Tuesday Talk*: Daycare Isn’t Infrastructure, But So What?

Roads and bridges need to be maintained or they fail. This is an uncontroversial point, and it includes all manner of physical plant necessary to maintain a functioning society. But it is, by definition, limited to our durable physical plant, an investment in the structures, things, that will be there for us in the future. So what’s the big deal about including daycare as part of our infrastructure?

Like many progressives, I like the Biden administration’s plan to invest in infrastructure, but really love its plans to invest more in people. There’s a good case for doing more to improve physical assets like roads, water supplies and broadband networks. There’s an overwhelming case for doing more to help families with children.

There are two glaring problems inherent in Paul Krugman’s opening paragraph. The first is that it’s based on emotion, that he really loves the Biden plan, as if things Krugman loves is the dividing line between good policy and bad policy. The second is that he conflates infrastructure with the “case for doing more to help families with children.” Whether helping “families with children” is good policy, and if so, how and to what extent, is an entirely fair question. But that question has absolutely nothing to do with whether it’s infrastructure.

To Republican politicians, however, the opposite is true. G.O.P. opposition to President Biden’s infrastructure plans has felt low-energy, mainly involving word games about the meaning of “infrastructure” and tired repetition of old slogans about big government and job-killing tax hikes. Attacks on the family plan have, though, been truly venomous; Republicans seem really upset about proposals to spend more on child care and education.

That Republican pols are ugly doesn’t make Biden’s plan pretty or satisfy the definition of infrastructure. It may well be true that Republicans are playing word games and are not being sincere in their arguments against the very expensive scheme, but that similarly doesn’t mean that burying child care in a plan to rebuild bridges and tunnels, highways and water mains, makes it immune from question, challenge or criticism. It’s not infrastructure and has no business riding the coattails of infrastructure like it’s some mob offer that can’t be refused. Hey, nice bridge you got there. It would be a shame if it fell down.

If the issue of child care were removed from the infrastructure bill, would it be able to stand on its own? Would Americans want it at all, and if so, within what parameters? This is a discussion that ought to be had, but won’t be because it’s not a stand-alone proposal and has been strategically incorporated in a completely unrelated scheme that has broad support by the undefinitioning of infrastructure.

The idea is that in order for women to achieve equality in the workplace, they need to be able to leave their homes, which means leaving their children in someone else’s care. There are studies showing that there are socialization benefits to doing so, and there are studies showing there are benefits to children being cared for by their family. Regardless, some parents choose to forego work to raise their children while others do not. And some don’t have the option, as not working means their children not eating.

In the old days, this was all viewed as a matter of choice of priorities, with reliance on families and friends, and dependence on the social safety net that had far too many gaps and holes to fulfill its promise. But is this plan really about helping the poor single mother or relieving the burden of child rearing from yuppies who believe they’re entitled to fulfill their dreams of finding a satisfying career without their damn annoying kids bothering them as they climb the ladder of self-actualization?

No, daycare isn’t durable or a structure, so it has no business being twisted into an infrastructure bill. But that doesn’t mean it’s not a good and worthy thing to do, or the financing of parental self-indulgence on the backs of the poor and at the expense of their children. Just because it’s hidden inside an infrastructure bill doesn’t mean this should avoid critique. So what is it and, if it should be done, how so?

*Tuesday Talk rules apply.

39 thoughts on “Tuesday Talk*: Daycare Isn’t Infrastructure, But So What?

  1. Guitardave

    Another idiotic non-issue.
    Bridges are good.
    Child care is good.
    The only ‘word games’ being played are by the morons who want to re-define everything.

  2. Howl

    A trillion here, a trillion there, and pretty soon you’re talking real money.
    That’s it. I’ve had it. I’m done.

  3. What Women Want

    The daycare proposal is further proof that Democrats have completely become the party of the professional working class. When a representative sample of women are polled, an overwhelming majority of them say that if money was not an issue they would prefer to either stay at home completely or work part time while raising young children. The women who want to work full time while their children are young are in the minority, so a pro-family plan that represented the preferences of all would be more of a direct payment to parents than daycare specific subsidies.

      1. What Women Want

        Pew Research – Mothers and work: What’s ’ideal’? and Gallup “Children a Key Factor in Women’s Desire to Work Outside the Home”

        I know you don’t like links in general, so I didn’t include them.

  4. Charles

    “Like many progressives, I like the Biden administration’s plan to invest in infrastructure, but really love its plans to invest more in people.”

    If that’s what’s so great about the bill, then why not call it the “Investment in People and Infrastructure Act” and let people debate the merits of that?

    The fact that they cannot call it what it is suggests either that they liked their little initialism (the LIFT America Act?) or they didn’t think the “people” part was is as popular with the people as it is with Krugman.

  5. Miles

    If the core problem to be fixed was poor single mothers working minimum wage jobs, then the solution would be to fix the holes in the safety net. But if the issue is that one half of couples with children would be required to either stay home, privately pay for care or make alternative arrangements, then the problem is that women don’t want their children to hinder their personal career desires and married men who aren’t willing to give up their careers to accommodate their wife’s career.

    At another time, this would be a tough nuggies issue, but instead it will be a burden on everyone in society to pay for or otherwise accommodate women who don’t see why they or their spouse should have to suffer the burden of their choices and be denied the future of their dreams.

    I don’t know how pervasive this is among mothers (or parents, as the case may be), but it is certainly a loud issue for a certain group of woke women.

  6. Jake

    Suggesting that only durable structures fit the definition of infrastructure is a facile argument that plays well to the cheap seats but does nothing to advance the conversation in any meaningful way. It completely ignores the fundamental question: What is the purpose of infrastructure?

    Many olds may believe 20th Century infrastructure was put in place to make it easier to get over the river and through the woods to grandma’s house for dinner but this analysis falls laughably short of the reasons why society came together to build rails, roads, bridges, seaports, and airports. Like everything else, it’s the economy, stupid.

    Now we’re in the 21st Century and we’re all (men and women) working from home. Data has been declared the most valuable resource known to mankind. Deeper thinkers are willing to stretch their minds and ask: What infrastructure will support the economy today? Suggestions are made. Naturally, the olds and primitive thinkers will grumble. “That ain’t fit my definition of infrastructure!”

    1. Miles

      I am now absolutely certain that Scott pays you to write these comments to make everyone else feel less stupid.

    2. Charles

      You’re absolutely right.

      I don’t need to use bridges or roads because all of my food comes from Instacart and Uber Eats.

      Why didn’t I think of that?

      1. SHG Post author

        Oddly enough (and I say that given Jake’s complete rejection of child care, the topic of the post), he has a point. Not his humpty-dumpty nonsense, but just as the truck on the highway carrying his veggie patties isn’t infrastructure while the highway is, because words have definitions to us olds, data is vital to the economy even though data isn’t infrastructure either.

        However, the mechanisms to deliver and receive data are infrastructure. Cell towers, transmitters, antennae, wires, cables, etc., must all be there for data to happen, and they are durable physical plant requirements. Now, what that means for child care remains a mystery, but Jake works in mysterious ways.

        1. Jake

          “(and I say that given Jake’s complete rejection of child care, the topic of the post)”

          Maybe it’s because I’m long enough in the tooth to recognize how negotiation works on capital hill in the era of the 24-hour outrage machine and smart enough to recognize the Macguffin slipped in there to distract one side or the other while the real business gets done.

          PS- Pshht. Veggie burgers. As if. I will only stand for so much insult. I’ll have you know I have lost 20 lbs in the last 3 months on the Keto diet and today I got up early to grill short ribs before dropping them in the crock pot for my dinner.

