The Population Bomb

by James Matthew Wilson on October 21, 2010 · 30 comments <span>Print this article</span> Print this article

in Politics & Power


Devon, PA. One of the questions that seems to divide those committed to the vitality of local economies, cultures, and traditions on the left and the right is that of population.  We have seen repeatedly, in the comment boxes on this site, those who otherwise understand the deep interdependency of a robust community and a strong extended family or clan come up short at the suggestion that these things — and indeed all good things — can only be rightly understood and rightly stewarded in terms of the having and rearing of children.  Children, as it were, provide a hermeneutic lens: politics begins with children, because it ends with children; they are the condition of possibility for thinking rightly about the present, the past, and the future.  And so, the localist who looks with the disdain of Philip Larkin on the having of children –

Man hands on misery to man.

It deepens like a coastal shelf.

Get out as early as you can,

And don’t have any kids yourself.

– the localist who thinks the surest means to vital small economies is a smaller population; the localist who dreams of sipping a bottle of pinot grigio at a sidewalk cafe precisely because there are no spotty teens loitering about (or anywhere to be seen), is probably the only sort of localist who is truly a purblind romantic, an unrealistic dreamer.  He lacks the requisite condition for thinking soundly about the claims of the past and future upon our actions in the present.

Such persons wish to defend the “environment,” because they love it better than their fellow man, though they love their own postage stamp of reality more than anything; their defense seems rooted chiefly in a contempt for those who would drink the “resources” that they would prefer to keep from themselves.  They project a bad conscience about their own appetency onto the mass of humanity that poses the “real” threat to a “sustainable” future; they look with scorn on the beach house or the meat-eater precisely because these things follow from their own unsettling hungers.  Further, they see in the suffering of the sick and hungry a threat to their own happiness — not because they too might someday require food and drink, but because the sight of wasting humanity is an affront to good taste.

Christian critics of modernity such as T.S. Eliot and Jacques Maritain insisted that the modern liberal regime was a deadly one.  It promised earthly prosperity precisely by means of closing off the horizon beyond which lies not the good of this world only but the Good Itself, separate and universal.  In Integral Humanism (1936), for instance, Maritain advanced this Aristotelian proposition:

To propose to man only the human . . . is to betray man and to wish his misfortune, because by the principal part of him, which is the spirit, man is called to better than a purely human life . . . The remark of Aristotle’s that I just recalled—is it humanist, or is it antihumanist? The answer depends on the conception one has of man . . . [Integral] humanism . . . tends essentially to render man more truly human . . . it at once demands that man develop the virtualities contained within him, his creative forces and the life of reason, and work to make the forces of the physical world instruments of his freedom [whose end is God].

Early Modern humanists once suggested, and secular humanists today suggest, that a better life may be had by all living human beings once we have sufficiently narrowed the terrain of discussion, concern, and planning. “Immanentizing” the human mind, until it dwells only upon the problems of the body or of bodies aggregated together in the penfold of society, was the chief necessity in the quest to securing the perpetual earthly happiness of mankind.  Maritain rightly draws attention to the dehumanizing effect of this supposedly humanizing project: man’s intellectual nature moves inexorably toward the highest good.  He is not satisfied to count bottle caps or to program computers, he is not satisfied by the planning of entire societies, the dreaming of fleshly utopias.  His mind can settle only within that thought it cannot comprehend and pass beyond — because the mind, as spirit, has no matter for its true object, but only the splendor of the divine.

But this warning — even from the left-leaning French philosopher — went largely unheeded.  The secular humanist became the secular liberal, dreaming of close horizons and well planned cities, of thought reduced to praxis and the good life reduced to the easing and, perhaps, the titillation of the human estate.  Maritain lived only long enough to see the degradation such low ambitions wrought upon the human spirit; in 1973, at his death, one could well have imagined a perpetual regime of secular humanism, cultivating human beings like ants behind the glass of a terrarium, regulating and administrating their bodily and “psycho-biological” happiness from generation to productive, docile, and dull generation after the fashion of Huxley’s Brave New World.  Though he was not quite certain how it might come about, Eliot once suggested that the only threat to this regime was inanition.

