Have More Kids!

Planning on having one kid?  Why not two?  If two, then consider three.  That's the main message of this book, which you might consider unpromising, but everything along the way is interesting, and also helpful to new parents--whether they're thinking about "how many?" or not.

Economist Bryan Caplan's case for more kids--

(1)  Kids make us happy, especially if we take into account the long term.  Two might be ideal when they're very young and a lot of work, but six would be great when kids are grown up and no trouble  The rational consumer will average the two numbers and have four...or some such.

(2)  You think kids don't really make us happy?  Well, the evidence for that is overstated, and to the extent they don't, it's because we make child rearing much too hard.  Ease up, use the TV as a babysitter when you have to, cancel the ballet lessons, don't fret about "stranger danger"--don't worry, be happy.

(3)  Think (2) is rubbish because easing up will ruin the kids?  Not at all.  There's a massive amount of research that shows that parents have little influence on what their kids will be like when they grow up.  You can mold them as kids, but they'll bounce back as adults.  (He has a very long summary of twin and adoption studies to back this up.)  Exceptions:  you can influence your kids' political and religious affiliations and how they think of you as a parent.

(4) Not enough kids are being born now to support the elderly.  Two people who have lots of kids are doing more to support the elderly, since each kid will grow up and pay into the social security system, yet the couple will eventually  receive no more assistance in old age than any other.   So we should see people with lots of kids as altruists, not as irresponsible resource-depleters.

(5)  Lots of people means lots of ideas and innovations--we are better off in a world with 6 billion, 7 billion, 8 billion ... people.

(6)  Yes, environmental impact is something to worry about, but we should home in on a solution to that problem, not throw the baby out with the bathwater.

(7)  Procreation is good for kids, because life is good.  People should have total procreative liberty--it's fine to use genetic screening, testing, or engineering to create whatever children we'd prefer.  Sex selection is fine, making taller, smarter kids is fine, even cloning is fine.  After all, none of these things is going to yield children who are sorry they were born.  That's the critical question.

Even if you find yourself disagreeing with much of this (I think he doesn't take population and environment issues seriously enough) Caplan will change your mind about a fair number of things, and he's entertaining and amiable in the process.


ɞɚʤʛɔɤʐɯɴʤʎɭɒʑʕʠʇɛɫɤ said...

every year there are 80 million more people.


that's the population of Germany, but it's not just the newborn, it's the actual net number of newborns-dead people during the year.

The picture of a new Germany every year just composed of newborns is quite amazing I think ... people who say we should create even more people (or better, create them at a faster rate) really worry me.

I'd honestly like to see a tax on the newborns. People should prove they were not able to adopt a baby before creating a new one.

Isn't this the ultimate form of selfishness? Preferring potential kids to real suffering ones just because the potential ones share more genes with us? Aren't the interests of existing people more important than the ones of merely potential people?

Of all the arguments for having a new baby, how many can't be used to justifying adopting a kid? What philosophical arguments can be given against adoption?

I would say that prima facie we should adopt. If we really can't then maybe we should think about creating a new life.

Jean Kazez said...

You're overlooking point (4). He says more children are needed to pay into social security. There used to be 10 per retiree, now there are 5, soon there will be 3. Couples who have more kids will receive no more when they retire, but will effectively put more in. So they are doing something altruistic by having more kids, not something selfish. They are helping the elderly. You would not help the elderly by adopting, and besides, there aren't enough orphans to meet demand.

Re: a tax on new kids. Many countries are actually paying people to have kids, not taxing them. That's because of the retirement problem. Birthrates are too low, not too high in many affluent countries, as far as supporting the elderly is concerned.

ʀʈɖɱɫʔʃɿʬʗʮɿʠɿʌɴɸʋɬʫ said...

I think that nothing above the replacement rate can be proposed as a sane long-term goal, because it causes exponential population growth in a limited ecosystem.

We might rediscuss this when human life outside the earth is a reality.

So too bad for the retiree. We're just shifting the burden to the next generation, and it fells like a ponzi scheme. Everybody gains until more and more people contribute to it, but eventually it will crash.

It's a huge social problem, but the next generation is going to have an even bigger one. That doesn't seem fair.

Countries that give incentives to have more kids are also paying the army to keep their borders closed to the poor immigrants, who die tring to get into the country (see Italy lately with all the immigrants from nothern africa dying in the sea).

So, there's a lot of externalised "opportunity costs" in these policies. The next generation doesn't vote now but it will pay the price of our reckless policies. Immigrants die now, but they don't vote either.

Jean Kazez said...

I would love to know how he would respond, because what you say seems incontestable. I might even track him down and ask, because I'm mystified.

Aeolus said...

Global population growth is putting a huge strain on resources and ecosystems, but one could argue that the problem has already been solved -- it's just that we won't see the results until the end of this century. In other words, though birth rates are plunging, global population will continue to rise for several decades yet. A hundred years from now many will likely worry about the prospect of too few people in the world. I think the ideal would be a global population of about one billion -- in other words, roughly what it was in the year 1800.

All in all, deciding to have another child or two is not going to negatively affect life on the planet -- especially if those children are likely to be well educated and determined to make the world a better place.

ʦʉʯɰɩɴɘʀɗʟʏʉʧɝʐʂʁʄɻɬ said...

the usual "non answers" are:

1) look at malthus, he said the same and he's been proved wrong.

2) have faith in technology, we'll find a way to support more and more people. Actually the more people we have, the better chance we have smart scientist who will discover the solution to our environmental problems

3) the "singularity", we'll evolve into some cyborg form that will make these problems irrelevant

I don't know, it feels like we see that our river ends in a waterfall, but instead of slowing down we accelerate hoping the boat will take off and fly away to safety. It seems reckless and irresponsible.

Jean Kazez said...

I'm trying to understand how "more kids" could be a long-term solution to the problem of supporting the elderly--that's his argument. It does seem completely hopeless, since each generation will have to have even more kids, ad infinitum.

As for environmental problems--he just handwaves, but admits it's an issue.

crystal said...

Is this guy Catholic? :)

I find the over-population/environmental issues just too strong to support his view.

Jean Kazez said...

Ha! I wondered the same thing, but there are no clues in the book.