License to Breed

 

On the last episode of the Ricochet podcast, our heroes discussed the difficulty of encouraging people — but especially impoverished minorities — to have and raise children under the right circumstances; i.e.,  in wedlock and within stable family structures. James mentioned the hypothetical possibility that we could require people to obtain a “parenthood license” before we permit them to breed. He figured such a thing could never happen. People would be outraged. It would be worse than the voter ID debate.

I’m inclined to differ. I think many liberals would love this idea. In fact, some of them already do, and sadly, some libertarians are happy to join the chorus:

What about parenting, then? Why require a license there? The first important point here is that the children who are going to be the recipients of the care (or “services,” though “customers” is clearly the wrong word) are not rationally autonomous and fully formed adults capable of making their own decisions. They are, by contrast, vulnerable beings that we hope will become fully formed persons. Until they do, they are decidedly vulnerable to those they come in contact with—and more (and more often) vulnerable to those they come in contact with regularly: parents. The duration of exposure to one’s parents is a factor. The intensity of the exposure is as well (see Note below). No one is in a position to harm a child as often as a parent. And the damage they can do is extreme. We know of a case of a father raping a two week old, a mother throwing boiling water on her daughter, another parent drowning her children, and the list goes on. These are the sorts of harms that a licensing program might avoid. As it is now, these are the sorts of harms that get the state involved—after the harm is already done.

For the record, I don’t think James was really recommending this kind of scheme, and I certainly hope he’s right that Americans wouldn’t stand for it. Let’s run a thought experiment, though.

Suppose some fiendishly clever researcher came up with a contraceptive that could easily and cheaply be added to our water supply. So long as they were on the drug, women would be infertile, but the effects could be neutralized temporarily with a kind of “antidote” drug that the government would control. Couples who wanted children could go through some sort of certification process, and, if successful, they would be issued a sufficient supply to enable a pregnancy. If they wanted more children, they could apply for more.

Wouldn’t this really be a liberal dream? The autonomous family has always been a thorn in the progressive side. With the help of parenting licenses they could neutralize the conservative breeding advantage. Require couples to receive instruction in good progressive parenting before they could even have a family. And needless to say, this would be the perfect way to ensure that everyone is perpetually available for sterile sex (whether or not they want to be).

I grant that it would probably take a little while to bring the general public on board. And even for liberals there would be some internal division about how to handle requests from impoverished single women (who aren’t in an optimal position to raise children, but who are reliable producers of Democratic voters). I definitely think, however, that liberals would go for it. What do other Ricochetti think?

There are 120 comments.

Become a member to join the conversation. Or sign in if you're already a member.
  1. user_385039 Inactive
    user_385039
    @donaldtodd

    Any one who thinks that the government should be in control will push this button.

    Any one who is anxious about having a man in her life may well push this button.

    Any one who is unhappy (or worse) about the single-parent family may well push this button.

    Any one who is tired of supporting a policy of financing single-parent families may well push this button.

    I think it might garner a lot of support, and even those who think it only a temporary fix will find that once the government is involved, it is a temporary fix that moves into perpetuity, and therefore must be maintained.

    So, the Department of Family Life (a good benign name) will act like most bureaucracies to the detriment of all, gathering additional power and then justifying its position, because it is easier to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission.  

    This is how we continue to move from the older civil service model to the new civil contempt for the people subordinate to the government model.

    • #1
  2. Tuck Inactive
    Tuck
    @Tuck

    “For the record, I don’t think James was really recommending this kind of scheme…”

    That Lileks is a truly nefarious sort.  Never underestimate him.

    But to your question, Progressives are already there:

    “…we make sure that all parents meet a minimum set of standards. The latter argument was set forth by Hugh Lafollette in Philosophy and Public Affairs way back in 1980 (before I was born!) in his paper cleverly named “Licensing Parents.””

