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Telluride Economic Summit on Early Childhood Investment

Posted by: Michael Mandel on September 16

Next week I’m going to be a keynote speaker at the Telluride Economic Summit on Early Childhood Investment. It’s a very important topic: economic research shows without a doubt that spending money on kids in their early years has a really high payoff. As James Heckman wrote in a 2007 paper:

Investing in disadvantaged young children is a rare public policy with no equity-efficiency tradeoff. It reduces the inequality associated with the accident of birth and at the same time raises the productivity of society at large.

I’m going to be speaking on:

“Children and the Financial Crisis”

The crisis was largely created by Americans taking on too much debt—in effect, mortgaging our children’s future. Now we need to invest in our children’s future instead.

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Reader Comments


September 16, 2009 11:49 PM

The return on early childhood investment has been known for a long time, and I began to wonder why it's been ignored -- turns out there's a broad opinion that the public would not accept the unfairness of helping just the disadvantaged.

At the same time, the BLS reports an astounding amount of charity from households at all levels. Assuming they're not all simply tax cheats, this points to an apparent dichotomy.

I am tempted to conclude that there is a subconscious imperative to keep the poor perpetually poor in order to have someone to whom one can be charitable.


September 17, 2009 12:15 AM

I would submit that levels of household charity are irrelevant. How about this? Childhood education might just might not work.

Graham Scharf

September 17, 2009 12:52 PM

Heckman also writes:

"Early family environments are major predictors of cognitive and socioemotional abilities, as well as crime, health and obesity."

The question is not whether to invest, but how. Programs that target children instead of families often miss this crucial premise. How can public policy enable and engage parents rather than replacing them? How can this foster responsibility and dignity rather than dependence and entitlement? These are the questions that need to be asked.

Brandon W

September 17, 2009 06:15 PM

Peter: Our high school guidance counselor used to ask us what you'd do if you had a million dollars and you didn't have to work. And invariably what you'd say was supposed to be your career. So, if you wanted to fix old cars then you're supposed to be an auto mechanic.

Samir: So what did you say?

Peter: I never had an answer. I guess that's why I'm working at Initech.

Michael: No, you're working at Initech because that question is bullsh*t to begin with. If everyone listened to her, there'd be no janitors, because no one would clean sh*t up if they had a million dollars.


September 18, 2009 06:05 PM

In Australia we have been lagging in early childhood education for some time and our current government is putting a lot of resources into this area (this is the government site
I think I'd agree with Graham's comment about investing in families as well. It would be interesting to join the dots a little and look at the effect of the economy on the family environment from a long term perspective (I grew up in the age of the stay at home mum - not any longer an economically viable model) and a short term perspective (growing unemployment and reducing real wages)

Joe Cushing

September 21, 2009 09:58 PM

In Finland, kids start school at age 7 yet there schools do way better than ours. I would guess that their parents have a lot more to do with teaching kids than ours do. I would also guess that culture is more important than the quality of the teacher or school in determining how well a child does in school. The idea behind early education is to counteract bad culture. Does that work? well one comenter says it does. It still smells of unfair though. Maybe we should be investing in our culture instead of investing in early childhood education.


September 22, 2009 03:12 PM

Sadly, I think Joe is right. But in a pluralistic society, such culture battles are always fought through the back door.


September 24, 2009 12:55 AM

As usual, these 'economic summits' miss the elephant in the room.

Modern divorce laws are structured by feminist lobbying with no ability for the public to vote on them.

The laws are structured to incentivize gold-diggers, while disincentivize family stability. If a woman wants to leave, she can with no cost (indeed a profit) to herself, while the usually innocent husband, and of course the children, suffer. The woman's interests are put ahead of the children's (and certainly ahead of the man's).

For all the minutia about the benefits of private vs. public school, and early childhood investment, as usual, people miss the forest from the trees.

Make it such that the party seeking a 'no fault' divorce cannot get any money from the other party without providing proof of serious wrongdoing (abuse, addiction, etc.). **This will do more to improve the state of children in America than all these side-issues.**

But people will continue to miss the elephant in the room. Women are too united, and men are too divided or otherwise too afraid to confront feminists for creating a judicial climate that is incredibly destructive to our society, and to children.

Thank you for your interest. This blog is no longer active.



Michael Mandel, BW's award-winning chief economist, provides his unique perspective on the hot economic issues of the day. From globalization to the future of work to the ups and downs of the financial markets, Mandel-named 2006 economic journalist of the year by the World Leadership Forum-offers cutting edge analysis and commentary.

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