There was a time when it made sense for our politicians to argue that a higher birthrate was necessary to prop up an ailing social security system, but that argument is no longer convincing. Our government has shown an interest in eliminating or privatizing the social security program, it has demonstrated that it has every intention of reducing social spending, and it has indicated that it is willing to destroy the very earth on which we depend. Yet politicians like Paul Ryan continue to demand a higher birthrate without batting an eye.
From the government’s point of view there are several benefits to overpopulation. It provides a broad tax base; leads to high unemployment and a large pool of low-wage workers; and provides more children for the adoption mill. I’m not claiming the ability to read Paul Ryan’s mind, but regardless of his reasons we know that he, or his donors, expect benefits from a higher birthrate. We know this because even though they favor reducing other types of benefits they re willing to increase the Child Tax Credit. That’s why I view the Child Tax Credit as the modern version of bridewealth. But I haven’t forgotten that the CTC is not a gift.
The CTC is permission for women who bear and raise children to keep a little more of the money they would otherwise give to the government in taxes. When you compare this to the spirit behind the practice of bridewealth the cynicism is remarkable. But there is good news. It is merely a financial offer, meaning that women are free to take it or leave it. The big guns in this fight are ideological.
The chief ideological proposition is unspoken: human procreation is a virtue. So our first question should be, how (and why) did large families become a virtue?
Additional claims stem from this proposition. These include: large families are an act of solidarity with the human race; large families are an act of love and compassion; and a shrinking birthrate indicates that the whole society is giving up on humanity.
If you accept the first assumption the rest might make perfect sense, but are they true? This is an important question because these kinds of arguments do have an effect. What we need is evidence–perhaps we could start with a series of surveys. In the meantime I think I’ve noticed an inverse correlation between Paul Ryan’s compassion and his demand for a higher birthrate.