Miss Self-Important responds, helps me clarify what I was trying to get at in the post below. And hello also new readers via Scott Lemieux. I'm seeing if this bold thing some other bloggers I like use helps or hurts comprehension:
-What do I mean when I say that women know what they want when it comes to reproduction? What I of course don't mean is that a given woman, tossed into a radically different place and/or time, would want the same thing. I'm not referring to any essential, inborn quality. What I mean is simply that if you are a girl/woman of reproductive age, you tend to either want a child within the next nine months or not. A 22-year-old (or a 16-year-old!) likely won't know exactly what she'll want at 32. You will then - assuming you have choices - behave in a way conducive to the outcome you want. Are there also women who kind of want a kid, kind of not, and then their birth control fails but they're kind of OK with it? Sure, although I wouldn't exaggerate how often that happens, and it at any rate doesn't fall outside the realm of women knowing what they want. Some women might be OK with having a kid. That's not not a position. By "women know," I mean that if a woman who doesn't want kids just yet finds herself forced to have one, or, conversely, if a woman who wants kids can get all the contraception she wants but no time off work, that's a problem. Women don't merely accept situations for what they are, happily living in whichever context, not questioning it (or despairing) when their options are limited. It's one thing, then, for the state to shift whichever conditions of possibility - making birth control over-the-counter, say, or providing free maternity care, which would indeed up the odds of a younger, less financially-secure woman having kids - and quite another for there to be intervention past the point a woman, within whichever context, sure, has already come to some decision.
-To be more precise than I was in the earlier post: I don't actually think it's wrong for an op-ed writer to discuss this topic. It gets iffy when the op-ed writer in question is in a position to influence policy and appears interested in doing so, as opposed to merely urging the NYT readers to spawn. My concern isn't super-suggestible women going out and spawning because Ross Douthat told them to. And - this addressing MSI - if the government wants to do this or that social-welfare-wise that might end up increasing the birthrate, so be it. The problem I have with natalist policy is that if the goal is more babies - or, for that matter, fewer babies - then there's only so much that can be accomplished by expanding women's options. We know quite well what government policy to keep a birthrate down can look like. To increase one, do we really think daycare would be enough? That restricting contraception and abortion wouldn't enter into it? Therein lies the danger of encouraging the government to weigh in on this.
Douthat commits a social sin by presuming to tell women what they want, as do feminists who insist that women must put their careers ahead of everything else (and maybe feminists who say that women should boycott procreation until their husbands give them socialism for their birthdays, which Pollitt's concluding point implies).This is a very odd claim about Pollitt, whose concluding point is that if Douthat's so concerned with birthrates, he needs to be, on certain issues at least, more European-left and less American-right. Which seems fair. But the bigger question I have is, who are the "feminists" - of our times, that is - who say career must come first? I thought mainstream feminism had long been about making it possible for women to be in the workforce and have kids. It's true (and this is my window-of-opportunity argument) that in certain circles where many women do identify as feminists, very young women are urged by the women in their lives (mothers, friends, etc.) not to settle down, but then come 27 or so they get the opposite message.
-I wonder where Douthat and those sympathetic to his argument (MSI? Caryatis?) fall on the question of what a government should do if it turned out that we'd be better-off, socioeconomically-speaking, with a lower birthrate. Not so compatible with Catholicism or social conservatism, but if we're speaking in cold economic terms, it could clearly go in either direction, depending.
-What I mean by natalism being immoral: It's not immoral to care about the future of children you plan to have, or for the government to ask that we do tiny, no-big-deal things like recycle in the hopes of averting the planet's full-on demise. This is really not like restricting one's tuna-sushi consumption, which is admittedly (lots of decadence all around, in the expensive-food sense, at least) a sacrifice. The problem with natalism is that it asks the biggest possible decision a woman can make to come down to it being maybe slightly better for the economy or maybe not if the average woman has 2.3 rather than 1.8 kids or whatever. It's immoral to value the life of theoretical people over that of existing ones, particularly when there's hardly a consensus that more children are the answer - maybe it's fewer. It's certainly not immoral if a particular woman finds Douthat convincing, or some anti-Douthat horrified that anyone would bring more children into the world, and arranges her fertility according to whichever principles. What's immoral is stepping in and making it really difficult or altogether impossible for a woman to have a kid if she wants or not if she doesn't.