Naik on Bastards and Stigma
By Bryan Caplan
you see a redneck, you call him a redneck. Perhaps, when you see a
bastard, you should call him a bastard. Shame is a powerful force.”
Actually, I don’t call people rednecks (I think it’s incredibly
rude), so this is a very presumptuous statement by Foseti. Setting that
aside, though, I am puzzled by Foseti’s shaming and stigma theory in the context of bastards.
Here’s my understanding of Foseti’s (and perhaps also Charles Murray’s)
shaming theory in the context of bastards — there are two premises:
(a) Shaming a behavior acts as a powerful deterrent against that behavior.
(b) Having babies out of wedlock is a bad behavior that deserves to be
deterred, because of the lower quality of life that the child
experiences (compared to children of married couples) and also because
of the burdens on society (e.g., need for the welfare state,
particularly since single mothers tend to be poorer, or the child being
more likely to grow up to be a criminal).
premises (a) and (b) (I have significant reservations about (a) and some
reservations about (b), but setting them aside for now), shaming
bastards makes no sense, because bastards, almost by definition, have no
control over how they were born, and there is no behavior of their own
they can change in the future to prevent being bastards. I can see two
(1) Perhaps Foseti has in mind that the
parents of the bastard will feel shamed when their child is called a
bastard. But point (b) implies that the parents show an unusually low
degree of concern for their child — otherwise they’d have married
before having the child. It’s unclear whether calling the child a
bastard at the margin will deter the parents themselves from having
additional bastard children, and/or deter other prospective
out-of-wedlock parents. If we embrace (a) and (b), then the people who
deserve ridicule are exclusively the parents, not the child. At any
rate, it seems to make more sense to direct ridicule at the parents in
terms of deterrent effect per unit shame.
(2) Perhaps Foseti
has in mind that calling bastards bastards reduces the chances that they
will engage in bad behavior. This is unclear to me. If a bastard knows
that, however nice he is, he’ll still be called a bastard, how does that
increase the incentive to be nice? It would seem to reduce the
incentive to be nice at the margin, because the “best-case scenario” for
the bastard is to face ridicule as a bastard.
What am I missing? Thoughts?
Update: Vipul Naik emailed me to say, “It seems like I’d misunderstood Foseti’s comment — he/she clarified in a follow-up comment on EconLog. I apologized to Foseti for the misrepresentation.”