Reihan Salam, writing for Slate, thinks we should:
So now, as a childless professional in my mid-30s, I often reflect on the sacrifices working parents make to better the lives of their children. And I have come to the reluctant conclusion that I ought to pay much higher taxes so that working parents can pay much lower taxes. I believe this even though I also believe a not inconsiderable share of my tax dollars are essentially being set on fire by our frighteningly incompetent government. Leviathan is here to stay, whether I like it or not, and someone has to pay for it. That someone should be me, and people like me.
Who should pay more? Nonparents who earn more than the median household income, just a shade above $51,000. By shifting the tax burden from parents to nonparents, we will help give America’s children a better start in life, and we will help correct a simple injustice. We all benefit from the work of parents. Each new generation reinvigorates our society with its youthful vim and vigor. As my childless friends and I grow crankier and more decrepit, a steady stream of barely postpubescent brainiacs writes catchy tunes and invents breakthrough technologies that keep us entertained and make us more productive. The willingness of parents to bear and nurture children saves us from becoming an economically moribund nation of hateful curmudgeons. The least we can do is offer them a bigger tax break.
Raising children is not exactly a thankless undertaking, I realize. As many parents will tell you, the satisfactions of parenting can be their own reward. Parents appear to be very into the supposed cuteness of their progeny. I wouldn’t know, but that’s the word on the street. We as a culture still hold parents, and particularly working parents, in high esteem.
Yet it is also true that we’ve stacked the deck against parents in all kinds of ways. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has found that raising a child born in 2012 will cost a middle-income family a cumulative total of $301,970 over 18 years. As high as this number sounds, it is actually a massive understatement, as it fails to take into account the cost of postsecondary education. It also fails to factor in the value of forgone earnings and career opportunities.
As a father myself I can’t say that I’m entirely objective when it comes to this policy. Having kids is wildly expensive, and a lower tax burden would certainly help on that front.
That being said, I’m generally suspicious of the use of tax the tax code for this sort of social engineering. Taxes should be used to efficiently raise revenue for the functions of government. They should not be used to manipulate the behaviors of citizens.
When they are used in that fashion, the outcomes are usually pretty far from what was intended and not very positive.
Besides, how is taxing someone for not having children any less odious than taxing someone because they don’t eat their broccoli? Or, ahem, don’t buy health insurance?
We walk a treacherous road when we begin allowing the government to punish with taxation behaviors that don’t conform to how the government would have us behave.