    • #2
  3. user_1030767 Inactive
    user_1030767
    @TheQuestion

    Reproduction is analogous to immigration.  Milton Friedman was, as I understand it, in favor of unrestricted immigration in priniciple, but not when you have a welfare state.  If immigrants have to earn their money and produce goods and services, then unrestricted immigration is mostly a good thing.  Likewise, if families are required to provided for their children, then parents will adjust their procreation depending on their income.  I.e., procreation is self-regulated.  On the other hand, if the state is responsible for taking care of children, then it would logically follow that the state would get a say in how many children are going to be produced.

    When I started writing this, I was going to say “Yes, liberals definitely would restrict procreation!”  That’s based on what I know about environmentalists.  But then there’s also the issue that some Democrats want more dependency and poverty because that grows their support.  Therefore, I predict Democrats would be divided on this, between environmentalists and the party’s political planners.

    • #3
  4. Tuck Inactive
    Tuck
    @Tuck

    BTW, just an observation, but you’re not a libertarian if you believe in licensing parents.

    Is this the latest attempt to rebrand Progressive as something else?  Now that they’ve tainted that label, Socialist, and Liberal, they need to find something appealing to call themselves?

    The giveaway is the tag line on that site: “Free Markets and Social Justice”.  It’s an oxymoron: the two are incompatible.

    I also note that Rachel’s link includes the Lafollette paper that I linked to above.

    • #4
  5. iWc Coolidge
    iWc
    @iWe

    We need to move in precisely the opposite direction. People are the true source of wealth, and loving families are the incubators that make them into productive members of society. 

    So we should allow everyone to spawn (as we do). But make it trivial to adopt, so children who are not wanted can find homes.

    Any government intrusion in this process (as with adoption) is pernicious and will undermine and destroy families.

    • #5
  6. The King Prawn Inactive
    The King Prawn
    @TheKingPrawn

    The nightmare in this is the committee that decides the standards by which the bureaucrats hand out the licenses.

    • #6
  7. The King Prawn Inactive
    The King Prawn
    @TheKingPrawn

    I’ll go all libertarian on this and say that a free breeding market is what we really need. The problem we have, as is pointed out above, is that government interference has distorted the marketplace. People do not have children based on what their fisc can support. The sky’s the limit because Uncle Sugar Daddy will pillage the pockets of the citizenry to ensure no one must bear the cost of their market activity alone.

    • #7
  8. iWc Coolidge
    iWc
    @iWe

    Why are we even giving liberals ideas? Do they need more ways to ruin the lives of good people?

    The easiest way to stop this train is to explain that it is racist.

    • #8
  9. Mario the Gator Inactive
    Mario the Gator
    @Pelayo

    Your thought experiment is almost identical to the way children are created and assigned to parents in “The Giver” by Lois Lowry.  The Utopian society they attempt to create in the story is ultimately unsatisfying and requires Orwellian government control.  Definitely not a Libertarian model.

    • #9
  10. MLH Inactive
    MLH
    @MLH

    Wasn’t Planned Parenthood based on such a (eugenics) idea?

    • #10
  11. C. U. Douglas Thatcher
    C. U. Douglas
    @CUDouglas

    iWc:

    We need to move in precisely the opposite direction. People are the true source of wealth, and loving families are the incubators that make them into productive members of society.

    So we should allow everyone to spawn (as we do). But make it trivial to adopt, so children who are not wanted can find homes.

    Any government intrusion in this process (as with adoption) is pernicious and will undermine and destroy families.

    I think this sums up anything I would say for the most part. 

    • #11
  12. Mike H Coolidge
    Mike H
    @MikeH

    Hahaha. “Bleeding heart libertarians” are a whole different animal. They’re kind of ironic libertarians in that they are looking for ways to use a big state in order to further their perceived libertarian ends.