We have seen, however, that the modern welfare state does not have self-perpetuation at its heart.  The secular liberal regime only gestures toward securing the “good life” for this and future generations.  Rather, its horizon is much narrower than the life of this world, to the point of becoming that of the life of this generation — a generation or two at the most, as one takes into account the helicopter parenting of the trophy child one elects to have implanted sometime in one’s late-thirties (a kind of procreation one hesitates to identify with the wide horizon and venerable desire for son and daughter, heir and mother-to-be of grandchildren).

Keynes’ observation that, “In the long run, we’re all dead,” would more accurately be phrased, “What the hell, I’ll be dead by the time the bill comes.”  The deficits and debt of the social democratic West, from California to Catalonia and beyond, testify that the deepest, perhaps unconscious, aim of secular humanism was never to secure human dignity and prosperity, but merely to ensure the ease of our bodily estate now, quite indifferent even to the existence of those future generations left to set up their lean-tos amid the ruins of our glassy administration buildings, and to burn our devalued currency for fuel.  The spectacle of modern social democracy bespeaks therefore not merely worldliness, philosophical materialism, and greed.  It is both the product and cause of a complete spiritual boredom that dreams neither of the earthly immortality of sustaining and cultivating a civilization, of begetting one’s likeness so that one’s life’s work may continue, nor of the true and only heaven.

Small is beautiful not because it purposefully stunts its growth, sterilizes itself, or controls itself with an obsessive and dominating rigor that would impose a little circle of stasis on nature and in defiance of it.  The small community is desirable, not because it gives the fleece-vested among us an opportunity to savor a mochachino before heading up to Mount Rainier for the afternoon.  The small household is beautiful, not because of its unpeopled quiet, but because the crush of kids playing and squabbling, raising and getting along together is the earliest and the latest fulfillment of our political natures.  With and as children, we learn to be human; with and as the parents of children, we learn to be adults.  Those who truly see the essential value of home production, the bonds of community, the propinquity of growing and eating, of making and using in a settled place, see also that these exquisite attributes of the small and local are made possible by big families and that big families are a large part of what makes them valuable in the first place.

I have not hesitated to caricature the secular humanist localist, he whose love of the proper human scale seems driven chiefly by his desire for a happiness scaled to himself alone.  And yet, I am conscious that this caricature does not fit all such persons.  Many of them indeed see the attraction of the family loaded with children; they love wild spaces and walkable cities not because it affords them consumption in luxuriant solitude, but because they see the goodness of such things — and would like to share them, if only they had not been convinced by the neo-liberal regimes of our age that children are a threat to . . . the ice caps, the future, themselves, the Jetta, the polar bears, and so on and so forth.  Such persons do not dream of  late and transient “companionate marriage,” but would like to rock the perambulator or double-stroller as they sit in the cafe, gazing upon the park across the street where their older children grow flushed at play in the autumn afternoon. Their idylls have children, but like Swift’s Lilliputians, their sense of guilt tells them the having of children is fundamentally a “selfish” desire.  In some of the early agrarian essays of Wendell Berry, for instance, he issues a sharp criticism of contraception and the culture it has spawned, but always with the qualification that he feels the force of the then fever-pitched concerns regarding over-population.  Always honest, Berry confesses the antinomy and moves on.

To those much suffering persons, divided against themselves as if the human condition were tragic, we say, fear no more.  Set by your heavy conscience and start having children — now.  For, your comic victory will come in their laughter.  If you do not, the small bucolic scenes that promise the heart’s delight will, in your foregone childrens’ silenced lifetimes, be reduced to a ghost town of grey.

[this essay was occasioned by the link above, and so I urge the reader to click upon it]

{ 30 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Artie October 21, 2010 at 1:21 pm

Carrying capacity applies to us humans, just like it does animals, regardless of how soundly we might thrash liberals and secular humanists with our rhetoric. Yes, most humans are more intelligent than animals, but it would appear that, despite our intelligence, we’ve overgrazed. We’ve used cheap fossil fuel and monetary trickery to grow the economy, and the population along with it, past the point where it can support us all in the manner in which we would like to become accustomed.

