Thursday, December 06, 2012

Once more, in bold

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.

-Says MSI:

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.


Miss Self-Important said...

I still think that the specter of coercion that you find lurking behind natalist arguments is too speculative to support your intense suspicion. Many states with below-replacement birthrates in both Europe and Asia have tried various policies to increase fertility in the past couple decades, and none that I know of have been coercive or forced women who decidedly did NOT want more or any children into having them. They're always incentive programs - paid maternity leave, free health care, even cash bonuses. Singapore, perhaps the least liberal of the states in question, offers the most creative examples of this effort. Are there coercive programs I'm overlooking? (Honest question; I'm no expert on this.) There are certainly countries that regulate contraception and abortion more tightly than the US, but those regulations are never put in place for natalist reasons where they previously didn't exist. It's much easier to implement policies to restrict procreation than to enforce it, and the real horrors of coercive population management have historically come from restriction programs, not expansion efforts. So why are we worried about an impending state takeover of our wombs?

I think your claim that, "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." is really a red herring. No one making natalist arguments, and certainly not Douthat, has advocated any such policy. (Well, I don’t know what various racialists are advocating, but let’s lump them in with “no one” since neither of us is interested in them.) At the level of simple persuasion, if women are reasonably convinced about what they want as you claim, demographic number-crunching is far less likely to move them than pictures of cute babies, and if a few women actually do get pregnant from some patriotic impulse, that shouldn't be a problem for your argument.

More convincing than that natalist programs are immoral-if-coercive is that natalist programs hardly work. I now can't find an article I read about this a couple years ago surveying various national efforts to hike up fertility and the meager gains they managed to achieve, and that only at massive cost. (Maybe you saw it? It was prob in The Atlantic or something like that.) All I could find was this OECD report, which is agnostic, but if you look at the fertility gains relative to what you might imagine are the costs of the programs it lists, they suggest net loss to me. Which leads to the related question, even if we are cautious natalists, how much are we willing to pay for more babies? Douthat's proposed policies are not the Scandinavian socialism Pollitt wants because I assume he's not willing to use government policy to promote procreation at any cost. Low birthrates might be a social or foreign policy problem, but so is debt default. So in policy terms, we weigh relative goods - encouraging more babies vs. creating more costly federal programs. Some forms of persuasion are more costly than others, and op-eds are the cheapest means of all. It's not as though Douthat is contradicting himself by not going balls-out for more babies a la Scandinavia; what's the problem with balancing social goods? Isn't that more rather than less reasonable than demanding anything for the sake of a loaf in every oven?

If we'd be better off with a lower birthrate, then I imagine we could use the same sorts of incentives we use to encourage procreation to discourage it. More op-eds about the pestilence of pregnancy! No tax breaks for babies! But I'm not sure how you're proposing to ascertain when that would be the case. The fact that India is overpopulated or whatever hardly makes it obvious that I should tie my tubes.

Britta said...

Ceausescu had extremely punitive contraception and abortion restrictions for explicitly and only pro-natalist reasons. (There was a recent movie made about a college student trying to get an abortion in Romania, it won lots of awards). It of course backfired spectacularly, resulting in the Romanian orphanage crises of the 80s and early 90s.

Anyways, the future in N. European pro-natalist policies is paternity leave. Forcing men as well as women to leave the workforce to raise children removes much of the stigma of taking temporary leave, and thereby allows maternity leave to not be the career killer it is for women in high powered professions. This is causing a bit of a noticeable baby bump (ha) in Sweden. Having a similar law is (I think) being debated in the German parliament, and AFAIK has support among the major parties.

Miss Self-Important said...

Right, so if the US becomes a Communist totalitarianism on the lines of Romania, then I agree that Phoebe's fears will be more salient. But I'm referring to programs in, as I said, the past couple of decades - post-Cold War, and in non-despotic states.

caryatis said...

Phoebe, you’re saying that women know whether they want an (additional) child _in the next nine months_? I thought we were talking about whether women know if they want a child ever. Seems like we agree that a woman might be undecided or change her mind about the larger question.

I think we also agree that government pro-natalist policy is something to be wary of. Maternity leave and flexible schedules are popular among women, but tend to shift the burden of child care even more onto women. I would go so as far as to say that if men don’t get paternity leave, women shouldn’t get maternity leave.

