Robert Samuelson often writes about how government overspending drags down our economy and threatens prosperity. I consider this a public service. Today, he takes a bit of a break from that to highlight how our government is transferring wealth from the young to the old and to argue for bigger tax breaks for families.

As a mother of three, I’m sympathetic to the idea that families are often overstretched and overlooked. Raising kids is expensive, although I wonder and plan to dig in to the report that Samuelson cites for how much a child costs each year. For starters, he implies that a second child is more costly than the first, which makes no sense to me (even if you have one of each sex, there’s plenty of toys, clothes, and equipment that can be passed on from tot to tot). The fact is that most of the actual goods you need for a child can be purchased relatively cheaply. I assume the vast majority of costs are associated with daycare or foregone earnings by the spouse that stays at home.

Yet regardless of the exact numbers, it is fact that raising kids requires economic and personal sacrifice, and a healthy country and economy needs new young workers to replace and support old, retiring ones.

Samuelson argues for a more pro-family tax system, in part to encourage more people to have kids and out of simple fairness. I certainly agree that the government needs to take a serious look at its spending priorities and revamp the budget so that it isn’t dedicated primarily to transferring money from young to old through our entitlement system. But when it comes to the tax code, I’m not persuaded.

Child tax credits don’t seem like the best way to encourage long-term economic growth and productivity. They do little to change immediate incentives to work and invest, which is what counts most in creating economic growth. Certainly having children is necessary for long-term economic growth, but I’m not sure that tax laws will do much to change people’s decisions about whether and how many children to have (it’s another area I want to research further, but my impression is that Europe’s attempts to stimulate a baby boom have largely failed). It seems likely that a growing, healthy economy that creates a greater sense of optimism about our country’s future and about individual families’ financial prospects would do just as much to encourage people to have more kids as a larger per child tax break.

The most pro-family tax code seems to be the one that leads to the fastest growing economy. Give me rising growth, investment opportunities, and a multitude of job possibilities and you can keep your child tax credits.