HOW WE LIVE: An Economic Perspective on Americans from Birth to Death by Victor R. Fuchs
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HOW WE LIVE: An Economic Perspective on Americans from Birth to Death

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Stanford economist Fuchs (Who Shall Lire?), a specialist in medical and labor statistics, has set out to explain recent American social changes in economic terms--""attitudes"" aside--and to make policy recommendations accordingly. For each age group, he tries to relate changes in external circumstances (income, prices, demographics) to trends in family life, work, health, and education. There are some surprises, many speculations, and (inevitably) some disputable conclusions. Fuchs does, at the outset, lay out his ""themes"": apart from the foregoing, ""the fading family,"" ""demography and destiny,"" ""wanting and waiting"" (delaying gratification--per investing in health, education), and ""the impossibility of reconciling all worthwhile social goals."" The last forces Fuchs to distinguish between efficiency and justice, and take account of values. Thus, the black-white differential in infant mortality is chiefly attributable to the low birth weight of black babies (for which there is, as yet, no proven explanation or corrective); but the increased survival of low-weight babies, and of others who need intensive neonatal care, can only be achieved at very high cost (an average of $40,000 per baby at a Los Angeles hospital in 1976). The well-being of children, in turn, is found to depend on the mother's level of education more than any other single factor (including income and race); and this is one of the places where Fuchs, in company with such well-known conservatives as Edward Banfield, lays great weight on delaying gratification, or investing-in-the-future--by having fewer children, by spending time with them (and taking them to the doctor, etc.), by raising them to be future-oriented too. (Fuchs thinks the causality runs from gratification-delay to schooling, but says he can't prove it.) Moving on, he finds all adolescents staying in school longer and more (hot fewer) adolescents getting jobs--but, as publicized, relatively fewer young blacks are working. This may be attributable, a recent study indicates, to the mechanization of Southern agriculture and the effect of minimum wage laws in the South: elsewhere, the rates hardly changed. Also among teenagers, the illegitimacy rate has tripled since 1960: ""the social stigma has been greatly reduced and government has come forward as a source of support."" And, finally, the death rate among young people alone is rising--on account of motor vehicle accidents, homicides, and especially suicides. Solutions to this daunting set of problems? Not simplistic (reducing AFDC payments would probably decrease the number of illegitimate births, but would also increase the misery of those born); and always argued through (why, for instance, minimum incomes would help the poor more than minimum wages do). As regards adults 25-44, Fuchs demonstrates that married mothers went to work, and fertility dropped, before the onset of feminism; with respect to adults 45-64, the major consideration is income inequality--which Fuchs attributes to ""differences in the contributions that workers make"" but which he would mitigate (unlike some who share that view) by ""improving opportunities for the disadvantaged early in life."" The book as a whole could be called a post-liberal cost-benefit analysis with a liberal conscience, and it's bound to be talked about.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1983
ISBN: 0735104913
Publisher: Harvard Univ. Press