    3. DaveL

      Just about every economic activity that exists can be considered to support or further the economy. Feeding workers? Surely. Feeding workers’ children so they don’t have to? Why not? Making a part needed to fix the oven that is used to feed workers children? It would seem to follow, and so on down the line.

      Deeper thinkers might wonder why, if infrastructure is in fact no different from the economy as a whole, it should warrant a different name?

        1. davep

          Keep in mind that he’s likely not going to the magical place where “feeding children” is the same thing as “building and repairing bridges and roads”.

          1. SHG Post author

            Feeding children who are hungry is a wonderful thing, as are adorable puppies, but still not infrastructure.

            1. davep

              Feeding children (hungry or not) to adorable puppies is infrastructure I can get behind!

        2. PseudonymousKid

          Keep up the good fight, comrade. Peace, land, bread, and the means of production are what we’re after.

    4. Guitardave

      “and we’re all (men and women) working from home.”

      I guess all those cars and trucks clogging up the roads every morning and afternoon are just out joyriding.
      Thanks for clearing that up for me.

  7. Brian

    “In the old days, this was all viewed as a matter of choice of priorities, with reliance on families and friends, and dependence on the social safety net that had far too many gaps and holes to fulfill its promise.”

    In the real old days I don’t think it was a choice at all. What we’re actually discussing is the advancement of a relatively new norm in which all people take paying work as a condition of being a Good or Fulfilled person. I say we ignore anti-busing advocate and crime bill proponent Joe Biden and listen to a real progressive: beware the two-income trap.

      1. Brian

        While I’m disappointed to hear that, I will say I meant it as a commentary on the nature of our politics as a sort of eternal present, not a swipe at anyone in particular. One could easily find examples on the right as well; “conservatism” is no more coherent than its opposite, opposed to gay marriage one day and endorsing Caitlyn Jenner the next, whipsawing from Bush’s Wilsonian zeal to Trump’s gut-feeling isolationism.

        Discussing the merits of these plans is almost beside the point, in my view. I may be wrong, but I think it’s all rhetoric. Power is the goal of the politician; what he does with that power is almost irrelevant, except as it tends to cause him to accrue more power. The end result of all these policies is just more money in the pockets of connected groups and no change in anyone else’s material conditions, as the multi-decade, multi-billion-dollar history of education reform attests.

        1. SHG Post author

          Thanks for clarifying. Without context (or knowing your perspective better), it came off as gratuitous, and as you note, the same can be said of almost any politician.

  8. j a higginbotham

    I don’t know and haven’t found what views on infrastructure Krugman has expressed elsewhere. But his writing of plan(s) for infrastructure and plan(s) for people sounds like he considers them two separate categories. Where is his conflation?

    And if the daycare money is for constructing or renovating physical daycare buildings, why can that not be considered “physical plant necessary to maintain a functioning society”? Hospital physical plant costs have been included in past infrastructure bills.

    I had assumed from all the fuss that the money was to provide wages for daycare workers.

    1. davep

      “And if the daycare money is for constructing or renovating physical daycare buildings, why can that not be considered “physical plant necessary to maintain a functioning society”? Hospital physical plant costs have been included in past infrastructure bills.”

      It doesn’t seem “daycare buildings” fit in the normal/accepted definition of “infrastructure”.

      Hospitals seem to somewhere in the middle between bridges/roads and daycare buildings.

      That hospitals manage to (arguably) possibly be infrastructure doesn’t necessarily mean daycare buildings must be.

      Maybe, including hospitals as “infrastructure” was wrong too.

  9. Earl Wertheimer

    The real questions should be
    Can we afford all these things?
    Who is going to pay for it?
    Is the government the best way to provide these things?
    What are the unintended consequences?

  10. B. McLeod

    If families with children don’t get enough votes, maybe puppies can be “infrastructure” too.

    1. SHG Post author

      Puppies make people happy, and happy people are more productive, and productive people help the economy, so…

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