Thursday, April 23, 2009

Randomly Distributing Babies

When babies are born hospitals take great pains to make sure they are identified so when the are taken to the nursery they are not mixed up and given to the wrong parents. I have often suggested that a better process is not to worry about the mix up. In fact, why not just randomly distribute them to the parents? What this means is that each newborn has an equal probability of being teamed up with affluent and intelligent parents. In effect, each child has a chance to win the life lottery. That seems so much fairer than being doomed at birth to have a stressful, deprived life depending on the identity of two people who decided to have sex.

After reading a recent article in the April 4th issue of the Economist I realize that perhaps the idea is not as facetious as I intend it to be. As it turns out, recent research shows that poor kids, as the Economist puts it, are "stupider" than other kids for a reason -- stress. More technically, theses kids have lower capacity "working memories" -- the ability to hold bits of information in the brain for current use. Researchers have measured what is called the "allostatic load" which measures stress. You can figure out the correlations. Kids born to poverty are more likely to have higher allostatic loads and more likely to have lower working memories. Of course the cycle goes on and on -- poor kids to poor adults to the birth of children also likely to live in poverty and the stress it creates.

In many respects this tells us how thin having a sense of entitlement is. When you get down to it, many of those smart kids who become law professors and think they are entitled to virtually everything from having the right color on the office walls to sitting around and with impunity labeling students stupid or crazy are there because the hospital did not randomly distribute them as babies.


Anonymous said...

Isn't which parents you are born to in the first place just as random as what parents you would be redistributed to?

Jeffrey Harrison said...

This is a question I spend too much time thinking about. I think it depends on your point of view with respect to genetic factors. If intellect is in part genetically determined then a baby born to smart parents has a head start. Why should any child have a head start? Let's give every baby the same opportunity for that head start.