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November 05, 2008


David Heigham

The theoretical argument for a Pigouvian tax is admirable. However, there are three principal agents at work influencing how far a child fulfils her or his potential at school: parents and immediate family, education of the parents of others in the class, and the school and its teachers. Who pays?

Frank H Little

How does it look if the gender is reversed: should we sterilise promiscuous males?


Why not just sterilise everyone? That'll limit your external costs, if they concern you so much.

Bloody hell Chris, all actions have some costs, but if you can even bother to provide justification for this profoundly wrong proposition, then it's time you lifted your eyes from 'pdf' reports and statistics and gave your moral compass a little run around.


From your various postings, with bleak personal anecdotes, this proposal could have meant you would not have been born.


There is already in place in this country the power for civil servants to remove new-born babies from "unfit" mothers, which is frequently used.

Bob B

For decades, Social Democrat Sweden used to apply a policy of compulsory sterilisation of girls and young women judged unfit to become mothers.

Presumably, the under-pinning rationale was the usual Benthamite principle of "greatest happiness of the greatest number". Certainly, it could and can be argued that having anti-social children is an other-regarding action in JS Mill's classification: "The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant." [On Liberty]

DH: "there are three principal agents at work influencing how far a child fulfils her or his potential at school: parents and immediate family, education of the parents of others in the class, and the school and its teachers."

Fair enough but there are also potent neighbourhood effects, exemplified at worst by so-called Post Code gangs, which exert a powerful influence on the young who seek friendships and want very much to belong to peer groups.

What chance to teens have of getting their 5 GCSE passes at A*-C grades, including English and maths, where around half or more of the maintained secondary schools in their respective local education authorities are unable to get even 30% of 16 year-olds to that standard.

Percentage of maintained secondary schools unable to attain the standard in:

Bristol 63% Sandwell 60% Manchester 57% Barnsley 57% NE Lincs 56% Nottingham 56% Hull 50% Walsall 50% Knowsley 50%

Of course, it will come as a surprise to many if Bristol is now to be regarded as one of Britain's poorer areas with 63% of the maintained secondary schools there failing the 30% hurdle.

Btw on a pedantic point of high theory, I always understood that to assess the optimal Pigovian taxes, it was necessary to know where the (or 'a') Paretian optimum is. Do we?


Quite: I'd prefer a system where, if the child is badly brought up, it bears its own costs and is made to be responsible for making good its own misdemeanours.

Then we can all tell the state to shove off.

passer by

"that parents be fined if their children do badly at school."

Really? what if the schools are crap?
What if human beings are not the blank slates that western culture thinks they are, which has a lot of new neurological science to back that claim up? see Mr Pinker.

OR how about, instead of paying poorer people and in the main we are talking about them benefits for having children, how about we pay them more NOT to have any.


It may be a good policy even if poor educational outcomes are more the fault of schools than parents:



I found high school fantastically boring myself. A few years out, I became interested in intellectual affairs. Why should my parents have been fined for their child doing terribly in a school they were compelled to attend? How illiberal.

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