    • #12
  13. gil.reich@gmail.com Inactive
    gil.reich@gmail.com
    @GilReich

    IMO the people who would support this are really the extreme far left. Most liberals who support Planned Parenthood, Dawkins and Darwin and friends recoil from the eugenics and animal husbandry aspects (or would if they were aware of them). The way Planned Parenthood has distanced themselves from their eugenic past is IMO an indication that most liberals do not support that level of government intervention into reproductive choice and family life.

    • #13
  14. user_189393 Inactive
    user_189393
    @BarkhaHerman

    Is this the libertarian bashing thread du jour?  Rachel – I expect more from you than references from “bleeding heart libertarians” blog with sub-tags including the word “social justice” in them…..

    • #14
  15. Rachel Lu Contributor
    Rachel Lu
    @RachelLu

    Do you think that’s true, Gil? It’d be great if you were right. I’m inclined to think, however, that liberals measure their opposition in terms of how much unpleasantness they can see. So, if it came to dragging people off for forced abortions (like China has done), they’d be squeamish about that. But that’s why I think my contraceptives-in-the-water idea might appeal to them. It’s so sanitary and hands-off. It doesn’t even require government officials to have face-to-face contact with the people whose beliefs would be violated and whose dreams would be wrecked. 

    Children have always been such a problem for liberals. For libertarians too, actually, if they fit into a more libertine, autonomy-at-all-costs sort of mold. They trespass on adult autonomy in all sorts of egregious ways, and if you treat them like little autonomous beings, they run wild and cause even more problems. Liberals would love it if the world could be made up entirely of stable, adult agents, but barring that, restricting and monitoring childbearing might be the next best thing.

    • #15
  16. Rachel Lu Contributor
    Rachel Lu
    @RachelLu

    Barkha Herman:

    Is this the libertarian bashing thread du jour? Rachel – I expect more from you than references from “bleeding heart libertarians” blog with sub-tags including the word “social justice” in them…..

     Not at all, Barkha. I have no doubt that most of our more reasonable Rico-libertarians are properly horrified by this scheme. If you want to evict these people from the libertarian club, I assure you I will not make a peep. But this is where I saw the idea most recently, so I’m just documenting.

    • #16
  17. Owen Findy Member
    Owen Findy
    @OwenFindy

    Rachel Lu: I’m inclined to think, however, that liberals measure their opposition in terms of how much unpleasantness they can see.

    Yes.  Part of the liberal DNA is that they can’t think deeper than what they see right in front of their noses.  And, actually, they recoil from thinking; they prefer feeling.

    • #17
  18. Tom Meyer Contributor
    Tom Meyer
    @tommeyer

    Great topic.

    I’ve joked along the same lines myself. When I think about how many people have children who clearly aren’t capable raising them competently, or who require public assistance from the get-go, or who are just plain crazy, my heart breaks.

    And while I find the arguments in favor of such a scheme very powerful — particularly on the grounds that kids can’t choose their parents and, therefore, often get suck with awful ones — I’m dead set against it because the system would inevitably be manipulated and re-jiggered to hurt those it should be helping. That is, the standards for the license would be subject to political manipulation.

    Counter-hypothetical: as before, the perfect contraceptive is put in the water supply but the antidote is disseminated to everyone allowed to perform a marriage — clergymen, judges, justices-of-the-peace, etc. — to be distributed at their discretion. The only requirement is that records be kept and published of how many kids so produced turned out poorly or were injured or harmed by their parents.

    I still wouldn’t get behind such a scheme, but I’d have fewer worries.

    • #18
  19. gil.reich@gmail.com Inactive
    gil.reich@gmail.com
    @GilReich

    Some of my best friends are liberals. Most of their exposure to conservatives is through a distortive field of liberal media. Likewise, I think some conservatives have an exaggerated view of liberal evil. Perhaps this will speak to MSNBC’s Melissa-Harris Perry (who said we have to get past the idea that children belong to their parents) and Richard Dawkins (who said it was obvious that a mother should abort her Downs Syndrome baby) but yes, I’m quite confident that most liberals are better than that.

