Economics of Tiger Parenting

Ian Ayres

This choice made me proud because I want my children to be willing to delay gratification in exchange for probabilistically greater future rewards. When it comes to human capital, I want them to have low discount rates. One of the most foundational aspects of a person’s utility function is the intertemporal marginal rate of substitution, the willingness to forego current consumption in order to consume more in the future. If you (highly) discount future rewards, you’re less likely to be willing to invest in human capital; why give up leisure/consumption today for something in the future about which you don’t care very much?

Of course, if your discount rate is too low, you will sacrifice most of today’s pleasures for the prospect of even modestly greater rewards in the future. I want my kids’ discount rate to be low, but I don’t want it to be zero.? I don’t want them to sacrifice all of today’s pleasures for some future pie in the sky.

So, here’s a bleg for Freaknation: If you had to choose your child’s discount rate, what number would you choose, and why? How much pleasure would you want them to sacrifice now in exchange for more pleasure in the future? How low would you go?

Ayres goes on to endorse the value of the Suzuki method, one I'm familiar with from my many years playing the violin.

As a child of a Tiger Mom, I'm more empathetic to the sentiment that drives Tiger Moms the more the years pass. The payoff for hard work and perseverance often comes only years after the initial drudgery, and parents are often the only ones who realize it as they live in that future where they've reaped those benefits. How they get their children to appreciate those benefits before cashing them in is the trick of parenting, isn't it?

It can be taken too far, though, as in Japanese youth baseball. Young star Japanese pitchers are pushed to extremes that most of the world consider child abuse in efforts to win the mythical Koshien tournament, the most important Japanese high school baseball tourney. 

This spring, 16 year old Tomohiro Anraku pitched 772 pitches in 9 days for Saibi High of the Ehime Prefecture.  He pitched his team to the final, throwing four consecutive complete games — 232, 159, 138, and 134 pitches, respectively. It all caught up to him in the championship game, when he collapsed in the fifth and sixth innings, eventually getting pulled after 109 pitches in a 17-1 defeat as his velocity and mechanics disintegrated.

Modern pitchers already have a high injury rate, but the injury track record of Japanese pitchers coming to MLB has been even worse. There's a point at which pushing children for near-term gains (and college baseball coaches often subject star pitchers to high pitch counts in the NCAA tournament as well) at the expense of their future is a cruel inversion of the economics of parenting or mentorship.