Natalism as an argument made to women who can freely accept or reject it is okay with me, though. I think there’s a better case for kids on the individual level (Caplan says: you might think five kids are way too much right now, but when you’re 75 you’ll be glad you had them) than on the social/economic level. Countries with large young populations (like in Africa) have their own problems; aging societies are expensive but less at risk for war, crime, political upheaval, and HIV/AIDS.

I like the bold, although it does encourage skimming.

PG said...

But I'm referring to programs in, as I said, the past couple of decades - post-Cold War, and in non-despotic states.

This is circular -- a state that forces either procreation or contraception/sterilization on its citizens is almost certainly a despotic state. Even a democracy, such as India, could not really force mass decreases in population without suspending democracy in the Emergency and allowing Indira Gandhi to become a despot.
Are there any examples of a government's becoming despotic solely with regard to birth rate, while continuing to allow a free press, independent courts, fair elections, etc.?

Miss Self-Important said...

PG: Yes, but unless Phoebe is claiming that natalist policy is by definition coercive because all persuasion is coercion or something like that, then that's my point. Lots of liberal states have tried natalist policies without sinking into despotism. So why is the fear of imminent despotism so central to the argument that it elevates the whole cause to immorality? Do we really have any reason to be concerned that Douthat's rhetoric, because it might influence policy, will result in force procreation? I doubt it. If we do become a totalitarian state, it probably won't be b/c of our fertility rate fears.

But I'm not sure why that's circular - liberal states DO coerce many choices and actions, and I don't think that a despotism is defined or even centrally characterized by coerced procreation or sterilization. It's possible for a liberal state to engage in reproductive coercion, but I think the examples of it are all in the direction of forced sterilization and not vice versa. (I don't think Buck v Bell created a state of emergency in the US, though that's not mass sterilization.)

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

Britta, PG and MSI, I think I can respond to you all in the same comment.

Basically, no, I don't think Douthat's underlying motive here has anything to do with racism. If he doesn't suggest immigration, it's far more likely to be that his reason for wanting natalism stems from his Catholicism and general social conservatism (and again, MSI, I'll ask what you'd think the state would be justified in doing if in cold economic terms, we needed fewer births). It's a Culture of Life argument, about how dreadful it is that we now separate sex from reproduction as never before. As such, it's not about a distaste for Nigerian Muslims than it is a distaste for the culture of America today. After all, he seems to want the Latinos already in the country to stick around and procreate.

Anyway, I'm not sure why we need to talk about totalitarian extremes. America is not dictatorial Romania, nor is it Sweden. The issue in the U.S. as pertains to natalism is that there's a movement in this country to push reproductive-health issues to the right, back in time, etc. Given that there's already enthusiasm for banning abortion/being at the very least wary of contraception (or defining some forms of it as abortion), it's not such a reach to say that if the state took a pro-natalist turn, restrictions on reproductive rights would be part of it, not just Swedish-style parental leave. Furthermore, if you think in terms of political compromise, if the left and right in this country agreed re: more-babies, likely the right would agree to mild socialism, while the left would kind of have to agree to restrictions on baby-prevention.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...


Thanks for weighing in on the format!

In terms of what women know, what I'm trying to convey - and it's not easy! - is that there are two levels operating here. First is how we feel about government coercion (not dictatorial-style, just things like tax breaks for parents) that always exists in the background and can't but limit the possible decisions women even consider making, i.e. the reason why a woman in the U.S. today will want different things than one in Sweden in 1912. The second, though, is government coercion in the sense of, a woman is already in-the-moment wanting to or not to have a kid, but some policy is preventing her from proceeding. I'm not a fan of either of these, but the latter seems the bigger deal.

Britta said...


I think the problem with "stick" methods is that really only carrot methods have ever shown signs of working--Scandinavia and France have higher birth rates than Germany, Italy, E Europe etc. because they make it easier for women to 'have it all,' whether that's a career and family, or being a SAHM. Any sort of carrot + stick, or simply stick, including restricting access to family planning and promoting traditional gender roles and natalist religion (like traditional Catholicism) has caused plummeting birth rates in the societies that have tried it. Italy & Japan are far more religious (well, not so much Japan) and people have far more traditional views of marriage and women's roles than Sweden or even the US, and both countries have the or some of the lowest birth rates in the world. It turns out that if we want to live in modern liberal societies and accept a certain level of women's self determination, then the only way to get at or near replacement birth rates is to go all the way with feminism. Once women have the choice of going to school and having a career, if women have to chose between traditional wife/mother role OR a career, they choose a career almost every time. If they can do both, they'll often choose both.

