Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Humane Eugenics

What with a 200-post backlog in my Google Reader, I haven’t been keeping up with my blogroll.  Unfortunately, because I still can’t get Google Reader to carry it, Hit Coffee tends to be the last thing I read.  So I missed this exchange when it originally came out  (my comments will follow):


The [American] Prospect’s theme is that it’s not really the male gender that’s been dealt a blow — it’s lower-class (they call it “traditional” or “working-class”) style of masculinity. So we turn to the question of whether that’s a bad thing. If the economy doesn’t need that kind of man, does society? I was brought up to hold myself above lazy men, violent men, and most of all, dumb men. That didn’t come from shadowy gangs of feminist Illuminati. That came from a dad who grew up without an indoor toilet.


I think the question here is “What is society for?” or perhaps “Who is society for?” I am extremely uncomfortable with the notion that because we don’t need a particular type that we should not lament their inability to participate in life. Or, when possible, to help them do so.

By “participate in life” I mean have children and get married, at least for those that wish to do so.

This isn’t just about blue collar men. It’s also why I am uncomfortable with the notion of prohibiting those on welfare to reproduce. To me, that’s a part of life. Just because you are not productive enough to supply for yourself does not mean morally that you should not be able to have a family. It may practically mean that if there is not enough money to help these people, but an inability to help these women have families strikes me as unfortunate just as we are incapable of helping men who cannot have families (because they can’t get married).


I look at it not in terms of morality, but in terms of social utility. If you think people on welfare are substantially capable of having contributing offspring, then your philosophy makes sense. If you believe they aren’t, it makes sense to limit their reproduction for the social good.

Furthermore, if anyone who has a child is entitled to taxpayer support, it’s no stretch to realize there are many people who won’t see an incentive to work to support their children.

Will, do you know what percentage of people receive cash aid? It’s close to 20 percent. And as I’ve explained before, more than 50 percent of new babies nationwide receive food assistance through the Women and Infant Children program. So more than half the babies being born are born to parents who, according to federal guidelines, can’t afford to feed them adequately without taxpayer assistance. This is not something that just started because of the recession; it’s been going on for some time. Does that seem too high to you?

I have bad feelings about every one of the people I grew up with whose parents were on welfare, or who received it themselves (when they became teen parents). Every single one was dishonest, conniving, and abusive, albeit sometimes fun. That’s not to say there weren’t *non*-welfare receipients for whom I had bad feelings, too.

On the other hand, the welfare state *creates* jobs for people. What would a society be like in which the bottom 20 percent just disappeared?


Pretty bad for that twenty percent.

Can we square this circle?

Here are the three principles with which I approach the problem:

1.  American society is for Americans. All Americans, not just for some Marin County subculture. And not for foreigners.  Trumwill gets this point.

2.  Children are for people paying their own way.  If you’re a long-term net drain on the public fisc and a negative externality in general, then be assured that we don’t want more people like you.  Sheila gets this point.

3.  The social order must be sustainable.  On this, all participants agree.

In Herbert Spencer’s heyday, life operated according to straightforward Darwinian principles:  if you couldn’t support yourself by your own talent and energy, then your genes didn’t survive.  You died of disease and malnutrition, or you didn’t mate, or you left no surviving offspring.  Either way, natural selection bred a better European.

Life hasn’t worked that way in a while, and libertarian fantasies to the contrary, it’s in no danger of making a comeback.

But that’s just it.  Sheila, while not exactly cheering the reduction in marriage and mating prospects of economically marginalized “proles”, is certainly indifferent to it.  Fair enough.  But we mustn't ignore this salient fact:  men don’t make babies.  Women make babies.  And the long-running thrust of government power has been to use civil-rights laws, affirmative action, and public dole to “liberate” women from their economic dependence on husbands.  Thus freed, women mate with and reproduce by the very “dumb, violent and lazy men” Sheila holds herself above.  Until we address female behavior and incentives, Sheila’s and Trumwill’s discussion about men will be entirely beside the point.

Of course, including women in our consideration only makes the problem harder.  Never mind natural selection:  pursuing a policy of voluntary sterilization is advocated by exactly nobody of stature comparable to William Shockley, who was roundly condemned for it when it would primarily have affected blacks.  Does it really become more likely when it affects whites, too?

