Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids and the Libertarian Penumbra
By Bryan Caplan
In one of my talks at the 2011 International Students for Liberty Conference, I argued that the my views on parenting and kids can and should enter the libertarian penumbra. Yes, a perfectly good libertarian could believe that nurture is the key to child development, or that kids inevitably make us miserable. But not only are these views false; it is both realistic and desirable for my views to become conventional wisdom among libertarians.
Why is it realistic for my views to become conventional wisdom among libertarians?
Because libertarians are unusually open to…
1. Using economics in daily life. Libertarians don’t just use economics to analyze policy; they also often use it to guide their personal behavior. Their knowledge of the sunk cost fallacy inspires them to walk out of movies. Their knowledge of comparative advantage persuades them to buy foreign products without guilt. So it should be relatively easy to get libertarians apply the Law of Demand to family size. If you can get the kids you want for a lot less effort than you thought was required, you should have more. I’ve even got a diagram!
The Students for Liberty chuckled, but I’m pretty sure they were laughing with me, not at me.
2. Political incorrect science. Libertarians don’t just have a high regard for science; they are also often willing to embrace scientific conclusions that the rest of world doesn’t want to hear. The key findings of twin and adoption research – that genes, not upbringing, are the main reason traits run in families – clearly fit this pattern. Most people don’t want to hear it, but libertarians can embrace the science with rationalist glee.
3. The idea that intentions do not equal results. Libertarians are already used to the idea that merely “doing something” while wanting X to happen often fails to produce X. The minimum wage is intended to help low-skill workers, but it backfires. In a similar vein, libertarians should be open to the idea that parents’ desire and effort to shape their kids yields little fruit – and that the wisest approach is to sit back and let nature take its course.
Why is it desirable for my views to become conventional wisdom among libertarians?
Because libertarians who take me seriously will…
1. Avoid lots of unnecessary parental unhappiness. Once you accept how little influence you have over your kids, you can relax and enjoy the journey. And if libertarians don’t deserve to be happy, who does?!
2. Create more awesome people. Even if the world ignores libertarians forever, it’s still great for more libertarians to exist, build our counter-culture, and enjoy life.
3. Increase the frequency of libertarian genes – and the long-run prospects for liberty. Genes have a strong effect on political views. So assuming libertarians are right about policy, increasing the frequency of libertarian genes is good for the world. It will take a few centuries, but libertarian natalism is one of the least unrealistic paths to liberty we’ve got.
I’m written my book for a general audience. I’m happy to change minds wherever I find them. But if I can just persuade a lot of my fellow libertarians to chillax and multiply, I’ll judge the whole project a great success.