Saturday, June 28, 2014

Maximizing children

Recent research from the University of Wisconsin-Madison shows that early stress – such as poverty and abuse - has a lasting deleterious effect on children’s brains. Stress at ages less than five seems to impact even the structure of the brain with predictable negative effects all through life. Policy tacticians, counting today’s debt and tomorrow’s votes and busy shutting down the government may be well advised to take a more holistic and macro view of societal costs and health.

Education and health with unambiguous positive network effects on society could substantially influence the trajectory a nation or society could progress in. Now, it appears that even micro-effects such as early childhood stress may have to be considered in the design and provision of healthcare if societies want to nourish healthy, productive and intelligent future generations. Maximizing human resources is an important strategic goal for any society and if that is understood then one could delve into policy implications.

Humans, born totally incompetent and unprotected, require systematic nourishment in early part of their lives. Evolution seems to have assumed that societies would care for the children and accordingly selected a design with a large brain attached to a feeble body that can be pushed through a narrow canal at birth. Such a design requires a system of support, for without it the results are obvious. But in more subtle ways, even if the children survive physically, it appears that they get hurt mentally if sufficiently protective environments are not afforded. The brain, a fantastic organ, requires close attention in the formative years and it appears that modern societies do not understand this well.

More practically, there are two primary questions modern societies have to grapple with. First, given that a child requires specific considerations at least in the first five years, should parents be punished if they are unwilling or unable to provide the required environments for them?. Since the child is a luxury item and a choice, more thought and planning are needed prior to a decision to have children. And, second, assuming no policy will be perfect and that transitions will be problematic in any case, how should societies treat children born into environments unable to provide the evolutionarily required conditions?

As the politicians and policy makers – some octogenarians – are utterly incompetent and incapable of understanding and thinking about the future, it seems that we are entering a very problematic time. “Serving the country,” is not a job and it requires people who recognize at the very least that they have become ineffective.