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.