Will a Higher Birthrate Lead to Love and Compassion for the World?

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.

The State is Your Daddy

It’s been my policy to ignore the Republicans. However, I feel I should say something about the government shutdown and the House tax bill. Since the Republicans control both houses of Congress I suspect that they actually want the shutdown to happen. Therefore, their threats represent a clear and present danger and must be stopped by force if necessary.

As for the tax bill, I think it can be addressed on the basis of principle. It is important to be aware that certain ancient principles are still being honored today. The law of bridewealth is acknowledged in the Bible in a perverse way–in the changing of it. This takes place in the third chapter of Genesis.

And the LORD God said unto the woman, What is this that thou hast done? And the woman said, The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat.

…Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to they husband and he shall rule over thee. (Genesis 3: 13, 16)

I would argue that this story is justification for marriage without compensation. It suggests that marriage by default was always the norm, however there is evidence that the custom of bridewealth was practiced in the Old Testament. T.M. Lemos provides evidence of marriage gifts in the legal and narrative texts of the Bible, and in extrabiblical sources. Lemos also lists biblical references to marriage gifts other than bridewealth. Obviously, indebtedness to childbearing women is not admitted today but I believe it is acknowledged in the story of Adam and Eve. Please keep this in mind as we discuss the increase in the Child Tax Credit.

The House Republican tax bill would increase the maximum Child Tax Credit (CTC) from the current $1,000 to $1,600 per child. However it would exclude 10 million children whose parents work for low pay—about 1 in 7 of all U.S. children in working families, including thousands of children in every state. Another 12 million children in working families would receive less than the full $600-per-child increase in the credit (in most cases much less). Altogether, about 1 in 3 children in working families would either be excluded entirely or only partially benefit from the CTC increase. In almost every state, 25 percent of children in working families would be partially or completely excluded. In 12 states, at least 40 percent would be excluded. If you include cuts to or elimination of 1 million immigrant children in low-income families, the total number comes to 23 million children.

The credit is partially refundable. The refundable portion is limited to 15 percent of a family’s earnings over $3,000. So a single mother with two children and earnings of $10,000 is eligible for a CTC of $1,050 or $525 per child, rather than for the $2,000 ($1,000 per child) that a middle-income family with two children receives. The poorest children qualify for only a very small CTC or none at all.

On the other hand, families with six-figure incomes would be made newly eligible for the credit or receive the largest CTC increases. The CTC of a married couple with two children earning $200,000 would rise from zero today to $3,200 under the plan.

The Rubio-Lee proposal would help but it still falls short. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, Senators Sherrod Brown and Michael Bennet, and other lawmakers have also introduced improvements. They would improve the CTC proposal in the House tax bill but they would not touch the biggest shortcomings in the plan: its heavy tilt toward the highest-income households and profitable corporations, and its impact in substantially increasing budget deficits and debt. (Emily Horton Child Tax Credit Increase Excludes Thousands of Children, Available: https://www.cbpp.org/research/federal-tax/house-tax-bills-child-tax-credit-increase-excludes-thousands-of-children-in-low

Rising deficits in turn would lead to increased pressure to make deep budget cuts in areas such as health care, food assistance for struggling families, and education – cuts that would fall heavily on low- and middle-income families and render them net losers, even if the plan’s CTC provisions are strengthened.

“Overall, the House tax bill is heavily skewed toward high-income households and profitable corporations. When fully in effect, 38 percent of its benefits would go to the 0.3 percent of filers with annual incomes over $1 million…”

Of course not even the full amount of the CTC will defray the costs of raising a child in the middle class. The Republicans seem to be counting on our ignorance of the principles involved here. I conclude that the central obligation in the resistance should belong to the parents of girls. Since the government seems to be playing the part of a spouse or in-law, I would also advise young women to cooperate with their parents to assure proper compensation from the government. I think this type of organization is a matter of self-defense under this regime.

Maybe this will lead to a society in which Paul Ryan and his ilk cannot seduce women into having more children for a few pennies, and fill the coffers of the rich while denying those same women the entitlements they’ve paid for.

See also: Emily Hales, Can government incentives reverse falling birth rates? Deseret news, June 27, 2014. Available: https://www.deseretnews.com/article/865605862/Governments-use-incentives-to-counter-falling-fertility-rates.html

Buttonwood, Political power follows economic power, The Economist, Feb 3, 2016. Available: https://www.economist.com/blogs/buttonwood/2016/02/economics-and-democracy