Whenever anything – animal or vegetable – grows too fast or too large for its environment, there is an inevitable die back. Why should humans be any different? All populations wax and wane – it’s our turn to wane.

avatar Rob O'Daniel October 21, 2010 at 3:19 pm

Let’s bring this down to a more localized, practical level that directly applies to most people – or at least probably everyone who could be reading this…

If the taxation burden was shouldered proportionately, that would go a long way toward encouraging people to limit familial expansion. You could effectively, subtly have a fair degree of population control – at least in developed nations – by hitting people in the pocketbook.

But the converse, frustratingly, is true. For nearly half my life, I’ve paid the same taxes – with more than 50% going to public school system – as my neighbor. Yet until very recently, I didn’t even have a child, whereas my neighbor happily, ignorantly, keeps churning them out. If people knew they were going to have to pay a proportionate amount of taxes to handle the added burden that a large family places on the schools and other civic systems, they would quite possible consider more carefully having multiple children.

The argument can be made that, by my shouldering an equal, disproportionate share of the tax load, I’m helping society at large. But I don’t buy that crap for a second. Parents who mindlessly keep having babies will, in turn, mindlessly (and minimally) raise children who are likely to be little more than a societal burden. Harsh? Perhaps. But true nonetheless.

As an adoptive parent, I entered into this mindfully, intently, and painstakingly. My wife & I both had to document that we had the fiscal, physical, psychological, and theological means with which to support a child. We had to submit to local, state, and federal-level background checks and fingerprinting. We attended classes. We traveled abroad for weeks at a time, which required banking up time off from our employers. We spent a great deal of money! Was it worth every last bit of that? Absolutely!

But how many children come into their parents’ lives for little more than the cover charge at a bar and the price of a couple of Bud Lights? If biological parents had to endure a fraction of what’s involved to adopt a child, they’d be a lot more mindful about the process and the ramifications. Population control begins with the brain.

avatar Zac October 21, 2010 at 4:44 pm

Artie is absolutely correct about carrying capacity, and it is an issue that we must face, must study, must debate, if humanity is going to act in humanity’s best interest, here on Earth.

Portraying the anti-population concern as anti-child or anti-human is unproductive because it assumes that people apprehensive over how many humans the Earth (or a given place) can support are somehow anti-child because they’re anti-growth, which is simply ridiculous; it erroneously conflates (or at places in the same category) the caring parent who loves God’s creation and wants their children to love and have access to it too with the fanatic who cares more about the wellbeing of a tree than the wellbeing of his fellow humans; and lastly, it generalizes the most publicized fringe beliefs of the environmental movement, and thus requires straw men and rare fanatics for its examples rather than real individuals who are genuinely concerned with a legitimate problem that humanity faces.

Whatever our differences on this subject, I think all of us (save the fringy whacko from the church of euthanasia in your picture) can agree that an unwanted child is a tragedy indeed. And that families are valuable. And that we should be concerned with the impact we have on our specifically local environments and broadly local (Earth, home to us all) environments. Injudicious solutions to the problem of unwanted children aside, even far-left liberals are opposed to unwanted children.

Safeguarding against environmental collapse is a profoundly PRO-CHILD, pro-human stance. A desire to see both local and global resources used wisely for the benefit of our families and communities in the future (we’re not going anywhere, thank you very much) is as conservative as it gets. I love what you say about children being ‘the earliest and latest fulfillment of our political natures’, but this is not the least bit at odds with having a small family and being mindful of our impact on our ecosystems and natural resources. It seems you are more aesthetically disgusted by the values of a west-coast liberal stereotype than you are opposed to rational environmental protection in the interests of HUMANS. Please tell me I’m right, so that I may have some hope in you yet! It’s far more interesting to find common ground with people of different opinions than it is to disparage them and grow the divide.

In fond (one hopes not utter) disagreement,

avatar Tony October 21, 2010 at 5:00 pm

Prof. Wilson, thanks for an excellent essay – there is much to think about, both in your essay and in the article you linked to.