China is an exception, except it's a lot easier for the state to forcibly sterilize women than to force them to get pregnant, so I don't see stick methods working for pro-natalism (and MSI would point out that for many reasons we're not and don't want to be China.)

Britta said...

Looking at wikipedia's list of countries by TFR is interesting. I'm not sure where Douthat et al want us to fall, presumably above replacement rate but not by too much, so around 2.5 children per women? The 2-3 children range is occupied by a very diverse group of countries, from Mongolia (nominally Communist), Saudi Arabia (wealthy and very religious), India, many South + Latin American countries. If we were to construct any narrative about TFR and social makeup, it would have to be a developmentalist one. Developed countries are all near the bottom with a TFR of around or under 2, with the most "advanced" E. Asian nations at the bottom (Singapore, HK, Taiwan, S Korea, Japan.) Ironically, mainland China with has the highest fertility rate of any E Asian nation. Developing countries occupy the middle ground, and countries with over 4 children per woman are are pretty much all impoverished. Very roughly speaking, TFR seems to be based almost entirely on economic and macro-social factors like education levels and cuts across cultural, ethnic, or religious differences. A developing Muslim country like Turkey has the same TFR (2.13) as developing Catholic country Colombia (2.12), as do Muslim Pakistan (3.07) and Buddhist Laos (3.06). Israel is the only developed country with much over 2 TFR, but I imagine Douthat wouldn't be a big fan of welfare-supported large families, an issue Israel is dealing with.

I think an economic narrative fits in with my point above. Once you allow and need women in the workforce, including/especially a highly skilled one, they're not going to want to make the disproportionate sacrifices demanded of them to raise children in a traditional relationship, so you need to lighten the spread out the economic burden children are across men in particular as well as society in general. That is, once you have a modernizing economy with an educated female populace, you need both somewhat egalitarian parenting ideas AND a social safety net to get reproductive levels up to even near replacement. Countries lacking both of these things, like former Soviet states and East Asian countries, have the lowest fertility rates.

eamonnmcdonagh said...

No to bold.

PG said...

But I'm not sure why that's circular - liberal states DO coerce many choices and actions, and I don't think that a despotism is defined or even centrally characterized by coerced procreation or sterilization.

It's circular because I can't think of any population that actually enjoyed the other benefits of a liberal state while simultaneously being subject to forced sterilization. (I suppose arguably in Ireland today, women enjoy the other benefits of a liberal state -- freedoms of speech, independent judiciary, free and fair elections in which they can fully participate as voters and candidates, freedom of movement, equal economic freedoms, etc. -- while being subject to forced procreation.)

It's possible for a liberal state to engage in reproductive coercion, but I think the examples of it are all in the direction of forced sterilization and not vice versa. (I don't think Buck v Bell created a state of emergency in the US, though that's not mass sterilization.)

I don't think we had a liberal state for the populations that were targeted for forced sterilizations.* At many stages in American history, some people were freer than others. Indeed, by virtue of our living in a democracy, many acts of government force wouldn't have been practically/ politically possible if they'd affected everyone in the population, especially those able to vote.

For much of our history, Native Americans, people convicted of crimes, and people labeled as mentally defective did not have the same rights as you do in America today. Among the lacks of rights they had was to be free of forced sterilization. This doesn't mean that the United States was not still a liberal state on the whole, but it does mean that telling people in those populations that they were enjoying all the freedoms of a liberal state would make you sound ignorant or insensitive.

* Not saying this is necessarily true of any libertarians writing or commenting here, but this disparity is the sort of thing that often seems to be ignored by libertarians, especially male ones, wistful for, say, the good ol' days of freedom in the late 1800s or something. No, Bryan Caplan, there were actual legal restraints on what women were allowed to do even in the market sphere -- legally constrained in the professions and businesses, such as taverns, that they could enter.

PG said...


Where does Germany fit in this? I've heard that there's an extremely strong social pressure for women to stay home with the kids at least until the kids start elementary school.

Britta said...


Germany is on par with Italy, with a TFR of 1.41 (Italy is 1.4, Japan is 1.39). Austria is also at 1.41. By contrast, Sweden is 1.67, Finland 1.73, Denmark 1.74, Norway 1.77, Netherlands 1.78, Iceland 1.89 and France 2.08. (Also, for full disclosure, Ireland is 2.01 & UK 1.91. The US is at 2.06 on the chart, for what it's worth. The source is the 2012 CIA world fact book via wikipedia.)

I think it is true that Germany is definitely more socially conservative towards mothers than Scandinavia/Netherlands, and this is fairly institutionally embedded. German school (at least for primary school) gets out before lunch so that kids can go home and eat a home cooked meal, and there is a lot of stigma towards not being home to cook lunch. Much of Germany is Catholic, and many of the Protestant/secular parts which might be more like Scandinavia are formerly Communist and have some of the same issues of other post-Socialist states, like low birth rate. Austria is very Catholic and outside Vienna extremely conservative. Currently there's a big debate over whether there should be more state subsidized day care (SPD position) or whether SAHM should get more funding (CDU position). Both seem light years ahead of where we are though in terms of supporting families.

Miss Self-Important said...

Phoebe: Last paragraph of my first comment about what to do if we wanted to lower the birth rate.

PG: What are the requisite "benefits of a liberal state" that every subgroup must have before the state can be said to be liberal with respect to that group? American women, for example, could not get legal abortions in many places prior to 1973, and yet could vote, work, own property, and exercise First Amendment rights. Was the US liberal or illiberal towards them in that particular constellation of benefits? And the question of the insane and mentally retarded is even thornier, as liberalism does not account for the unreasonable rights-bearer. You also forgot, out of ignorance or insensitivity perhaps, to include children in your tally of those presently deprived of your freedoms.

So are you concerned with making a Platonic strict definition that renders distinctions of quality inoperative? - a doctor is only a doctor if he successfully cures you, but we cannot call the man a doctor who tries and fails to cure. So there are strictly no good or bad doctors, just doctors and non-doctors, since every doctor is a perfect doctor. So with a liberal state - a liberal state is only one which protects all possible rights at every moment, and anytime a state coerces any member, it acts despotically with respect to that member, and therefore is no longer liberal for the duration of that member's coercion. If that's the case, sure, my argument is circular. But how does a strict definition help us determine whether we should worry about our states coercing our reproduction?

PG said...


But no subset of people were legally allowed to get abortions in a state while another subset of people in that state were not. Our federalist system necessitates that some states grant more rights than others, but the 14th Amendment forbids that even states discriminates between groups in granting those rights. You're bringing up Platonic ideals, I'm not. I'm just saying that a state may be liberal toward one group while not being liberal toward another, with "liberal" meaning the same thing for both but not necessarily having some intrinsic Platonic meaning. So a state that forces sterilization on Native women but not on white women is being liberal toward white women, illiberal toward Native. A state that forbids abortion is perhaps being illiberal, but I can't think of an instance where it was forbidden for one group but not another.

The reference to children doesn't make sense here; their parents/ guardians are responsible for their interests, with the state making "in the best interests of the child" determinations at crisis points. This is not how Carrie Buck was treated by the state.

And of course, children grow up to enjoy all the benefits of the liberal state and to be guardians of the best interests of the next generation. What is your understanding of being Native American or labeled mentally deficient such that you think it's appropriate to compare to being a child? What do native peoples "grow up" to be at which point they have equal rights in the liberal state?

anytime a state coerces any member, it acts despotically with respect to that member, and therefore is no longer liberal for the duration of that member's coercion. If that's the case, sure, my argument is circular. But how does a strict definition help us determine whether we should worry about our states coercing our reproduction?

I'm going to try to think of a new way to say the things I've already said, because evidently I'm not communicating my point well.

A state can be liberal without being equal. A state can recognize rights for a majority group, and thus that majority group is living in a liberal state, without that being the reality for a minority group for whom those rights have not been recognized by the state. The majority's reality is concurrent with the minority's. The minority's lack of rights does not make it an illiberal state with respect to the majority.

America in the 1890s could be a great liberal state for white non-disabled men while simultaneously being a not-so-liberal state for a black woman deemed mentally retarded. The latter's being subject to force and coercion under law did not make the state for the former "no longer liberal for the duration of that member's coercion," and I never said that it did. I'm actually kind of curious as to how you got your restatement of my argument ("a liberal state is only one which protects all possible rights at every moment, and anytime a state coerces any member, it acts despotically with respect to that member, and therefore is no longer liberal for the duration of that member's coercion") from "This doesn't mean that the United States was not still a liberal state on the whole."

