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No Exit: What Parents Owe Their Children and What Society Owes Parents Hardcover – May 27, 2004

4.5 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The data is in: at least one parent in every couple should make an 18-year commitment to put the needs of the child first—a "No Exit" parenting covenant. Less obviously, Alstott, a Professor of Law at Yale and co-author of The Stakeholder, contends that because all of society benefits from the loving care that mothers and fathers provide (in the form of lower crime rates and a stronger workforce), all the members of society (including the childless) have an obligation to assist parents with the intensive labor of child rearing. Two recommendations emerge from this densely argued study: a $5,000 yearly grant to anyone caring for a child under the age of 13 that must be used for child care, education or retirement savings, and an insurance program designed for the parents of ill or disabled children. Throughout the text, Alstott defends her ideas against the anticipated arguments of libertarians, but feminists may also be displeased with her opposition to family friendly workplaces. (Alstott theorizes that employers will shift the cost of paid leave or flex time to employees and this will lead to lower wages for women.) While it’s nice to have proof that Americans would benefit from such socially progressive programs, few parents or nonparents will need convincing that children’s needs ought to come first. And despite the data, many strapped parents will wonder how much help $5,000 would really provide, though others may rejoin that five grand is a whole lot better than nothing.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


"Anne Alstott makes the case for state support of families by examining the well-being of caretakers rather than dependents. She argues that society imposes a No Exit obligation on caretakers, and it is the increased vulnerability of caretakers flowing from that obligation that provides the foundation for the analysis. Alstott's theoretical focus on the loss of caretaker autonomy is novel and thought provoking.... this is a challenging argument and the ideas are radical.... No Exit should open up a useful dialogue."--Perspectives on Politics

"Is having children just another peculiar taste, like hang-gliding or world travel? Anne Alstott's important new book explains why not. Alstott brings much-needed clarity to the debate over what society owes to parents. Her policy analysis and proposals will be controversial, but no one involved in the care work debate should skip this book."--Joan Williams, author of Unbending Gender and Director of the Program on WorkLife Law, American University

"Anne Alstott provides a thought-provoking and innovative response to one of the enduring questions for a liberal society: How to reconcile a commitment to individual autonomy with the urgent need to require that our children be nourished and cared for? Alstott persuasively describes and defends a "no exit rule" for caretakers, but then argues that the government has a corresponding responsibility to provide opportunities for parents and other caretakers. She details a public system of caretaker resource accounts and life-planning insurance designed to ensure that caretakers retain meaningful life opportunities despite their sacrifices. This book will spark spirited discussion throughout the academy, as well as among policymakers who will find in No Exit a concrete reform agenda."--Elizabeth Garrett, Professor of Law, University of Southern California

"Alstott succeeds in making an extremely compelling case: public policy can do a much better job rewarding and supporting modern day mothers and fathers who provide indispensable care for children. A powerful and timely book."--Sylvia Ann Hewlett, author of Creating A Life

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; First Edition, First Printing edition (May 27, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195162366
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195162363
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 1 x 6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,984,784 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Anne Alstott is an clear, thoughtful writer and this book is fascinating.
She is unusually skillful at making incisive arguments of two different kinds:
- moral arguments, in this case arguments about what society owes parents (given what parents do for society), and
- practical policy arguments about how her new policy initiatives should be shaped to help parents the most without being overly paternalistic.
This book links those two kinds of arguments, and the result is a convincing moral case for some major policy changes. They may not be quite the ones you expect. Alstott is hard to pigeonhole as either a traditional feminist or a traditional economic liberal. Her proposals have their own logic. I think they're worth reading whatever your political/philosophical views.
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Format: Paperback
An interesting book, especially for illustrating the issues, but I just can't buy the author's argument that one parent must put the child's needs first for 18 years. I am not sure this idea of one primary parent is in the child's interest. Many parents nowadays share this commitment, in time scales of one night to one year to the child's entire childhood. This is perhaps less efficient in some ways but it is more efficient in the sense that it creates a "whole child" who reaches adulthood without psychological distortions from a separate spheres approach of his/her parents.

This bias the author has for one primary parent seems to cloud thinking on many other issues?

I do agree with the author that parental leave and work flexibility programs that are designed around one primary parent won't work, and will create a pink ghetto, but she curiously retains this fallacy of "one primary parent" and just takes that parent out of the workforce, making things worse.

Perhaps she has too much romance with the families of the 1950s. I grew up in a family set up that way and it was a nightmare.
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