    • #19
  20. user_517406 Inactive
    user_517406
    @MerinaSmith

    Liberals would do this in a heartbeat if they could.  They’d just love to restrict children to proper lefty homes.  It drives them crazy that conservative Christians are the ones having kids.  Children in general are a real fly in their ointment.   And sorry libertarians, but for many forms of your persuasion, they are for you too.  Everything changes when the world has to take account of the needs of children, which are essentially conservative.  Children need that most boring of all things–stability and some form of consistency.  And they need to be taught real values.  As Jonah Goldberg puts it, every generation is overrun by barbarians–they’re called children—and society has to transform them into responsible citizens.  This happens best in stable homes with self-sacrificing parents who have some sort of coherent belief system to impart.  This reality just gets in the way of adults doing mostly what they want to do.

    • #20
  21. Rachel Lu Contributor
    Rachel Lu
    @RachelLu

    Oh, I know lots of liberals too, Gil. Almost everyone in my neighborhood. Tons of old friends from the Peace Corps and my university friends. They’re not evil, but they lack any real sense of natural life patterns. So, for example, I look at the world and think how unfortunate it is that we’ve come to see fertility as more curse than blessing, and that our whole culture reflects that. My liberal friends look at the world and think how nice it would be if we could change our “default” fertility setting to “off”. 

    I don’t think most ordinary liberals would directly scheme to use fertility control to their electoral advantage. Democratic strategists and the hard left would see that angle immediately, but for most ordinary folks it would just seem like a good way to ensure that we have no more “crisis pregnancies”, and maybe to curb some of the “abuses” of people who have ten kids with reckless abandon, not reflecting on how awful it will be for those kids to spend their childhoods wearing hand-me-downs and eating tuna casserole. That’s the sort of thing they’ll be saying to themselves.

    • #21
  22. Charles Mark Member
    Charles Mark
    @CharlesMark

    Presumably surrogate mothers would be exempt from all restrictions?

    • #22
  23. Spin Coolidge
    Spin
    @Spin

    What do I think?  I think the following is the most frightening statement I’ve ever read:

    Its worth pointing out that I have not seen a good defense of the claim that natural biological parents should be assumed to have the right to raise the child they create.)

    • #23
  24. Tuck Inactive
    Tuck
    @Tuck

    Merina Smith: Children need that most boring of all things–stability and some form of consistency.

     You should read the book Savage Continent that anonymous just reviewed, and then ponder how out of the utter chaos of the post-WWII period in Europe, in which parentless children were legion, emerged one of the most peaceful and refined group of nations ever to be seen in history.

    That contrast has been one of the most remarkable things so far in reading that book.

    • #24
  25. gil.reich@gmail.com Inactive
    gil.reich@gmail.com
    @GilReich

    Rachel, I’m trying to understand why our experiences are so different. I’m always hesitant to bring up religious cultural differences but maybe this is a safe place to discuss them intelligently. Most of my liberal friends (like most of my conservative friends) are Jewish. Restricting school choice so the government can educate our children? Yes, they’ll go for that. Government responsibility for the weak? Yup. But Darwinian eugenics and husbandry? No. No matter how you frame the decisions. [I hope you don’t tell me most of your liberal friends are Jewish too, and that we still disagree, cause then I’d be back to square one]. So I guess I’m only offering my opinion regarding Jewish liberals.

    • #25
  26. Howellis Inactive
    Howellis
    @ManWiththeAxe

    It might occur to liberals that when conservatives are in power, they could limit child bearing to the populations they (the conservatives) favor. 

    As the population drops, and it becomes clear that all the liberal redistributionist projects will soon run out of money, even a liberal will favor making innumerable exceptions. Soon, the IRC (Internal Reproduction Code) will run to thousands of pages, with tens of thousands of pages of regulations. The wealthy will perform “inversions” in which they go overseas so they can become pregnant, and then bring their children back once they are safely born. 