If my husband can vote, stand for free and fair elections, testify in court, be a juror to his peers, speak his mind, etc., then he lives in a liberal state. If I have none of those rights, then I don't live in a liberal state, despite residing in the same home as my husband. What life is like for the majority does not determine what life is like for the minority.

We may be just having a difference of terminology here, but it's coming across as much larger -- from what I understand, you're saying that if you have a set of rights, that decides whether it's a liberal state for everyone, regardless of whether we all get those same rights.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...


Thanks for pointing me to it!

So now, addressing that:

I notice you don't mention encouraging either contraception or abortion as ways the state would likely intervene. Is this to leave open the possibility that there could be some kind of abstinence-only anti-natalism? As flawed as abstinence-only is when it comes to 16-year-olds, how is that going to work with the 25-35 set?

What I'm driving at is, it's my sense that a great deal of modern-day American natalism is less about the alleged economic benefits of a higher birthrate, and more a convenient objective-sounding argument that backs up what those arguing this already believe: that non-procreative sex is wrong, and/or that women these days have too much power.

Miss Self-Important said...

PG: I think I've lost the thread of your argument and its relation to my point. So your objection is not that a state must be liberal with respect to all its members to be liberal (the strict definition), but that it's still wrong to call it liberal with respect to those members towards whom it's not liberal, but ok to call it liberal generally even when it's not being liberal to everyone? Ok. So let's call the US liberal generally, as I was doing initially. To repeat the question then, what historical evidence do we have that liberal states use coercion to implement natalist policy? I think it's clear that the question includes all subgroups - if we decided to make only Native Americans have babies, that would still count as an example of procreative coercion. Perhaps my invocation Buck v Bell was confusing - I was not suggesting that this was a liberal or a natalist decision, but that liberal states have used coercion to implement population reduction policies, whereas by contrast, we don't see this with population growth policies. I don't see any circularity in that point, unless you're relying on a strict definition of liberalism.

The insane and mentally retarded are deprived of rights on the same grounds as children - they can't exercise reason. Yes, children presumably will be able to exercise it later (as will some of the insane), but qua children, they lack rights, and the standard of best interest is applied to all three groups by either their guardians or the state acting as a guardian. What does this have to do with the definition of a liberal state?

Phoebe: The state already encourages contraception in comprehensive sex ed classes, so I assume this would not change if we somehow agreed on the need for lower birth rates. Sex ed would include, along with, "Use this condom so you don't get pregnant before you finish college, and if you do, consider an abortion" the message that, "Also the world is overpopulated, so consider that when you're thinking about getting pregnant."

But I don't think this is a future hypothetical situation - as I said in my post, both rhetorics are already in play. I was taught that the world was overpopulated in school, and every time I go to an aquarium now (a random interest, but often indulged), I see dozens of displays explaining to children that there are more people than the Earth can handle, and we're killing all the fish by breeding and consuming. And yes, this argument also provides objective-sounding support for a political view that the family is an oppressive construct and sex should be severed from procreation. But I'm not sure what we're supposed to infer from this relation between specific demographic claims and broader agendas. In a two-party system, most political claims will find more comfortable homes on one side of the divide, but I don't think it's much of a counterpoint to say that Douthat is a conservative, so we should be suspicious that his arguments are potentially consistent with conservatism.

I'd think that if you're really concerned about the policy implications of natalism, you'd be more interested in the bigger problem that no natalist policy seems to actually work, not even in glorious Sweden, which still has below-replacement rate fertility.

PG said...

that liberal states have used coercion to implement population reduction policies

Liberal states have used coercion to implement population reduction policies only on subgroups for whom the state is not liberal (like Native Americans, or those labeled mentally deficient). This is why I'm saying your argument is circular: you've only identified instances of a liberal state forcing sterilization on subgroups who weren't being treated as members of the liberal state anyway. Oliver Wendell Holmes lived in a liberal state; Carrie Buck did not. The point I've tried (several times now) to make is that Holmes and Bell could live in the same geographic place at the same chronological time, yet one could live in a liberal state while the other did not. You have yet to identify a group (whether a majority or minority) that was coerced only with regard to reproduction yet was otherwise enjoying all the benefits of a liberal state.

