by Gary North
A good man leaveth an inheritance to his children's children: and the wealth of the sinner is laid up for the just (Proverbs 13:22).
In this report, I'm going to give you some history (yawn), some sociological analysis (snore), and a suggestion on how to generate a stream of income that will keep you from starving on Social Security and the devalued dollar that it will lead to politically.
The plight of America's grandparents is on my mind today because Thursday, I became one for the first time. I won't tell you that my grandson is cuter than yours was. That would be bragging. I will tell you that he is larger: 10 lbs., 11 oz. If your first thought is, "I'm glad I'm a man," you get the idea.
Thirty years ago, my father-in-law, who was a remarkable scholar (30,000 books in his library, one of which he read every day for 60 years), mentioned a social factor in Communist countries that he believed was a major factor that was hampering the advent of Communism's New Man: grandmothers. This was especially true, he said, in the Soviet Union. Both parents worked outside the home. Because there was so little housing space under Communism, it was common for grandparents to live in the same small apartment. So, when the children came home from school, grandma was there to tell them stories and thereby transfer part of the pre-revolution culture to them. The Soviet economy was so bad that the Communists could not afford to separate grandchildren from grandparents. This undermined the attempt of the Communist Party and the school system to indoctrinate the children in pure Marxism-Leninism. There was a conservative factor at the heart of Communist society that could not be eradicated.
My father-in-law was alert to this factor because he was an Armenian. He was the seventh in a line of sons in his family who served the community as their minister. There was never any other occupation that his father had wanted for him. Until the Turkish genocide of a million Armenians in 1915—16, his family had stayed in the same town: Van. He told me that it was possible to trace his family back to the 13th century in the church graveyard. In the church Bible that had been left behind in the exodus in 1915, his father had told him that there was a notation in the margin: "Today, the Mongols came through." That is what I would call cultural continuity.
That family continuity was shattered the day his family got off the boat in New York City in 1916, where he was born. America does what the Communists could not do: remove the grandparent factor. The nuclear family, inside which grandparents do not live, is the norm here. In Armenia, there were sometimes four generations living under the same roof — a very large roof. That tradition does not survive in America, although "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" shows that some Greek communities come close.
In my father-in-law's family, all of the three children went through divorces. (A fourth child had died in the family's exodus across the border into Russia.) America has this effect on families.
Paul Johnson is my favorite contemporary historian. He writes better than the rest of them, and he writes smarter. His book, The Birth of the Modern (1991), is 1,100 pages long, yet it covers only 15 years: 1815 to 1830. My favorite chapter is Chapter 3, "The End of the Wilderness." All over the world, cheap land was opening up: in Russia, in Argentina, in Brazil, and above all, in the United States.
Perhaps the most potent of all American virtues, in European eyes, had nothing directly to do with good government. It was the price of land. In the early decades of the 19th century, good land — land that was accessible and secure, ready to be cleared and worked by an industrious family with a small capital — was cheaper than at any time in history, before or since. It was a unique moment, which could never conceivably happen again (p. 209).
So, Europeans came here. By the millions, they came. The birth rate had been very high in America, but the survival rate was the highest on earth. Ben Franklin had noted this fact half a century earlier. If anything, the survival rate accelerated.
In America, from the beginning, community bonds had little power because of cheap land. In his 1963 book, Puritan Village, Sumner Chilton Powell describes the break-up of Sudbury, Massachusetts, because the town fathers wanted to control land sales and allocation. The sons walked out in protest and started another town, Marlboro. This became the American way. Never in man's recorded history has there been geographical mobility to match America's.
This is still true. Families in America move, on average, once every five years.
The Westward movement in the 19th century was immense. The invention of the steam-powered boat in the era covered in the early pages of Johnson's book was followed by the invention of the steam railroad at the end. The railroad accelerated geographical mobility as no invention ever had in history. It became possible to go 40 miles an hour or faster, sitting in a bump-free compartment, reading a book. With a covered wagon, 30 miles a day was making good time. In a train, 30 miles an hour was nothing special, and the train traveled all night.
In America, a man could take his wife and children and head west. From 1800 until the 1870s, this probably meant that the grandparents would not see their grandchildren again. Saying goodbye was not a formality. It was a permanent break in family continuity. Of course, most people stayed close to home, but the westward movement was so great a factor that Americans learned to shape their local institutions in terms of it. We were the first society in history to do this. Nomads had always moved, but they moved as communities. Not in America. Families moved, and they kept on moving. It was cheap to relocate. As economics tells us, when the price of anything falls, more of it will be demanded.
