Bryan Caplan  

A Cursory Rejection of Anti-Natalism

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John Cochrane's Talk at Hoover... Health Care Dilemmas...
Critics of my kids book occasionally argue that creating new life is, all else equal, morally questionable or objectionable, a position known to philosophers as anti-natalism.  The most extreme proponent of anti-natalism is probably David Benatar, author of Better Never to Have Been, which maintains that:
(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.
As a rule, I do not respond to positions that are neither plausible nor popular.  But Karl Smith has inspired me to make an exception.  Karl, a vastly more moderate anti-natalist than Benatar, proposed a GMU debate on the topic.  In the end, Karl and I decided to debate "How Deserving Are the Poor?" instead.  But he got me thinking.  What would I have said in a Caplan-Smith "Natalism vs. Anti-natalism" debate?

Here's what.

1. Almost everyone says they're glad to be alive.  Through the magic of hedonic adaptation, even the desperately poor and the severely disabled seem to find great joy in life.  When movie villains threaten to "Make you wish you'd never been born," they aren't threatening to make you slightly worse off.  They're threatening massive harm.  The threat resonates because almost everyone realizes that the gift of life is way better than non-existence.

2. Almost everyone's behavior confirms that they're glad to be alive.  After all, no mobile adult needs to be miserable for long.  Tall buildings and other routes to painless suicide are all around us; in economic jargon, life is a good with virtually "free disposal."  Yet suicide is incredibly rare nonetheless.  To quote Epicurus' ancient argument:
Yet much worse still is the man who says it is good not to be born, but

"once born make haste to pass the gates of Death." [Theognis, 427]

For if he says this from conviction why does he not pass away out of life? For it is open to him to do so, if he had firmly made up his mind to this. But if he speaks in jest, his words are idle among men who cannot receive them.

3. You might say that it's wrong to create people unless they (impossibly) consent beforehand.  But you could just as easily say that it's OK to create people unless they (impossibly) refuse consent beforehand. 

The reasonable view, however, spurns both stacked decks - and notices that this is an ideal time to to invoke hypothetical consent.  It's OK to create people as long as they would consent beforehand.  How can you know?  You can't be sure, but arguments #1 and #2 show that almost everyone would consent if they could.  That's good enough.

Note: If you flatly reject the concept of hypothetical consent, you have to condemn Good Samaritans for saving the lives of unconscious strangers.

I expect that anti-natalists will feel unfairly dismissed by my not-so-subtle arguments.  But I insist that my arguments are more than satisfactory.  Anti-natalism is so absurd that any valid argument in its favor is merely an indictment of one or more of its premises.


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COMMENTS (44 to date)

When anti-natalism is combined with environmentalism, it looks like bait and switch.

First, we are told to save the Earth for posterity and then the sort of philosophers who give the field a bad name tell us not to have posterity. (Philosophy isn't all pointless nonsense; some of it is harmful nonsense.)

Note to philosophers: In That Hideous Strength by C. S. Lewis, Frost was not the hero.

nazgulnarsil writes:

I want there to be exactly as many people born as will maximize my living standard. As far as I can tell this dictates being pro-natalist while humans are on average wealth producing and anti-natalist as soon as they are not.

Robert Kwasny writes:

I'd argue that we do not know how it feels not to be alive and thus we say we are happy to be alive. We simply cannot grasp what it means not to be alive and because of that we are unable to make a comparison.

R. Pointer writes:

Endowment bias?

Nathan Sumrall writes:

I may not state this well because I don't find antinatalism compelling, but I still think your argument in favor of hypothetical consent could be answered as follows:

Premise (1) shows that life is preferable to death, but not that it is preferable to never having been born. I think it's at least plausible that the fear of dying and the fear of and/or uncertainty about no longer existing after death play a significant role in the relative value of being alive. Since both are conditional on having been born, the analogy is not as strong as it seems.

Premise (2) likewise involves a preference for life conditional on having been born in the first place.

Alternatively, if death is a significant part of the negative that allegedly outweighs the positive, it is not unexpected from the antinatalist POV that those who have yet to experience death still feel like life is a net positive.

