Thursday, November 10, 2005

My Hero

Finally, someone with the right idea. I've always wondered why we don't have more restaurants with 'no children' sections. Or restaurants that don't allow children in at all. It would be so wonderful to be able to go out and eat and not have the perpetual threat of some noisy brat hanging over you (the threat, not the brat - though that too). I actually think there might be a decent business opportunity in it.

That's actually the reason why I think this restaurant owner isn't going far enough. Instead of being stuck in this polite limbo where he's making the spawners unhappy but not really offering anything to those of us who abhor the little tykes, he's essentially losing money both ways. What he should do is just go the whole hog and ban kids entirely. Hell, I'd fly down to Chicago just to go eat in his cafe. Seriously.

At this point, people who have kids will say something silly like, "What are we supposed to do - stop having a life just because we have kids?". My answer to that is: yes, that's exactly what you should do. If you're having kids at all, the presumption is that you're getting some utility out of them, so I don't see why you shouldn't have to pay a cost for that benefit. In some ways this whole thing is a classic free rider problem - society bears the cost of tolerating the little monsters, and then the parents get to reap all the benefits. Is your kid going to come look after me when I'm old and dying of cancer? No, right. Then I don't see why I should have my pleasant brunch ruined by his / her antics. On the whole, I think the world would be a much better place if people had to pay the price for foisting kids upon the world - it would hopefully make them think twice about having kids (rather than having them by a sort of motor reflex) and would mean that they would take the whole thing more seriously.

But it's not like it's even necessary for people to bear that cost. Just given the number of feckless breeders around, I'm sure there's more than sufficient market for family restaurants - satanic pits of infantile depravity where children can swarm like termites and compete in throwing spoons across the floor or screaming themselves hoarse to their heart's content. All I'm saying is, let's segregate public places so that those of us who have no desire to be put upon by other people's children can have some peace. People who have kids (or, saddest of all, people who don't have kids but want to) can go spend time in their little leper colonies, leaving the rest of us to breathe the pure, intelligent air of civilisation.

Why has this not already happened, I wonder? If you believe Coase, it should have. The reason, I think, is a social milieu where it is simply not acceptable to dislike kids. The problem, I think, is that too many people have no identity except as parents, no accomplishments that they can point to except for their children (whether having a child is an accomplishment is a question I've looked into elsewhere, and won't go into again). The result is that they're unable to accept that having children is a preference, not a value. That's why they're offended by people who disapprove of their children - they see it as an attack on who they are, rather than a simple statement of a different personal choice. And that's why it's not possible for us to evolve to a point where a coherent market for childlessness can develop. At a microcosmic level, could I walk across to a young couple who was sitting at a table next to me with their 6 month old baby and offer to pay them to leave? Why not? It's not insulting, it's pure economics. [1]

Obviously, I would prefer it if the ownership rights were defined the other way, and people had to pay extra to get their kids into restaurants rather than those of us who want to avoid kids having to pay extra for that convenience (I hesitate to say privilege - it should be a right). But I'm realistic enough to know that that's not going to happen. Still, it would be nice if we could have places where you could pay them to keep the kids out. Oh, there are bars, of course (one reason why I increasingly seem to be eating out only in bars / pubs - there are never any kids), but it would be nice if there were breakfast places that offered the same service.

Meanwhile, if you're reading this blog and live in Chicago, please, please, do me a favour. Go to the restaurant in the article, order a big meal, give the guy a big tip and thank him for keeping the children out.


[1] The other side of this social pressure is the ridiculous assurance with which people seem to assume that everyone likes kids and will tolerate them. I think people need to be educated out of this. The next time some parent lets his brat wander over to my table unattended and generally bug me I'm going to either a) teach it a whole set of choice four-letter words in my most loving voice ('can you say, "mother". Good! Now, can you say...." you get the idea!) or b) scare it into hysterics with a knife. If people won't keep their kids under control out of decency, maybe they will out of fear.


meditativerose said...

Nice... will definitely go up there and show my support.

Just for the fun of it (yes, I'm bored), let me take a different tack. Since society's objective is to propagate itself and ensure it's survival, not only should having kids be costless to those who do, the rest of society should reduce the cost that's naturally involved. So, when you go out to a restaurant, not only should you have to tolerate a bawling brat, you should take responsibility for him for the time that he's there, so that the parents have time to enjoy the relaxation they have earned through their service to society. Also, since kids don't really support their parents in their old age that often, particularly in the US (totally not fact-based, but what the heck, I'm talking about a nytimes article), the utility of kids is reaped more by society than the parents, making this argument stronger. In fact, several political issues/social investments are made based on the premise that children are resources owned by society (pro-life, family welfare, etc.)

Of course, you would argue that if you don't give a damn about the propagation of society, why should you bear the cost. But since you live in society (let's forget for a minute that you are the superior being that society was created for), and reap its benefits, you need to live by its rules. (btw, same argument as I have for the Keruoac/hippie politics)

Falstaff said...

MR: interesting, but I think the last part of your argument is deeply flawed. Just because you live in a society and reap its benefits doesn't mean you need to contribute back to it. As long as you're prepared to accept a world where society breaks down, you can happily free ride on its benefits with a clear conscience. This is especially true when you realise that the people in question are not doing this stuff for you - they're doing it for their own pleasure, any benefit that you may get is entirely incidental.

