20 October 2007 - 13:48Randomized reassignment of children

… and no parent is to know his own child, nor any child his parent. — Plato, 360 B.C.

Ok, when someone pointed out this idea of mine goes back 2400 years to Plato I felt a bit late to the party, but in good company. I had the thought when I had heard one too many times the “conservative” (feel the air quotes) idea that everyone stars off equal and the best rise to the top, while the same people push for elimination of the inheritance tax (the so-call “death tax”).

Obviously in our society (and probably all societies) children born into rich families have a huge leg up on those that aren’t. The true conservative ideal would be for everyone to start out really equal–i.e. a 100% inheritance tax. Thinking further, I had the idea of random reassignment of babies. All babies born in a certain period are simply given to other parents who also had babies during the same period. This has several good effects, to which no conservative should object, and which are universally appealing liberal values:

First, it serves to remove the inherent inequity of the correlation between genetics and inherited wealth. Secondly, it will reduce racist tendencies–any parent can end up with children of any race. Finally, imagine parents who for whatever reason are more interested in the well-being of their genetic offspring than of the children they are charged with raising. Since they cannot find their biological children, all they can do to improve their lot is to promote the general welfare, making sure there are things like good public education and health care.

A modification of this plan could also include parents unable to have children. The randomization also in effect isolating the chance of not having children from the biological inability to produce them. And unwanted children can be placed into the pool as well, automatically taking care of adoption.

I have found, despite the Platonic pedigree of this idea, that it is unpopular among those with children, and that it is quite unwise to try to discuss it with expectant mothers. But then, I am perhaps not wise.

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