Rob, I thought very strange that you talked about having to jump through bureaucratic hoops at both the local, state and federal level as proof of your superiority as a parent, instead of as an example of our government run amok. Congratulations on your new addition to your family, but don’t forget it’s hard to be a good parent without humility.

avatar G. Koefoed October 21, 2010 at 6:11 pm

Could it not be that it is because human beings are “spiritual” as Maritain says that we occupy a unique space vis a vis our ability to both partake in and transcend the clear biological facts of our incarnated existence? In clearer language, it seems to me human beings are and are not subject to these biological laws because we can see them at work and do something about them, but as incarnated beings we cannot totally free ourselves from them. This seems to bound our ontological status. We are the stewards of creation.

The impulse to have children and bring them up is as good as it gets, the benefits to society and the self incalculable. But sticking our heads in the sand and denying that this moment is not different from the 18th century before the exponential global population curve is to deny our “spiritual” gift of self-reflection and amendment as a species (to be theologically correct I suppose this requires grace as well, and it sure is looking as if a sustainable future is going to require pure grace).

Do the benefits you speak of require 7 children per family, or can they be attained with 2 if pursued with the same prayer and conscientiousness?

avatar Rob O'Daniel October 21, 2010 at 6:28 pm

Oh no, Tony, I have clearly misrepresented my meaning! Please understand, I cited the hoops we jumped through -only- as proof of the forethought and intent that we applied to becoming parents. I certainly didn’t mean to imply – nor do I believe – that we’re superior parents just because we adopted – or for any other reason.

My point was that a certain measure of population control could be affected just by prospective parents applying more prudence before adding to their family. And our society could nudge people to be more mindful of the consequences of having additional children if they shifted to a more proportional system of taxation.

In short, people should put at least as much thought into having (and raising) a child as they do their cell phone plan. Evidence, however, suggests otherwise.

avatar Artie October 21, 2010 at 6:45 pm

“…human beings are and are not subject to these biological laws because we can see them at work and do something about them”

What is it that we ‘do’ about biological laws that enables us to transcend them? Other than biblical stories of the supernatural, what evidence do we have of humans freeing themselves from biological laws?

avatar Tony October 21, 2010 at 7:21 pm

Transcending doesn’t mean freeing ourselves from biological laws, but rather recognizing that biological laws do not tell the whole story of human existence. As this essay suggests, it is because we have reason and free will that we are uniquely situated to act as stewards of the world, in a way that my dog, for example, is not. As Rob points out, humans have the ability to, for example, space out their children. (Whether such spacing is done prudently or not, or through licit means or not, is another issue.) My dog, on the other hand, left to her own devices, would have litters based only on whether she happens to be in heat and another male dog is willing and able. I don’t think one needs to resort to biblical tales of the supernatural to make this distinction.

avatar Tony October 21, 2010 at 7:24 pm

Transcending doesn’t mean freeing ourselves from biological laws, but rather recognizing that biological laws do not tell the whole story of human existence. As this essay suggests, it is because we have reason and free will that we are uniquely situated to act as stewards of the world, in a way that my dog, for example, is not. As Rob points out, humans have the ability to, for example, space out their children. (Whether such spacing is done prudently or not, or through licit means or not, is another issue.) My dog, on the other hand, left to her own devices, would have litters based only on whether she happens to be in heat and another male dog is willing and able. I don’t think one needs to resort to biblical tales of the supernatural to make this distinction.

(Sorry for the double post – still trying to figure out this new commenting scheme . . .)

avatar Tony October 21, 2010 at 7:25 pm

Rob, I apologize for my rush to judgment.

avatar Jeremy October 22, 2010 at 12:40 am

….to begin with.

I wish I had comment editing. Thank you.

avatar Rob O'Daniel October 22, 2010 at 1:31 am

And yet, I pay the same taxes (as the parent of only 1 child) as my neighbors who have several. Hardly seems like a disincentive to me. If my neighbor had to shoulder a proportionate share of the tax load based upon the greater number of children he has, perhaps he’d think twice before having any more. I’m not suggesting that homeowners with no children should have none of the school tax load, but it certainly should be much less.

And I fail to see how this is much different than other civic infrastructures… If I have automobiles, I have to pay to renew inspection stickers, licenses, insurance, etc., to help with my share of road upkeep, etc. I’m largely exempt from supporting that infrastructure if I don’t have a car. That seems fair enough. And it’s a disincentive for me to get a car if I know in advance that I can’t afford those affiliated costs.

avatar G. Koefoed October 22, 2010 at 1:38 am

Well put. This is much of what I was getting at. This is why I said we “are AND are not subject to biological laws”. The way we sometimes transcend them can be through free will (the great “spiritual” principle in man according to Coleridge, Bushnell, and others) and reason enables us NOT to transcend our incarnated existence ultimately, but to in some ways alter our relationship to biological laws that is different in kind and not just degree compared with the other species on the planet.

avatar Jeremy October 22, 2010 at 5:03 am

So are your issues with the current structure of taxation or with large families? Your criticism of large families is built around the governing policies and property taxes that you deem unfair. Don’t disparage larger families because you don’t like how your local government is setup to pay for the schools. I could make a similar argument as you in that we homeschool our 6 children, paying for all families with publicly schooled children while reaping none of the benefits.

avatar Jeremy October 22, 2010 at 12:38 am

You are promoting the idea that the government should leverage economic disincentives to having more children? I think the economic structures of our society already make the dollar-valuation of having more children very challenging to begin with.

avatar Rob O'Daniel October 22, 2010 at 12:20 pm

Jeremy, my issues are with the disproportionate taxation structure AND with large families that weren’t premeditated and well-planned. As I said before, prospective parents oughts to apply at least as much forethought into having (and raising) children as they do their cell phone plan. But again, evidence certainly suggests the contrary is true.

That you, especially, are held responsible for an equal share of the school tax is a prime example of how out of kilter the system is. By homeschooling, you’re specifically sparing the system of a (disproportionate) percentage. You’re intentionally providing your own micro- educational infrastructure and should therefore not be required to shoulder anywhere near the same portion of taxes as your neighbors whose children do attend public schools.

avatar Tony October 22, 2010 at 1:50 pm

Sam, why don’t tell us what you really think?

Better yet, how about some reasoned arguments?

avatar Artie October 22, 2010 at 2:42 pm

“…it is because we have reason and free will that we are uniquely situated to act as stewards of the world, in a way that my dog, for example, is not.”

And our reason and free will also means we are also uniquely situated to act as polluters and destroyers of the world in a way that no other living creature is. Animals overpopulate and overgraze without free will and reason, humans overpopulate and overgraze despite their free will.

avatar Anonymous October 22, 2010 at 7:25 pm

Rob O’Daniel,

I am not at all sure I buy your math, that somehow more children, or too many, amount to a burden. Sure, you had to pay taxes to pay for all that school. But what about the childless people my age? When we retire, they have nobody paying into Social Security or MediCare. I do.

So they put my kids through school. My kids put them through retirement. Whether this is an exactly equal trade, I don’t know. But being childless also poses its own burdens. Right now my sisters and I are contributing a lot of money to the care of my dad, who has fallen ill. He still would have gotten sick if we had never been born, but he’d be a ward of the state.

avatar Stewart Kahn Lundy October 23, 2010 at 1:54 am

login and you can edit your own comments

avatar Sam Hutcheson October 24, 2010 at 3:18 pm

What sort of reasoned arguments would be appropriate to a piece such as this? It makes no cogent argument itself, merely presumes to read the minds of child hating neoliberals who all want the planet to themselves. There is no “reasoned” counterargument to make believe. You’d be just as well off counter-arguing astrology.

avatar Siarlys Jenkins October 25, 2010 at 2:21 am

I don’t buy the anti-child philosophy. I love babies, even when a messy diaper spills out onto my arm now and then. I love little children. I can enjoy working with teen-agers, preferably in small groups, because I have neither skill nor aptitude at bringing order to larger groups. Philosophically, I don’t accept that our existence has no purpose at all, and my parents brought me into the world, so on average, we should be procreating and raising a new generation to carry on.

But there is a sound basis to concern about population density. I Sam doesn’t care to offer any reasoning, I’ll take a shot at it. American notions of liberty took root, in part, in the context of wide open spaces, where any man could get his own land, where a man who didn’t like to be crowded could move (with his family) to someplace more empty. There is some self-congratulatory exaggeration to that — there were previous occupants to be removed, often by force, there were government bodies awarding land grants, for military service, to well placed speculators, etc. There were county offices to register title deeds.

But on the whole, the more space there is between me and the next human being, the more liberty I possess. Conversely, the more space, the less I can look to my fellow humans for aid in time of distress. Most pioneers were darn glad to have neighbors close enough to come help with barn-raisings and such. The more people, the more densely we are packed. The more densely we are packed, the more my exercise of liberty infringes on my neighbor’s liberty, and vice versa. Thus, we need more laws, more regulation, to aportion the boundaries of our mutual and respective liberties.

Many of the philosophers cited here would no doubt insist that man was not made for existence in concrete canyons, but for existence within the natural cycle of seasons and days, experienced in green pastures and woodlands, along pristine river valleys, etc. That sounds good to me too. The more crowded we are, the less of that there is. If we really let population simply continue to rise, eventually the whole planet could be covered in high rise apartment buildings, with hydroponic farms on the roofs, and no bare soil at all. Needless to say, there will be no free range cattle to pose Omnivore’s Dilemmas. Short of that, all arable land will be needed for intensive factory farming, while we house ourselves in high rise apartment buildings. Short of that, there will be no solitude in any truly accessible pastoral scenes, due to the sheer number of people who wish to enjoy them with us at the same time.

So, it is up to some debate where to draw the line, but if we simply argue for letting population rise indefinitely, we will hit a crisis point. It would be better to work at reasonably flexible and voluntary means of achieving a stable population. One of the greatest inducements to a lower birth rate is, of course, prosperity. In the short run, people may stop having children during a Depression, but in the long run, they have fewer children for life if they are living in a well-provided industrial economy with a high standard of education and lots of other things to do (even for women) besides bearing and raising children.

China could have embraced voluntary family planning in 1948. Instead, Mao decreed that the more Chinese the better, to make China a great and powerful nation. Too late, the Chinese leadership after Mao realized they had to reduce that growth rate, because there simply was insufficient land area to house and feed them all. The result was a highly intrusive, aggressive, dictated, ruthlessly enforced, “one child” policy. We may all get there, if we don’t take more reasonable measures sooner.

Stable population does not mean no children. Stable population requires children. How many children? Enough so that, after allowing for the inevitable percentage of loss to disease and accident, the fact that not all will choose to procreate when they grow up, the number of children being born replaces the number of adults who are dying. The better our medical care, the fewer children we need to conceive and bear.

Even hypothetically projecting that new planets are opened up for human settlement, by inter-stellar travel or terraforming within the solar system, there is no case in human history where the concentrated population in any defined nation or area decrease as a result of emigration. Individuals escaped, but the population pressures were not relieved. (What kept population limited in Great Britain is the huge number who died in the disease ridden environs of London, not that emigration to America acted as a pressure release valve). New settlement may help to insure that humanity survives, although the prospects of sending any sizeable population through space for permanent settlement are dubious, but it won’t change the population picture here on earth. There is only so much planet. We are beginning to bump up against the limits of how many people this planet can sustain in a HUMAN manner. Of course, if we want to be tightly regulated slaves of a totalitarian, rigidly planned, state, that option could sustain our mere existence for many generations to come.

avatar Siarlys Jenkins October 25, 2010 at 2:25 am

I suggest a simple solution: tax credits or deductions should be standardized for any family with dependent children. How many children you have should not increase the size of the credit or deduction, certainly not indefinitely. I’ve advocated before that the first $20,000 of income should be tax free, and $50,000 for families with children. That could be tweaked; making anything fair and balanced is going to introduce some complexity.

avatar Marion Miner October 25, 2010 at 2:01 pm

Well done, Mr. Wilson; excellent article. I could not agree more.

The more children that parents can responsibly raise, the greater benefit they have done for society.

avatar Sam Hutcheson October 25, 2010 at 4:08 pm

Again, there are plenty of arguments to be made in support of over-population theory. There are also reasonable arguments to be made against the more over-the-top theories (and certainly lessons to be taken from the 70s and the coming population collapse that is a few years overdue.) None of those arguments were made in the piece above. The piece above is self-indulgent mind-reading pap, pop-psychology and trite cliche masquerading as insight. There is nothing to be countered.

avatar Anonymous October 26, 2010 at 3:01 am


Later in life, should retirees who had a many children collect more Social Security than you do, simply because they have more children paying into the system?