Andy writes:

Wow, there really is an academic with every conceivable position, isn't there? And Benatar's book was published by Oxford University Press.

J Storrs Hall writes:

This reasoning strikes me as an even better argument (which I made in Beyond AI, btw) that we should build intelligent machines, than that we should make wild-type humans. The extra step in the argument is that with the AIs, we can be sure that the one we build will want to exist, because we can make it that way.

Bob Murphy writes:

Wow, is that an exact quotation from Benatar, or is Bryan paraphrasing? (I'm not accusing Bryan of distorting the guy's views, I just can't believe Benatar would state them so bluntly.)

Isn't it really easy for Benatar's critics to say, "Why don't you go play in traffic?" I mean, you wouldn't even have to be a jerk. You could honestly ask, "Why are you still breathing?"

RG writes:

I know virtually nothing about the guy's position, but apparently he draws the line between there being a moral obligation not to have kids and an obligation to end an existing life.

However, his argument appears to be based on the extreme pain every human will endure. If that is the basis of his argument, why bother writing a book when one can off themseleves in a painless matter? As always, actions speak louder than words. He has actively chosen to endure the pain, ostensibly so he can also experience the pleasure.

David Friedman writes:

"Better not to have been born."

"But who could be so lucky? Not one in a million."

Floccina writes:

I have not read the book. Does anyone reading this know if Bryan addresses the chances of having a severely retarded or handicapped child?
I am very pro natalist but this to me is the strongest argument for individual to forgo having more children. They just do not want to take the risk.

Risk aversion might be the reason that more educated people have fewer children. I see the more educated as more risk averse because school is a safe route to some level of success.

George writes:

Have you responded to the environmental argument for not having kids and I just missed it?

In a nutshell more people means more pollution / global climate change since our behavior / technology isn't changing fast enough to stem catastrophic scenarios or so the climate change community always informs me.

Therefore, with environmental considerations it is bad to bring more unsustainable people into this world.

Finch writes:

> If that is the basis of his argument, why bother
> writing a book when one can off themseleves in a
> painless matter?

I think the idea is that he feels pain from all the suffering he sees, and will feel less pain if he can convince enough others to lessen suffering through their own deaths or the deaths or non-births of others. I don't think, premised on his beliefs, that delaying his own death to write a book is crazy. And as others have pointed out, there is, in his mind, a significant difference between death and non-birth, otherwise he'd presumably be advocating killing people.

I find it hard to think about this without concluding that if you would, after the fact, want to exist, then it is moral for others to help make you exist. Which is a pretty strong pro-natal position. I'm not sure if it's a reduction to absurdity, or there's some reasonable world that you could construct with that as a guiding principle.

Taimyoboi writes:

Professor Caplan, your position on "free disposal" assumes away moral and theological issues concerning suicide that I don't think are present in deciding not to have a child. For example, someone might well think that this life is miserable, but that an eternity in hell is not worth shortening life for.

Professor Mankiw made this point in your prior post.

Finch writes:

> Professor Caplan, your position on "free
> disposal" assumes away moral and theological
> issues concerning suicide that I don't think
> are present in deciding not to have a child.

Doesn't this just reveal shortcomings in people's reasoning when deciding not to have a child?

Fine, if you just outsource your judgment to some list of rules, and suicide prohibitions are on that list but failing to have children is not, that's one thing. It might be hard to find such a theology, though I imagine one exists because some lists would have been created long ago when it was hard to deliberately avoid child-having so it would have been thought unnecessary to put that on the list. But it's hard to derive from first principles a list of rules that includes prohibitions on suicide but not encouragements on child-having.

Mark Little writes:

Is it appropriate to treat radical anti-natalism seriously?

Isn't this just a polar example of market failure within the academic world's professional incentives to produce intellectual novelty? Benatar might better be covered under the category signalling model of education than under economic philosophy.

Megapolisomancy writes:

Prior to the publication of his book I contacted Bryan about antinatalism and have written an extensive review of the major works and arguments of this movement in the context of cryonics and life extension here:

Non-existence is hard to do


Mike Rulle writes:

Fyodor Dostoyevsky's character, Ivan Karamazov, was of the belief that if no God exists, all is permitted. Dostoyevsky, in my opinion, believed this as well. I kind of believe it too---when I think really hard about it; it can bring fear. Although that is not my main point here.

Benatar is a Dostoyevskian style comedic clown. FD loved to create parodic characters who would spout the latest jargon but who were mere fools or poseurs. But even he did not have the imagination to create such a fool as Benatar (who would have provided great comic relief in "The Possessed", for example).

It is also amusing that his field has a name, "Natalism". Guys like Benatar are "anti-geniuses"---always breaking new ground.

At least Pol Pot had a cut off at age of 30.

[Comment removed for rudeness.--Econlib Ed.]

Rob writes:

I wonder how this argument would have fared at the recent conference on Contemporary Anti-Natalism:

http://philevents.org/event/show/394

filrabat writes:

1) Then in that case, why not everybody have more children than they can support anyway? They’re going to be happy. At any rate, it’s not up to society to decide for another person what is an acceptable harm and what is not. It’s the person’s choice because he or she is the one who has to experience it, not society as a whole (any look through history shows society has been wrong at any number of points. Therefore I am very queasy of “most people say it is/is not so” arguments). Now Caplan seems awere of this, as discussed later.

2) Obviously Epicurus wasn’t dead when he said this. Therefore, he doesn’t know. So it’s not wisdom, but a bald assertion. That passage is likely a reference to Greek mythology and nothing more. Therefore, such knowledge would almost certainly presuppose a supernatural belief system – which one will have to take or leave.

Caplan starts from a fundamental misunderstanding of what antinatalism stands for. It is NOT about ending PRESENTLY EXISTING life, it’s about PREVENTING new life from being brought forth . Also, he vastly overstates how easy it is to commit suicide. In 2001, there were 400,000 emergency room visits for self-inflicted injury in the US. That same year, there were only 30,622 suicides (1 of 77 of all deaths). (Source: www.suicide.org/suicide-statistics.html). That should tell you how difficult it is to properly execute a suicide to its full intended extent, even if we go by the other stat that says there were 6 attempts for ever one success. Also, 1 in 77 deaths may make suicide uncommon, but hardly “incredibly rare”.

Also, suggestions of suicide contradict the commonly held assumption that suicide is selfish. I agree it is, given the anguish and resentment it causes family and friends; lasting for years if not the rest of their lives. If suffering prevention is the reason for antinatalism, then this is asking the antinatalist to be a hypocrite. It also suggests people should not give a damn about how their own desires affect others – especially the said family and friends. I doubt many of us in real life would try to stop an antinatalist from committing suicide, so I think this pseudo-advice is more sour grapes and petty personal distaste than anything else.

3) No, because that’s gambling with the well-being of other people (1 in 77 chance of hating life – the MINIMUM figure, of course the stats show I could give MUCH higher odds of such). We don’t accept a 1 in 77 chance of a common OTC drug causing adverse side effects. Ditto for those odds concerning a tire blowout on a vehicle. Yeah, it’s a small risk they’ll either have a bad life or otherwise profoundly disagree with either “the rules of the ‘game of life’” or human nature itself to the point they wish they were never born, but the 1 in 77 IS a significant one, given the gravity of the situation.\Regarding the last sentence I wrote above, that’s also akin having someone sign under duress a business contract (i.e. “to live”) whose terms (the rules of the game of life, if nothing else) they profoundly disagree with. The only way to get out of this contract early is through suicide, with all the difficulties mentioned above.

Re: Good Samaritans and unconscious strangers.
Irrelevant parallel. Unconscious strangers already exist. Therefore, they’ll experience further without aid. In fact, they want their suffering to stop. Also others (their fam. & friends) will suffer too. The potential existent cannot suffer if we don’t conceive them. Again, antinatalism is not about actively snuffing out presently existing life, it’s about preventing new life. Failure to grasp this is a failure to understand the basic of the antinatalist argument.