But as commenter Maria points out, there is another side to this problem: 

The country needs a manufacturing base and that means blue-collar workers. So to say that the economy doesn’t “need” that type of man is wrong. The globalized economy with outsourcing to the lowest labor cost doesn’t “need” blue-collar workers in developed nations. But do we “need” the globalized economy with outsourcing to the lowest labor cost?  We “need” a manufacturing base and blue-collar workers come with that. Without one, we are just consumers of debt and products who have no real wealth to speak of.

Trumwill seconds:

Well, we need to produce. It is theoretically possible to have no manufacturing base by virtue of superior engineering and design. Add enough value through engineering and you can outsource the manufacturing and be okay by transferring wealth (either through welfare or through service industry jobs) from the engineers to those that don’t have the smarts for it.  The question is whether or not this country is capable of producing enough wealth through engineering that it can support everyone else (except for domestic production like food) through a robust service industry and welfare. That’s a pretty tough thing to do. Right now we’re not producing enough money to pay our government for the services (and service jobs) it is providing.

Maria finishes:

The welfare system may have been sustainable if it weren’t for mass unskilled immigration — I can’t say for sure. I do know it is not sustainable when we keep importing new customers for it from foreign countries via mass unskilled immigration.

I don’t mind helping out society’s losers, even permanently, but I really see red when it comes to importing poor people or children or elderly people for me to support from foreign countries.

In addition, importing millions of unskilled workers while at the same time we are exporting millions of relatively low-skilled jobs, is just plain stupid.”

Exactly.  An industrial policy that increases the supply of jobs that require only moderate intelligence, and an immigration policy that reduces the number of people needing those jobs, will go a long way to restoring the economic viability, and thus the reproductive viability, of America’s working class.


Elusive Wapiti said...

One thing is clear: liberalism in its current state--that is, having successfully pinned its eugenic past on innocent right-wingers--has been steeply dysgenic.

And Maria is wrong...the welfare state is self-defeating in that the leftism that gives us the welfare state also depresses the h-e-double-hockey-sticks out of the fertility rate. A society needs a pyramid-shaped population to sustain a welfare state. We've gone to a column, in some places an hourglass.

The welfare state would have (and will) tumbled on its own with or without illegal aliens sucking from the public teat. The presence of the illegals just accelerates the collapse.

Ferdinand Bardamu said...

Unfortunately, because I still can’t get Google Reader to carry it, Hit Coffee tends to be the last thing I read.

I've got Hit Coffee in my Google Reader just fine. The trick is that you have to copy and paste the RSS URL directly and not the main URL. You'll find it under the Meta list on the front page:

Anonymous said...

Children are for people paying their own way. If you’re a long-term net drain on the public fisc and a negative externality in general, then be assured that we don’t want more people like you. Sheila gets this point.

What about a society that is stacked against people being able to pay their own way? In a desolate society, they'll die for the reasons discussed (malnutrition and whatnot). But what about a society that has, in the aggregate, quite a bit of wealth but where it's concentrated at the top and has policies directed against everyone else?

The solutions are either to not let significant portions of the population reproduce or to change the policies. Changing the policies can either be through welfare or changes in labor law (if we liberally include trade and immigration within it). Both involve transfers of wealth in some fashion or another and both are helping the lower classes subsist by way of public policy.

My views on welfare changed somewhat while I was in Deseret. Almost everyone I worked with that had children seemed to be the beneficiaries of some public policy or another (or of the Relief Society). But past a certain age that did not seem to be the case nearly as often or they wouldn't talk about. Granted, I worked in a white collar environment and folks in a different environment could be on public assistance for a much longer period of time, but the ultimate result was that it allowed people to start families earlier.

It's not uncommon among doctors (even Republican doctors) to accept government assistance while in med school or residency. The idea/rationalization behind it is that when they're full-blown docs they will be more than paying their way in spades through taxes, which actually made a degree of sense.

But everything is set up, both for the Deseretians and the doctors, that it's extremely difficult to be able to pay their own way with a child. For the doctors that ends the day they start their practice, but for Deseretians it can go on much longer despite their superior work ethic. And in the current economy, it's set up that way for a lot more people than it was before.

