The birthrate in the United States has apparently hit a new low, which is causing much wailing and gnashing of teeth. Russ Douthat, for example, is asking for “more babies, please” in a NYT column, arguing that America’s relatively high birth rate has been responsible for much of our competitive edge. And he wants the government to encourage more children:
Government’s power over fertility rates is limited, but not nonexistent. America has no real family policy to speak of at the moment, and the evidence from countries like Sweden and France suggests that reducing the ever-rising cost of having kids can help fertility rates rebound. Whether this means a more family-friendly tax code, a push for more flexible work hours, or an effort to reduce the cost of college, there’s clearly room for creative policy to make some difference.
More broadly, a more secure economic foundation beneath working-class Americans would presumably help promote childbearing as well. Stable families are crucial to prosperity and mobility, but the reverse is also true, and policies that made it easier to climb the economic ladder would make it easier to raise a family as well.
While I’m all for making it easier for people to afford raising families, I am absolutely baffled by this claim by Douthat in a follow up:
WTF? We now have an obligation to hypothetical future people to make sure they are more than hypothetical? No, almost everyone does not agree with that. Hell, I don’t know how anyone could possibly agree with it. I can accept that we have an obligation to actual future people, our children and grandchildren and theirs as well, to leave the planet in some reasonable shape that will preserve their health and ability to survive, I cannot imagine why anyone has an obligation to make more of those future people if they don’t want to. In fact, I find that whole idea to be quite twisted.
After all, if children are not the only good in human life, they do seem like a fairly important one, no? Maybe even, dare one say, an essential one, at least in some quantity, if the pursuit of the wider array of human goods is to continue beyond our own life cycle? Or to put it another way, if we have moral obligations to future, as-yet-unborn generations, as almost everyone seems to agree, surely those duties have to include some obligation for somebody to bring those generations into existence in the first place — to imitate the sacrifices that our parents made, and give another generation the chances that we’ve had?
James Joyner seems to be on the same page:
Essentially, then, Douthat is arguing that a whole lot of somebodies should sacrifice any semblance of the life they’d like to have because, well, they owe it to future generations. It’s not at all clear where that obligation derives. And, if it exists, a whole lot of the conservative agenda should go overboard along with the right of family planning.
All, incidentally, to solve a problem with much simpler and less disruptive solutions. Before we try shaming women into having more children than they want, why not start the proverbial stapling of green cards to the diplomas of foreign graduates of our universities? Or, a saner immigration policy more generally?
Sounds perfectly reasonable to me.