I’m sure that you would rather I go to court
with the children I am assigned to represent
in family trials, but I assure you that you do
not pay me enough to spend more time than
I have to with them. I would much rather sit
inside my office and carve my bonsai trees
than to talk to children who want to be
reunited with their deadbeat parents or who
are struggling to deal with their own legal
issues. Yes, I imagine you know that I have a
caseload that extends into the hundreds and
that all of them have some sort of sob story
and all of them want to be represented. But if
you want my full attention you have to pay
for it, and the state simply does not pay enough
to get my full attention. I am sure there are
people who are idealistic enough to serve without
getting much for it, but I am not such a person
myself. And we all know that if you want the
government to do something or to pay for it
that ultimately the taxpayers have to pay for it and
they do not seem very enthusiastic about paying
large amounts of money to try to fix the broken
families that we see all around us. That’s life.
I think it needs to be said at the outset that this is an imaginary conversation with an imaginary attorney and is not based on anyone in particular. To be sure, I have had few interactions with children’s attorneys, but the majority of them have been pretty positive interactions. Indeed, in general I am in favor of the increase of children’s attorneys and their role, not least because children are the parties in court that tend to be screwed the most by the mistakes of adults . The rights of children will never be fully respected until children’s interests are fully defended in court by competent legal counsel or skilled volunteer advocates as a general rule. And, somewhat shockingly, this is not the general practice at least in the United States. It is not common for children’s attorneys to be represented in arguments over visitation, and even when one is dealing with cases in the foster care system children are being represented by court appointed special advocates or guardians at litem only about a third of the time or so. This presents many occasions where children are at a disadvantage.
Yet when we desire government to do something, someone must pay for it. Either people must volunteer to do so service of this nature despite the fact that they could choose to put their time towards a thousand other things, or the taxpayers must be levied to pay someone to do the task as a job. Understandably, taxpayers are often chary about how their money is used, and there are always opportunity costs with either the option of volunteering or raising taxes. For there to be volunteers there must be enough civic virtue so that people have a willingness to serve for the larger interest of children despite its lack of remuneration. And for tax money to go towards aiding the interests of children vis-a-vis quarreling parents or a dysfunctional family as well as foster care system, that money has to be taken away from some other purpose. What is the most useful direction our limited (and hopefully increasingly more limited) tax dollars can be directed towards? This is a question that is not always easy to answer.
I often find myself in a somewhat paradoxical place as far as these matters are concerned. On the one hand, I tend to be an idealistic person who has a high commitment to service in my personal life. I don’t wish to boast or brag about this aspect of my life, but merely I state it as a matter of fact aspect of reality. Even so, despite being a fairly idealistic person in terms of the direction of my own life and attention, I tend to be deeply cynical about other people. One would think that being an idealistic person would make me think others are the same way, but this is not the case. On the contrary, I tend to think that most people have somewhat darker motives when it comes to their action, unless they are people whose activity is fairly transparently obviously idealistic themselves. Moreover, I understand the fundamental rule of economics (and life) that there is no free lunch. For something to happen, someone must pay for it. If we wish to make a government mandate to provide some service x for some group of people y, there must be some money x times y paid for by taxpayers z in order for this mandate to be fulfilled. It is striking how often this is ignored. There are always opportunity costs with however we spend our time and money, and that is something that we often do not pay enough attention to when we wonder why there are the sorts of problems that we have in the world.
 See, for example: