Tuesday, June 9, 2009

We're Not All Spocks

According to this article on npr's website, the city government in Greensboro, NC is paying teenage female students $1 for every day that they're not pregnant, in an effort to reduce teenage pregnancies. As a result of this plan, the teenage pregnancy rates in Greensboro have dropped dramatically. Some economists and psychologists explain this as a phenomenon that traditional economics cannot explain. Traditionally, economists have built their models based on what the perfectly rational person would do. Since experience has proven that these super-human rationalists do not exist outside of the Vulcan world, liberal economists are suggesting that we (and our government) should "nudge" the irrational away from poor decision-making.

While I'm all for "nudging", I fail to comprehend why certain American tax-payers, who are just doing their part to make a living, provide for their families, and maybe help a few other people along the way (by their own, direct choosing), are responsible for providing the "nudge" - in the form of their own hard, and well-earned income. Maybe this "nudge" should be implimented in a more positive way for the government, and for its hard-working, honest, clean, and mostly rational citizens. Say, for instance, instead of giving teen girls money for not getting pregnant, the government could enforce a law that pregnant teens should be imprisoned, and then educate them of this law. That's basically what they're doing to themselves anyway by "allowing" themselves to become pregnant. They are committing themselves to a lifetime of strife, and committing their child to the same. That is, if these young mothers choose to carry their fetus to term. If it was common knowledge that teen girls under the age of, say, 18 got sent to institutions for the rest of their lives, I think the effect would be similar to giving them money. Maybe the way to knock some sense into people is by empowering them to make rational decisions based on their fear of the consequences for them not making those good decisions.

I can hear the argument now: For a teenage girl, the consequence of having a baby at their young age is already a fear. They already know they'd be trapping themselves in a life that is much more difficult than they had planned, where their dreams will be that much harder to achieve. I haven't been a teenager for years, and the thought of becoming pregnant at this stage of my life is terrifying to me. For some reason, however, I can think rationally about this, and stop those hormones from taking over my life, and use my brain. These teenage girls are not all stupid. They may come from backgrounds that are not the best influences, that have not molded them into perfect little future lawyers, doctors, etc. But that doesn't make them stupid. We should be giving these girls more credit for their smarts, not money to bribe them into not having unprotected sex. Young people who grew up in 'bad' neighborhoods, in poverty, with poor education systems often end up having better common sense and street smarts than those who have been pampered from birth. But, I doubt you'll see too many city governments passing out checks to teenage girls at the country club. Why is that? Because their parents protect them from boys? Because they don't have the people skills to interact with a member of the opposite sex, let alone sleep with one? Because their teachers told them not to have unprotected sex? Are we really expected to believe that less-well-off cities have teachers who promote their students engaging in such activities? I don't think so.

Put on your thinking cap, Mr. mayor, economists, and psychologists, because this one doesn't sit well with me, and I have a feeling it's not going to sit well with a lot of other folks out there either.

On a more extremist end, earlier tonight, Andrew posed this simple solution to the problem: kill all pregnant teens. That's a bit more than the "nudge" that would likely be most effective - more like a wallop.

Thanks to @GuyKawasaki for tweeting the link out to his Twitter-following world via npr.

No comments: