Bryan Caplan  

Two New Fun Lectures

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I've just uploaded two new talks to my "Fun Lectures" webpage:

1. Lecture notes for my Friday FEE/GMU Econ Society seminar, "Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids." If you were at the talk, reports on any change in your desired family size are welcome in the comments. :-)

2. Lecture notes for my recent Liberty Fund talk on "Political Economy and Happiness." Despite many similarities, I swear I wrote this before I read Brooks' Gross National Happiness. (Discussion coming soon).


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COMMENTS (8 to date)
liberty writes:

Desired family size before talk: 0-7
Desired family size after talk: 0-7

Thoughts on the talk:
1) Your advice and empirical basis probably hold for all but the tails of the distribution. I come from the tails, and the advice is Chinese to the tails; and the idea that parental attention is irrelevant and only genetics matters is just plain silly (or worse) for the tails.

2) The notion that I might want to be a grandma one day had never occurred to me. Still, seems kinda silly to think about before I find someone who I want to have babies with.

The intended audience is not the tails of the distribution, so it doesn't really matter, but if you want to test parental involvement and distinguish it from genetics, rather than doing twin studies you could look at foster/orphan kids and compare those who end up in abusive families from those who don't, and see how they turn out. Unless you think that its the kids fault (genetics) that he winds up in such a family, you ought to be able to determine correlation safely.

Kevin writes:

I enjoyed the talk Friday! In my family as the kids grew older the teenagers began to take care of the toddlers, and it eliminated the need for a paid nanny. Plus if the large family is repeated in consecutive generations you can ship the kids off to the cousin's house for a whole weekend.

eric writes:

I argued here for a novel reason to have kids: to manufacture human appreciation (making due note of your profound impact on life in Minnesota). We all crave appreciation, and creating kids are a great way to make someone really appreciate you. Sure, they don't always, especially when teenagers, but it's a more sure way than many others.

I think fundamentally our desire for status is isomorphic to a desire for appreciation. That is, high status is a way to achieve appreciation, and appreciation implies high status. Thus, if you have no job skills, pumping out 6 kids can still generate appreciation, so it is no wonder skill-less girls have kids. And having no kids, means that after your work life is over, and you have no kids or grandkids, you will be ignored savagely as you age, especially if you have no life-partner left, and it will be very lonely.

Think about why it's so hurtful to find out you are rejected by a potential date, or not listed as a reference in an article that directly addresses something you wrote about, or that someone acts in a way that suggests they know and are indifferent to you. You could say, you are present valuing the implication this has on lifetime consumption, but I think its more direct, and more accurate, to say that the lack of appreciation is hurtful, both directly, and for the general lack of appreciation implied by singular acts. To have someone you respect reference your work, or to give a talk and sense the audience attentively listening to your talk out of sheer interest (not merely to pass the next test), or see your child's face light up and raise their arms towards you when you enter a room, means people appreciate you, and gives you a rush of endorphins and serotonin greater than any prescription med.

Unit writes:

You probably already know Corinne Maier's "40 reasons not to have kids".

In any case, one might not have any lasting impact on children, but I wonder if children have a lasting impact on parents. Namely, parents clearly change during child-rearing, their judgment, their fears, their priorities etc...what happens when children leave the house? Do parents revert to their old self, or is the change irreversible?

Will Wilkinson writes:

Bryan,

Judging from your notes, it's still pretty hard to take much of your argument seriously. There are perfectly good multivariate regressions on happiness and kids and even good longitudinal studies. There is no excuse for looking at your own "simple estimate." Also, I have seen NO EVIDENCE that kids help make people happy when old, and mention none. But you keep asserting it anyway. And, again, you ignore the VERY high average costs of motherhood on women in terms of lifetime earnings, the realization of potential, social status, etc. You can argue that these costs can be mitigated, but it's shoddy and really does seem blithely misogynistic to ignore them. Maybe you think it will be good for publicity and sales to incense reasonable people with a feminist bent. Well, OK. But I figure you don't really want to do poor social science or give misleading and potentially harmful advice, which is what you'll be doing if you just continue to consult your a priori convictions and dismiss the actual evidence.

Will Wilkinson writes:

By the way, my desired family size is now -10.

eric writes:

Will reminds me of one-half the couple that opens the movie Idiocracy. The yuppie husband and wife on the left half of the screen (IQs of 138 and 141, respectively) endlessly debate the perfect moment to conceive their one child: "We just can't have a child in this market." Meanwhile, on the right side, 'Clevon' is impregnating every woman in the trailer park.

BGC writes:

I think Bryan's line of argument about kids is original, well-argued and very important.

I'm pleased he will not be put-off from developing it. People need to know this stuff. I personally would have liked to know this stuff when I was younger.

The reason that Bryan's argument has provoked such a strong reaction is because it is implicitly a very powerful criticism of the prevailing attitudes and behaviors within the cultural and intellectual elites.

As has been hugely documented, the cultural elites all over the world are committing demographic suicide, which _must_ have a wide range of negative genetic consequences in the long run.

So the cultural elites are objectively being 'selfish' and short-termist in their reproductive patterns. This has been known for a century, but has had no effect on practice; and the cultural elites prevent debate on the topic by the taboo they impose on discussing 'eugenics'.

(The elite taboo on discussing eugenics reminds me of a gang of people running with their hands over their ears, all shouting 'I'm not listening', while somebody is trying to warn them that they are about to be hit by an approaching truck).

But Bryan also brings another more immediate issue to the fore: implicitly he is arguing that by having so few kids the cultural elites are being short-termist in terms of happiness. That the prevailing elite life-strategy is one of dumb pleasure seeking. That by delaying families, having few kids - or not having kids at all; people are simply grabbing a little bit of current pleasure at the cost of a great deal more long-term fulfillment. This is not clever.

Bryan is saying that failing to have kids or having too few kids as a deliberate life strategy is pretty much like becoming a junkie - it feels good now, but almost certainly leads to misery in the long term. Being a junkie is an unintelligent life strategy - so is having too few kids or none at all.

This is the crux of the matter, Bryan is accusing the cultural elites of being stupid. He is saying that they are both ignorant and short-termist.

Being accused of stupidity is something that the cultural elites do not like. And even worse, Bryan's argument implies that elite stupidity is motivated by nothing more noble than a preference for self-indulgence.

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