Unnatural Selections

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No words meant
to inspire thoughts of warmth and growth have ever brought such
a chill. A person hearing them played on radio might ahve wondered
if in fact he had heard correctly. President Bill Clinton's first
inaugural address
began with a metaphor that hopefully a speechwriter,
in the long tradition of courtiers since King Canute, had written
for him. Canute
himself
is credited with demonstrating to fawning sycophants
around him that, King though he was, he was unable to command the
forces of nature and hold back the tides.

Would that
Bill Clinton had showed similar restraint. "My fellow citizens,
today we celebrate the mystery of American renewal. This ceremony
is held in the depth of winter, but by the words we speak and the
faces we show the world, we force the spring." Of course,
the only persons speaking were members of the Establishment, so
"we" is what the rest of the "fellow citizens"
would normally refer to as "they," unless one buys the
idea that "we
owe the debt to ourselves
."

The idea that
"they" force the spring is offensive on many levels. First
of all, spring will arrive in any case; would the Federal government
under Bill Clinton claim credit for the weather? Why use force at
all to achieve an end that would obtain in any case? How many resources
would be devoted to this banal achievement? The image brings to
mind the idea of forcing
paperwhite Narcissus to bloom in winter
, an amusing and cheer-bringing
activity that unfortunately exhausts the bulb, which is then discarded.
In addition, the metaphor slights the position of winter in the
calendar, winter whose killing frosts have long served as free pesticide,
making temperate-zone agriculture, the modern division of labor,
and the civilization based upon it possible. Finally, why didn't
Al Gore object to this policy of accelerated warming?

The words were
simply a rhetorical flourish in a speech filled with bland exhortations
and political pabulum,
and as such could have been overlooked. However, President Clinton
went on to implicate the citizens in his folly: "You have raised
your voices in an unmistakable chorus, you have cast your votes
in historic numbers, and you have changed the face of Congress,
the Presidency and the political process itself. Yes, you, my fellow
Americans, have forced the spring." (The internal dissonance
of the speech is shown by his later selection of a biblical quote
to back his narrative: "And let us work until our work is done.
The Scripture says, u2018And let us not be weary in well-doing, for
in due season we shall reap if we faint not.'" One wonders
why we could not wait until spring was "due.")

Surely Americans
would never take part in an effort to "force the spring?"
One can think of life divided into four metaphorical seasons, with
youth placed firmly in the spring category; the example of Wagner
springs
immediately to mind, along with a host of writers too
innumerable to mention. Two articles humorously temporally co-located
last December seem to indicate that subjects of the State have embraced
this rhetoric.

The New
York Times
presented an article on "National Birth
Day," the day in the year when the largest number of births
occurs:

"For
decades and decades, the busiest day of the year in the nation's
maternity wards fell sometime in mid-September. Americans evidently
do a lot of baby-making during the cold, dark days of December,
and once a baby has been made, the die for its birth date has
largely been cast… In the last 15 years, there has been a huge
increase in the number of births that are induced with drugs or
come by Caesarean section. In either case, parents or doctors
can often schedule a baby's arrival on a day of their choosing.

Not surprisingly,
they tend to avoid weekends and holidays, when doctors have other
plans, hospitals are short of staff and the possibility of an
unfortunate birthday — Christmas Day, anyone? — looms. During
holiday weeks, births have become increasingly crowded into the
weekdays surrounding the holiday.

Over this
same period — since the early 1990s — the federal government has
been steadily increasing the tax breaks for having a child. For
parents to claim the full amount of any of these breaks in a given
year, a child must simply be born by 11:59 p.m. on Dec. 31. If
the baby arrives a few minutes later, the parents are often more
than a thousand dollars poorer.

Unless you're
a cynic, or an economist, I realize you might have trouble believing
that the intricacies of the nation's tax code would impinge on
something as sacred as the birth of a child. But it appears that
you would be wrong.

In the last
decade, September has lost its unchallenged status as the time
for what we will call National Birth Day, the day with more births
than any other. Instead, the big day fell between Christmas and
New Year's Day in four of the last seven years — 1997 through
2003 — for which the government has released birth statistics.
(The day was in September during the other years; conception still
matters.) Based on this year's calendar, there is a good chance
that National Birth Day will take place a week from tomorrow,
on Thursday, Dec. 28."

Parents wouldn't
really let tax policy set their child's birthday for life, would
they? For some, sadly, the answer is yes:

"So
to see if taxes were truly the culprit, Mr. Chandra and another
economist, Stacy Dickert-Conlin of Michigan State, devised some
clever tests. They found that people who stood to gain the most
from the tax breaks were also the ones who gave birth in late
December most frequently. When the gains were similar, high-income
parents — who, presumably, are more likely to be paying for tax
advice — produced more December babies than other parents…By my
calculations, about 5,000 babies, of the 70,000 or so who would
otherwise be born during the first week in January, may have their
arrival dates accelerated partly for tax reasons."

The economics
can be compelling. Calculations in TurboTax reveal that, if a couple
in New York State each of whom earns $40,000 annually adds a dependent
in a tax year, that couple can expect to see the combined taxes
at the Federal and State levels drop by about $1550. If the couple
earns $400,000, there is only a marginal $75 savings, and if the
couple earns less, the "bonus" increases. To put the numbers
in perspective, at a recent $800 for an ounce of gold, the couple
would save 1.9375 gold ounces; using the old French
bimetallic standard
of 15.5 ounces of silver equaling one ounce
of gold, this indicates that the State has induced parents to induce
for thirty
(one ounce) pieces of silver
.

Economics in
Germany, at the same time, were even more compelling. To encourage
the childbearing that Bismarckian
social security schemes naturally decrease
, the German
State promised
"Elterngeld" to each child born in
2007; show up on December 31st, 2006, and your parents
missed out on "67 per cent of their last net income tax free,
or up to 1,800 (euros; about 2600 dollars) – more than 1,300 – a month, for the first 12, or in some cases 14, months after the
birth." (One wonders what a benefit-milking couple with a German
parent and an American parent would do: perhaps deliver in Germany
between midnight and 6AM January 1st so as to claim the
birth in the new year in Germany and the old one in the USA? This
absurdity recalls Daniel Patrick Moynihan's exasperation with Federal
policy on aid to religious schools: books were allowed, but not
maps. Moynihan
wondered
what would happen in the case of atlases, which were
in fact books of maps.)

The skeptic
might ask WHY the State offers such inducements. Germany faces a
crisis in paying for its social-welfare programs even larger than
the approaching demographic waves overlapping the American Social
Security system. Critical to receipt of the benefits in the USA
is to submit a child for enumeration in the Social Security system,
at an age before it can consent. Should the child not want a number,
getting rid
of it might be a challenge
, for someone's good reason. The birthday,
of course, is permanent.

At least the
Germans' push led to better birthday selection. Unscientific surveys
of people whose birthdays lie between Christmas and New Year's reveal
that most would prefer a later or earlier date. The worst example
was the man born December 31, 1959, whose 40th birthday
celebrations were, let's say, a little bit overshadowed by larger
events. So if you are in one of those 5000 couples thinking of moving
a birth to 2007 from 2008, check the numbers first. Before you associate
yourself with the political class' shenanigans, buy your child a
$1550 present and deliver when nature and springtime would come
without force.

November
14, 2007

Thomas M.
Schmidt [send him mail],
a native of Brooklyn, understands why Italians, whose patron saint's
(Saint Joseph) feast day falls on March 19th, feel a little overlooked
in the USA.

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