Antinatalism is not a matter of economics, it’s about ethics – totally independent of what benefit we ourselves get from having children.

Timothy Hall writes:
Note: If you flatly reject the concept of hypothetical consent, you have to condemn Good Samaritans for saving the lives of unconscious strangers.

A version of the conditional more to the present point would be: 'If you reject hypothetical consent as the justification for creating new life, you have to condemn Good Samaritans for saving the lives of unconscious strangers.'

This version of the conditional is false, however. For in the case of a prospective new life, no one will be harmed by the choice not to create. One might argue that there is no justification for proceeding with creation on the grounds of the likelihood that the future person would approve, given that there is no downside for this prospective, possible person in failing to create.

In the case of an existing person in need of life-saving aid, failing to aid would result in the death of this person, and there would be considerable risk that death would be harmful to this person. So one might argue that it is only the combination of the risk of allowing harm to come to an existing person *and* the likelihood that the person would consent to the life-saving treatment that justifies saving life.

None of this is by way of asserting anti-natalism, of course.

Mitchell Porter writes:

1) A tall building is not a route to painless suicide. Sometimes, people throw themselves off buildings but still survive the process. That's got to hurt.

2) "Even the desperately poor and the severely disabled seem to find great joy in life." Some of them, perhaps. But you do know that misery exists, right? How much of what you think is "joy in life", among desperate people, is simply attachment to life? They don't want to die, but they also don't want to suffer, yet they are suffering and can't make it stop.

3) Josh Hall says we could make an AI knowing that it wants to be alive. Is this AI's happiness dependent in any way on the state of the world? If so, how are you going to guarantee its happiness - control the future of the world? For that matter, wanting to be alive is not the same thing as being happy to be alive - see my point 2.

Further remarks:

People in favor of antinatalism are usually in some way disappointed with life, especially their own life; for example, they had high ideals and find them to be incompatible with reality. Their own life experience therefore provides them with the prototype example of something they would never want to happen to someone else.

Conversely, we can say that the people who enjoy life, and look at antinatalism with incomprehension, evidently aren't suffering severely, or else they would have more sympathy for it. They can claim to be a majority, and so therefore argue with the antinatalist that the risks involved in creating a life can't be that bad, because most people put up with the results.

Here, the antinatalist may respond by drawing upon the absolute worst that existence has to offer a conscious being. Think of all the most horrible events that you personally know to have actually happened. In every case, if it really was real, there was a thinking feeling brain on the receiving end of that fiery inferno, or endless torture session, or whatever your examples of "the worst" encompass.

The antinatalist says: To justify life, to say that life is good, is to affirm these events. If you don't create life, they can't happen - at least, they can't happen to new people, people that don't already exist. If you allow the creation of life, then you are "part of the problem", part of the reason why the worst that can happen, sometimes does happen.

Schopenhauer had a rebuttal ready, for people who think that pleasure and pain balance out. Consider, he said, the situation of two animals, one of which is eating the other. Does the satisfaction of the eater balance out the agony of the one being eaten?

Waldo writes:

It crossed my mind that pro-natalists might be called birthers, but then I realized that was another issue. Actually, I had two siblings that were never born. I can't speak for my parents, but I never missed them.

Sister Y writes:

If suicide is so easy that its rarity is evidence that life is +EV, why do doctors, veterinarians, chemists, and police commit suicide more than groups with comparable job stress but less access to easy means?

Why do women commit suicide as much as men only in countries where lethal poisons are easily available?

Completed suicides are only the tip of the iceberg of life-hating, like homicide is for violence.

Thomas Joiner (Why People Die By Suicide, 2005) gives "competence" as one of three main predictive factors for suicide - basically, it's much harder than non-suicides realize to hand back this precious gift. You might check out a suicide methods discussion to see this - oh wait, they're illegal.

Finch writes:

> Completed suicides are only the tip of the
> iceberg of life-hating, like homicide is for
> violence.

I suspect it's the opposite - most of the 1/6th of suicides that are successful actually intended to be among the 5/6ths that are unsuccessful.

I don't think it's terribly surprising that really easy access to means implies more suicides. View suicide as really bad judgment on a really bad day, possibly while high or drunk, and you've got an explanation for higher suicide rates when it's easy that doesn't require wanting to die in any real non-transient sense.

Tom writes:

I am a pro-natalist, but It seems clear to me that the vast majority of those commenting, and Professor Caplan himself, have not read Benatar's work -- at least not carefully.

(1) That almost everyone is glad to be alive (though challenged by some recent work in international well being) is not incompatible with either of Benatar's two anti-natalist arguments -- and so hardly counts against them (in fact, he calls upon our adaptive biases to explain people's optimism, but says that such biases deceive us from objective dimensions of value).

(2) Adding that people's behavior confirms their optimistic outlook is also irrelevant if their optimistic outlook is distorted and not sufficient to justify creating them in the first place. What needs to be addressed are Benatar's actual arguments about value asymmetries and cognitive reliability, which recall aren't so much as mentioned -- so how could Benatar have been criticized?


(3) If Benatar's arguments go through then issues about consent are technically not relevant -- unless one has a radically subjective view under which if someone consents to x, actually or hypothetically, then it is permissible to cause that person to undergo x. This means, again, that his actual arguments need to be confronted before asserting that they are unreasonable or asserting that his conclusions are false.

(4) RG's comment's presuppose that anti-natalism couldn't be true. But this presupposition is hardly obvious in light of some of the better arguments for anti-natalism. I won't rehearse these arguments here, but views we often take to be obvious often end up false (most people's beliefs about most theoretical matters have turned out false, and yet people have been confident.)

Again, I don't agree with Benatar's conclusions, but this is yet another example (I am afraid) of highly uncharitable discussion of them.

Sister Y writes:

View suicide as really bad judgment on a really bad day, possibly while high or drunk, and you've got an explanation for higher suicide rates when it's easy that doesn't require wanting to die in any real non-transient sense.

This all may be true (cf. Becker & Posner on rational suicide - "Suicide: An Economic Approach"), but note that every post hoc explanation of people offing themselves when barriers are removed reduces the weight of the rarity of suicide as evidence for life's awesomeness. You end up having to say, life is great, see how few people kill themselves? Oh, except those crazy people who don't count.

Also, the assertion that suicide is a "bad decision" is a value judgment incompatible with genuinely looking at frequency of suicides to determine whether people find their lives worth living.

Finch writes:

> Also, the assertion that suicide is a "bad
> decision" is a value judgment incompatible with
> genuinely looking at frequency of suicides to
> determine whether people find their lives worth
> living.

I guess I meant that the person involved would view it as a bad decision had they survived and sobered up. That's not based on a lot, it's just what I got from the one survivor of a suicide attempt I knew reasonably well. The couple of other suicides I've known involved being really intoxicated on a really bad day. Obviously I have no way of knowing for sure, but I expect those people just hit their worst moments at the particularly unlucky coincidence of means and intoxication. I doubt very much they really wanted to die on a regular basis, or that what they did was particularly well planned. On this basis I expect that the number of successful suicides overestimates the number of people who really wanted to die. Much like the number of homicides overestimates the number of people who really wanted to be murderers.

I mean, if you plan ahead to do something in which the consequences of screwing up are long-term pain and disability, would the first thing you'd do be to get really drunk?

Finch writes:

> The couple of other suicides I've known

This is not entirely true. I recall one other suicide, of an elderly person, that I think was pretty clearly intentional.

Sister Y writes:

It is very difficult for non-suicidal people to model the brains of suicidal people.

If you really want to die, it might seem like you'd just calmly jump off a building. If you don't just calmly jump off a building, you must not really want to die.

But there are barriers to suicide built into our psychology as well as our social and physical worlds. One might view getting drunk and shooting oneself as a "bad decision," made on a whim, without reflection; but it could also be that the person desperately wanted to die, but only found the courage to pull the trigger when drunk.

I'd be more inclined to believe the "we just want to prevent suicides on a whim" story if it were possible to prove oneself competent and with a longstanding desire to die and be allowed to use barbiturates to end one's life after, say, three months of stable preference for death.

Until there's a good, universally available opt-out, failure to opt-out won't be strong evidence of the awesomeness of life.

filrabat writes:

Sister Y: But there are barriers to suicide built into our psychology as well as our social and physical worlds. One might view getting drunk and shooting oneself as a "bad decision," made on a whim, without reflection; but it could also be that the person desperately wanted to die, but only found the courage to pull the trigger when drunk.

Agreed. From here, it's not too much of a creative leap to see the suicidal person really wanted to die but knew he/she'd be too afraid to be able to follow through successfully. Therefore, he/she deliberately got drunk to - in his or her mind - make the suicide less painful.

Finch writes:

SisterY, pot kettle black.

I'm not the one who called the number of suicides the tip of the iceberg and inferred there are a lot of people who would do it if only they had the rationality and good sense brought on by intoxication.

To the contrary, I think that what you do sober is a pretty good approximation of what you actually want to do, and that you can't ignore aspects of your personality like your inhibitions against self-harm or your ties to friends as if they didn't count and as if the part of you that is, say, upset at getting dumped is the only thing that's real.

The half-assed nature of many suicide attempts seems a pretty clear indication that they are really about signalling distress, and not really about wanting to be dead.

I also think Bryan is right and that tall buildings are a pretty good approximation of a not-too-unpleasant universally available opt-out and that the rarity of taking that opt-out is good evidence of the awesomeness of life.

Sister Y writes:

A huge proportion of suicide attempters just have dangerous rescue fantasies; our society encourages this dangerous behavior by playing into the fantasy and "rescuing" all attempters. It would be much better for genuine suicides as well as rescue fantasists who don't want to die if we allowed comfortable, reliably lethal suicide; it would destroy the signalling power of a "half-assed" suicide attempt, making non-suicides thereby safer, but would still allow people to exit comfortably if that's what they want.

If suicide by tall building is good enough for us bad people, why isn't it good enough for innocent terminally ill people with a "good reason" to die?

Finch writes:

> If suicide by tall building is good enough for
> us bad people, why isn't it good enough for
> innocent terminally ill people with a "good
> reason" to die?

I'm not sure I understand. I don't object much to medically supervised suicides with reasonable controls. If you can make the decision slowly and sober, then fair enough, it's a lot harder to argue it's a bad decision. I just don't think it would change much - why would the signalers care if there's a new reliable option available? There already are reliable options available.

I think we romanticize suicide when we picture morose philosophers and people with degenerative brain disease. Look at the numbers attributable to physical health problems versus relationship or financial problems. Transient, impulsive reasoning seems a lot more common. And those deaths are more like drunk driving accidents than a well thought-out argument against life. Hence my conclusion that the number of suicides overestimates the number of people who really want to die. Assuming the health problems are legitimate reasons and the other problems aren't (I realize this is an oversimplification), it's about a factor of five.

That said, doctors with needles don't seem much less scary than tall buildings, but that might just be me.

Finch writes:

I'll add another thing. Saying "I'm struck with an illness that will kill me painfully and would prefer a better end" is not the same thing as saying "I wish I had never existed."

Again, I think Bryan's revealed-preference argument is basically correct.

Sister Y writes:

You're absolutely right that most suicides are about failed social belonging or a feeling of being a burden on others (those are the other two factors Thomas Joiner, mentioned upthread, found strong evidence for in causing suicide). Social belonging is not trivial; often it's the only thing keeping us alive. Too bad parents can't guarantee this to their children; famous suicide Tyler Clementi's parents recently mentioned that he had no close friends when he died.

But if a failed relationship is enough to trigger a death wish, even temporarily, that seems to me to again degrade the "revealed preference" idea Caplan is pushing. So far, in order for the rarity of suicide to be evidence of life's universally high value, we need to also buy that:

1. Few people commit suicide (cf. 1 in 77 deaths being suicide, mentioned above)
2. Everyone who wants to commit suicide is reasonably able to do it (cf. the de facto suicide prohibition and the punitive tactics used against would-be suicides; also cf. how completely crappy it would be to jump off a building, and the failure condition of that, versus eating barbiturates)
3. People who TEMPORARILY want to commit suicide don't count as evidence of the badness of life because what REALLY counts is some kind of stable preference

Even though I obviously disagree with it, I think this argument is incredibly important, and it's usually much more invisible than Caplan makes it here. I think what is driving our modern dogma that "suicide is caused by mental illness" is that it makes it easier to deny that people are made to suffer just by being alive. This is a very important foundation for civilization.

Sister Y writes:

Here, Caplan asserts that life is good, and we can tell this from behavioral econ - people are rational and act like life is worth living by not killing themselves, so we can conclude that life is worth living.

Compare this to his view expressed in this paper - that behavioral econ shows us that poor people are irrational and need to be given fewer options so that they make the right choices. (Specifically - they need to be made to suffer more for their bad choices.)

I think you can argue one or the other but not both.

Finch writes:

I more or less agree with your characterization at 2:21. I think points (1) and (2) are fairly obvious. Point (3) needs an argument. Here I would say that if I want to make a good decision, meaning a decision that best implements my desires, I want good data, time, emotional control, and sobriety.

I'd add a fourth point, which is helpful to Bryan's cause. I attempted to make it at 1:46. That's that suicide does not necessarily mean "I wish I never existed, my life was of negative value." Again, it's easy to imagine someone with a terminal disease wanting a dignified end without thinking his life was not worth living. So at least some suicides should not count against the revealed-preference for life.

Sister Y writes:

I agree with that - not all suicide is a wish to never have existed. But nor is all life a ratification of the decision to create oneself.

One other thing - I assume Caplan would agree, by this logic, that it's wrong for traditional Inuit people and people with bipolar disorder to reproduce, since the suicide rate in each case is so high.

[broken link fixed. Please check your pasted links before posting your comments!--Econlib Ed.]

Finch writes:

> it's wrong for traditional Inuit people and
> people with bipolar disorder to reproduce,
> since the suicide rate in each case is so high.

Does it exceed 50 percent? I think that's the logical threshold, above which it is wrong to create life, below which it is wrong _not_ to create life. Presumably thinking long-term, so you dodge population concerns (which while minor now might someday be major if, say, our reproduction rate went way up). I also wish to dodge median-versus-mean issues to simplify things.

To be clear, I'm not sure I really advocate that position. I worried above that this is a reduction to absurdity. But I think it's where you logically get to if you follow this through.

The (usually superb) Econlib Editor appears to have dropped your link rather than fixed it.

Anonymous writes:

[Comment removed pending confirmation of email address. Email the webmaster@econlib.org to request restoring this comment. A valid email address is required to post comments on EconLog and EconTalk.--Econlib Ed.]

Sister Y writes:
Jörg writes:

"Tall buildings and other routes to painless suicide are all around us;"

Obviously, this is kind of cold-hearted and also wrong: organizations like Dignitas or EXIT (Switzerland) exist for a reason. Dr. Kevorkian, too, received many calls from people who wanted to use the service he provided.

We have to account for this. For some---Kevorkian, too, repeatedly said that he'd rather not have been born---life is an imposition, not a gift at all. _Really_ painless routes to suicide need to get legalized.

Also, why are there no qualifications for parents? Why on earth is everyone deemed qualified to procreate? I, for example, suffer g r e a t l y from my low IQ (68; Stanford Binet test) and small penis. This is just unacceptable. Add to this the problem of meaninglessness, which makes suffering all the more ... meaningless. Why suffer in a meaningless universe? What for? But enough of this.

Anyway, I hope these two issues---whether we should legalize suicide and problematize or even abandon procreation---will be discussed more in the near future. We live, I think, in favorable times to tackle these issues. Religious dogma, at least in Europe, is decreasing, giving more room for this.

P. S. Pardon my english, it is not my mother tongue.

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