Steven Horwitz says: make babies, make more babies.

The Foundation for Economic Education is a right-wing think tank. It may therefore not be entirely surprising to see that it has published a natalist article by Steven Horwitz. This article starts by praising Bryan Caplan (the useful idiot of the natalists, whose arguments I have debunked many times before), and ranting against bioethicist Travis Rieder for saying that children are negative externalities. His article is meant as a reply to Rieder and, by extension, as a debunking of antinatalism, so let’s look at his arguments.

He, like so many environmentalists, sees human beings only as consumers of resources. So one core statistic he trots out is that the amount of CO2 saved by not having a child is roughly 20 times what we can save through traditional things like driving hybrids and recycling. Therefore, he and the other people discussed in the story conclude, if we really want to “save the planet,” we should have fewer, if any, children.

But this is single-entry economic and moral bookkeeping. This view ignores the idea that humans are also producers. As Julian Simon reminded us so often, more people not only means more hands to work and more minds to create, it means more different people with different ideas. Increases in population not only deepen the division of labor and productivity by their sheer numbers, they also take advantage of the fact that each of us is unique which leads to new ideas and innovation.

Even on the face of it, this is not an adequate response. Rieder’s point is an urgent one, given the fact that we are plunging headlong towards environmental disaster. It is vitally important that procreation slows down. Only some of us are intelligent enough and fortunate enough to be producers and innovators, while all of us pollute and consume. So on that basis alone, Horwitz is missing the mark.

But there’s also the problem that these two things do not cancel out. Having more people so they can produce more is even worse for the environment, because production inevitably implies pollution. Innovation usually means the means to produce more, or to produce new things, which again produces more pollution. If anything, Horwitz’s argument strengthens the “new lives are a negative externality” position!

But what is ultimately missing is any sort of reference to the interests of the child. Horwitz wants to convince us that having children is good because children will grow up to be producers and innovators. What he does not tell us in the entire article is why any child should be convinced by this rhetoric. Why should anyone’s life purpose be set by Horwitz’s economic calculations? And if a child does not grow up to be a producer and innovator, does that mean they have not fulfilled their purpose? In short, why should any new life care what Horwitz, or his natalist colleagues, think about the purpose of their life?

Such growth is what has made it possible for the Earth to sustain 7 billion lives of increasing length, comfort, and quality. Reducing the population might mean we use up more resources by losing the efficiencies that come from a larger population’s greater ability to innovate and productively specialize.

This last statement is absurd. It is not as if we currently have one person doing every job, knowing one special area of knowledge, and that having fewer people would deprive us of a specialty. No, many people do the same job, and losing some of them would not affect our “ability to productively specialize.” Having seven billion people, one billion people, or even 500 million people, is surely not necessary to “productively specialize,” as long as you’re willing to educate everyone and provide for everyone’s needs. That is the part that terrorizes capitalists, because they are absolutely unwilling to do this, and so they push for natalism instead of providing for the people who are already here. And THAT, in short, is why idiots like Caplan and Horwitz push for natalism.

The benefits of having more kids are not primarily to the parents involved, though as Caplan points out there are many. More people means we are better able to beat back omnipresent scarcity and carve out a more inhabitable planet for more people who live longer, better lives.

This refers to Bryan Caplan’s natalist book, Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids: Why Being a Great Parent is Less Work and More Fun Than You Think. I think the title tells you everything you need to know about it. We hear so much about the advantages of breeding because it’s a propaganda front: adults need to be bombarded by the “benefits of having kids” because the negatives are so obvious and easy to understand, and if it was up to an unbiased and totally free choice most people would never breed.

That aside, the “reasoning” that more people means we can “beat back” scarcity is the exact opposite of what logic would dictate. The more humans that exist on this planet, especially humans who live in Western countries, the more resources they need to continue to exist. The resources of this planet are finite. Therefore, logically, the more people there are, the more likely it is for those resources to be scarce. The longer people live, and the “better” they live (meaning: the more technology they use, and therefore the pollution they generate, either by themselves or through energy generation), the more scarce resources are. The natalist reasoning is completely irrational, but that’s because they are justifying an irrational ideology.

The other crucial point Rieder and people like him miss is that the Earth’s population is already in the process of stabilizing. One of the most agreed upon empirical facts of history is the so-called “demographic transition.” As societies become wealthier and more industrialized, the incentives facing parents change and family size falls. Once mom and dad, or perhaps only one of them, can earn enough income to support a family, and there’s no farm or cottage industry that requires the whole family pitching in, the need for many children is much less and parents seek to control their fertility.

This “demographic transition” is not backed by the evidence. Yes, we are planned to enter such a transition, but we are nowhere near that point yet: we have a few billion people left before population growth stabilizes, under most realistic scenarios. So this is clearly an ignorant statement on Horwitz’s part.

Furthermore, the fact that higher wealth and industrialization leads to lower birth rates is a powerful objection to a major natalist argument, the argument that procreation is natural and a basic drive of human beings. If that was the case, then being more wealthy and having more time-saving machines would lead to people have more children, not less. In his eagerness to “prove” that there’s no overpopulation problem, Horwitz is tripping over natalist premises without even acknowledging it.

Thankfully Rieder does not want to use Chinese-style coercion to limit family size, but he’s not afraid to tax larger families more heavily. Even that isn’t necessary given the reality of the demographic transition: in a free society, human beings naturally limit their fertility as they get wealthier. Again, the best way to save the planet is not to have fewer kids, but to have as many as you can afford and let their productivity enable us to use resources with more efficiency and create more progress.

There is no coherent argument here, and the set of statements here are a non-sequitur. Taxing larger families has nothing to do with wealthy families but with how many children they have. The “demographic transition” nonsense is repeated again, with no evidence. And none of this has anything to do with “saving the planet.” This is a real mess. I’ve already addressed the bizarre argument that more children will lead to less scarcity, so I will not repeat it here.

The radical wing of environmentalism is, as Ayn Rand said decades ago, “anti-life” and “anti-human” in its belief that humans are the scourge of the planet and not the source of its progress. After all, if the important thing is saving the planet by reducing our carbon footprint, why stop by persuading people to not have kids?

Why not persuade currently living people, especially young ones, to reduce their lifetime carbon footprint by killing themselves? The logic is no different.

Ho-hum. This is the standard argument addressed to antinatalists: “if you’re against life, then why don’t you kill yourself?” It is not made any less offensive by making the suicide hypothetical. Telling people to kill themselves is heartless.

But to answer the point: suicide is a different kind of thing than not having kids. Not having kids means not bringing in new lives into this world, which, as long as they remain potential, have no desires, values, and cannot suffer. Suicide is about ending already existing lives, people who have desires, values, and can suffer. Whatever your opinion is about suicide, they are still wholly different things. Not having kids does not entail suffering (the frustration of the desire to have children does, but not the absence itself), while suicide does.

But equally importantly, it is true that suicide reduces one’s lifetime carbon footprint. So why not persuade people to kill themselves? Well, for one, not having kids, while a very hated position, is probably an easier sell than inducing people to kill themselves. Enjoining people to not have children will get you vilified, but encouraging suicide would probably land you in jail. Apparently Horwitz doesn’t think that’s important.

That they don’t make that argument suggests that “saving the planet” really isn’t the overriding issue here. Like so much else in the Green movement, this seems to be about protecting their own comfortable lives against what they think will happen when everyone else is able to live lives like they have. They got their progress and health and children, but everyone else needs to sacrifice for the sake of the planet. That Rieder does have a child is some evidence of this point.

For the first time, I agree with Horwitz… but note that he’s addressing Greenies here, not antinatalism. I agree that liberal environmentalism is mostly about preserving the Western way of life while sacrificing the third world for the sake of preserving capitalism. I also agree that so-called environmentalists having children are little more than human vermin, and I have zero respect for such people.

Not only is Rieder’s argument deeply immoral and reactionary in how wrong it is, it turns out to be far less altruistic than it first seems. Nothing could capture the total failure of radical environmentalist anti-natalism better than calling it “selfish reasons everyone else should have fewer kids.”

But the previous argument was about environmentalists who have kids, not antinatalist environmentalists. So it seems here that the conclusion is misplaced. It is breeding that is fundamentally selfish, not antinatalism. There is nothing selfish about having fewer or no kids, as no one is being hurt by new lives not being brought into existence (except in limit cases, which are not relevant in today’s world). So it seems silly to call anything “selfish reasons everyone else should have fewer kids.” What are those reasons? I suppose Horwitz would answer that not having children is selfish because you’re lowering the standard of living for everyone, but that comes from his delusional worldview, not anything resembling reality.

Wondermark on: commercial success, male novels, ultra-rationalism.



From Wondermark (1, 2, 3).

On corporate “benevolence.”

Did you know that there was a time in U.S. history—which is by definition recent history—when a corporation was generally intended to have some sort of public interest that they served? I mean, that’s the whole point of allowing corporations to form. Corporations are recognized by the commonwealth or state, and this recognition is not a right but a privilege, in exchange for which the state (representing the people) is allowed to ask, “So what does this do for everyone else?”

