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On adoption May 26, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in America, contemplation.
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Long overdue post I have been sitting on, but never quite found <your favorite excuse> to write about.

Adoption is an interesting phenomenon – how it changes general family and society dynamics in addition to, of course, affecting the life of the individual concerned – is something I was thinking about as I read this article from Steve Levitt.

Almost seven years have passed since I shared breakfast with that New Jersey couple, yet I think about them often, and when I do, my eyes always fill with tears. I think about the little girl, now ten, living in a Chinese orphanage never knowing the life she missed. Should a three-year-old be punished for being attached to her caretakers in the orphanage? What if the New Jersey couple had just held out a little longer? Mostly, though, I think about how the second child learned those words in the cab, and how different her life is now because that first child put up such a fight.

For all the arguments about shaping our destinie and with due respect and credit to all those made it inspite of great odds, the great birth lottery is something that just cannot be wished away. It may not entirely be like algorithms that converge to different results depending on the initial conditions, but where you start with, the country/region/family we are born in sets up so much for the rest of our lives. A simple decision such as the school your parents thought you should go, the neighbourhood you choose to live in etc. can have a large bearing on one’s life.

Ofcourse, I don’t even hold the other extreme position – that in the ‘zero-sum game’ of life, people who made  it must take responsibility for those that did not. Such a position gave us the horrors of income scarcity poverty redistribution of Mao and Stalin. Let us not forget that humanity for more than 99% of its history has lived in extreme poverty. In fact I am reminded of Milton Friedman’s statements that the race of life should be ‘designed’ such that we all start at the same line, not finish at the same line. And of all such distortionary effects, adoption is probably one of those big ones.

Here is another such story that Levitt links to.

The comments section to Levitt’s post carries several responses from parents of adoptive children/children with special needs etc. I am quite amazed – for a blog that has a limited audience from a likely narrow and niche socio-economic strata, there were quite a few comments. Maybe then Americans are more likely to adopt babies than several other societies. Partly of course because they can afford to, then because its easier to do so in heterogeneous societies and also perhaps because a large number of them are aware of the lottery that birth is and wish to share it with those that got a raw deal from the lottery of birth.

Now reading – Secret thoughts of an adoptive mother.

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