We won’t make progress dealing with the overpopulation of the world without tackling and dismantling some of the pronatalist policies, habits, and customs that seem so natural to us we can’t imagine life without them.
The most obvious example, of course, is tax policy. As our children were growing up, the two of us enjoyed an exemption for both of them that reduced our taxes, and later we were able to claim an additional tax credit on top of the exemption. Even the marriage bonus built in to the tax code is pronatalist, because it encourages people to couple up, with an obvious preference for those who position themselves to make babies.
And there’s no limit to our generosity. If a married couple conceives two children and stops, they will replace themselves. But we don’t stop there. We keep allowing more and more tax credits for more and more little children to grow to adulthood and eat the food we need, urinate in the water we drink, foul the air, and defecate in our sewage systems.
When a woman gives birth to one child, or decides to forego having children at all, we’re not sure how to respond. Is she unhealthy? Selfish? Immature? When we select the Mother of the Year, it’s rarely the one with two children and almost never the woman who stopped with one. We select the one who had four or five children and, by doing so, send a not-so-subtle signal what parenting decisions we favor.
When a woman gives birth to five or six children in one multiple birth, there is a nearly universal chorus of oohs, ahs, and unconditional support. How marvelous! Five babies! SIX babies! We follow their progress on the news and wait anxiously for word of the success of the extraordinarily expensive medical care that’s always needed.
We had a personal taste of this when our two children were about eight and five. Lee’s brother, his wife, and their two children were on vacation together with us at the beach. Lee’s brother was with friends and Amanda was busy at a conference, so Lee and his sister-in-law decided to take the four children to breakfast. The four young cousins resembled each other enough to be siblings, so this amalgamated family looked for all the world like a mom, dad, and their four children aged 8 to 4. The response in the restaurant was immediate, palpable, and breathtaking. All eyes turned approvingly on this “model family.” We were bathed in smiles. “Can we help you with a high chair?” Patrons and staff spoke tenderly to all four children, asked them questions, and laughed at their silliness. The manager brought out hot biscuits just for us. It was a real awakening moment.
When your city, church or synagogue sponsors an event and charges “$5 per person or $20 per family,” know that it is encouraging more people to make babies. Ditto when a college extends more financial aid to families with four children than those with only one.
Let’s be clear about this. Children are expensive. We’re not saying that any of these rewards we provide to parents with more than two children is enough to offset those costs. We’re not even saying that all of them together are enough. Having children costs money and having more children costs more money. What we are saying is that a family’s decision to have an additional child imposes a burden not only on that family but also on the society in which the family lives. When we get serious about limiting or reversing population growth, we will change our pronatalist polices and customs and begin forcing families that produce multiple children to pay more of the costs they impose on the rest of us by doing so.
At a minimum, we should make it a bedrock policy of every progressive government to ensure that no unwanted child is ever conceived. Every man and woman who wants birth control should have access to it in a free clinic where he or she is treated with courtesy, respect, and dignity and rewarded for his or her sense of responsibility. We’re not talking about forcing anyone to make a decision that’s not right for them. We’re talking about giving every citizen the power to limit the number of his or her offspring, a decision we now know is in the interests of all of us.