Ethics @ Work: March of the strollers

Israel is an extremely child-friendly country with a very high birthrate; even among secular Israelis.

strollers311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
In the wake of the housing protest, thousands of parents took part in a “march of strollers” to protest the high cost of raising a child and demanding more government involvement. How should we evaluate this demand from a public and ethical point of view? Two Swedish social scientists, Henrik Berggren and Lars Trägårdh, recently proposed a useful way of thinking about this question. They suggest that different cultures orient themselves in different ways around three poles: individual, family, state.
In the United States, the primary axis is individual-family. The family is recognized as the proper and legitimate force in shaping the individual; the relationship to the state is secondary given the traditional American suspicion of big government.
Regarding children, the corollary would be that the state doesn’t interfere in the way they are raised and doesn’t see itself responsible for raising them. The US sees raising children as both the prerogative and the responsibility of the family and on an international scale provides little support.
In Germany, they propose that the primary axis is family-state, with the individual somewhat crowded out.
This allows a larger role for government concern for children, but via the family.
More radically, they propose that in Scandinavia the main axis is individual- state. The family is less central while the state takes a direct interest in the individual child. The child is a child of the state. This would seem to be a good characterization of the kibbutz ethic; the “children’s house” of the original kibbutzim sought to make all the kibbutz children children of the kibbutz as much as they were children of this or that family.
How does Israel orient itself around these axes? I would view Israel (and many other countries) as having a more equal, perhaps more balanced relationship than any of these more bipolar models. Certainly in Israel’s multicultural society the individual-family bond is primary to that of family-state, but the state is not a passive actor either. Israelis are comfortable with duties towards the state and are not bashful of demanding that the state fulfill responsibilities towards them. We could view the Israeli policy of child allowances as an expression of this; the state helps the child, but via an unconditional grant to the family.
As I have pointed out before, Israel is an extremely child-friendly country with a very high birthrate; even among secular Israelis, the birthrate is far higher than that in other economically advanced nations. Without relating directly to the validity of the marchers’ specific demands, from a fundamental point of view the Israeli model does acknowledge a basic government responsibility to help and empower individual families to raise their children.

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Asher Meir is research director at the Business Ethics Center of Jerusalem, an independent institute in the Jerusalem College of Technology (Machon Lev).