Bryan Caplan  

The Orphan Not Adopted

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From Dan Carroll, blogger and adoptive father of a former orphan from Ethiopia:
The pattern of behavior from the US Department of State (DOS) is to shut down adoption programs from countries that do not participate in the Hague Convention for Inter-Country Adoption. Superficially, the DOS appears to believe that rate of unethical adoptions out of countries that do not participate in the Hague Convention is too high, and therefore moves to shut down all adoptions out of those countries.
 
Apparently the fact that most orphans in the world reside in non-Hague countries is lost on the DOS.
 
Under US law, the DOS is required to accept and review adoptions originating from all countries. Further, they have yet to provide evidence that the rate of unethical adoptions out of non-Hague countries is higher than 1%, much less "too" high. Instead, they throw around headline grabbing terms like "child trafficking" and "fraud", which gives them the political cover to advance their agenda.

Nowhere in this debate do we hear from the State Department is a discussion of what happens to the children who are left behind, who are not adopted because the DOS has blocked all adoptions from that country. Ethiopia has millions of orphans, living on the streets, alleyways, garbage dumps, and even, for some of them, in orphanages. For the two thousand or so that get a pass out of hell every year, why aren't their voices being counted? Note also for every orphanage bed that is vacated due to adoption, another child gets off of the street.
Reasonable people can argue about our moral obligations to Drowning Children.  But telling would-be rescuers "You have to wait until you prove you don't have nefarious intentions" is clearly wrong.  When someone tries to rescue a Drowning Child, anyone who interferes has blood on his hands. 


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COMMENTS (9 to date)
Bob Murphy writes:

I realize it's more polite--and probably will convince more people to come over to your side--to not question people's motives, but I really think this typical passage from the article Bryan quoted is absurd:

Apparently the fact that most orphans in the world reside in non-Hague countries is lost on the DOS.

Like I said, this is typical in the oh-what-a-bunch-of-buffoons-those-bureacrats-are genre, of which I used to be a proud member.

But that's not what's going on here. The people in the State Department--especially those promulgating adoption policies--probably know the basic facts about international adoption as the person writing the article.

I don't claim to know what motivates the policies, but I *do* claim that this isn't just some honest mistake, and the people in the State Department can't get to sleep at night because they're so worried about foreign orphans.

Dan Carroll writes:

Mr. Murphy, it sounds like you know someone at State. I've tried to be careful not to attack individuals but rather go after policies (though sometimes it is hard to separate the two). Bureaucrats range from very professional and competent to lazy and corrupt, and everything in between. After interacting with State for over six months, as well as with many adoptive parents, and experts, I do have quite a bit of knowledge about what is going on. I am also familiar with the facts about orphans in Africa. I don't have details on specific adoption cases, nor would I want to as that is very private. However, I do know individuals who have that kind of knowledge.

I don't doubt that State is convinced that they are doing the right thing, that much is obvious, even to the point where they are willing to corrupt case files to prove a point. However, the facts about adoption just don't support their allegations in magnitude nor in nature. A self-righteous police officer is often far more dangerous than the criminal.

I don't disagree with their objective. I disagree with their solution.

Robert Fellner writes:

Hi Dan,

I think you may be missing Dr. Murphy's point. He is saying that the State Department is aware of the same information you and I have on this topic. It is not a matter of incompetence or ignorance. It is safe to assume that those crafting these policies are aware of such basic information as the fact the Hague Convention does not apply to most countries.

The only point Bob was trying to make is that the stated goal of a specific policy is not always the goal or motivation of the policymakers.

So it is useless to get frustrated and point out how obvious it is that the policy as designed is ineffective at achieving its stated goal. The reality is that those whom crafted the policy, or at least their advisers, are certainly able to access the same information on this topic as you or I. The fact is, the policymakers oftentimes have ulterior motives and agendas that supersede the stated goal of a policy. To perpetually assign the goal of the policy as being the goal of the policymakers seems to be a grave error.

One great example is the war on drugs. Everyone has the statistics showing what a colossal failure it has been and continues to be. How can those in charge not realize the harm they are doing?! Well, the policy continues because those who are in a position to affect change have starkly different motives and objectives (perhaps benefits of being employed as drug agent etc.) than that of the policy itself; the decrease of drug use. To assume that those in charge of the DEA do not realize how helpless they are to prevent drug use is a grave error. To assume that their motivation and objective is the same of the policy (to stop drug abuse) is simply dangerously naive.

Bob Murphy writes:

Dan Carroll wrote: I don't doubt that State is convinced that they are doing the right thing...

I do, at least if we define "right thing" as the stated reasons for their policies.

Mr. Carroll, let me put it this way: If you are right, then simply emailing your blog post to the relevant parties should fix the matter up in a couple of weeks, right?

(BTW I'm sorry I used the strong term "absurd" in describing your statement. It's always easy to be extreme when you don't think the recipient of the criticism is reading... Also I admire your adoption efforts.)

joeftansey writes:

What I have trouble understanding is why moral intuitions get to define moral philosophy in some situations, and then we use our moral philosophy to reject our moral intuition in other situations.

Take the two examples. Most of us would help a drowning child. Most of us do not help the millions of starving children in other countries. You have Singer's argument about how to resolve the "conflict", but why doesn't the logic go the other way? In the same way we don't help foreign children, we also could also achieve consistency by not helping drowning children. Why is this not an option?

Moreover, why do we have to be consistent?

R Richard Schweitzer writes:

Tragically, these kinds of issues become overlaid with:

We Know Best

Dan Carroll writes:

Robert,
I agree that there are certainly ulterior motives. There are ideological motives, political motives, conflict between USCIS (for adoption, mostly) and DOS (against adoption), sources of funding, and preening before the senate. If it wasn't for USCIS (who has the final say on approval), the Ethiopia program would be all but shut down by now. DOS, however, has more influence in the senate. I've spent much time speculating as to which motives are most operative. The other organization, Unicef, is also well known as anti-adoption (though they like to claim otherwise).

On the front line, however, their beliefs are fairly clear - ideological and poorly trained 20 or 30 somethings tasked with fighting fraud with marching orders from on high.

This thing started in August when the DOS basically threw a tantrum when Ethiopia declined to sign the Hague Treaty. Ironically, Vietnam has now agreed to the Hague Treaty, but the DOS still says no. Vietnam closed in 2010, and went through the same process.

Creating the percepton of fraud is their pretext, not the real motive.

One purpose of the post is to expose their duplicity in using absurd terms like "child trafficking" to justify their actions, and to attempt to neutralize their PR campaign. Unfortunately, they have a bigger budget than I, and "child trafficking" makes for a catchier headline than "the percentage of confirmed cases of fraud is a four or five standard deviation event".

I think this addresses Bob's second comment as well. Sorry if I misunderstood your first statement, and no offense taken.

Keith writes:
When someone tries to rescue a Drowning Child, anyone who interferes has blood on his hands.

If I restrain my own impulse to save a drowning child, do I then have blood on my hands? If so, wouldn't that imply that I had a duty to rescue the child? If not, what's the key distinction between this self-restraint and interference with others?

Uncle Sam writes:

Keith writes:

If I restrain my own impulse to save a drowning child, do I then have blood on my hands? If so, wouldn't that imply that I had a duty to rescue the child? If not, what's the key distinction between this self-restraint and interference with others?

The distinction is that one is self-restraint and one is interference with others.

What's the distinction between not eating a hamburger and interfering with someone else eating a hamburger? What's the distinction between not going to watch a football game and forcing someone else to not go to the same game?

Keith, do you own your body?

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