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A Coupon for Kids

Summary:
Imagine I offer you a coupon for “CHOCOLATE – 25% off!” and you respond… You fail to consider that chocolate is fattening!  Also, it can kill dogs.  And it’s linked to acne.  Furthermore, many people are diabetic.  And lots of people are too poor to buy chocolate even if it’s 50% off.  I also have to tell you that chocolate melts.  Sometimes it makes your hands sticky.  And when you’re hands are covered with melted chocolate, you might get ugly stains on your clothes.  And dry cleaning costs money. I trust you’ll agree that this is a bizarre reaction to a chocolate coupon.  Reasonable people will save their breath and do one of the following: a. Take the coupon, buy as much chocolate as they originally planned, and enjoy the extra consumer surplus. b. Take the

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A Coupon for Kids

Imagine I offer you a coupon for “CHOCOLATE – 25% off!” and you respond…

You fail to consider that chocolate is fattening!  Also, it can kill dogs.  And it’s linked to acne.  Furthermore, many people are diabetic.  And lots of people are too poor to buy chocolate even if it’s 50% off.  I also have to tell you that chocolate melts.  Sometimes it makes your hands sticky.  And when you’re hands are covered with melted chocolate, you might get ugly stains on your clothes.  And dry cleaning costs money.

I trust you’ll agree that this is a bizarre reaction to a chocolate coupon.  Reasonable people will save their breath and do one of the following:

a. Take the coupon, buy as much chocolate as they originally planned, and enjoy the extra consumer surplus.

b. Take the coupon, buy more chocolate than they originally planned, and enjoy the extra consumer surplus.

c. Discard the coupon.

But after my Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids argued that parents could safely curtail many of the unpleasant features of child-rearing, critics often responded…

You fail to consider that kids cost money!  Also, pregnancy is sometimes dangerous.  And moms have to do most of the work.  Lots of people just don’t find parenting appealing.  Many people can’t afford to have any more kids.  And it’s hard to travel if you have kids.  Also, kids nowadays aren’t much help with the chores, like they were back when we were farmers.  And once you’re kids start going to school, they’ll probably bring home some contagious diseases.

While the critics naturally think they’re making telling points against my thesis, they’re not.  All I’m offering is a coupon for kids – a way to get the same kids with less pain and expense.  So even if all the critics’ “objections” are true, reasonable people will save their breath and do one of the following:

a. Take the coupon, have as many kids as they originally planned, and enjoy the extra consumer surplus.

b. Take the coupon, have more kids than they originally planned, and enjoy the extra consumer surplus.

c. Discard the coupon.

The story changes, admittedly, if the complaints were not just true, but weighty and surprising.  If I offered you a chocolate coupon, and you accurately responded, “Haven’t you heard that chocolate is the sole cause of cancer?!,” then I should definitely reconsider my marketing campaign.  Analogously, if I offered you a kids coupon, and you accurately responded, “Haven’t you heard that kids are the sole cause of cancer?!,” then I should definitely reconsider my natalist cheerleading.

Otherwise, however, save your breath.  You can’t credibly counter a coupon with a long list of familiar drawbacks of the discounted product.

Bryan Caplan
Bryan Caplan is Professor of Economics at George Mason University and Senior Scholar at the Mercatus Center. He has published in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, the American Economic Review, the Economic Journal, the Journal of Law and Economics, and Intelligence, and has appeared on 20/20, FoxNews, and C-SPAN. Bryan Caplan blogs on EconLog.

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