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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?