Why Libertarians Should Not Fear Good Things
By Bryan Caplan
As far as I can tell, Connelly doesn’t deny that fertility is good. But he’s afraid of the consequences of admitting that fertility is good. After all, won’t governments take advantage of this admission to do great evil?
On Connelly’s logic, though, it seems like libertarians should be afraid to say that anything
besides liberty is good. Take prosperity. As soon as you say that
“prosperity is good,” plenty of statists will leap to advocate state
action to increase prosperity. And to say that “pro-prosperity has a
checkered past” is a vast understatement. In a twisted sense, you could
call the entire Marxist movement “pro-prosperity”–their policies were a
disaster, but the rationale for those policies was to make
their people prosperous. We can tell analogous stories about health,
literacy, technology, civility, and all the other fruits of
civilization. Should libertarians be afraid to praise these as well?
I don’t think so. It’s just not reasonable to deny the goodness of
prosperity, health, literacy, technology, civility–or fertility. And in
any case, it’s strategically foolish. People will question liberty long
before they’ll question prosperity. The wise response for libertarians
is to accept the goodness of the ends, but argue that:
(a) liberty better promotes these ends;
(b) there is a trade-off between ends; and/or
(c) liberty is an important moral side constraint on the pursuit of these ends.
These replies obviously won’t convince everyone. But they’ll be at
least as convincing to the typical natalist as they are to the typical
proponent of economic growth.
Question: Is there any reason to think that the link between the belief that “fertility is good” and support for coercive pro-natalist policies is any stronger than the link between the belief that “prosperity is good” and support for coercive pro-growth policies? It sure doesn’t look like it to me. In my experience, the vast majority of people who think prosperity is good favor statist means to boost growth. In contrast, I doubt that even a simple majority of people who think fertility is good favor statist means to boost birth rates.