Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., wants to reward you for having a baby.
The plan goes like this. Every baby born receives $5,000 placed in an account. As the money accrues interest, the child can later use the proceeds for a college education or to help finance a home. The cost? Sen. Clinton doesn't know. Will U.S.-born children of illegal aliens be eligible? No word on that yet. Who pays? Don't know.
Assuming the money is placed in a government security, one can expect this to earn far more money than one earns through Social Security. Yet some of the very same people who support a $5,000 interest-bearing account for children opposed President George W. Bush's plan for partial privatization of Social Security. Under Bush's plan, a worker can place some of his or her Social Security payroll taxes in stocks or bonds, allowing an interest rate that exceeds the rate one now gets under Social Security. Today the money, for the most part, vanishes upon the death of the worker. But Bush's plan allows the worker to bequeath the money to his or her children, allowing funds to be used for things like financing college or purchasing a home or starting a business.
Sen. Clinton specifically talks about using the "baby bond" account for college. This assumes that people fail to go for lack of funds. Nonsense. Financing for college remains readily available. More than three out of four college students receive financial aid, at an average annual amount of $9,899 for 2003-04. And 62 percent of students received grants averaging $5,565 in 2003-04. Average annual tuition for a public two-year college is $2,191, and $5,491 for four-year colleges and universities in the 2005-06 academic year.
Some would-be college students, though, apparently think college too expensive to afford. Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards, for example, speaks recklessly of "two Americas" -- one for the connected, and one for everybody else. Rhetoric like that makes many people, especially those in lower socio-economic levels, think the cost of college places it out of reach. In a survey released by the American Council on Education in 1998, most Americans overestimated the cost of tuition. But blacks and Hispanics were more likely to doubt the availability of financial aid than whites. Blacks were 83 percent more likely than whites -- and Hispanics 79 percent more likely -- to think college was "not affordable."
Besides, government-provided funds for college actually cause an increase in tuition. Economist Thomas Sowell, in "Inside American Education," writes, "The specific terms under which the government provides student financial aid virtually guarantees tuition escalation to unaffordable levels. . . . The federal formula . . . first determines the 'expected family contribution,' based upon family income, assets, number of children, and other measures of ability to pay. Federal aid begins where tuition and other charges exceed this 'expected family contribution.' A private college or university which kept its tuition affordable -- that is, no greater than the 'expected family contribution' -- could forfeit millions of dollars annually in federal money. For example, if college X can provide a good education at $8,000 a year, while its average student's family can afford $9,000, then it loses opportunities to receive federal money. By raising its tuition to $12,000, it not only gets an additional $1,000 per student from their families but also an additional $3,000 per student from the government. In short, there is no incentive to keep tuition affordable and every incentive to make it unaffordable."
So Clinton's plan to help finance college becomes yet another solution in search of a problem.
Clinton's plan also creates unintended consequences. If people cannot feed, clothe, house and educate their children, should government provide incentives to have babies? Programs like school lunches, WIC (Women, Infants and Children), public housing, Aid to Families with Dependent Children, food stamps, transportation vouchers, daycare vouchers -- all make this statement: Have a child even if you lack the resources to do so. Breed irresponsibly and the government will compel taxpayers to step in.
Have they learned nothing from the Welfare Reform Act of 1996, signed into law by President Bill Clinton? Welfare rolls declined 50 percent without an increase in abortion. Able-bodied and able-minded people -- faced with time limits and denied increased monies for each new child -- got off the couch and went to work.
In 1972, George McGovern, arguably the most far-left candidate ever nominated, proposed giving $1,000 to every man, woman and child. Adjusted for inflation, that comes to almost $5,000 today. If at first you don't succeed.