An economist's outside-the-box new idea to level the American playing field
- An economist has proposed giving every child born in America up to $60,000 in a trust fund.
- Inequality is locked-in with the current system in which wealth is largely inherited.
- A "reverse social security" to promote Americans' security and well-being.
Education is considered the great equalizer, but what happens when access to it is anything but equal, as is the case in the U.S. these days? With the top-earning 10% holding 75% of the country's wealth, the great equalizer's just not an option for many. Public schools are often undervalued and underfunded, and higher education has become prohibitively expensive—or family-budget wrecking, especially for families with multiple kids.
Last week, economist at the New School Darrick Hamilton told a TED conference that the U.S. should inaugurate a "baby trust" to give all kids born in the US a trust fund of up to $60,000 at birth. It's a stunningly different proposal, and it might work if it can get enough traction to become reality.
What the 'baby trust' about?
Hamilton sees it as a sort of reverse social security for the beginning of life, "an economic birth right to capital for everyone." The plan would give the average newborn around $25,000, or more for the poorest babies, up to $60,000. Every child would get at least $500. The resulting nest egg would not be a gift so much as a remedy for a system currently out of balance. Inequality is a growing problem in the U.S. with no solution in sight other than tweaks to the tax codes and talk of placing more rigorous controls on CEO pay. It won't go away by itself, after all. As Hamilton says, "Without capital, inequality is locked in."
The idea to make all American kids trust-fund babies is, of course, radical in a country where the greatest wealth is simply passed down through families. At the same time as a child lucky enough to be born into a well-off family can expect a comfortable, healthy life ahead, the opposite is true for everyone else. As Hamilton reminded his audience, "Wealth is the paramount indicator of economic security and well-being."
How it would work
It's more than just a purely financial advantage, as Hamilton notes, "It is time to get beyond the false narrative that attributes inequalities to individual personal deficits, while largely ignoring the advantages of wealth." The implication that the less fortunate somehow deserve their lot is an additional—and insidious—barrier to climbing out of financial difficulty. "Inequality is primarily a structural problem, not a behavioral one," Hamilton told his TED audience.
Each child's trust fund would be held aside until adulthood by the federal government, and would earn an annual 2% to adjust its value to keep up with inflation. At maturity, each person would take over management of the money, hopefully investing it wisely in their future. The finer details have yet to be worked out, and obviously many—perhaps especially those doing well under the current distribution of wealth—will likely characterize it as ridiculous, and expensive at an estimated $100 billion a year. Still, many economist feel current levels of inequality are [unsustainable], and, Hamilton notes, the cost of his program is "far less than the $500-plus billion that's already being spent by the federal government on asset promotion through tax credits and subsidies."
Infants can learn a lot about the world—if adults know the right ways to encourage them.
Infants come equipped with higher learning skills—it's up to adults to encourage their development, and foster their natural sense of agency. So what's the best way to do that? Help them create their stimuli, not just consume it, says parenting expert Janet Lansbury. Screens are a fact of life for the modern infant, following them everywhere they go in their parents' hands or pockets. How does screen-based learning affect their development? Mobile devices aren't the devil, but understanding how an infant's mind is developing can help you choose the best toys for the kid in your life. Screens, even small ones, can be incredibly overstimulating. Babies are soaking in their environment constantly, and their senses are stimulated by the movement of hair, light coming through the window, a small noise—they are all mysteries a baby tries to solve. Screens are entertaining, but their mystery is too complex and it doesn't adequately demonstrate the cause and effect needed for learning. Lansbury explains how to choose the toys that will help kids become active learners—exercising their creativity and analytic mind— rather than being passive learners. Janet Lansbury is the author of No Bad Kids: Toddler Discipline Without Shame and Elevating Child Care: A Guide to Respectful Parenting
A baby is born from a controversial procedure that combines DNA from 3 people.
A healthy baby boy was born utilizing a new "3 parent" technique, which combines DNA from 3 people. The technique is controversial and is, in fact, banned in the U.S. This did not stop a US-based team to perform the procedure in Mexico for a Jordanian couple in what is being called a breakthrough for fertility medicine.
The mother of the boy carries genes for the fatal Leigh Syndrome, which affects a developing child's nervous system. The syndrome affects a quarter of her mitochondria, which is responsible for providing energy to cells. The couple already lost two children to the genetic abnormality, one at age 6 and one at only 8 months old.
To overcome the mutations in the mother's mitochondria, the DNA from her egg was placed in a healthy egg from a donor, which first had its nuclear DNA removed. Then this resulting egg was fertilized with the father's sperm.
The procedure has been controversial because it utilizes genetic material from a third person in addition to the couple. Critics see such research as going down the slippery slope of genetic engineering while scientists hail it as groundbreaking.
“This is huge,” told Dr. Richard J. Paulson, president-elect of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, to the New York Times.
Scientists hope that the success in this case can start changing attitudes towards procedures such mitochondrial transfers which they believe can help people. They point out that it's not really appropriate to call this a "3 parent" procedure.
As Dr. Paulson explained: “Mitochondria do not define who you are.” This is because genetic material for how a person looks and other characteristics are carried in the nuclear DNA, which is stripped from the donor's eggs in this technique.
The team performing the procedure was led by Dr. John Zhang, medical director of the New Hope Fertility Center in New York. His previous attempt to carry out the procedure in China in 2013 was unsuccessful.
Here's a helpful video from the New Scientist which summarizes the technique: