Why Sailer Scares
By Bryan Caplan
According to Gregory Clark’s research on wills in England
from 1200 to 1800, that’s pretty much how English society worked: the
richer you were, the earlier you could get married and the more children
you would tend to have.
And we all know how badly that turned out!
In the past (see here, here, and here for starters), Steve and his fans have criticized me for interpreting him uncharitably. While Steve openly favors policies “based in favor of current fellow citizens,” he still acknowledges moral obligations to non-citizens:
But, Bryan, as you may have noticed in the first line you quoted from me, I said,
By “citizenism,” I mean that I believe Americans should be biased in
favor of the welfare of our current fellow citizens over that of the six
“Biased in favor of” is hardly the same as “recognizes no moral
obligations to non-citizens” and does not imply Poisoning Children. I
also do not, for example, to use one of your 3 AM in the Dorm Room
hypotheticals from another post, believe America should invade Canada
and enslave Canadians.
My response to Steve’s clarifications:
Steve devotes most of his intellectual energy to making policy more
biased in favor of citizens. He devotes almost no energy to explaining
when that bias would, in his eyes, be sufficient or excessive. Given
the many horrors committed by groups explicitly committed to in-group
favoritism, he should preemptively affirm our moral obligations to
out-groups instead of leaving the issue to listeners’ imaginations.
With this context in mind, consider Steve’s reaction to my Eugenic Experiment post. Does he explicitly advocate denying people with below-median income the right to have children? No. But he does nothing to reassure readers that he would oppose such laws. Indeed, I think that neutral observers will agree that Steve comes as close as possible to advocating draconian eugenic laws without actually saying, “I advocate draconian eugenic laws.”
Indeed, his two-sentence comment strongly suggests two frightening positions:
1. There is no important moral distinction between (a) a social system where everyone is perfectly free to have children, but rich people end up having more kids than poor people, and (b) a social system where draconian eugenic policies actually forbid poor people to have kids.*
2. The social consequences of England’s historic differential fertility were so outstanding that we shouldn’t morally criticize draconian eugenic policies likely to have similar effects.
To repeat, I’m fully aware that Steve has tipped his hat to moral side constraints. My point is that while he recognizes such constraints at an abstract level, such constraints have almost no visible influence over his concrete evaluations. In fact, Steve seems to find antinomian fun in scoffing at moral condemnation of draconian eugenic policies. If you say his comments were designed to be humorous, note that much of the humor arises from the likelihood that many readers take him seriously.
Does Steve genuinely favor denying half of Americans the right to reproduce? It’s hard to know. It is the uncertainty that he carefully cultivated that makes Sailer’s thought so scary to so many – including me. We shouldn’t have to wonder if a thinker approves of denying half the population the right to have children.
* Generalizing this approach would imply, for example, that there is no important moral difference between a 99% Catholic country with freedom of religion, and a 99% Catholic country where an Inquisition cruelly persecutes dissenters to maintain Catholicism’s dominance.