International Adoption: The Personal Side
By Bryan Caplan
When the moment of truth came, my name was called, I entered the
room, and a Chinese official plopped a baby into my arms. I braced
myself, and — nothing happened. She didn’t cry. She didn’t scream. She
just held onto my shirt with her tiny fists and stared up at my face. To
me it was as if we had been together since the moment of her birth.
Today, my daughter is a freshman in high school. She spends too much
time on Instagram but is killing it in her classes. And what about our
giving experiment? In truth, I don’t know or care what my daughter has
done for my income or health. But my happiness? It spikes every time she
looks at me and I remember the magic day we met.
Despite this, international adoption has become less common. And governments around the world are to blame:
Back in the United States with our new daughter, Ester and I felt we
were part of a foreign adoption movement. We were sure that enlightened
public policy would continue to loosen regulations, which would make for
more and more miracles like ours. Blended international families of
choice were the wave of the future, we thought, and a reflection of an
increasingly shared belief in a radical solidarity that transcended
borders and biology.
We were wrong. The year we adopted turned out to be the high-water
mark in foreign adoptions and the number has dropped ever since. By 2016
it had fallen 77 percent from its peak, to 5,372. This is the lowest
total in three and half decades.
What happened? The answer is not a lack of need. Indeed, according to
the Christian Alliance for Orphans, there are more than 15 million
children around the world who have lost both of their parents.
Part of the reason is the policies of foreign governments, which have
made foreign adoption harder, for both nationalistic reasons and
because of worries about corruption and human trafficking. Our own
government has contributed as well: Foreign adoption plunged all through
the Obama administration as the State Department imposed new hurdles in
the name of curbing abuses, which are a significant worry for parents
adopting from some countries (although not China, where virtually all
the children, like my daughter, were abandoned at birth).
Motivated by good intentions or not, these changes have left
thousands of orphans unadopted. This is too high a price to pay for
In my family, we have a catchphrase: “I don’t think about what could go wrong. I think about what could go right!” It’s poetry, of course; I’m full of precaution. But I stand by the spirit of our poem. To take the case of international adoption: We’re paranoid about the microscopic risk of accidentally snatching a poor family’s wanted baby – and barely cognizant of the fantastic opportunity regulation snatches from the hands of orphans around the world. Social Desirability Bias – and the demagoguery it fosters – is not only mindless, but heartless.
P.S. Happy Thanksgiving to the Brooks family and to all of you!