Serena Olsaretti

Universitat Pompeu Fabra

A central question in the normative debate over the welfare state concerns the fair division of the costs of child-rearing between taxpayers and the family. Everyone in this debate agrees that taxpayers must support the basic needs of children when families cannot do so; but whether families ought to meet a greater or lesser share of the costs of child-rearing than they currently do, compatibly with securing children’s needs, is an open question. According to the influential public goods argument, which some feminist economists and philosophers have defended and which often endorsed in public debates, child- rearing costs must be shared between taxpayers and the family because child- rearing generates human capital from which all citizens benefit, regardless of whether they have children themselves. This argument faces a challenge, however, as a result of the fact that states are able to receive human capital from skilled immigration, or “replacement migration” (UN 2001). To the extent that replacement migration provides a less expensive source of human capital than local child-rearing, the challenge goes, the public goods argument can no longer justify taxpayers’ obligations to local parents: it is no longer true, in this context, that local parents produce public goods. To answer this challenge, this paper brings to view a crucial assumption which public goods arguments make, regarding the baseline that is used for judging whether an activity is beneficial. Once we adopt a defensible baseline, the paper argues, the public goods argument for cost-sharing between taxpayers and parents is not undermined by the availability of replacement migration under most circumstances. This paper’s contribution is significant not only because it improves our understanding of an increasingly important policy controversy – i.e. the extent of public support for families – but also because it improves our understanding of public good arguments in general.