By Bryan Caplan
To be brutally honest, we’re reluctant to have more children because we think that the pain outweighs the gain. When people compare the grief that another child would give them to the joy that the child would bring, they conclude that it’s just not worth it. As Bill Cosby put it, “The reason we have five children is because we do not want six.”
You could easily call this a very selfish outlook. How can you focus exclusively on whether another child would make you happier? What about the child? Unless your baby is truly unlucky, he will almost certainly be happy to be alive. Aren’t you? This is your child we’re talking about. If you have to make yourself a little less happy in order to give a son or daughter the gift of life, shouldn’t you? The question is serious, but I’m going to dodge it. While I accept
the natalist view that more births should be encouraged because they make the world a better place, asking others to sacrifice their happiness for the good of the world seems futile. Preaching against selfishness is usually about as productive as nagging a brick wall.
More from the conclusion:
I don’t deny that some parents immiserate themselves for their children’s sake. What I reject is the widely shared assumption that conflict between kids and happiness is unavoidable. It’s natural for anti-natalists to equate the first couple of kids with servitude–and any more with slavery. What amazes me is how readily natalists agree. You’d expect them to downplay parental misery. Instead, most race to concede its inevitability–and tell us to be less calculating and selfish.
At least to my ears, natalists’ pleas against prudence are pretty lame. Arguing against foresight with a straight face isn’t easy. Imagine the public service campaign: “You think too much. Just have a baby.” Appeals to duty are less laughable: “Your parents sacrificed their happiness to have you. Now it’s your turn.” But aspiring grandparents have tried guilt since the dawn of man. It’s hard to imagine that strangers’ nagging will succeed where relatives’ nagging failed. The child-free don’t want to sacrifice their lifestyles, and parents feel like they’ve already sacrificed enough.
This book takes a different approach. I don’t defend acting on impulse; I’m a big fan of planning ahead. I don’t preach a duty to be fruitful and multiply; I expect sermons to fall on deaf ears. Instead, I appeal to enlightened self-interest. While kids can make their parents unhappy, the choice between kids and happiness is largely self-imposed. My goal isn’t to attack consumerism and individualism but to join forces with them–to show that kids are a better deal than they seem.