Bryan Caplan  

My Fourth Statement

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When I was promoting Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids, one of the most common questions I heard was, "Are you going to have any more?"  I always avoided a definite answer.  But now I'm pleased to announce that my wife and I are expecting our fourth child, a baby girl, in April.  She'll be named Valeria, middle name TBD (though I'm partial to Ayn and Fanya).

Back in the Baby Boom, having four kids was roughly average.  But nowadays, it verges on counter-cultural.  As Jonathan Last observes, "When you meet couples with more than three children today, chances are they're making a cultural and theological statement."  I'm irreligious, but Last still has my number.  I am indeed making a cultural statement.  Having lots of kids is my way of saying all of the following:

1. People should feel grateful to be alive - and people who give the gift of life do a great thing.

2. People in the First World today should be incredibly grateful to be alive; they have a golden opportunity to build a joyful life free of mankind's historic troubles.  (Corollary: People should take most of the energy they spend on complaining and reallocate it to self-improvement).

3. More people make the world a better place.  Our culture greatly overblows the social costs of population - especially on the environment - and severely neglects the social benefits - especially on innovation and choice. 

4. Parents' most meaningful effect is on their kids' appreciation - how their kids feel about and remember them.  The key to being a great parent isn't sacrifice and suffering on your kids' behalf.  It's treating them with kindness and respect, and having fun together. 

5. Parental sacrifice and suffering are usually a waste of time in any case.  At least in the modern First World, your kids' future depends primarily on their genes and their free will, not your "investment."  (Corollary: Our four kids will be roughly as successful in school and work as they would have been if they were only children who enjoyed our undivided time and resources).

6. You can have the pride and joy of being a parent without losing the pride and joy of being an individual.  While many parents would work themselves to death taking care of four kids, there's no reason to do so.

7. Kids are cute and fun.  Especially my kids


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COMMENTS (25 to date)
Ryan P writes:

Congrats!

Scott Wentland writes:

Congrats!

Rex Ryan 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.]

Norman writes:

My wife wants to hear your wife's perspective on the whole thing. Talk is cheap if you're not the primary caregiver, and most of the time if the father has a career he's not the primary caregiver, regardless of the mother's career ambitions.

...also, you're not the one with morning sickness.

Andy writes:

Congrats!

Nix the Ayn idea though.

Joe Kristan writes:

Wonderful news! Best wishes to all of you.

[broken, mis-pasted url removed--Econlib Ed.]

Dave Schuler writes:

Valeria is a pretty name and Val for short is cute.

Valeria was a Roman province in south-eastern Europe and Valeria Victrix was the name of the XXth Roman legion, believed by some to have been the last to leave Britain.

Jonathan Goff writes:

Congrats Bryan and Mrs. Caplan!

We're at three, and while they're a handful, they're also a lot of fun too.

~Jon

Steve Roth writes:

"The key to being a great parent isn't sacrifice and suffering on your kids' behalf. It's treating them with kindness and respect, and having fun together. "

Right on. The "respect your elders" bit pisses me off. I say respect them if they merit and earn respect. No free tickets just because they happened to be born earlier.

QTC with kids, gotta give them the benefit of the doubt to some extent, respect them just because they're humans, and because it engenders respect-worthy behavior.

Taimyoboi writes:

Congratulations Bryan--you may be irreligious but methinks you're a proto-Catholic. We're also expecting our second in a few months (and are shooting for four).

Ted Levy writes:

Congratulations.

The middle name Ayn would certainly make a statement.

Clay writes:

Congrats!

Valeria is the 94th most popular girl name in the US in 2010. Good choice.

Aeon J. Skoble writes:

Valeria as REH reference? You, sir, are awesome.

Finch writes:

Congratulations!

We're at four and my wife is starting to jones for number five. Funnily enough, she recently said "It seems like all my [moderately wealthy suburban] friends have four or are working on five!" There might be an element of bias in her observation. :) That said, she's not imagining things. They are mostly not strongly religious. They are mostly stay-at-home with a big-earner husband.

Maybe you have to look to the right peer group?

btf writes:

Congratulations! As we read the book my skeptical wife kept asking me why you weren't walking the walk. Now I can point out that you most definitely are. Although, as noted above, your wife's opinion would also go a long way in convincing the doubters.

Steve Z writes:

Congrats!

Rochelle writes:

Eh, I wouldn't say it's that countercultural. In my circles at least it seems like 4 is the new 3. I know several families with 4 (though two of them also had twins), a few more families expecting their fourth and plan to have 4 myself (It's one more than I think I can handle and I'm already viewing it as "the bonus child"!). As Finch noted none of us are particularly religious, we're all stay at home women, but the big-earner husband thing tends to be a variable :P

Glen S. McGhee writes:

Sorry. Kids being born now are being dropped onto a pile of rock; kids being born now are walking into a meat grinder -- literally.

I get to see loads of tax returns, and I am amazed at how few kids people are now having, even those reasonably well off. The world we are bringing them into is toxic, and people know this.

Student loan bloggers are now starting to talk about the link with suicide; the only way to discharge a loan is to die.

All of this I say with profound regret, but with equal conviction, having walked the talk too.

Tracy W writes:

Congratulations! My first baby is snoozing on my lap at the moment. Though after the birth I'm a bit more doubtful about a second. :)

David R. Henderson writes:

@Glen S. McGhee,
Born into a “meat grinder,” literally? I do not think the word “literally” means what you think it means.
Bryan, congrats to you and your family.