The way the economy is now is a direct result of a shift away from this thinking and to one where a corporation is an entity unto itself whose first, last, and only concern is an ever-increasing stream of profits. What you’re calling “benevolent capitalism” isn’t benevolent at all. It’s a pure profit/loss calculation designed to distract from—not even paper over or stick a band-aid on—the problems capitalism creates. And the fact that you’re here championing it as “benevolent capitalism” is a sign of how ell it’s working.

Let’s take Toms, as one example. The shoe that’s a cause. Buy a pair of trendy shoes, and a pair of trendy shoes will be given away to someone somewhere in the world who can’t afford them.

That’s not genuine benevolence. That’s selling you, the consumer, on the idea that you can be benevolent by buying shoes, that the act of purchasing these shoes is an act of charity. The reality is that their model is an inefficient means of addressing the problems on the ground that shoelessness represents, and severely disrupts the local economies of the locations selected for benevolence.

(Imagine what it does to the local shoemakers, for instance.)

The supposed act of charity is just a value add to convince you to spend your money on these shoes instead of some other shoes. It’s no different than putting a prize in a box of cereal.

Heck, you want to see how malevolent this is?

Go ask a multinational corporation that makes shoes or other garments to double the wages of their workers. They’ll tell you they can’t afford it, that it’s not possible, that consumers won’t stand for it, that you’ll drive them out of business and then no one will have wages.

But the fact that a company can give away one item for every item sold shows you what a lie this is. A one-for-one giving model represents double the cost of labor and materials for each unit that is sold for revenue. Doubling wages would only double the labor.

So why are companies willing to give their products away (and throw them away, destroy unused industry with bleach and razors to render them unsalvageable, et cetera) but they’re not willing to pay their workers more?

Because capitalism is the opposite of benevolence.

“Charity” is by definition exemplary, above and beyond, extraordinary, extra. “Charity” is not something that people are entitled to. You give people a shirt or shoes or some food and call it charity, and you’re setting up an expectation that you can and will control the stream of largesse in the future, and anything and everything you give should be considered a boon from on high.

On the other hand, once you start paying your workers a higher wage, you’re creating an expectation. You’re admitting that their labor is more valuable to you than you were previously willing to admit, and it’s hard to walk that back.

Plus, when people have enough money for their basic needs, they’re smarter and stronger and warier and more comfortable with pushing back instead of being steamrolled over. They have time and money to pursue education. They can save money up and maybe move away. They can escape from the system that depends on a steady flow of forced or near-forced labor.

So companies will do charitable “buy one, give one” and marketing “buy one, get one” even though these things by definition double the overhead per unit, but they won’t do anything that makes a lasting difference in the standard of living for the people.

Capitalism has redefined the world so that the baseline of ethics is “How much money can we make?” and every little good deed over and above that is saintly.

But there’s nothing benevolent about throwing a scrap of bread to someone who’s starving in a ditch because you ran them out of their home in the first place.

It’s important to try to figure out what life is like for children, too.

A moms’ blog is probably the last place I would link to, but this article about understanding children’s perspective is pretty important, I think.

As a therapist, I often try to imagine what life is like for young children. If I want to find a solution to difficult behavior, I first have to try to understand it. And each time I put myself in the shoes of a young child I come to the same conclusion: Not a single one of us adults could cope with the things they have to cope with.

For starters, think about being told what to do, when to do it, and how to do it — endlessly. Eat this thing that you’ve never seen before. Don’t make a rude face (what does rude mean?). It’s time to go somewhere you don’t want to go, and hurry, hurry, hurry to meet an arbitrary timeline that means nothing to you.

Imagine failing as much as a young child does. Not being able to make your hands move the right way to cut the paper, stumbling as you run across the lawn, spilling the milk you so desperately wanted to pour (and here I am, exasperated with him again).

The problem with equality.

“Equality” is the watchword of liberals and other milder right-wing groups. I have written about equality of outcomes before. It is an extremely unpopular concept, and not what most people mean by “equality.” Therefore it is probably not a good idea to use equality for that sort of thing.

It is therefore important to distinguish carefully between equality, equity (or fairness), and liberation. There is a somewhat famous image showing three children, of different heights, trying to look at a baseball game, but are blocked by a fence. Equality is portrayed as giving them all equal sized boxes, meaning that only the taller children can see the game. Equity is portrayed as giving everyone enough boxes so they can see. And liberation means taking down the fence.

The analogy with ethical issues and political issues, I think, is obvious. For instance, gender equality means giving men and women the same opportunities to safety, employment, and so on, without taking into account the different ways in which men and women are treated by society and our institutions (in short, liberal feminism). Gender equity means giving men and women the means to have equal outcomes regardless of their gender (e.g. equal wages for equal work, wages for housework, socializing men to be less aggressive). And gender liberation means abolishing gender (radical feminism).

