This House Supports Filial Responsibility Laws

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Ashish Kumar, 2016 HWS Round Robin

Check the video here.


Opening

There is something genuinely bizarre happening in the status quo. If you’re a child and your parent neglects you, the state forces the parent to pay you damages. Often for the rest of your life. But there is no reciprocal burden if you as a child, who is dependent on your parents for life, neglects them.

There’s somehow no duty on your part whatsoever to ensure the basic minimum standards of living for the people who sacrificed so much for your life. Michael and I are going to close that gap.

Model

Our policy is four-fold.

  1. Your obligation to your parent can have both monetary and non-monetary forms.
  2. To the extent it’s monetary, it’ll be based on your capacity to afford it. It won’t be a flat rate for everyone because if a poor person fails to make their living income, it might be quite draconian.
  3. The state will top up whatever is remaining. There will be no starving parents in our side to be sure. If you only pay 5%, that’s enough, the state will pay for the rest.
  4. We’re going to enforce this fairly aggressively in the cases where people are caught violating these laws. Over time a norm will form, then people generally take care of their parents, because getting caught and the need to pay massive fines will be a huge deterrent.

Arguments

  1. Principle of moral reciprocity, why it applies in this instance and a child has a moral obligation which the state must enforce to look after the parents.

2. Practically, why this solves problems parents have and why this solves some problems in the status quo with regards to elderly parents.

Argument #1:  Moral reciprocity

I think we should accept first of all that the sacrifices parents make for their children are not just immense, but to a certain extent, quite obscene! The point at which as a 30-year-old all your dreams and aspirations of the person you want to be die in a ditch happens when you have when you have your very first child. From that moment, the financial pressures on you are immense.

The amount of time you have to just have a good life when every single night your child cries at 3AM and you need to change their nappies sounds trivial, but across the sum total of 3 years, it means your life is literally dictated by every single whim this individual has.

I have not talked about the time and the money, the financial resource bound to these individual that you now cannot have to achieve your own vision of the good life.

Now, sure, this wouldn’t be as much of a problem if the decision to have a child and to care for it was a purely voluntary one. But that is not the society that we live in. We tell you that parents are coerced to having children and caring for them when they happen for lots of reasons.

In the first instance, this doesn’t cover all the cases, but it’s important. Many parents just don’t agree to have children. This is very prevalent among the communities where familial structures are a bit weak, like low income communities. Often a child, and this sounds cruel to say, is the outcome of rather unfortunate instances of sexual intercourse

And even if you do consent to have a child, you don’t consent to all that child’s arbitrary pecularities. Like the personality they happen to have. You might want an obedient child, what if the child is incredibly rebellious and you spend a lot more time disciplining him?


POI: This seems to be a point about the society owing a responsibility to these individuals, rather than the child owing a responsibility to these individuals, because the child never chose to be born or had any control comparatively in this situation.

Answer: If you say the fact that the child did not ask to be born and no moral consequence can flow from that life, then that’s absurd. Because then no moral consequence can flow out of any life existing because all life is in fact arbitrary. So we don’t think taking into account the fact that birth is arbitrary is enough.


But also, look. There’s huge amounts of legal coercion. The moment a child is borne, often you have no choice. Either adopting but society massively condemns you for the vast majority of instances, or you’ll be forced to take care of the child, or you’ll be prosecuted for the exact same negligence laws that we want to apply in the reverse direction.

We also say there’s a lot of biological coercion. So the unfortunate fact that the way we are made, when a child is borne, especially women, are coerced carrying this weird tumorous thing which came out of your body, because oxytocin floods your system and you have not very much choice in the matter to begin with.

All of this is, apart from this, there is a conservative society where you’re obliged to have a child as a couple and take care of it to “continue the family line”.

So there’s quite a lot of coercion, and it basically tells parents, even though your type of child is quite arbitrary, we’re just going to make you look after it, because it’s too inconvenient for us to do it.

But what does this mean? If the state coerces you, it then owes you a reciprocal obligation. In specific, the child owes you a reciprocal obligation. Think about how this works. So the state coerces you. We justify that under the basis that it gives you some benefits.

When the existence of the child itself is the direct causal link for the vast majority of the coercion which the state places upon you, and crucially, when the child is the sole recipient of the benefits of all those coercive forces, the child is the one who owes that benefit back to the parents. Exactly the same way the state owes their citizens duties for coercing them in all sorts of circumstances.

Therefore it’s profoundly immoral that when parents owe children obligations to not mistreat them, there is no reciprocal obligation. We are going to create that and the state enforces that.

Argument #2: Need

Let us just recognize that aged parents are a vulnerable demographic, and the state barely has incentives to cater to them in terms of welfare provision.

For a start, they just are not a group of swing voters.

Most of the time, by the time they’ve aged, the views have changed and ocified, so political parties don’t reach out to them.

Most of the time, turnout among that group, it’s high, but crucially, it’s consistent, so most political campaigns don’t cater to their interest

And let’s not forget the fact that because they’re not seen as economically productive, there’s often little economic reason for states to cater large amounts of welfare to take care of them.

And I just want to point out that many of the harms which parents specifically face in their old age stem from the fact that they sacrificed so much of their life for their child in the very first place.

There’s a reason why rates of depression among stay-at-home moms are the highest of any large demographic in a society.

All those harms I talked about become more severe in old age when you don’t have the healthy organs you need to live a good life.

Crucially, why is it that the state cannot be the one paying for this?

Apart from the political considerations – it’s difficult – it’s good if the kids can top up what the state can’t naturally provide.

The needs of parents are not static. If you develop a certain illness, if you develop a certain psychological condition, going through the welfare systems takes months and literally years before that change ever happens. The state simply does not have the information with which to make the intimate day-to-day quick reactions which children can. So it’s good that the state outsources duties to children who know parents well so they can react fast.

And note, this is the exact same reason why the state makes parents care for children. Because only parents know children best. So this is the exact mirror of the logic which we use to impose duties on parents. The exact reverse applies.