CHEAP LAND, HIGH WAGES
When one factor of production is cheap, the complementary factors of production become more valuable. In Western Europe, land has been costly ever since the 15th century. It was relatively cheap only after the bubonic plague of 1348—50, when a third of the population died in three years. Families in Europe still keep the rural homestead in the family for three or four centuries.
In a society that has high land costs, labor is not paid well. Mobility is too costly. People stay put. Opportunities are few. In a society with cheap but productive land, labor is paid very well. Why? Because labor is mobile. A man can move somewhere else, where the cost of living space is lower. Local employers must bid against the opportunities that beckon. The grass is always greener on the other side of the river. Dreams lure productive men to distant locations, where their talents face less competition.
Americans have a 350-year tradition of pulling up stakes, as we put it, and heading for greener pastures. This is considered normal. It is even considered desirable. In Europe, in Great Britain, both English and Scottish, young men moved to the colonies. In Asia, only China has a tradition of moving away, and only in a few provinces. I don't know how long this tradition has operated. The offshore Chinese have been a major phenomenon, which is one reason why China is a formidable competitor today.
The willingness to move for the sake of economic opportunity is fundamental in most entrepreneurial societies. Think of the "movers and shakers" economically: the British, the Dutch, the Jews, the Armenians, and the Chinese. They are all noted for their willingness to move. Only the Japanese seem to break the rule. Instead, they have imported culture, though not immigrants.
No society has ever been greener-pasture-motivated to the degree that America has. Geographical mobility is a fundamental aspect of the American way of life. "Your papers, please" is not a phrase that Americans have been willing to tolerate. The government is slowly infringing on this. If you fly on a commercial airliner, an industry heavily regulated, you must present identification with a photo. But you can always get on a bus, get on a train, or get in your car. You can even thumb a ride. If you want to get from here to there, you can do it cheaply in America.
GRANDPARENTS IN THE WILDERNESS
This has led to the isolation of American grandparents. Geographical mobility of sons and sons-in-law has always loosened the ties of grandparents to grandchildren in America. Now the rising divorce rate has made these emotional ties high-risk between paternal generations. Fathers lose custody of their children. If they get two weeks in summer, the grandparents may get a few days of this. That is about all they can expect. They become distant appendages in the lives of these grandchildren.
The positive aspect of social and geographical mobility is obvious to most Americans: more freedom to choose and more choices. Our society is the envy of the world. Almost every other society on earth wants to imitate us. This is a worldwide social revolution in a way that Communists dreamed of but could not attain through force. But the acids of modernity do eat away at the foundations of every social order, including ours. There are no free lunches in life. There are trade-offs. There are winners and losers. The great losers in America are grandparents. In second place are grandchildren, especially those ages three to ten.
Society's link to the past has always been maintained by grandparents. In America, we have replaced this link with tax-funded schools. The yellow school busses that pick up children are the visible sign of this transfer of social authority. Now that the public schools are disintegrating, and have been for four decades, Americans who fear the effects of the school system are pulling their children out. But home schooling is done by mothers, not grandmothers.
This had left grandparents with more free time, but less meaningful work. They have more money and more political clout than oldsters have ever possessed, but the price has been a social segregation that is not much discussed. A friend of mine 35 years ago once described Sun City as "the elephant burial grounds for the white middle class." This was accurate, except it is for the upper middle class. Sun City and similar communities keep out children of school age in order to keep property taxes low: no public schools. I understand the logic, but I also recognize the price: a world without family ties.
Parents say, "I never want to move in with my kids. I don't want to be a burden." Then they vote for Social Security and Medicare, i.e., stick it to everyone else's kids. They substitute the State for the family as the legal caregiver. This does to oldsters what the same political process does to parents: it makes them socially irrelevant. While there are no visible marks of this transfer of power that match the yellow school bus, the transfer is equally powerful. Americans have voted for a State run by bureaucrats with their tax money. Americans have transferred to tax-funded bureaucrats the social function of preserving society's links to the past.
Then the television set breaks what few links survive this two-fold severing: parents from children, grandparents from children and grandchildren. Children today are being shaped mainly by the public school and the television set. Parental influence is slipping away. Grandparental influence no longer exists as a meaningful social factor.
The war for our children, and therefore for the future of American society, is being fought between the public school and the TV script writers and their associates on Madison Avenue. Parents are becoming bystanders. Grandparents are not even bystanders.
WHO WILL TEACH CHILDREN TO PRODUCE?
Schools teach children to obey. Television teaches viewers to spend. Who teaches youngsters to produce?