The idea is that people are supposed to pay what they can afford. Therefore, people who make $30,000 a year pay less in taxes than do people who make $100,000. You might think this is a bad idea, but it’s hardly the most controversial aspect of our political system. If I have four kids and you have two, I have less money for movies, less money for travel, and less money to pitch in for F-22s.

Look at it this way. A person who makes $10,000 pays a different tax RATE than someone who makes $100,000 a year, right? So 10 people making $10,000 a year will have a total tax bill less than one guy making $100,000.

Well, the bread winner in a household with a lot of kids is spreading his income among more people. So if it’s a wife, husband and eight kids making $100,000 a year, that’s $10,000 per person. In your mind, do you think their tax burden ought to be the same as a single man making $100,000?

As for the notion that people ought to “plan” their families… meh. There’s never a “right” time to have one kid. Or three. I agree that some people are entirely irreponsible, but life and family are not Excel spreadsheets.

avatar Artie October 26, 2010 at 2:51 pm

And what of all those parents who start with responsible motives and watch helplessly as their lives and the lives of their children get ground up in the unregulated machinery of modern culture?

avatar Aaron Schroeder October 27, 2010 at 8:22 am

OK — people should think a little more carefully about why those without children pay school etc. taxes in the same rates that people with children pay them. It’s true that you shouldn’t be taxed for what you don’t use, but it doesn’t follow from this that people without children shouldn’t pay taxes that support children. Why not? Because those children will grow up to do meaningful work that the rest of us will benefit from, and the better those children are raised, the more the rest of us can expect to benefit. And since we can’t pay for children to be raised well by their parents (well, in France they incentivize it), taxes cover those aspects of child-rearing that society in general can assist with: child welfare, healthcare, education, etc.

And guess what: when one of them invents a cure for cancer or a car that runs on carbon dioxide (or picks up our trash or seals our basements), we’ll all be well-pleased that we made it more likely that those children would do well as adults, regardless of whether we raised the child ourselves or supported it through tax dollars.

In fact, much as I hate to admit it, I think this actually serves as an argument for decreasing tax rates on people who have kids. Sure, they wouldn’t have to pay for certain social services their children use, but neither do the rest of us pay the parents to read to their children, teach them manners, or other behaviors that contribute to the development of successful adults — a development from which we all benefit. Those parents are providing a service to the rest of us that we aren’t paying for. So, if the fact that you aren’t utilizing a service is why you think you shouldn’t have to pay for your neighbor’s kid to do whatever it is you don’t want to pay for, it’ll also justify your paying a “diaper duty tax” on the services that parents are rendering to you that you aren’t paying for.

In other words: those without children aren’t disinterested free riders — that is, free riders on the services that other people’s children will render to society someday. You’re interested, because you want better and more of those benefits sooner. In other words yet: cough up.

avatar G. Koefoed October 28, 2010 at 10:11 pm

I agree with the point about education. Never have understood when elderly people or other adults who went through school gripe about taxes – unless they make the point, which I rarely hear, that perhaps America doesn’t get the results it should for the amount it spends per child. But if they are concerned about this they should run for school board, not de-fund education.

It also seems to me tax rates are decreased on people who have kids via numerous deductions and outright credits, even to the point of refundable credits (paying people to raise kids?).

avatar Alan2102 December 14, 2010 at 3:49 pm

quote: “China could have embraced voluntary family planning in 1948. Instead, Mao decreed that the more Chinese the better, to make China a great and powerful nation. Too late, the Chinese leadership after Mao realized they had to reduce that growth rate, because there simply was insufficient land area to house and feed them all.”

Actually, Chinese fertility had already dropped off a cliff — from about 6 to 3, or slightly less than 3 — BEFORE the one child policy. That’s what a little socioeconomic development can do, raising dirt-poor peasants a few inches out of the dirt. At the same time, the mortality rates were falling off a cliff as well, resulting in average life expectancy of DOUBLE what it was before the revolution. (True! Life expectancy went from the low 30s up to over 60, inside of a couple decades. A remarkable turnaround.)

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