Look at it this way - you don't smoke, right. There's some utility from this to people who live around you, but that doesn't mean that you can go around demanding that they like you or do you favours. They didn't ask you not to smoke. You didn't really give up smoking because of them. So they have no obligation towards you whatsoever.

The other problem with the argument you're making is that I'm not even arguing for a redistribution of the pain - the beauty of the whole thing is that segregating parents from everyone else could actually be a win-win situation - simply because there are things that I find painful and others find pleasurable (I'm assuming if you're having kids then it's because you want them - if kids pain you what are you doing being a parent in the first place). If all restaurants were divided into kids and no kids, people who wanted to take their kids out would get the advantage of being in an environment where there kids would be better taken care of (since people who worked / came there would naturally be pro-kids) and people like me would be spared the pain. Specialisation would increase value.

Think about it this way - it's arguably true that the preservation of the arts is important to society (I would argue as important as populating the earth with snivelling toddlers). Does this mean that everyone should have to attend opera? No. People who don't like opera would be pained if they had to attend, people who do like opera would be pained if those who didn't like opera came and generally made noise and ruined the experience for them. By segregating the two and allowing people to self-select into groups you're actually making everyone better off. So it's not about who bears the 'cost' - the cost simply goes away.

Notice also that it's not as though anyone's saying that parents have to go to restaurants with kids - if you want to go to a non-kid restaurant, just leave your brat behind.

Mrudula said...

I think kids should not be allowed into these areas - concerts, theatres and some restaurants. Restaurants should be segregated like 'smoking' and 'non-smoking' areas. I feel many working couples have indisciplined children who can't be managed. In deference to other people those who have unmanageable kids should go to restaurants with play areas, or to places where kids can run around and it is not a problem. I think people should live and let live. Since most people are incapable of doing that we should have restaurants where kids are not allowed. Concert halls and theatres which clearly bar kids.

aquamarine said...

Hello Mr.Economist:)

True, I have always wondered why parents have kids in hte first place, if they cannot manage them. It is not the child's fault that they are they way they are. I'll blame the parents squarely. They are afterall, a chip off the old block. So the question of critising children provokes the very soul of parenting and who the real individuals are. Infact, I think we should restuarants that ban horrible parents who can't manage their child and those who do a great job!


Accidental Fame Junkie said...

You have an unlikely supporter on this issue: me. Kids at restaurants are a big problem, no doubt. I don't like kids. And while most people assume it's unnatural for a woman to not like kids, I don't think so. It is, like you say, a personal preferance.

As far as keeping those pesky, chattering hoards out of public spaces, here's a solution. Maybe with the mayor's permission, children can be raised in a separate part of the city till they are adults and they can join the mainstream life. This will
(a) generate more income for all the people involved. Builders, psychologists, printers, schools, you name it.
(b) keep them out of people's hair, especially those who don't like children.

Of course, the arguement exists that they already do that by going to school. But this would be a far more total exclusion (or inclusion, depending on which way you look at it).

Could this be an outline for a new dystopian novel?

Falstaff said...

Mru: Ah yes, children at concerts and theatres. Even more annoying, of course, but the good news there is that it's way more socially acceptable to ask people to keep their children quiet or even to leave. Very few people feel that they have a right to let their kid be noisy in places like that.

AquaM: Two things: First, I think there's a deeper malaise at work here - the trouble is that people recognise that their kids are badly behaved but feel that this bad behaviour is somehow 'harmless', that no one could possibly mind. This is ridiculous - I don't see why a source of annoyance should be any less irritating just because it's three years old.

That said, I do kind of feel bad for parents - the trouble with this whole parenting thing is that there's really no way to tell if you'll make a good parent or a bad one until you try it, and once you've done that (and assuming that you are bad at it) you can't get rid of the damn things. This isn't like a dress that you can return to the store because you go home and try it on and realise that it makes you look fat.

AFJ: Ah, someone's been reading their Plato have they. The trouble with the whole seperation thing, of course, is that you'll end up with a bunch of 'adults' who won't know how to interact with the world. At the very least it means future generations will grow up with no one but child lovers for role models. That's a scary thought

Mrudula said...

AFJ: I suggest you read 'The Handmaiden's Tale' by Margaret Atwood or watch the same movie (screenplay: Harold Pinter, simply brilliant).

Accidental Fame Junkie said...

Falstaff: Plato was it? Haven't read him since college. I guess one can't shake off his subconscious influence.

You have a point about the generation of "child lovers." I thought that they should be rehabilitated before they made it to adult society.

Mru: I think it's called "The Handmaid's Tale" and I have read it. Pinter screenplay, that's something I have to get my hands on. Thanks:)

Ritu said...

That's why they're offended by people who disapprove of their children - they see it as an attack on who they are, rather than a simple statement of a different personal choice.

Disliking children is a simple statement of a different personal choice. Disliking or disapproving of particular kids is neither a simple statement of a personal choice, nor an attack on the children's parents - it is a specific reaction to specific people. :)