Nathan Smith writes:

Congratulations!

chipotle writes:

For someone who is considering paying tribute to a beloved "intellectual" by (middle-)naming your kid "Ayn," you really do miss the whole "A=A" thing pretty spectacularly. Children are not "statements;" they are flesh-and-blood individual human beings whose path is made not only from your genetic contribution but also from the long, intensive process of parenting--as well as the cultural environment.

Forgive me if my tone sounds plaintive, Professor Caplan. But your insistence on the irrelevance of parental practices compared with heritability takes a worthwhile point and pushes it past what both evidence and common sense will bear. The obvious overrepresentation of East- and South-Asian students among our nation's valedictorians, science fair winners, competitive math champions, etc. doesn't come from a genetic mutation that allowed neanderthals to quickly derive differential equation in the face of charging wooly mammoths--no, it comes from a culture that expects and values hard work and academic attainment over nipple-piercing and glue-sniffing parties.

Stan writes:

Gratz!

John David Galt writes:

I have strong doubts about point 5. We all know that kids in America's poor neighborhoods do much worse in school, especially high school and college, than the population taken as a whole. The most obvious explanation for this is that poor parents, especially those who were on the dole when they had their children, are less likely to take an interest in making sure their kids do their homework and learn in school.

If point 5 is true then another explanation is needed.

Glen McGhee writes:

One-sided arguments always invite opposing views. The Greeks called it Enantiodromia.

1. People should feel grateful to be alive - and people who give the gift of life do a great thing.

COMMENT: Gratitude has nothing to do with producing offspring; in fact, they may interpret your symbolic act as one of malice directed against them.

Giving the gift of life is not always a good thing; it depends on the context, just like everything else -- ask children born into dire poverty, into blighted cities choked with crime and fear; ask children born to drug-addicts, drunks, or single mothers without any resources or support; ask children born to ignorant, illiterate folks on the dole their whole lives. These are the ones you need to check with before airily declaring that "people who give the gift of life do a great thing."

2. People in the First World today should be incredibly grateful to be alive; they have a golden opportunity to build a joyful life free of mankind's historic troubles. (Corollary: People should take most of the energy they spend on complaining and reallocate it to self-improvement).

COMMENT: People in the First World today can only be incredibly grateful for being alive by turning a blind eye on all those they have climbed over in the process of getting ahead, ignoring all the assets that they have stripped from the earth (and the pollution and toxic gases they have emptied into the environment).

As for a millennial golden opportunity, we are on the verge of significantly magnifying mankind's historic troubles -- the idea that we can and should improve our situation is an ideological quirk of our tradition of the liberal self, and nothing more.

Wasn't it Adam Smith that first said, Greed is Good?

Far from being meritocratic, we now know this to be a rhetorical justification for excluding everyone else from sharing what we have and they don't. This is dystopia, not utopia.

3. More people make the world a better place. Our culture greatly overblows the social costs of population - especially on the environment - and severely neglects the social benefits - especially on innovation and choice.

COMMENT: Another good reason not to have children -- think of the endless cycle of consumption and pollution that would have ended by not having a child. Children, and their children, consume natural resources in ever increasing amounts. There are no social benefits to forcing more and more to live on a shrinking planet -- the end of oil alone will overwhelm even our most exalted, but petty, innovations. Cramming more people onto a planet -- whose carrying capacity is only about half of what the population is now -- does not increase choice, but the reverse -- it steals choice from those numbered among the living.

4. Parents' most meaningful effect is on their kids' appreciation - how their kids feel about and remember them. The key to being a great parent isn't sacrifice and suffering on your kids' behalf. It's treating them with kindness and respect, and having fun together.

COMMENT: Social and economic tsunami can, and do, wipe these memories away with suffering and loss. In America, the family is no longer a viable social institution, and what has replaced it is an abomination -- families breaking apart again and again, the endless turning over of children to state foster care, no one knowing who their real father is, nor caring because life hurts so much.

The only memory left is that of turning on the tv and falling asleep on the couch, until someone wakes you up from the filthy dreams that filter from the idiot box into your sleeping mind.

And there is nothing to protect children from this horror. Nothing. It is amazing to me that anyone can survive. And what of schools? Daily humiliation and abuse is unspeakable, without kindness and certainly not respect (see John Taylor Gatto on why this is the case). Fun? Perhaps some fun there, but certainly unplanned.

5. Parental sacrifice and suffering are usually a waste of time in any case. At least in the modern First World, your kids' future depends primarily on their genes and their free will, not your "investment." (Corollary: Our four kids will be roughly as successful in school and work as they would have been if they were only children who enjoyed our undivided time and resources).

COMMENT: Free will no longer matters; the regulatory state seeks to limit all discretion, and bureaucracies of all kinds operate because moral responsibility has been stripped away from the individual (Weber), and invested in the social structure or organization as a whole (Elias/Bauman calls it moral displacement). Rather than building moral character, modern society seeks to produce moral indifference on a massive scale, and it succeeds.

6. You can have the pride and joy of being a parent without losing the pride and joy of being an individual. While many parents would work themselves to death taking care of four kids, there's no reason to do so.

COMMENT: Fear, mostly the fear of watching my children suffer, and being powerless to do anything to stop it -- this is my greatest fear. At times, I think I see just such helplessness in my own parents eyes.

7. Kids are cute and fun. Especially my kids.

COMMENT: I hope you are right, and that you still think this 20 years from now, and 30 years from now. But kids grow up, and leave home, walking into a meat grinder studded with razor blades that homogenizes the population in order to control it, but only kills it in the process. Henry Ford, afterall, got his idea for the assembly line from the Chicago meat packers that used a trolley system to hang a carcass and butcher it until nothing was left.

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