Parents used to. They knew that they would become dependent on their children in their old age. Their children were their capital. This is still true in rural India and rural China, but it is fading fast even there.
Grandparents have always provided positive sanctions. They have rarely provided negative sanctions. Parents concentrate on pulling up weeds. Grandparents are allowed to water flowers. Parents discipline children. Grandparents spoil grandchildren.
In the old days, this spoiling process had a side-effect: linking the child to the past. They went to visit grandmother, and grandfather was allowed to impart general wisdom to the grandson, while grandmother taught the granddaughter to make cookies. (I am not speaking of Hillary Clinton's grandmother, I suppose.)
We learn by seeing, then by doing. This is not bureaucratic education. Bureaucratic education for the average student is learning by reading and — when young — by reciting. The education of the rich and powerful in prep schools concentrates on writing and public speaking: rhetoric. But public school teachers are hard-pressed just to maintain order. They don't like to grade papers. They prefer to give objective tests: true/false, multiple choice. In junior college, a machine grades these tests.
Who will teach our children the skills that are necessary to become economically productive? Bureaucrats reproduce themselves in the classroom: obedience counts far more than creativity. Teachers are paid to maintain order. If there is actual teaching going on, no one cares too much, one way or the other, unless the teaching is superb. Then envy takes over on the faculty. Pressures are applied. The creative teachers eventually leave. If you want evidence, go to Google and search for "John Taylor Gatto."
Grandparents for thousands of years watered the flowers. Their unofficial job was to discover what a child did well and encourage the child to do it even better. It was the parents' task to maintain order. Uprooting weeds was the parents' task. The grandparent could concentrate on more productive matters.
"Grandma, look what I made!" was followed by, "That's wonderful!" Then, "Would you like me to show you how I made those when I was a little girl?" In every society I have ever read about, there is some version of this crucial verbal exchange. We can mark the decline of a society by the departure of this verbal exchange.
THE DAY CARE
In our day, grandma is distant. Mom works outside the home. The children are farmed out — an ancient phrase that has little economic relevance today — to day care centers. Then, when the yellow buses roll, they are farmed out to the public schools. The latch-key child is the result.
Mom works because the State extracts 40% of most families' incomes. This is the result of voting patterns of grandma's generation and her parents' generation. It's going to get a lot worse before it gets . . . worse. Social Security/Medicare is going to take an ever-larger percentage of working parents' income.
The day care is therefore as sure a business venture as the home for invalids.
I am a grandparent. I am not planning to become dependent on Social Security/Medicare. I also do not plan to move in with my children. I am mostly hoping none of them moves back in with me. So, I plan to open a day care. I have looked at the economics of day care. I know of no more obvious way to make a lot of money. I have written about this in the past.
Most people my age won't do this. There is too much hassle. This is not true of home-based day cares. If they started a home-based day care, they could easily pull in an extra $30,000 a year. In Alabama, which allows 12 children in a home, it's closer to $60,000 a year.
The economics are astounding: $100/week/child, 50 weeks a year. That's $5,000. Multiply this by 5 or 6 children -- 12 in Alabama.
Then do what grandparents have done for millennia: teach.
Teach them phonics. Read to them. Let then do show and tell. (They love show and tell.) Let them run around in your fenced back yard. Teach them songs. Teach them manners.
Pay attention to them. "Watch me!" may be the second most popular phrase for pre-schoolers. "Why?" is the most popular phrase. Put both phrases to good use.
If your grandchildren are far away, let local parents pay you $30,000 a year to rent your professional grandparent services.
If you don't think you are capable of doing this, start a free day care for two or three children for three months. You're just entertaining a few children for the day, with their parents' written permission. Since it's not a business, you don't need to get the business zoned. You don't need licensing. You may not need insurance beyond what you've already got. Try it. See if you like it. Then, if you like it, go through whatever zoning hoops are in place to open a home-based day care. There are few licensing rules.
Have mothers pack the lunches and snacks. Don't get into the meal-preparation business. But you can bake cookies with a little help from your friends. Think of it as a treat. Think of it as educational. Think of it as enraging Hillary.
If you want a free manual on the basics of running a full day care program, which is a lot harder than running a home-based day care, click here.
I have encouraged the author to write a shorter version for home day cares. He says he will. But don't wait. Skip the chapters on licensing and similar barriers to entry that do not apply to home based day cares. Just read the chapters on teaching, curriculum, and discipline. Also read the chapter on Social Security. That ought to motivate you!
April 3, 2004
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