    And the black market would be something else. The “baby cartels” would be running antidote across the border, and you could get it “if you know a guy.”

    • #26
  27. iWc Coolidge
    iWc
    @iWe

    Tuck: Merina Smith: Children need that most boring of all things–stability and some form of consistency.

     On the other hand…. Our desire to give kids stability and security has created the worst generation of parents in the history of the world.

    • #27
  28. Rachel Lu Contributor
    Rachel Lu
    @RachelLu

    Gil Reich:

    Rachel, I’m trying to understand why our experiences are so different. I’m always hesitant to bring up religious cultural differences but maybe this is a safe place to discuss them intelligently. Most of my liberal friends (like most of my conservative friends) are Jewish. Restricting school choice so the government can educate our children? Yes, they’ll go for that. Government responsibility for the weak? Yup. But Darwinian eugenics and husbandry? No. 

     Gil, do your friends favor the contraceptive mandate? If they think that justice requires us to alleviate the burden of female fertility, I’d say they’re well on their way to supporting things like this. How do they feel about things like the Hobby Lobby case? If they’re okay with forcing religious people to cater same-sex weddings against their will, I’m not inclined to trust their intuitions about what level of government intrusion is acceptable.

    I remember some of my liberal friends, a decade ago, were assuring me that nobody was ever going to force religious people (such as small business owners) to facilitate same-sex marriage against their will. I presented hypothetical cases almost exactly like the ones that eventually arose (in which, say, a wedding photographer loses her business because she won’t shoot a same-sex ceremony), and they solemnly expressed horror at the thought. Seemed pretty okay with it when it actually happened though. 

    I just don’t think people like my liberal friends have any real insulation against whatever the gurus of the further-left decide is now going to be “the new norm”. If you asked them their views on eugenics, of course they would express shock and horror, just as they did over the wedding photographer case (when it was just a hypothetical). But they can easily come to see things in a different light if their primary cultural touchstones (HuffPo, or NYT liberal commentators) decide to sanction something. And again, this would be a very bloodless form of eugenics. Much more palatable on the surface than forced abortions or death camps.

    You’re right though that my liberal friends for the most part are not Jewish. And I’m not saying that liberals are all the same; nevertheless, if liberal Jews have the standard liberal views on the issues I mentioned, I’d be very disinclined to trust them on this.

    • #28
  29. gil.reich@gmail.com Inactive
    gil.reich@gmail.com
    @GilReich

    Good points, Rachel. On Hobby Lobby and SSM I think many just ate what the NYT fed them, accepting positions that would have horrified them in other contexts. I still think that most Jewish liberals do have significant insulation regarding even benign, barely visible eugenics. But maybe I’m fooling myself.
    The contraceptive mandate increases a woman’s reproductive choice. I don’t think that reverses so easily to opposing it.
    I’m now remembering some of your articles regarding the abuse you take for being a religious Catholic. In Israel, there’s resentment of religious Jews for having so many kids, especially for the Ultra-Orthodox, some of whom neither serve in the army nor work. This has led to reduced child allowances, and changes regarding army conscription. Could demographic fears ever lead liberal Jews in Israel to support a benign sterilization regime? Could you need a license for a fifth kid? Or face economic penalties? I don’t think so. But now you’ve got me thinking. Would some like if the default switch were off? I guess in some contexts, many would. Now you’ve depressed me.

    • #29
  30. user_517406 Inactive
    user_517406
    @MerinaSmith

    iWc:

    Tuck: Merina Smith: Children need that most boring of all things–stability and some form of consistency.

    On the other hand…. Our desire to give kids stability and security has created the worst generation of parents in the history of the world.

     If only most children had security and stability.  No, I’d say at least 50% don’t because of our high divorce and single parent rate.  The children raised in secure and stable families in my experience turn out very well and thrive in life.  

    • #30

Comments are closed because this post is more than six months old. Please write a new post if you would like to continue this conversation.