NEW YORK (Reuters Blogs) -- Ben Walsh has a great roundup of the discussion surrounding Reihan Salam's proposal that we institute a surtax on the childless. At a societal level, we want population growth -- more children -- but when it comes to individual households like my own, there are often compelling reasons to have few or no children at all. As countries get richer their birth rates decline, with nasty demographic consequences.
One fix to this problem is simple: more immigration. Salam has another: giving people a bigger financial incentive to procreate, baked in to the tax code. But take a step back, and no one's really disagreeing with the fundamental premise underlying such proposals. A country can only thrive if it has the human capital to do so, and it's one of the most important roles of any government to maximize the value of its country's aggregate human capital. One way it does that is by encouraging population growth; but the main way it does that is by providing universal education. After all, as technology advances, the skills that a country's workers boast are ever more important than the simple number of warm bodies in the labor force. If your country falls far behind on education (think Portugal, or even Puerto Rico), then it will surely fall behind economically as well.
So if you don't want to start fiddling with the tax code to try to penalize the childless, maybe an easier way to achieve much the same goal would be to invest more, at a federal level, in education.