And even beyond the work ethic of the Mormons and the earning potential of the doctors, in the days before welfare reform it was far more common than not for people on AFDC to be off of it after a few years. On the other hand, many of those people will be working public-sector jobs... but at least they'll be working for their pay and if the system is such that there are not enough equivalent jobs in the private sector...

I'm not sure if there is a central thesis here except that these are some of the reasons I am not nearly as disturbed/outraged by people having children they cannot afford as I used to be.

Φ said...

Trumwill: I'm pretty sure that doctors and Mormons are not who Sheila was writing about. I am sure it wasn't who I was writing about.

Anonymous said...

No doubt, though both groups are considered among those that aren't paying their own way. Now, in both cases it's circumstantial (the doctors, if engineers, would already be paying their own way, and the Mormons, if raised in my vibrant home city, would likely be able to do the same) and temporary... but it's also circumstancial. Sometimes circumstance makes it difficult for people that would like to pay their own way to do so. Take out the subsidies that all parents receive (public education, tax credits) and the number of people that can't pay their own way goes up even among the same set of individuals. The ability to pay one's own way is often not a morality/capability issue but rather a circumstancial one. We could easily reach the point where it's far more than Sheila's speculated 20% that are getting more than they are taking back. Even if we use the government to create situations (trade and immigration restrictions, if they work, for example, or a more robust welfare/jobs program) where they can support themselves... well, in a sense they're still not paying their own way.

Φ said...

Trumwill: I'm pretty sure I specified "long-term net drain on the public fisc and a negative externality in general" . . . yup, that's what I wrote. So student loans, et al., don't count: these are investments in future productivity and tax revenue.

If you're opposed to middle-class entitlements in general, then I agree with you, but these are categorically different than multi-generational welfare for an over-breeding crime-prone underclass.

Anonymous said...

Part of what I am trying to say is that people can be a drain (including a long-term one) due to circumstances beyond their control and not in accordance with their inabilities. If there are not enough jobs going around that pay a liveable wage and this is not a temporary arrangement, we could see substantial portions of the population falling into this category.

To the extent that we truly limit ourselves to those that simply have no interest in or ability to work their way out of the hole (and those that commit crimes and so on), we're not all that far apart. But I don't think we're talking about 20% of the population, either.

My primary objection with limiting reproduction (beyond the first child) is, as I said in a comment on HC, logistical in nature.

Φ said...

Trumwill: "circumstances beyond control" and "inabilities" are not mutually exclusive. People can't help their lack of intelligence. People may not even be able to help a lot of other personality traits, like a lack of conscientiousness, that hinder their success.

And . . . so what? I don't have to blame people in a moral sense for the negative externalities they generate to say that I don't like negative externalities and don't want them to multiply themselves. If these externalities are a function of social, trade or immigration policies, then by all means let's address those policies. But if we can't or won't address them, then we should look at the reproduction angle.

I don't recall precisely your logistical objections to this, but I will readily concede that doing anything about this problem has shown itself to be politically radioactive to our governing classes, irrespective of party or nominal ideology. I don't think our long-term national prospects are very good at all.

Anonymous said...

It's the next paragraph after my comment about it being bad for the 20%.

Basically, if there were a way to limit reproduction that were (a) surefire, (b) reversible, and (c) not terribly invasive or risky, I would be more open on the subject. Alternately, before I shifted right on the subject of abortion, there was a different solution.

There are also procedural questions about to whom it should be applied.

In any event, though I am insufficiently gung-ho enough about it throw caution to the wind on medical grounds and am concerned about reversibility in the event that people get their act together, I don't have a strong moral/philosophical objection to it (after the first kid).

Φ said...

I'm not too hung up on reversibility.

Let's start with the easy cases.

It should be pretty easy to develop a profile of the kind of people that don't get their act together some X% of the time, and offer sterilization to them in return for AFDC-redux. Sure, there will be selection effects, and I'm not claiming that our profile wouldn't need periodic adjustment as the evidence rolls in. That's a lot better than what we're doing now, which is subsidizing all manner of dysgenic breeding.