Leave it to Freakonomics to get to the economics of Amy Chua's "tiger parenting". Responding to his child's request for a dog with a response that only an academic could offer - get published! - Ian Ayres explains the trade off in these terms:
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.
The subject of encouraging grade-school children to forgo immediate pleasure for future reward is one that I, like all parents, wrestle with, though I had decidedly mixed results to the Wall Street Journal book excerpt that has drawn so much ire (if you think I'm kidding, check out the responses to Amy Chua's IF Conversation on an unrelated subject). In our home, homework must be done right after school, practice must be put into extracurricular activities like guitar and the table must be cleared after supper. Still, I'm guessing that our discount rate is a bit further north than the Chua's or Ayres'.
By the way, the Ayres' new dog is "Cheby," named for the mathematician that discovered Chebychev’s inequality. I hadn't made the connection.