Questions With Easy Answers

Prof. Ann Althouse (whose surname I want to spell Althaus, just because) asks what will sex education look like when the government decides it’s time to encourage young women to get pregnant.  She links to a NYT article about birth rates in Europe.

The linked NYT article does discuss a few initiatives that are government-sponsored, such as in Putin’s Russia, but most seem to be from the private sector: magazines, pop culture, even churches.  There’s the obligatory pointing out that as the population ages, lavish public spending will become increasing hard to maintain, although the pollyannish NYT writer decrees that “productivity gains over time” will make up for the fact that the number of people across whom your tax base must fit is shrinking relative to the number of people drawing from that tax base.  As you would expect from anyone whose understanding of economic activity is on a par with that of a South Seas Islander devotee of a cargo cult, she doesn’t explore how productivity, which requires massive, long-term, continuous investment in both human and material capital, is going to keep going up as ever-larger slices of its returns get hoovered up by an ever-more voracious government in the form of taxation.

[Aside:  This glib assumption that productivity will continue to grow irrespective of how much flesh is carved from the body economic in taxes and regulation seems to be a blind spot of the left-extremists.  They’re perfectly able to understand that tax policies and regulation drive behavior, as with so-called “green energy” tax breaks, or other tax-based hand-outs to their favored constituencies, or the individual mandate of the “Affordable” Care Act.  But they never seem to grasp that non-targeted tax policies, such as generally higher or generally lower taxes on productivity, or generally more or less onerous regulation, also drive behavior.  Similarly, they do not seem to grasp (maybe they do; I just have never been exposed to any statement or proposal from which that grasp is apparent) that even unpredictability in these matters drives behavior.  Capital investment has very long time horizons.  In thinking about whether to spend time and money now and for the next few years on Project X, I have to achieve some measure of comfort not only about what the economic landscape looks like today, but also I have to achieve some comfort level with my assumptions about what it will look like five or ten years down the line, when I hope finally to be reaping the rewards of my investment.  The devastatingly simple truth is that you cannot keep cranking up taxes and regulatory burdens on the productive members of society without seeing massive loss — some measurable, some not: how do you measure innovations that never happen because you’ve made it not worthwhile to put in the time and money? — in the society’s aggregate well-being.  It’s the phenomenon that Amity Schlaes calls a “capital strike.”  I’ve yet to hear a leftist come right out and acknowledge that.]

Althouse asks what we can think of as the next question implicit in that NYT article:  Government looks around, realizes it has to do something about its tax base, and decides to get into the business of encouraging pregnancy among young women, that it needs to “do something.”  What does that “something” look like?

This being America, of course, we have that pesky li’l 14th Amendment which requires that what is done for one must be done for all, and so here we’ve also got issues about deciding which young women we want to encourage to get pregnant, and how we direct our efforts to them with minimal effect on non-desired target groups.  At the risk of belching in church, we do not want unmarried, unskilled teenagers getting pregnant.  We do not want unmarried, unskilled, unemployed women already on public assistance to get pregnant.

The problem of course is that short of coerced insemination everything that government can do must fall under the category of persuasion.  Almost everything that might persuade a woman whom we would like to see reproduce will also be very persuasive to a woman whom we’d just as leave not.  There are very few criteria that you could grasp by way of selection that would hold up under the 14th Amendment.  Age would be one, but that’s very, very imperfect, because of how long a woman’s child-bearing years last.  Most of the “bad” demographic indicators — above all unmarried first birth while a teenager — are strong predictors of social pathologies even for that same woman’s children born at any time in her later years.  In other words, if you’re a 21-year-old with three children, all born out of wedlock, statistically it doesn’t much matter if your next child is not born until you’re 31:  That child is nearly as likely to experience bad life outcomes as those first three.  Harsh to contemplate, but those are the numbers.

A further thought suggests itself:  Once government gets into the business of encouraging pregnancy, you cannot avoid the issue of thinking about whom do you encourage.  This is because the answer to the question will vary depending on the political objectives of who is asking the question.  For some people, it is precisely those women who are the least likely to be able successfully and independently to raise productive members of society that will be the most-favored target group.  Think I’m talking through my hat?  As long ago as 1966, two professors writing in The Nation advocated specifically the recruitment of a government-dependent permanent underclass for the explicit purpose of forging electoral alliances to back radical-leftist political ends.  As the Blogfather would say, read it all here.  Think I’m over-stating their cynicism?  The article specifically advocates fighting against programs the effect of which would be to give the government-dependent the life skills necessary to escape that dependency.  Seriously, you have to read it to believe it.  Not since Stalin starved Russia’s peasants of their own food in order to subsidize the rapid industrialization of the cities has anyone called for such callous exploitation of an entire segment of society for one’s own political purposes.

A final thought intrudes, on the lines of there being nothing new in the world.  At least here in the United States we have a large portion of the political spectrum which joyfully reaches for the nostrums of the 1930s to address the tumults of the 21st Century.  Sure enough, it turns out that the 1930s provide us a blueprint of how to encourage not only fertility, but “public service” among the young women of society.  It was called the “Bund deutscher Mädel,” and it was the sister organization to the Hitlerjugend.  Both groups were herded apart from their parents, against whom they were encouraged to rebel, and on whom they were encouraged to inform, and were consciously thrown together, all while being constantly reminded of the duty to produce more little soldiers for the Führer.  There is a vignette in William L. Shirer where he recalls seeing the joyful romps through field and forest by the broadly smiling, lusty (not to say lustful) youth of Germany.  Members of both groups had to do a period of what we would now refer to as “public service” in some menial capacity.

None of the above thoughts provides any comfort for someone thinking about the answer to Prof. Althouse’s question.  Maybe the question is not what such efforts would look like, but whether government needs to get into that business in the first place.

But the actual answer to Prof. Althouse’s question is pretty easy, I suggest:  It would look something like Cloward-Piven, with generous borrowings from the organizational manuals of the Nazi party.

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