Stick with me for a minute on this. We spend half of our national debate time talking about how economically fragile Americans feel. Why do you think that is? Well, there’s the whopping disproportion of national wealth flowing into the pockets of the already-wealthy. And the plummeting power of labor unions.I'm all for helping poor families send their children to preschool; my kids loved preschool. But this argument considers the raising of children essentially as an impediment to women working for pay, and that makes me shudder. That some women might want to stay home with their children because they find that more fulfilling than office politics seems never to have occurred to Gail Collins. But then she has an awesome job, senior editor and columnist for the New York Times.
But women falling out of the work force is also a huge deal. It reduces family standards of living and puts a crimp in the economy. And why do you think this is happening? One of the reasons is clearly, positively, absolutely the cost of child care.
It’s incredible that we’ve built a society that relies on women in the labor force yet makes no discernible effort to deal with this problem. . . .
We generally — and rightly — talk about early childhood education as something that’s critical because it increases kids’ chances of success in school. But as Carmel Martin of the Center for American Progress points out, “there’s also evidence of a positive effect on the economy over all.”
The goal of human life is not maximum economic productivity, or the highest possible test scores for children. Whenever we design our policies around those goals, we need to ask ourselves if we might be interfering with something else a lot more important, like the search for meaning or the formation of communities. I think, as I keep saying, that the biggest thing driving Americans out of the work force is that so much about our jobs is miserable: we spend our time struggling against red tape, micromanagement, productivity drives, and management fads, all in pursuit of nebulous goals in corporations set up as pyramid schemes. Is getting more mothers away from their children and into such jobs really a noble end? Could we instead put our efforts into figuring out ways to make office work less awful, creating educational systems that actually encourage learning, and other things that might make people want to work?