Yes, children presumably will be able to exercise it later (as will some of the insane), but qua children, they lack rights

Even conceding a description of "the insane and the mentally retarded" that ignores how those labels actually were deployed in assessing whom to sterilize, children are comparable to Native Americans in their innate capacity to exercise reason, how? (If the answer is, they are not comparable, this is why bringing up children as a rights-lacking group in this context is irrelevant.)

Sex ed would include, along with, "Use this condom so you don't get pregnant before you finish college, and if you do, consider an abortion"

Where does state-sponsored sex ed include "consider an abortion"? I went to public high school in Texas, so I'm sure my sex ed was more conservative than in some other places. (OTOH, Texas's massive textbook-buying power seems to affect what's available even in some liberal states.) But telling high schoolers to get abortions sounds odd even for blue staters. Abstinence-only is gaining much more ground than any actual education about sex.

Miss Self-Important said...

Ok, so if you are concerned about subgroups instead of coercion broadly (which is always practiced on somebody, group or individual), then I can substitute "act illiberally towards some subgroups" for "use coercion." So, what historical evidence do we have that liberal states act illiberally towards some subgroups to implement natalist policies? Better? The question still does not contain its own answer, so I still don't see how it's circular.

I'm from a fairly liberal area, and I was definitely informed about the option of abortion and where to get one as part of what's called comprehensive sex ed. Abortion was not actively encouraged obviously, but since the whole presentation was intended to be morally neutral about lifestyle choices (though the underlying message was still that teen pregnancy is undesirable), it was treated as one of many pregnancy-related options, which also included contraception, abstinence, and putting unwanted kids up for adoption. I'm not sure how it could be avoided, especially given that the format of a lot of these classes was heavily Q&A. ("Q: Is grape jelly a contraceptive jelly? A: No.") I'm not all that broken-hearted to learn that this approach to sex ed is not widely popular, but it exists, and if some kind of widely agreed-upon overpopulation crisis occurred here, as Phoebe proposed, I could imagine that it would increase in popularity.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

Permit me to re-rail:

I think what's going on here is, much of the discussion of natalism is nothing more than a dressed-up way of expressing cultural preferences. Meaning, do we think Douthat's main concern is the birthrate, or the culture of non-procreative sex being OK? Do we think that if presented with data informing him that there were too many American babies to best suit the economy, Douthat would change his tune?

Anyway, this is why natalism seems a dangerous road to take if that's where you're coming from. Either Douthat wants the birthrate to be what's best for the economy, in which case he'd readily argue for it to go in either direction, depending. Or he wants all sex to be procreative, which unless he has new and innovative ways of encouraging adult chastity means he wants the birthrate to go up.

PG said...

So, what historical evidence do we have that liberal states act illiberally towards some subgroups to implement natalist policies?

What kind of despised subgroup -- deprived of the other benefits of a liberal state in addition to reproductive rights -- would a state, liberal or illiberal, want more of? Unless they're actually being held as slaves, so that more of them results in more valuable property for the dominant group, subgroups who are not enjoying the benefits of the liberal state are also subgroups whom the dominant group would prefer to be fewer in number.

As shown in Britta's example of Communist Romania (as well as Nazi Germany, where abortion was a capital crime only if performed on an Aryan woman), countries that wanted to increase the number of a certain group have taken coercive measures to do so. You say, "But those weren't liberal states."

I say that this is a circular claim because there are no examples of a state being generally liberal toward a group (majority or minority) while refusing it only the right to choose whether to reproduce. I don't think reproductive rights exist so independently of other rights that it's likely that a state would somehow restrict one's right to have a child while retaining all other rights. However, Phoebe's forebodings that a liberal state would obligate one to have a child are somewhat plausible if the burdens this entails (of pregnancy, labor, child-rearing) fall wholly or mostly on one group, i.e. women, rather than on the entire voting polity.

(One can point to liberal states that have restrictive reproductive policies that cover all groups, including a majority group enjoying other benefits of a liberal state. E.g. Ireland bans abortion for not-particularly-desired immigrants as well as for the majority group. But those policies seem to exist independent of natalism and on the basis of religious beliefs that are disconnected from economic practicalities. Mother Teresa, for example, looked at 20th century India and thought it perfectly sound to campaign against not only all abortion but also contraception. Phoebe evidently suspects that Douthat falls more into the Mother Teresa camp.)