughters (and sons).

Does your house have to be clean?  Do you need to train your kids to become neat and tidy?  Does a made bed (Gretchin Rubin’s hang-up) or kitchen sink you can see your face in (flylady’s thing) make that stress you didn’t know you had go away?  Are you unable to function in a cluttered environment?  Do you worry about “what others must think”?  Does a messy house make you feel like less of a person… less of a woman?

Should kids come first? A deliberately controversial post.

My kids don’t come first. My FAMILY comes first. Kids who come first end up being entitled little pricks with helicopter parents who are PITA in the classroom and in life until they get beaten down when they’re finally away from their parents. Our family is a team with all members equally important (based on need and so on) and all members pulling their weight. My family has produced generations of strong successful responsible middle-class working women and men who are proud of their parents and siblings with this strategy.

You can try to guilt me into thinking I’m a terrible mother, but what I do worked for my mother and her mother and her mother before her and so on. I turned out perfect, as did my sister (as did my mom and aunts). My kid is turning out perfect. If I changed anything, then we might move away from that optimum. My kid is strong and independent and loved and ze’s not going to be the one who is helpless at college when it comes to taking care of hirself. Ze’ll be the one showing other kids how to do their laundry or grocery shop and so on, just like I was. There’s a satisfaction in being able to do things yourself.

You can try to make me feel guilty for being selfish instead of selfless.  You can quote Horatio Storer at me, that 19th century intellectual who worked tirelessly to ban abortion, among other things.  This ideal that the angelic innocent mother should sacrifice herself for her children (her sons, really… daughters are only important if they’re going to bear grandsons) is an upper-middle-class Victorian ideal made possible only on the backs of the starving working class of an industrializing society.  They’re the products of modern surplus.  And one that my family has never bought into– we were too tied to the land at that time, traveling across the Western US in covered wagons.  Pioneer women don’t have time to stand on pedestals or to raise Little Lord Fauntleroys.

And because we all had to pull our fair shares, whether to stay alive or just to make the work-life balance work for everyone, we perhaps grew up thinking that we should spoil our parents rather than the other way around.  We should do chores without being asked.  We should do our best to behave and entertain ourselves.  And it’s much more pleasant spending decades as a mom being treated a little bit like a princess by spouse and progeny after waiting on one’s own mother (though we call it “helping out” and “being thoughtful”), than it would be having to reverse that.  It’s nice having something to look forward to rather than something to dread.  (Guilt-free too!)

And that is definitely not to say that SAHP are, by definition, helicopter parents. They’re not. Most of them have lives outside their children. Most of them know how to discipline their children so they don’t try to brain other kids with tool-boxes. But folks who try to lecture me on being a bad person because I don’t have to work but I do anyway (or who were passive-aggressive at my mom growing up)– IRL at least, their kids tend to be spoiled brats incapable of polite relations with society.  That probably has nothing to do with their choice in work-status.  But the idea that they have to martyr themselves because the children come first and all mothers who aren’t martyrs are, by extension, miserable sinners… well, that’s not really healthy for anyone.  Especially not their daughters.  Or for their sons…

Bottom line:  Family first as a team.  Children first makes for a pretty depressing adulthood for the kids to look forward to and may result in a lack of  grandchildren.

What say you?  Kids first?  Family first?  Furbabies first?

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