Why you should care

Because you are hopefully going to be old someday. Want to live comfortably?

When 77-year-old Ms. Chu hobbled with her cane into a local court in Wuxi, a city in eastern China, the foreign press and millions in China couldn’t wait to hear the verdict. No, she wasn’t a mass murderer or suspected terrorist. Actually she was doing the suing — and her daughter was getting sued. It was June 2013 and her daughter hadn’t visited since the previous September. The court’s ruling: Her daughter had to visit at least twice a month and during two public holidays.

Sound crazy? Well, with 62 million elderly (1 in 3) living away from their family, China has legislated that grown children provide emotional and financial support for parents.

Sure, they might “f*ck you up, your mum and dad,” as British poet Philip Larkin famously wrote, but without them, you would literally be nothing. Don’t you owe them something in return? “It’s something that is a no-brainer,” says Ritu Singh, a 40-something speech pathologist who lives in California’s Imperial Valley. Yes, we have Social Security and Medicare, and yes, theoretically, 20 some states mandate care for family members. Clearly it’s not enough. Some 9 percent, or about 4 million, of elderly Americans live in poverty, according to Pew. And the number is likely to grow: By 2050, there will be double the number of Americans 65 and older.

No one can legislate love, of course, or its close cousin, care. (What if your parents really did f*ck you up?) But we aren’t proposing a law about sentiments. We’re proposing a law about money. After all, in addition to the massive time sink of raising you, your parents spent more than $245,000, on average, making you into the functional person (we hope) you are today. It is a debt, and it should be repaid. Perhaps parents would treat their progeny even better if they expected to depend on them later in life.

To be sure, enforcement would be difficult. “We can’t even get people to save for their own retirement, how are we going to get them to save for their parents?” argues Katherine Pearson, a law professor at Penn State University who has studied the issue. Setting up a system to enforce parental support indeed might be difficult — already, child support is no small task. There are also worries that a system of mandated parental support could lead to the privatization of eldercare, and the further gutting of Social Security and welfare. And what to do about people without any children?

All this is fair, if a bit exaggerated. Grown children can supplement the cost of their parents’ care, to the extent of their abilities; the state could pick up the slack. We don’t anticipate millennials will be crazy about this proposal, but this form of giving back could be good for everyone. Anyway, nobody said having a parent was easy.

Go on and tell us: Do you support parental support?

Comment

OZYImmodest proposal

Propositions that fall on the continuum between controversial and utterly insane. Sometimes we're tongue-in-cheek. Sometimes, dead serious.