Bryan Caplan  

Is Capitalism Pro-Kid?

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I'm pro-capitalism and pro-kid, and I'd like the two to be complementary.  So I have to smile when Corinne Maier, author of No Kid: 40 Good Reasons Not To Have Children, blames capitalism (plus the French government) for high birth rates:

Maier's concern is that no one is doing anything to temper the idealised view of motherhood perpetuated by two equally potent forces in France: the State, which wants lots of babies to pay for future pensions, and greedy capitalist enterprises, which make a fortune selling baby clobber to gullible parents.

"I blame the State, which encourages a certain idea of the French family, because this is a way of defending our national system," she says. "Second, I blame capitalism, which encourages people with its seductive advertising because having babies creates big consumers who buy a lot, who need bigger apartments, bigger cars, new washing machines..."
I wish she were right, but she's not.  Empirically, relatively capitalist countries have much lower fertility than the Third World.  And Maier neglects a basic fact: Advertising can be used to push anything.  If people didn't have kids, they'd have more disposable income, and advertisers would desperately struggle to attract their euros.  Instead of big SUVs, they'd push two-seat sports cars; instead of new washing machines, new plasma TVs.  And while it's true that people with kids want more living space, how often do you see ads for real estate on television or major magazines?

Of course, capitalism is pro-kid in the sense that it makes kids richer and safer than they've ever been.  But if "seductive advertising" caused high birth rates, Japan, not Niger, would have the highest fertility on earth.


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COMMENTS (12 to date)
David N writes:

Forget patriotism. "Seductive advertising" is the last refuge of scoundrels.

Ed Bosanquet writes:

Bryan,
I generally like your posts as thought provoking but this posting fails to engage me in any intellectual manner.

Congratulations, as far as I'm concerned, you beat up a straw man.

Sorry,
Ed

elliot writes:

having babies creates big consumers who buy a lot, who need bigger apartments, bigger cars, new washing machines

Interest rates better be pretty low for this investment to pay off. How is a business going to capture its contribution to increasing the birth rate too? They'll just free ride, and no one will end up intentionally promoting a high birth rate.

MD writes:

"Congratulations, as far as I'm concerned, you beat up a straw man."

It's curious that you should say this, since his comments seem quite well directed at Maier's position. Are you saying that he has misrepresented Maier's position? The quote itself is quite straightforward. I don't see how this is a "straw man" when Maier is actually making the claims which Bryan is disputing.

Kevin writes:

It's not a straw man if someone's actually making the argument. Maier may have a weak argument and it may be mean for Bryan to beat up intellectual lightweights, but the position he opposes is not a straw man.

Dan Hill writes:

Anyone who simultaneously blames the dirigiste French state and capitalism for a supposed ill is by definition very confused!

Hasdrubal writes:

I'm confused, France has a birth rate of 1.89 children per woman, that is below replacement rate. Before we start placing blame on why there is a "high birth rate," shouldn't we back up and assess why a birthrate that isn't high enough to sustain your population is considered "high" in the first place?

Though it might be fun to regress fertility rates against advertising spending...

Steve writes:

Who still buys plasma TVs?

quadrupole writes:

Seriously... how could you possibly consider capitalism to be pro-natal?

Look at it this way.

The costs of having kids have consistently risen. Not just direct costs, but opportunity costs (the increasing number of enjoyable things you can do if you don't have kids).

The benefits of having kids have diminished. They no longer support you in your old age, they pay Social Security and Medicare to support some other folks. You can have sex without having kids.

When costs go up, and derived utility goes down, what do you expect to happen to demand?

William writes:

Advertising doesn't push anything. It reduces search costs.

andy weintraub writes:

I understand that most other OECD countries calculate birthrates differently than the U.S. If you standardize for premature death resulting from a non-health related fatal injury, the US has a higher life expectancy than any other OECD country. (Auto accidents and homicides account for most of the difference..
See http://mjperry.blogspot.com/2007/11/beyond-those-health-care-numbers-us.html

Maxime writes:

France has a high fertility rate... comparing to other developped country. So what Corinne Maier is saying is at least half true.

But in fact this book was written in french, targetting only French and Belgium audience (Maier lives between Paris and Brussels). It's an essay written by a women who doesn't like the way people view maternity as a way of fulfilment in France, not an exact economic book.

Even Maier admits it was not the best idea in the world to translate it to english and sell the rough translation in America. You really need to know France to fully understand the book.

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