Bryan Caplan  

The (Potential) Enemies List

History and Counterfactuals... Is Government a Menace?...
I expect Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids to be controversial.  In fact, I think it will have enemies.  I'm going to stick to my policy of unilateral friendliness, but I'd still like to improve my forecast of who's going to attack me, and why.  Here are my top candidates and their expected central complaints:

1. Environmentalists - for claiming that more people are good for world.

2. Feminists - for downplaying the horrible effects of kids on women.

3. Child advocates - for arguing that nurture has little effect on kids' adult outcomes (never mind that I repeatedly distinguish between variation within the normal range and poverty/ abuse/ worse).

4. Safety activists - for emphasizing that kids are five times safer than they were in 1950.

5. Bioconservatives - for giving assisted reproductive technology three cheers - and happily biting the bullet of human cloning.

6. Perfectionist academics - economists, psychologists, sociologists, etc. - who prefer silence to simplification, and "proof" to probability.  I was initially worried that behavioral geneticists would be on this list, but I've gotten some strong signals that they'll be happy with my popularization of their field.

Who am I missing?  Who am I under- or over-estimating?  My intuition's not great here; I certainly didn't expect one little post to provoke a Clone War.  Can you help me out?

Comments and Sharing

COMMENTS (19 to date)
Doc Merlin writes:

People who like to feel that they are altruists wrt children, both camps:
a) Those who feel that having children is a personal sacrifice.
b) Those who feel that not having children is a sacrifice they make for the good of mankind.

Niclas Berggren writes:

The antinatalists, perhaps best exemplified by the philosophy professor David Benatar, will not like your book. See Benatar's book Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming into Existence. From the book description:

"Better Never to Have Been argues for a number of related, highly provocative, views: (1) Coming into existence is always a serious harm. (2) It is always wrong to have children. (3) It is wrong not to abort fetuses at the earlier stages of gestation. (4) It would be better if, as a result of there being no new people, humanity became extinct. These views may sound unbelievable--but anyone who reads Benatar will be obliged to take them seriously."

Matt writes:

Antinatalists. Do you lump them in with environmentalists?

razib writes:

just am minor and pretty much irrelevant not, but "bioconservative" has a really different valence for me than for normal people, so i got confused for a moment :-)

kevin writes:

Schopenhauerian antinatalists, presumably.

CJ writes:

I'm not sure how your link on environmentalists defends the idea that more people is a serious risk for the world. Its a comment on an extremely specific area that might be improved by having more people.

(It's also unaddressed whether the argument in the link given is practical in any sense, since you give no inkling how many more economists would be needed to, on average, confer some degree of benefit to the profession.)

Sam writes:

Bryan, don't include the Luis Angeles paper in your book. See:

Sam writes:

Also, I'm curious. Do you respond to James Heckman's work? At first glance, it seems to me like his research contradicts your view that nurture has no effect on adult outcomes. I'm sure you're familiar, but here is one link:

chipotle writes:

The origin of your enemies

Anti-Randians: People for whom it is just self-evident that for something to be "selfish" is evidence against the idea that it can be moral.

As you may have noticed, a large majority of people are deeply suspicious of selfishness, e.g., "anti-Randians" in my neologism.

Alex writes:

1. Pro-choice people won't like your take because it is an argument against abortion.

2. Many Objectivists won't like it because they take very seriously Rand's view that a fetus is a parasite.

SydB writes:

You love the controversy. You're bathing and luxuriating in it before its even happened.

Mala Lex writes:

I think you're in for some crazy hostility from just old-fashioned parents.

I'm sure you've perused parenting boards, either as a parent or as an author. The rancor is astounding - over breastfeeding, organic foods, cry-it-out, types of toys, reading tools. The most minor of things - playing on a floor.

I think the parenting equivalent of Godwin's Law ("Hitler" ends the thread) is "child-abuse." I expect you'll see Godwin's Law - Parenting Version aimed at your book.

nicole writes:

As mentioned by a couple people already, anti-natalists. It would be hard for me to believe you left them out of this list, except that in all your discussion of Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids I've never seen you address them. And I don't mean environmentalists, but those along Schopenhauer's and David Benatar's lines.

In addition, even from some people who think it's okay to have children, you might get the argument that your title is redundant, as all reasons to have kids are selfish.

mulp writes:

You left out conservatives who think too many women have too many children for the selfish reason of not wanting to work.

Octomom will really agree with your theme, and we shouldn't be surprised if other women without means of self support use your book in their justification for having kids they can't support without public assistance.

Will Wilkinson writes:

Bryan, If you depend on evidence like the paper featured in your post you link to in #2 -- the one the embarrassed author has apologized for because the result depended on a coding error -- I'll almost certainly continue to criticize you for downplaying the negative effects of children for women.

Also, some of us may criticize you for portraying your book as brave counter-PC truthtelling when you are in fact confirming a lot of our culture's deep-seated prejudices about family. Those in the American mainstream love to feel like it's some kind of embattled minority, which is, I predict, why your "controversial" book is going to be so popular!

Niclas Berggren writes:

It just occurred to me that antinatalists of the Benatar kind agree with Bryan that, as a matter of fact, there are selfish reasons to have kids. It is just that they consider it immoral to have kids for that reason, since they think it is always a (net) harm for any kid to come into existence and since the parents should not satisfy their own preferences at the expense of someone else, who is unable to give his or her consent.

Chip Smith writes:

It may be that Caplan regards antinatalists as gnats or loons, but I can tell you that we're looking forward to his book.

Those of you who are interested in the subject may want to check out Jim Crawford's "Confessions of an Antinatalist," which was just released by my own publishing venture, Nine-Banded Books. Like David Benatar, Jim is a philanthropic (as opposed to "environmental") antinatalist. His arguments are presented in a conversational and streetsmart way that goes down easy. Plus, he's a parent.

Jim's book is available here:

nicole writes:

Niclas Berggren-

Yes, in fact, Benatar argues that the only reasons to have kids are selfish ones. People may delude themselves that their reasons are not selfish, but this is impossible specifically because it is a net harm to come into existence.

Todd Kuipers writes:

I tend to agree with WW (above) that this will be less controversial for the majority of Americans who do not deeply belong to the groups in your post. Nonetheless I enjoy the idea that the concepts will likely cause apoplexy in many strident types. There will be many in the Times (and the Toronto Star) that will mercilessly (and almost endlessly) attack such ideas. I tend to be very happy with our 2 kids (below steadystate) and have no plans for another.

To extend the likely criticism sources:
- those reform Catholics (and anti-catholic types) who will say that the book will be used as expert evidence by the Vatican to support larger families and hence validate the non-use of contraception.

These people tend to be members of one or more of your named groups already, so this distiction is a bit subtle.

I would also tend to lump antinatalists in with environmentalists, though that flies in the face of my subtle suggestion above.

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