WSJ Reviews SRtHMK
By Bryan Caplan
…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.
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.”