Equality, therefore, is a trap in the same way that liberal feminism is a trap regarding gender issues: its ultimate aim is to justify hierarchies while pretending to alleviate their negative effects. Economic equality measures, from higher minimum wage to universal income, are better than no measures, but they ultimately serve the role, as they always have, of propping up the capitalist order. All welfare systems have served this role. They have always been a result of the tension between the lower classes (working class, students, the poor) and the interests of the elite, for as long as there’s been class warfare.

The main goal of any (social) hierarchy is to perpetuate its own existence, because of the people whose livelihood and/or social status depend on the hierarchy and the beliefs which the hierarchy has propagated to support itself. Equality rhetoric is perfect for this, because it preserves the hierarchy while using equality as a perceived reward. Equality measures within a hierarchy does not really affect the inequalities of power between the superiors and inferiors in a hierarchy. The only way to end inequalities within a hierarchy is to eliminate that hierarchy, liberation, because superiors and inferiors are an inherent part of any hierarchy.

There are two major kinds of hierarchies, institutions and systemic prejudice, and so there are two different ways in which this can be expressed. Equality within institutions usually means that the rules apply equally to everyone (leading to the famous maxim that both poor and rich people are prevented by the law from sleeping under bridges). In theory, everyone has a chance of gaining status and power, but this does not refute the existence of that power. For instance, having more women be CEOs or scientists does not refute the existence of the corporate or scientific hierarchies. On the contrary, it props them up as valid, in much the same way that most religions seek validation by making their own charities.

Hierarchies are the core problem, not lack of mobility within them. Hierarchies are bad because their very structure assumes that some people’s values or desires are more important than other people’s (omitting values which seek to harm other people, which should already be dealt with by society at large). Once you have a structure with superior and inferior strata, the values of that superior stratum inevitably diverge from that of the rest.

People are aware that our ethical viewpoints dictate our views about power. However, the distribution of power also influences our ethical viewpoints. Of course, people who have power can, to some extent, influence or dictate what we’re supposed to accept as right or wrong. A structure which gives some people the right to order around other people will necessarily lead to some level of undermining of our moral sense. Militaries and cults are more extreme examples of this, but it takes place in all hierarchies. Inherent to the existence of hierarchies is the denial of moral autonomy and the manipulation of people’s values for a “higher good” (usually the good of the leaders of the hierarchy, or the hierarchy itself).

But another point is that the distribution of power dictates the possibilities of ethical behavior we can perform. The more money we have, the more influence we have, the more authority we have, the more we’re able to bring about better or worse outcomes for others. A multi-millionaire can contribute effectively to benevolent charities, or start their own, while a poor person cannot do the same. Influential figures can leverage their influence by getting people to help a certain person or a certain situation, while others cannot.

This is another way in which hierarchical status can influence the importance given to one person’s values. When we hear about rich or influential people and their impact on the world through charities or advocacy, we applaud their values and see them as being important moral agents. But that is really the result of hierarchies, a construct, which does not reflect real moral worth.

Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal on: compatibilism, pregnancy fetishes, pick-up artists.



From Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal (1, 2, 3).

“If ‘sex work is work’, poverty is necessary”

For instance, if instead of paying for sex a landlord would rather receive sexual favours from a tenant living rent-free, would that really be so bad? Well, yes, actually it would, at least according to recent reports of landlords making this very offer. Apparently, this is an appalling example of the current housing market allowing predatory men to exploit the vulnerable.

Only if this is the case, why is paying for sex not viewed with the same horror? It’s the same marketplace, the same bodies, the same needs. All sex for rent does is cut out the symbolic means of exchange in the middle. Yet far from decrying the exchange of sex for money, supposedly progressive organisations such as Amnesty International and the NUS, in addition to mainstream political parties such as the Liberal Democrats and the Greens, are pushing to liberalise attitudes towards the purchase of sex. Why are these two things seen so differently?

True, live-in work carries with it particular risks and uncertainties, but do any of us feel the same qualms about housekeepers or nannies getting to live rent-free? And aren’t many of us doing jobs we’d rather not do, only a pay check or two away from eviction? So why should sex for rent be seen as especially problematic?…

I’d go so far as to suggest the mainstream left has no real right to be shocked about sex for rent. After all, it’s only the logical conclusion of a pseudo-feminist politics which refuses to engage fully with power and labour redistribution, choosing instead to talk in circles about the right of individuals to do whatever they like with their own bodies while bypassing any analysis of why one group seeks to control the sexual and reproductive lives of another. It’s politics for the unthinking and the privileged, yet it appears we can all afford to be unthinking and privileged when it’s only the bodies of women at stake.

The American Underdog Myth

This comic is too long to paste here, but go check it out, it’s really good.