Bryan Caplan  

WSJ Reviews SRtHMK

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Price Floors on Trial... Stanley Fischer on Moral Hazar...
The Wall St. Journal likes my second book quite a bit more than my first:
...Mr. Caplan is doing more than taunting the Tiger Mothers. He is making an economic argument. Analyzing scads of research on the effects of nature and nurture in child-rearing, he determines that, as a matter of both time and money, "children cost far less than parents pay, because parents overcharge themselves." Parents take it upon themselves to constantly entertain and "enrich" their kids with a course-catalog of activities (Capoeira, violin, Mandarin lessons) in a desperate effort to give them "the best" and set them on the path to a triumphant adulthood. But it turns out that parenting has almost no effect on children's life expectancy, intelligence, happiness or success.
And:
Despite its wickedly subversive premise, Mr. Caplan's book is cheery and intellectually honest. (The exception being a tendentious chapter on fertility technology, in which Mr. Caplan gives a thumbs-up to everything, including human cloning.) And the bedrock of his argument is solid: Modern parenting is insane. Children do not need most of what we buy them. So, yes, the "price" of children is artificially high.
My only quibble is with the word "tendentious."  I'm not biased in favor of reproductive technology; there's just very little substance on the other side.  Bush's Council on Bioethics actually produced the most thoughtful argument against cloning, which I quote at length in the chapter.  But "most thoughtful" isn't saying much.  You be the judge:
Since clones already walk among us, we don't have to idly philosophize about the psychological and social dangers of cloning. We can look--and see that cloning's opponents don't know what they're talking about. The Council on Bioethics warns, "A cloned child . . . is at risk of living out a life overshadowed in important ways by the life of the 'original.'" Yet identical twins rarely agonize over their supposed lack of individuality. Instead, they feel grateful for their special bond. When people ask how my identical twin sons get along, I answer, "I've never seen anything like it. They are literally 'brotherly.'"

Unlike most opponents of cloning, at least the Council on Bioethics tries to explain why cloning is worse than twinning:
Identical twins . . . are born together, before either one has developed and shown what his or her potential--natural or otherwise--may be. Each is largely free of the burden of measuring up to or even knowing in advance the genetic traits of the other . . . But a clone is a genetic near-copy of a person who is already living or has already lived . . . Everything about the predecessor . . . will appear before the expectant eyes of the cloned person, always with at least the nagging concern that there, notwithstanding the grace of God, go I.
Even if this were true, life with a mild inferiority complex remains much better than no life at all. But the council's "measuring up" argument actually shows that clones have a lighter cross to bear than twins. Suppose two identical twins grow up together. If one is less successful than the other, what's his excuse? With the same genes, upbringing, place, and time, personal responsibility is almost inescapable. An underachieving clone, in contrast, can always plausibly tell his predecessor, "I grew up in a totally different era; the rules changed; the world doesn't work the way it did when you were my age."


COMMENTS (17 to date)
Mike Gibson writes:

Maybe twins should be rebranded as "asynchronous twins"

Pat writes:

Twins have a clone by accident that they aren't compelled to obey.

Being forced to be an obedient clone of someone so in love with himself that he wanted a clone will have so many uncertain but likely strange consequences that it's perfectly reasonable to find it unappealing.

"So what? It's better than no life at all!" How about creating some Human Centipedes in a lab? Eh, better than not being born! That's not much of a standard.

For a family who wants one more child, a clone would mean one less adoption or one less non-cloned child. I think it's reasonable to limit reproduction to non-clones.

Brian Clendinen writes:

My real issue with cloning has nothing to do with a healthy clone of myself or anyone else walking around.


The issue I have is one would have to be a moral scumbag to find the process to get there acceptable. The numbers of animals that did not live, had major birth defects, mental issues is staggering before viable clones came about. I personal find hundreds of thousands of aborted fetus or dead fetus plus the tens of thousands of majorly defective human clones before we got the naturally occurring healthy rates, unacceptable. From my very limited knowledge I think that is on the lower end of the cost to achieve human cloning. The defective rates in animal clones are still not even close to the naturally occurring ones with over a 90% failure rate let alone the short life span due to major health issues. In addition, some animals have been tried and there has yet to be a successful clone.

Thursday writes:

The problem with cloning is the intent to replicate someone and what that reveals about the person doing the cloning. Not all ethical arguments boil down to consequences.

Evan writes:
Being forced to be an obedient clone of someone so in love with himself that he wanted a clone will have so many uncertain but likely strange consequences that it's perfectly reasonable to find it unappealing.
The problem with cloning is the intent to replicate someone and what that reveals about the person doing the cloning.

I don't get this idea that anyone who wants to clone themselves must be inherently narcissistic. What if their parents are too old to have kids, but they've always wanted another brother or sister? I've gotten great joy from my friendship with my younger brother, who has very similar interests to me, I can easily see someone who was deprived of that wanting to rectify the situation.

And even if they were, we allow narcissistic people who want to live through their kids to reproduce normally. And why would cloning someone result in "being forced to be obedient." If you're a clone you'll probably want fairly similar things to your older brother or sister, since tastes are partly genetic. If you don't, you can call Child Protective Services. If I was a soul waiting to be incarnated into a body I'd be really mad at being delayed just because someone thought my sibling/parent's decision revealed poor character.

Not all ethical arguments boil down to consequences.
Yes they do. Character-based morality is a shorthand method of determining the consequences of cooperating with people in future ventures. It has no real significance outside of that.
The issue I have is one would have to be a moral scumbag to find the process to get there acceptable. The numbers of animals that did not live, had major birth defects, mental issues is staggering before viable clones came about. I personal find hundreds of thousands of aborted fetus or dead fetus plus the tens of thousands of majorly defective human clones before we got the naturally occurring healthy rates, unacceptable.
This is a perfectly sane and rational argument. I'd also want to make sure the process was safer through animal testing before approving of human cloning.

If I was being trollish I could argue that all babies are produced by a similarly nasty process. I believe that the statistic is that for every one fetus that comes to term, 3-4 miscarry (most miscarriages occur during the 1st month of the pregnancy, so the mother never even notices she was pregnant). But that's still a small number compared to what cloning might entail.

Thursday writes:

Yes they do.

A rather bald assertion.

tms writes:

I started the book last night, and it is great so far. Can't wait to get back to it.

PrometheeFeu writes:

"Even if this were true, life with a mild inferiority complex remains much better than no life at all."

I find that statement epistemologically troubling. Generally when an economist says that A is better than B it means that someone has a preference ordering defined over outcomes A and B and that A is preferred to B. Now what that means is that if you were in world B you would want to switch to world A and if you were in world A you would refuse to switch to world B. For this to work it has to be true that whether you are in world A or world B, your preference ordering must in that respect be constant, otherwise your preference ordering becomes irrelevant. If I prefer A to B when in world A and B to A when in world B, I cannot be said to prefer A over B or B over A.

So here there is a problem. If you don't exist you have no preference ordering. So it seems odd to imagine that you have a preference ordering defined over your existence. There is no you to wish you had been born.

PS: This does not apply to murder. Those of us who are alive may have a preference ordering defined over living in a world where we might be murdered in the future or not. Also, we might have beliefs in an after-life which would account for preference orderings defined over our continued existence in this realm or not.

frankcross writes:

Nice review, but to me the criticism violates what should be the code of the book reviewer. If you are going to criticize something, you should construct a rational response rather than a throw away negative.

And I can't see the argument against cloning. Even if we stipulate that being a clone is somehow inferior to natural birth, we never make this argument against children. I suspect that the disadvantages of being a clone are vastly less than the disadvantages of being born into a poor family with little genetic endowment. But no one suggests that the latter group should be prevented from procreating, out of concern for the child's later welfare.

Douglass Holmes writes:

If Bryan has accurately summarized argument that the Council on Bioethics presented against cloning, then that argument is rather shallow. Brian Clendinen's objection is one I take more seriously, at least in regard to humans. In regard to other animals, I'm not so convinced. I would think that the commercial potential for cloning disease resistant meat sources would be a significant driver for better cloning technology.

Steve Sailer writes:

Bryan's book is quite sprightly in style. Congratulations.

Pat writes:

I should say that while I'm critical of the minor point on cloning, I'm completely onboard with the rest of this book that I'm dying to read. I always suspected overparenting isn't worth it and as a new dad who plans on parenting more like Bryan, I hope his ideas influence people who would otherwise give me flak!

andy writes:

If you don't let your child be taught violin - it won't play violin. I'm not sure if I would have been happier if I couldn't play the violin - I am quite glad I can. But I am quite sure this won't appear in any of these scientific papers....

Peter writes:

http://dailycaller.com/2011/04/22/study-moms-are-fatter-exercise-less-and-eat-more-unhealthy-foods/

Perhaps that helps explain the slightly smaller scores in happiness outcomes?
I don't have the book in front of me but I wonder if men score differently than women in those measures.

Buzzcut writes:

Opposition to cloning is Hansonian. There is an "ick factor" that is hard to define by those of us in opposition, but which is strongly felt. It just feels wrong, it's kind of disgusting.

David R. Henderson writes:

@frankcross,
Well put.

Vince Skolny writes:

The objections to cloning flow almost exclusively from the United States' irrational cultic culture and its idea of souls and extra-biological aspects of human life.

Brian Clendinen's much stronger argument is not a moral objection to cloning per se, but to its process.

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